Prosecutor cites evidence of premeditation in triple-murder case
Published: Monday, June 3, 2013 at 11:02 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, June 3, 2013 at 11:02 a.m.
A man charged with shooting three friends to death outside a downtown Ocala bar early Sunday morning may have hinted to an acquaintance about his plans hours earlier, a prosecutor said Monday.
During accused shooter Andrew Lobban's first court appearance Monday morning, Assistant State Attorney Rock Hooker said Lobban told a friend Saturday he was sorry for what he was going to do later that night. Hooker said the friend didn't understand the comment at the time but now believes Lobban was referring to the shootings early Sunday morning of Josue Santiago, Benjamin Larz Howard and Jerry Lamar Bynes Jr. as the four were leaving AJ's bar on the north side of the downtown square.
Hooker did not identify the friend to whom Lobban allegedly made the statement. But he argued that the statement, combined with the fact that the victims were shot in the head at point-blank range, suggests "there is a substantial indication of premeditation."
At Hooker's urging, Judge Tommy Thompson ordered Lobban, 31, held without bond until his arraignment on murder charges July 2.
"And that is based on the risk of harm to the community if Mr. Lobban is released," Thompson said.
According to Ocala police, Lobban admitted shooting the men because he was upset over a video made during a trip with friends to a local shooting range. The video, which reportedly was made in the past few weeks, reportedly showed Lobban having trouble firing a gun.
Police said Lobban was upset that his friends, who all worked as bouncers at Ocala Entertainment Complex, made fun of him over it.
Police said the men had been drinking at AJ's, and as they left, Lobban pulled a pistol from his pants and shot the men on the sidewalk outside. Two were shot in the back of the head and died at the scene. The third man was taken to an area hospital, where he died later.
Lobban allegedly ran from the scene and dumped the 9 mm pistol in a city trash can a block away.
Authorities said Lobban has no history of violence. At Monday's hearing, prosecutors said he had his driver's license permanently revoked for a 2000 arrest for driving with a suspended license. In 2007, he was convicted of possession of marijuana with intent to sell. And in 2011, according to police, he was charged with misdemeanor shoplifting.
During his court appearance Monday, Lobban was escorted under heavy security into the small cinder-block room in shackles.
But before he entered, officers had to first remove another prisoner who was arrested Sunday on a violation of probation charge. That prisoner, Tony Crosby, was ordered to be kept away from Lobban because he is somehow related to one of the shooting victims, said Marion County Sheriff's Office spokesman Capt. James Pogue.
Meanwhile Ocala Police investigators continued Monday to piece together the events leading up to the killings.
One bit of evidence that had yet to surface was the video that reportedly made Lobban so angry.
Detective Jamie Buchbinder said no one interviewed by police so far has actually seen a video of the supposed prank.
"No one has said they directly saw it," Buchbinder said. "We're told someone did tape it on a cellular phone. We've also been told it was just a group of friends horsing around and there was no video."
Lobban told police his friends gave him a weapon with the wrong ammunition. The joke reportedly was watching Lobban struggle to load and fire the ammo, which then caused either a misfire or a backfire, Buchbinder said.
Buchbinder said the investigation has uncovered other possible motives for the killings beyond the video prank, but he would not go into detail.
"There's been some things offered as other possible explanations. We are still hashing things out," he said.
Police seized video surveillance equipment from AJ's in hopes that cameras captured the shooting. Scroble said officers couldn't get the equipment to play immediately, nor could the bar's owners, so they are not sure whether it contains any video evidence.
As the investigation continued, the families of some of the victims continued to come forward to talk about the men.
The family of Benjamin Larz Howard, 23, of Belleview, recalled him as a friendly person who was trying to integrate back into the community after serving three years in Afghanistan with the National Guard.
His grandmother, Fondalee Cordwin, 67, of Fort McCoy, said her grandson called her while he was overseas, and during his monthly visits after returning the "first thing he did was hit the refrigerator.
"He is just a good kid, never been in trouble," Cordwin said. "He lost his father in an auto accident several years back. He has always been a good boy; no police trouble, no nothing."
Cordwin said Howard talked about attending college to become a nurse.
Of the shooting, she said, "From what I understand he wasn't really involved. He was just there with the guys that were.
"To take someone's life is so stupid. When I was growing up, you had a fist fight, that's it. Now, they get a gun and shoot you."
Howard's uncle, Clinton Clark, 43, of Summerfield, said his nephew attended grade school in Marion County before moving to Tennessee, where he joined JROTC at age 14 or 15. After high school he went into the National Guard as a gunner and served in Afghanistan.
Clark said that was Howard's first trip overseas and that the weather — with daytime temperatures as high as 110 degrees and nighttime temperatures as low as 30 — made an impression on him, and so did the people.
"The way the people lived over there, they are afraid of things," Clark said.
According to Clark, Howard had problems finding a job when he came home and became a bouncer at OEC in January. He enjoyed the work.
Howard's aunt, Carolyn Irvin of Fort McCoy, was stunned by her nephew's death.
She said she would have been able to handle his death better if he died fighting overseas rather than in his own hometown.
"To be honest I don't know what to say. It hasn't hit me yet," Irvin said. "I can't understand how a man who is friends with three other men cannot take a joke ... and decide and thought about it the whole day and kill them point blank and have no remorse.
"I never really agreed with the death penalty but I want (Lobban) to pay for it," she said. "I wanted him to be in a 4-by-4 room and look at their pictures every day so he knows what he took away from us."
Managing Editor Tom McNiff contributed to this report.