TAMPA, Fla. Jan 15 2013(AP) — A Tampa Bay area shoplifter has been sentenced to five years in prison because a security guard suffered a fatal heart attack while trying to stop the crime.
As part of a deal with Hillsborough County prosecutors, 36-year-old Mervin Bettis pleaded guilty Monday to third-degree murder. He could have received up to 30 years in prison.
Authorities say Bettis tried to steal about $1,100 worth of razor blade cartridges from a Tampa Target in May 2011.
Two security guards struggled with Bettis as he tried to flee. Minutes after handcuffing Bettis, one of the guards — 65-year-old Russell Horner — collapsed and later died.
Florida law says a person can be charged with felony murder if a death occurs during the commission of certain felonies.
Source-Tampa Bay News
TAMPA Fla May 24 2012 - It could have been a simple shoplifting charge, but a man accused of stealing goods from a Target may face serious time in prison.
That’s because the security guard who chased and tackled him collapsed and died of a heart attack.
Now the accused shoplifter faces a third-degree felony murder charge, and a minimum of 10 years in prison.
It all unfolded at the Target store on West Hillsborough Avenue on May 27, 2011.
Security cameras zeroed in on Mervin Bettis almost immediately. You see him looking around; then he reaches for the shelves.
Hillsborough detectives say he’s shoplifting more than $1,100 worth of merchandise. Moments later, the video shows him walking right past the checkout lines and out the door.
He doesn’t get far. First, a loss prevention officer grabs him; then, the store’s security guard rushes up.
All three fall to the ground in the struggle. This is where it might have ended: a simple shoplifting bust. But just seven minutes later, the security guard you see in the video collapses from a heart attack and dies, turning this into a case of third degree murder.
Store employees say the security guard, 65-year-old Russell Horner, was out of breath and walking oddly. Just as he steps out of the camera’s view, investigators say he collapsed.
“If you’re going to commit a crime and somebody dies, we’re going to hold you responsible for that, and that’s what we have here. It’s a death that occurs in the commission of a felony,” said Tampa defense attorney Jeff Brown.
Brown is not involved in the case, but has handled several high profile trials. He says if he were defending Bettis, he would question connecting Bettis’ actions with the guard’s death.
“I think my first defense might be, well, this death didn’t occur as a consequence of it. It happened afterwards. And I think we fight the whole battle as to how remote is too remote,” Brown said. “Is it seven minutes, as in this case? What happens if that night he went home and had the heart attack? Is it five or six hours? I think that’s where you fight the battle.”
Brown says prior medical problems don’t matter in the eyes of the law, and neither does intent. Even if the suspect didn’t mean for anyone to get hurt, he’s still on the hook.
“It doesn’t matter. The law says look, this is what happened as a consequence of what you did and that’s where you fight the battle when this goes to trial. If it goes to trial, that’s what the jury will be wrestling with,” he said.
If Bettis had just stolen the merchandise, with a clean record, he could have gotten off with just probation.
But instead, because someone died, he’s facing hard time: a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison, if not 15.
Source: FOX 13
TAMPA Fla Sept 29 2011 — It’s no secret where he comes from: Mervin “Greg” Bettis is a thief.
The 35-year-old has been in and out of Ohio prisons, thanks to what his mother calls a “compulsion” to take things that don’t belong to him.
Even his 13-year-old son knows his father can’t stop and dreams of one day owning his own store — so his father can steal in safety.
A thief, but not a killer, his family insists.
But that’s exactly what the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office says he is.
Bettis, accused of stealing thousands of dollars in merchandise from Target stores in May, now faces a much graver charge: murder.
Deputies say Bettis is responsible for the death of a Target security guard who collapsed and died from heart failure in May minutes after struggling to detain him for theft.
An autopsy concluded Russell Horner’s death was the direct result of his struggle with Bettis, deputies said.
And that led to an unusual charge Tuesday: third-degree felony murder. A person can be charged with felony murder if a death occurs during the commission of a felony, in this case grand theft.
Horner, 65, a retired FBI agent, died at Town & Country Hospital on May 27, less than an hour after he struggled with Bettis, deputies said.
Store employees first spotted Bettis walking past the cash registers at the Target at 11627 W Hillsborough Ave. He was pushing a shopping cart filled with about $1,100 in stolen merchandise, deputies said.
An unnamed Target loss prevention agent had been investigating Bettis for similar crimes at two nearby Target stores. The agent chased Bettis and stopped him before he could get to the parking lot, deputies said.
They fell to the ground and Horner jumped in to help, deputies said. The fight spilled out onto the sidewalk and ended nearly five minutes later with Bettis in handcuffs.
Horner took Bettis to a holding room to await authorities, but began experiencing shortness of breath. He continued breathing heavily as he sat down and examined a bruise on his elbow, surveillance footage showed.
Seven minutes after the fight with Bettis began, Horner collapsed on his way to an adjoining room, officials said.
Paramedics performed CPR but it was too late. Less than an hour after Bettis was first spotted in the store, Horner was dead.
Horner was not known to have any health problems before the incident, said sheriff’s spokeswoman Debbie Carter.
Bettis has been in jail since his arrest on charges of robbery, grand theft and battery on a person 65 years or older. The third-degree felony murder charge carries a maximum sentence of up to 30 years in prison.
His mother expressed shock at the latest charge.
“When I got to talk to him shortly after he was locked up, he told me he was trying to steal something to get enough money to come home,” said Bettis’ mother, Patricia. “Now I’ll never see him again.”
Mrs. Bettis, a 65-year-old woman of modest means, said she doesn’t understand why her son can’t stay out of trouble. “He was raised better than that,” she said. “But it doesn’t matter. He just has to steal something all the time.”
He arrived in Tampa in April, Mrs. Bettis said. He was in Florida vacationing with a friend and she expected his stay to be brief. The next thing she heard, her son was back in jail.
Bettis, who installed silos for a living before he was fired for driving without a license, has been in and out of prison in Ohio. He has been arrested numerous times on offenses including theft, burglary, criminal mischief and heroin possession.
He is being held in lieu of $211,500 bail.