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Loose lips could mean prison

Hernando Today
Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 05:47 PM
SPRING HILL -

The shooter donned a mask. He had a thin build and wore black clothes.

After pumping two lead rounds into the back and neck of Germaine Smiley, he aimed the gun at her head and fired a .22-caliber bullet at her skull.

The bullet shattered into several pieces and didn't penetrate the brain. Smiley survived.

Authorities chalk it up to extreme luck and cheap ammunition.

Stacks of court documents tell a story of a plan to assassinate a midnight shift nurse with no criminal record. The shooter was offered a six-figure cash reward for the slaying. The gunman drove the conspirator's pickup to and from the scene, according to the Hernando County Sheriff's Office.

Only one person was charged — Tony Roberts — and that arrest came 10 months after Smiley was hospitalized. Roberts was charged with attempted first-degree murder with a firearm. His trial will begin Oct. 1.

Smiley was asked by law enforcement whether she had any idea who hated her enough to want her dead.

Deputies said she gave them one name without any hesitation — Sandra McKenzie.

During the early morning hours of May 6, 2010, a woman living near the corner of Everett Avenue and Landover Boulevard heard popping sounds while puffing a cigarette in her yard. She heard a door slam and noticed a pickup traveling south along Everett with its lights off. The driver turned on the headlights before heading east along Landover.

Moments later, deputies converged on the scene two blocks to the west. Startled by the commotion, the witness wasted no time telling authorities what she saw.

Video surveillance obtained from nearby Springstead High School confirmed part of the cigarette smoker's account. Shortly before 3:30 a.m., the pickup matching the witness' description was heading east along Landover.

Later that morning, deputies go to McKenzie's home. One of the deputies placed his hand on the hood of her pickup. The engine was warm.

Detectives said McKenzie changed her story about whether she had driven the truck that morning. She eventually told them she went to Walmart to buy medicine, but after deputies asked to see her receipt, she said she didn't buy anything because she had forgotten her purse, according to the sheriff's office.

Detectives said they remained suspicious.

McKenzie's four children were interviewed at school the next day. The same went for Roberts, who is McKenzie's nephew. He said he was spending the night at her home because he was going to do some work for her. He said the job never got started and he wound up playing video games with his cousins.

Roberts told Detective Bryan Faulkingham he was in a deep sleep the morning deputies visited his aunt's house and didn't notice the half-dozen or so deputy cruisers parked outside, according to the sheriff's office.

Before closing the informal interview, Faulkingham asked Roberts, who at the time was an 18-year-old student at Springstead, whether he had anything to add.

Roberts asked where Smiley was shot, detectives said.

Faulkingham never mentioned Smiley had been shot. He only said somebody got hurt, according to reports. Roberts was then brought to the sheriff's office for an official statement.

The lead detective in the case didn't have enough evidence for an arrest. The case stalled until Roberts went to jail and spoke out of turn again, according to reports.

Roberts had been arrested in March 2009 on arson charges. He was 17 at the time. He and his football teammate, Daniel Murray, set fire to a house a few days before their prom. An 18-year-old woman was sleeping inside when the fire was started, but she escaped, deputies said.

They were questioned after their coaches noticed burn injuries on them during football practice. Murray was on probation when he was picked up on the arson allegation. He would later be sentenced to 15 years in prison. Roberts, by comparison, received two years in jail and four years probation. He began serving his jail sentence in January 2011.

Within a few weeks after he was sentenced, Roberts made some incriminating statements to Jared Hoffman, who was jailed on drug and burglary charges.

Hoffman told a sheriff's detective he heard Roberts admit to shooting Smiley, according to reports.

To deputies, Hoffman's arrest record was long and his credibility was suspect, so they were skeptical about relying on a case with him as a star witness. Because he gave them "specific information" that was never released to the media, they believed his story, according to the sheriff's office.

Hoffman was insistent. He offered to wear a wire, authorities said.

With the hidden recording device on him, Hoffman brought up the shooting again to Roberts, at one point goading him by telling him he should have "finished the job," according to reports.

A defensive and unsuspecting Roberts told Hoffman, "I put two in her head," detectives said.

Roberts also mentioned he used a .22-caliber revolver and described the weapon in detail, according to court documents.

Roberts was summoned by detectives, listened to the recording and asked for his attorney.

During the pretrial phase of the case, another inmate, Leland Inmon, came forward with more information.

He said Roberts told him he had shot a woman.

When Inmon asked him why, he told him, "Because my aunt gave me $1,000," according to the sheriff's office.

Inmon and Hoffman are both on the state's witness list for Roberts' trial.

McKenzie feuded with Smiley over an ex-boyfriend, according to reports. McKenzie was convicted in January 2011 on charges of tampering with a witness, false imprisonment and battery. The victim in those crimes was Smiley, authorities said.

McKenzie was awaiting trial on those charges when Smiley was shot.

Two people, including Smiley's sister, Theresa, and Dominic Haygood, were subpoenaed to testify against McKenzie.

Both witnesses, according to sheriff's reports, feared for their lives.

The same morning Smiley was shot, her sister's boss got a call from a man asking what time Theresa Smiley got off work, deputies said.

It unnerved Theresa Smiley. It also spooked Haygood. Both of them told the sheriff's office they were being harassed.

McKenzie was so desperate about avoiding prison she was willing to kill for it, according to the witnesses' statements to authorities.

Haygood told deputies he did his own investigating, by asking people around the neighborhood what they had heard. He was told he and the Smiley sisters "aren't going to make it to court" to testify against McKenzie, according to reports.

McKenzie has never been charged in connection with the attempted murder of Germaine Smiley.

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