Jul 11, 2007, 8:27 pm
A burly Orange County, Florida, tree trimmer won $10,000 last month and some are saying it may have cost him his life.
Employees found their crew boss dead on the floor with empty pockets Monday morning at Gator Tree Experts near West Fairbanks Avenue.
Suspicions quickly focused on Dwayne Ricardo Smith, a missing co-worker with a history of violent crimes, according to Orange County sheriff's reports.
Within hours, Smith's best friend began telling detectives about a night that began with murder and ended with strippers, drinks and lap dances.
"Drive. Drive. Drive," friend Darwin Rhule quoted Smith as saying after he ran, gun in hand, from the Gator office late Sunday, according to a sheriff's affidavit. "I had to kill the Cracker."
Investigators arrested Smith, 23, early Tuesday on a charge of first-degree murder with a firearm. The Winter Park man was being held without bail at the county jail.
Flowers, cards and other memorials for Stockford, 48, were left Monday and Tuesday outside the tree service on Minnesota Avenue.
"He was a devout Christian who straightened out his life years ago and joined Calvary Assembly," Joe McLaughlin, the owner of Gator Tree Experts said of Stockford. "It's real crazy. Dwayne passed drug tests and everything. He was a good worker on and off."
First arrested at 14 on burglary and cocaine charges, the Jamaican-born Smith spent his teenage years in a series of state juvenile-justice facilities, state attorney records show.
Convicted at least three times of attacking juvenile-justice workers, Smith was ordered held in secure detention for five years or until he turned 21 in 2005, records show.
Smith's adult record began in 2004 when a co-worker at Gator Tree accused Smith of stomping him and threatening to slash his throat over a $100 debt, court records show.
"Quit crying and die like a man," the accuser quoted Smith as saying, according to the arrest report. "You're going to die."
Aggravated-assault and aggravated-battery charges against Smith were dropped when the man disappeared and did not testify, court records show.
The same thing almost happened again in 2005, when Smith was charged with ramming his stepsister headfirst through a window and cutting her with a butcher knife.
His stepsister refused to cooperate with deputies, but a neighbor slashed during the fight testified, court records show. Smith was convicted of battery and sentenced to 121 days in the county jail.
After Stockford's death about 8 p.m. Sunday, Smith went home and changed clothes except for his black high-top sneakers, the latest arrest affidavit states. Then the buddies went to Crystal Cabaret Gentlemen's Club in Lockhart, where Smith spent about $400 cash on $10 lap dances and drinks, the affidavit said.
"He was ordering three at a time, drinking two and taking one into the back," said an employee Tuesday of Smith ordering $5.75 beers at the adult establishment. "I don't know how long he was here."
Sheriff's homicide detectives went to the nightclub Tuesday afternoon to review videotape of Smith going back and forth from the bar to where he was paying for a string of 3-minute lap dances.
Investigators have recovered some money and are trying to construct a timeline of where Smith went before and after the killing, including a Wal-Mart store in Casselberry to buy a box of bullets, Detective Mark Hussey said.
As of late Tuesday, the trail had led to a pond near Lee Road, where Smith is accused of tossing a silver pistol with black grips and the box of bullets from Wal-Mart, Hussey said. The sheriff's dive team will try to find the pistol today.
Before his arrest, Smith threw away a pair of black high-top sneakers, according to the arrest affidavit. When his best friend asked why, the report said, Smith mentioned a popular TV-crime show and responded, "Don't you watch CSI?"
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