Saturday, May 24, 2008

Police briefs: Officials seek man who worked for slain widow

Manatee County sheriff's detectives investigating the killing of Janice Fore searched a home this week in the city as they tried to locate a person for an interview.

The detectives went to the one-time home of Wilbur Thomas, 52, whom Fore employed as a tree-cutter for many years. A neighbor of Fore told detectives she saw Thomas in Fore's neighborhood Tuesday evening.

Fore, 74, was last seen alive Tuesday about 11:30 p.m. A sheriff's deputy Wednesday evening found Fore dead in her home in the 1200 block of 67th Street Northwest. Authorities said she was not shot, stabbed or beaten but did not disclose how they believe she died.

Thomas has lived off and on at a house in the 1900 block of Fifth Avenue Drive East in Bradenton, just blocks from where Fore's Volkswagen convertible was abandoned.

Essie Craig, who lives at the home, told investigators she has not seen Thomas for several weeks. She said Thomas is not a violent person. One of Fore's neighbors said Thomas is a honest, hardworking man.

Thomas has a pending probation violation charge in a misdemeanor case from earlier this year. In January, Thomas talked about his cocaine addiction in a letter to a judge. Thomas said he wanted rehabilitation and did not want to return to jail.

Authorities are following up on leads and have not identified a suspect in the killing of Fore, a widow who lived alone and was well-liked.

Man, 21, indicted in robbery death

BRADENTON -- A grand jury Friday indicted a Bradenton man on a first-degree murder charge in the shooting death of a 59-year-old man last year in his home.

The alleged killer, William Henry Caldwell IV, 21, was arrested this month at the jail, where he was behind bars on an unrelated robbery charge.

Caldwell is accused in the shooting death of Robert Prater, 59, who was killed in his home in the 1300 block of 17th Street Court East during an apparent burglary. Police say Prater and the robbers exchanged gunfire.

Bradenton police said DNA, fingerprint evidence and witness statements led to the arrest of Caldwell, who is jailed with no set bail. Caldwell, authorities say, is one of three men who barged into the Prater home in a pre-dawn burglary in June. Police say they found Caldwell's DNA on a mask used by a robber.

Caldwell is on state probation until 2010 for a Hillsborough County grand theft conviction.

The state has not decided whether to pursue the death penalty against Caldwell, said Assistant State Attorney Art Brown, chief prosecutor in murder cases in Manatee.

Prosecutors dropped a murder charge against an 18-year-old Bradenton man who, police had said, participated in the robbery at the Prater house. A victim later said she misidentified the man. Police said another suspect in the shooting fatally shot himself after running from Bradenton police during a traffic stop.

Suspect's statement ruled inadmissible

BRADENTON -- A judge Friday found a statement made by accused shooter Orlando Valenzuela inadmissible at trial.

Authorities arrested Orlando Valenzuela, 16, on a murder charge in the shooting death of Stacy Williams III, 9. Stacy was fatally shot by a stray bullet just blocks from his home in May 2007.

Valenzuela's attorney, Assistant Public Defender Franklin Roberts, fought to have Valenzuela's statements to law enforcement thrown out. Valenzuela had asked to have his mother present during the interrogation.

Prosecutors brokered lenient plea deals for two teenagers who reportedly were in the car with Valenzuela at the time of the shooting. Ashley Rios and Johnny Vazquez, agreed to cooperate in the prosecution of Valenzuela.

The alleged shooter, who has pleaded not guilty, faces up to life in prison if he is convicted.

Judge Debra Johnes Riva on Friday issued a warrant for the arrest of a teenager identified in sheriff's reports as a witness in the homicide investigation. The judge found the boy had ignored court orders to show up for a deposition.

Boy struck by car while skating

BRADENTON -- A vehicle struck and seriously injured an 8-year-old Bradenton boy who was on roller skates in the 7300 block of Cortez Road West on Friday morning, the Florida Highway Patrol reported.

Hunter T. Williams and his brother, who was on a bicycle, were passing a driveway access road at the Shops of Paradise Bay.

A woman leaving the parking lot struck the bicycle, throwing William Williams, 11, off it. The car rolled over Hunter Williams' legs, according to FHP reports.

Troopers said the brothers were both wearing helmets.

Authorities said the car's driver, Virginia A. Cory, 80, of Bradenton, violated the right of way. Cory was not injured.

Williams was flown to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg. His 11-year-old brother suffered minor injuries.

Arson suspected

in mobile home fire

BRADENTON -- Fire officials believe someone intentionally set fire to a mobile home in the 6900 block of Manatee Avenue West after breaking into the trailer.

Manatee County sheriff's deputies spotted the fire at the mobile home about 8 p.m. Thursday. The homeowner is staying in Ohio for the summer.

A neighbor who has been checking on the home did not notice anything suspicious this week. The doors were locked and the windows were secure.

Authorities reported someone broke windows at the trailer and stole a TV and DVD player.

Sheriff's deputies said the front door was found unlocked.

Compiled by staff writer Michael A. Scarcella.

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