Testimony begins in Bargo murder trial


Michael Bargo listens during the first day of his first degree murder trial on Tuesday. Bargo is accused of being the ring leader behind the brutal April 2011 murder of Seath Jackson with several other teens.

Alan Youngblood/Staff photographer
Published: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 at 9:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 at 9:32 p.m.

A week before 15-year-old Seath Tyler Jackson was murdered, his mother overheard a conversation between her son and the man who is believed to have orchestrated a plot to kill him.

Sonia Jackson took the witness stand during the murder trial of Michael Bargo on Tuesday afternoon and recalled the confrontation between the two men that occurred in April 2011. Her son was outside their Belleview house playing basketball when a red truck pulled up and out jumped Bargo.

"Seath was yelling, ‘get the F off my property, you don't have the right to be here,' " she recalled.

Before the confrontation ended, she heard Bargo tell her son, "I have a bullet with your name on it."

Seven days later, her son was dead.

On cross-examination, defense attorney Charles Holloman pointed out Jackson was inside the house with the air conditioning running and several windows shut at the time she heard the quarrel and wasn't paying attention to the argument until the very end.

So started the murder trial of Michael Shane Bargo Jr., a case in which the state is seeking the death penalty against the 21-year-old.

Most of the day was consumed by part two of jury selection, but by 3 p.m., 13 men and women of varying ages, races, ethnicity, educational background and varying views on the death penalty were chosen to take their seats on the jury. One member is an alternate and will be excused at a later point.

"What you're going to learn is this: Michael Bargo is no mastermind," Holloman said in his opening statement. "He was a Johnny-come-lately on this, and because of that he will not be guilty of first-degree murder."

He told the jury the case will be one of reasonable doubt. He also told the panel his client intends to take the stand and explain, in his own words, what happened the night Seath was murdered. Bargo reserves the right to change this decision as the trial progresses, but Holloman told the Star-Banner his client had expressed a strong desire to testify and wanted the jury to know his intentions.

Holloman also told the jury, despite several confessions Bargo allegedly made, "There was no confession here." The defense also explained to the jury that time zones will play a factor in cellphone records made around the time of the murder and that another co-defendant, Kyle Hooper, falsely accused Bargo of plotting Seath's murder.

"That's where this thing started," Holloman said. Hooper is currently serving a life sentence after being convicted in 2012 for his role in the slaying.

Holloman acknowledged there is a "pretty damnable set of facts" in the case. "But each side is going to have their view of these facts."

Assistant State Attorney Amy Berndt laid out for the jury in her opening argument the grisly events that transpired during the killing of Seath and explained what the state believes was Bargo's role in the murder.

"Michael Bargo, the defendant in this case, wanted 15-year-old Seath Jackson, to die," Berndt told the court. "It was April 17, 2011, and he got four people to help him put together a well thought out, calculated, premeditated murder; to lure Seath Jackson to the house where he would eventually be killed."

Berndt retold the gruesome details of the killing where Seath was beaten, shot and his body set on fire inside a backyard pit. She described how the orange flames from the backyard fire pit were 20 feet high. "So tall, it's licking the tops of the trees," Berndt said. Holloman pointed out a backyard fire in the large pit was normal behavior for the home's occupants.

Berndt told the jury they will hear expert testimony that confirms hundreds of human bones — all believed to be from a male, 14 to 16 years old — were found in that fire pit during an investigation.

Berndt also recounted how three five-gallon paint cans containing the ashen remains of Jackson were discovered in a lime rock pit off State Road 40. She said Bargo found Seath's skull in the fire pit the next morning and used pliers to pull out the teeth.

She also described a romantic link between several people involved in the case. Co-defendant Amber Wright, now serving a life sentence for her involvement in the case, had previously dated Seath. The couple had broken up and she then dated Bargo.

Testifying for just 20 minutes Tuesday, Sonia Jackson recalled her son to be "very hurt" over the breakup. She remembers Seath and Amber still texting each other afterwards and at one time she believed "they were getting a little agitated with each other."

She remembered her son having a falling out with Bargo over Amber. She also recalled seeing Amber and Bargo together holding hands and kissing on the front lawn of her home.

Berndt also explained that co-defendant Charlie Ely's husband had gone to prison and she was left alone in the Summerfield house they shared. Ely started inviting people to live with her. That's how she, Bargo, Hooper, Justin Soto — and frequent visitor Amber Wright — all ended up at the house the night of Seath's murder.

Contact April Warren at 867-4065 or april.warren@ocala.com.

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