BRADENTON — Conflicting witness statements have led prosecutors to drop a murder case against a suspect charged in the 2005 slaying of a homeless man, according to Assistant State Attorney Art Brown.
In August, Manatee County Sheriff’s Office detectives arrested Claude Oneal Kite, 39, four years after another homeless man found the body of 48-year-old Thomas Summerlin in a trash bin in a parking lot in the 1400 block of 53rd Avenue West.
Deputies found Summerlin beaten to death, with his hands tied behind his back with shoelaces, according to sheriff’s reports. For years, the case went cold, but recently three witnesses came forward to say Kite had talked about killing Summerlin.
But the accounts of the witnesses conflicted with each other, as well as the physical evidence that Summerlin had been beaten, according to a brief written by Brown declining to prosecute the case.
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One of the witnesses claimed Summerlin had been stabbed, another that he was beaten with a bat, both of which did not match medical examiner’s reports, Brown wrote.
Another witness, an ex-girlfriend of Kite, who initially said Kite talked about killing Summerlin, later said that she “has trouble remembering things from the period surrounding these events due to the use of drugs and alcohol,” the brief stated.
“When witnesses delay coming forward with information for long periods of time, corroboration of their testimony becomes essential,” Brown wrote.
It is the second time prosecutors in Manatee have declined to prosecute Kite in the killing of another man. In 1996, the state dropped a manslaughter charge against Kite, who had admitted to stabbing a man to death in woods off Manatee Avenue.
Bradenton Police reports say Kite told detectives he had been having sex with a woman in the woods and they were caught by her boyfriend. Kite said the man attacked him with a knife and he wrestled the weapon from the man and stabbed him to death. Prosecutors ruled the killing self-defense.
“How many people is this guy going to kill before they put him away?” said Summerlin’s sister Kathie Brown. “He shouldn’t be allowed to be on the street. I am beyond angry that they are not going to prosecute this man.”
Sheriff’s officials also expressed disappointment that the case is not moving forward.
“We are not pleased that they decided to do this,” said sheriff’s spokesman Dave Bristow. “We put in a lot of time on this. We had enough to get a warrant from a judge, so we obviously thought they had enough to go forward.”
Even though the murder charge has been dropped, Kite is still in jail facing an aggravated battery charge, accused of attacking a witness who came forward in the case.
Sheriff’s reports say in April, just out of prison on an unrelated charge, Kite cut the witness’s face to the bone and broke his nose during a fight.
“That right there might makes you wonder if he is innocent,” said Bristow.