Saturday, March 8, 2008

Grand jury indicts three Pasco men in different murders

Jackie Lee Braden, 36, (left) was indicted on two counts of first-degree murder.

Bryan Gregory Heater, 27, (right) was indicted on one count of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted second-degree murder.

The state could seek the death penalty for all three men charged in different murders.

By Jamal Thalji, Times Staff Writer
Published March 8, 2008


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Justice was a long time coming for Teresa Lodge.

Her bloody body was found Sept. 28, 2006, in her Land O'Lakes apartment. The 46-year-old had been stabbed and strangled. Detectives searched for her killer but had little to go on.

Nothing happened in the case until more than a year later, when an overwhelmed state agency finally managed to test evidence found underneath her fingernails. The computer spat out a DNA match:

Derral Wayne Hodgkins.

Days later, in November 2007, the 48-year-old Shady Hills man was arrested in Lodge's murder.

"If we hadn't had this DNA hit," said Pinellas-Pasco Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett, "this guy would still be out there."

Now Hodgkins and two other Pasco County men accused of different murders face more than just the threat of prison: The state could choose to seek the death penalty for all three.

A grand jury Friday indicted Hodgkins and two other men for first-degree murder: Jackie Lee Braden, who is accused of killing his mother and stepfather last month; and Bryan Gregory Heater, accused of a shooting in a strip club parking lot that killed one woman and injured someone else.

The grand jury, consisting of 13 women and five men, heard testimony and deliberated for six hours in the New Port Richey courthouse.

In the Lodge murder, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's forensic laboratory matched the victim's fingernail scrapings to a sample of Hodgkins' DNA in the convicted offender database. He had served 17 years in prison for kidnapping and raping a 12-year-old Tampa girl in 1987.

Until those test results came back, his name had never come up in Lodge's death investigation.

"He wasn't even on the radar screen," Bartlett said.

Detectives first interviewed Hodgkins on Nov. 7, according to court records. He said he had known Lodge since 1985 and that the two dated.

But he hadn't seen her for about two months before her death, Hodgkins told detectives, when they hugged and kissed at a gas station.

It was the first of many stories, authorities say.

"As they changed the questioning," Bartlett said, "he just changed his story."

According to court records, Hodgkins said he had never been in her apartment. When confronted with the DNA match, he said Lodge scratched him two months before her death. Then Hodgkins said he had been in her apartment a month before her death - then he said it was three days before she died.

But the forensic evidence doesn't match any of his accounts, according to court records.

Robbery was a possible motive, Bartlett said.

"It was a very brutal manner in which she was killed," he said. "She definitely fought her assailant, no question about it."

Bartlett said prosecutors understand FDLE's delay in processing the evidence: "They're overworked, understaffed and underpaid."

There was no delay in arresting the two other men indicted on Friday.

Jackie Lee Braden, 36, was indicted on two counts of first-degree murder, accused of killing his mother, Sherrill, and stepfather, David Wright, last month.

Both 54-year-olds were found shot dead in their Shady Hills home, authorities say, and there was evidence they had been robbed.

Hours after neighbors said they heard gunshots, Braden was caught on videotape partying at the Hard Rock Casino in Tampa. Hours after the bodies were found Feb. 11, deputies say Braden was arrested in a Pinellas motel with a firearm, $194,000 in cash and 43 pounds of marijuana.

Kellie Zorka died in a hospital days after authorities say the 27-year-old was shot in the head Feb. 24 in a strip club parking lot. Bryan Gregory Heater was arrested two days later, accused of firing into a crowd.

The grand jury indicted the 27-year-old New Port Richey man on one count of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted second-degree murder.

Circuit Judge Thane Covert ordered that all three defendants be held in the county jail without bail.

Jamal Thalji can be reached at thalji@sptimes.com or 727 869-6236.

7 comments:

dynamitedarlene said...

Teresa was a old friend of mine.
Fry this guy !
How about eye for an eye !
Nice thought !
R.I.P.
Teresa

Anonymous said...

This is for our Neice!
We will be there every time that there is a court date. Bryan robbed us of our BABY. There was NO excuse good enough to take her life the way you did.
-Min-

Anonymous said...

I hope Bryan Heater gets everything he deserves, and may he feel the pain he has inflicted on our family, by takeing her from us...For the rest of his days...
RIP Kellie we miss and love ya!
we will NOT give up the fight girl!!!!!

Anonymous said...

he was not firing into a crowd, he shot right at her and anthony and the bouncer! i miss kellie everyday and this man needs to get the death penalty, but it was taken off. she was my best friend and its hard to live without her and i will be there for the trial and i know he wont get what he deserves but hopefully he will rot in prison for the rest of his pathetic life and be a prison b****!!! he is a coward to have to take her away like that! love and miss you kel!!

Anonymous said...

Kellie: Another sad statistic of a stripper killed in the state of Florida

If the stripper was at home taking care of her son being a mom instead of the stripper it would be another outcome.

The stripper's mom is trying to ca$h in on her daughter's memory of being the stripper. Shame on her. Next she will be trying to sell her dead stripper daughter's photos from the looks of it it won't be selling too many copies.

Nothing good comes out of strip clubs. If the mom would put her misguided grief to work she would volunteer to local high schools telling the female students LOOK at what happens to strippers. Stay in school - go to college - make something of your life instead of destroying it.

Susannah said...

u dumb fucker, her mom isnt cashing in...she wants justic,she wasnt stripping, she got her life together and was going to start as a nurse, she was visting the club, she made freinds there. you can rot in hell with heater...who by the way just got 3 life sentences for killing her and almost killing the other guys. maybe ud like a cell next to him for defamation of character, or rather for just being stupid....ppl do things to eat and survive.

Anonymous said...

Heater didnt do it. Detectives had a girl say he did for the reason i dont know they have no physical evidence Pasco is crooked as hell. They just had to covict someone. Hear-say should not be missable.