By Jason Geary
Published: Wednesday, October 29, 2008 at 9:50 p.m.
BARTOW | When James Alvin Gore was arrested last year on charges related to the killing of his elderly landlady, detectives thought they found the murder weapon in his home.
New testing has proved otherwise.
During a brief hearing Wednesday, Circuit Judge J. Michael Hunter went over the latest development with Gore, 39.
But rather than risk going to trial for first-degree murder and armed robbery, the Polk City man wanted to accept a plea deal.
"With all of that in mind, you still freely and voluntarily want to enter into this plea because you believe it's in your best interest?" Hunter asked.
"Yes, sir," Gore replied.
Gore pleaded no contest Wednesday to manslaughter with a firearm. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Gore weighed about 245 pounds following his April 13, 2007, arrest on charges that he fatally shot 75-year-old Thelma Rowe. He rented a mobile home from her.
On Wednesday, he appeared much thinner as he accepted the plea deal. He sat down for much of the hearing.
"I just didn't eat breakfast this morning and got a little light-headed," Gore told the judge.
Gore's trial was to begin in a few weeks. Prosecutors had been seeking the death penalty against him.
Plea negotiations went forward with Gore after testing proved a pistol taken from him wasn't the murder weapon.
"Any other evidence was circumstantial," said Wayne Durden, a spokesman with the State Attorney's Office in Bartow. "Our case was significantly weakened."
Rowe was found dead inside her Fussell Road home on April 7, 2007. Her home did not appear ransacked.
She had been shot twice in the head with .22-caliber bullets, including once in the back of her head and another shot into her ear.
Originally, testing from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement concluded the bullets were fired from a .22-caliber revolver found at Gore's home.
Gore's lawyers, Deborah Goins and Peter Mills, sought an independent expert to examine the gun. The result was that the weapon did not fire the bullets that killed Rowe.
FDLE had two other technicians analyze the gun, and they came to the same conclusion as Gore's expert.
Detectives learned from Gore's family and a former girlfriend that he had another .22-caliber pistol, according to investigative reports.
Gore denied having another pistol, reports state.
He later told detectives that he sold it and didn't tell detectives about it because he didn't want to be charged with selling the gun illegally.
Detectives noted that he changed his story several times about who bought the weapon. His final version was that two men bought it.
Assistant State Attorney Paul Wallace told the judge Wednesday that nobody in the neighborhood saw the men.
Gore told detectives that he went to Rowe's home to pay $800 in rent and saw one of those men in her house.
Gore said Rowe introduced the man as her grandson, and he got a receipt for the rent from Rowe before leaving.
Gore was able to produce a receipt from Rowe.
Gore told detectives that while walking back to his home that he heard two shots from the direction of Rowe's home but "didn't really think anything about it," reports state.
[Reporter Jason Geary can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (863)802-7536.]
This story appeared in print on page B1