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Man held in Manatee's 9th homicide of '09

BRADENTON — Bradenton police say a man who claims three men broke into his girlfriend’s apartment and shot her to death actually pulled the trigger on the woman himself, according to reports.

Detectives arrested Alexfel Roman Sotomayor, 23, of Sarasota, on a murder charge Sunday morning in the shooting death of 33-year-old Courtney Corinne Walker.

She is the ninth person killed so far this year in Manatee, more than double the four homicides reported for the entire first half of 2008.

At around 12:30 a.m. Sunday, police responded to a 911 call of a shooting in the Perico Apartments complex, three miles east of Anna Maria Island, off Manatee Avenue. Officers found Walker inside her apartment shot in the head.

A witness told Bradenton detectives she had been on the phone with Walker just moments before the shooting.

The witness said Walker became hysterical during the phone conversation and screamed, “Alex.” The witness said she then heard what sounded like someone chambering a bullet in a gun, before the phone went silent and she lost contact with Walker.

That’s when 15-year-old James Pearson III heard a crack that startled him from the video game he was playing in the apartment above Walker’s.

“It sounded like someone dropped a text book flat on the ground right outside our door,” he said.

His father, James II, said he was asleep when the shot went off, but police woke him at 3 a.m. to ask him if he heard or saw anything. It shocked Pearson, who said the complex is typically peaceful and a nice place to live.

“I didn’t hear the shot,” he said. “This is just horrible. We have been scared to go outside all day. This is a quiet place, so for this to happen right below my feet is unbelievable.”

Police reports say several 911 calls came in on the shooting, including one from Sotomayor that came well after the shooting.

First, a 911 call came in from an acquaintance of Sotomayor’s, who said Sotomayor had called saying he had killed his girlfriend and asking if he could come to the witness’s house to “wash the blood and gun residue off him.”

The witness refused and called 911 at 12:26 a.m. Sotomayor later also called 911 at 12:50 a.m. from his cell phone.

Police reports say Sotomayor then drove more than 10 miles to a Manatee County Sheriff’s Office substation, in the 400 block of 57th Avenue West. He arrived in the same car a witness reported seeing Sotomayor speeding away in from Perico around the time of the shooting, according to police reports.

Deputies at the station called Bradenton police detectives, who interviewed Sotomayor at the substation.

He claimed three masked men had burst into Walker’s apartment and one shot her in the head. Sotomayor told detectives he was able to escape, running 100 yards from the apartment. He told police he didn’t hear a gunshot and went back to the apartment 10 minutes later.

Sotomayor said inside he found Walker in a bedroom closet in a pool of blood. He told police he held her arm before leaving the apartment, locking the door behind him. He said he then “drove around for a while and made some calls,” the police reports said.

He explained the delay in calling 911, saying “he was scared,” according to police reports. Sotomayor also told police he didn’t call 911 right away to get his girlfriend help because “he was not thinking.”

“There are all kinds of inconsistencies and holes in his story,” said Bradenton Police Lt. John Affolter. “Right now he is the only person we are looking at for this.”

Sotomayor did admit to having an argument with Walker in her apartment before the shooting over her “being with her husband.” Another witness where Walker worked reported seeing her and Sotomayor arguing.

A co-worker at Tequila Beach restaurant on Manatee Avenue, a block east of 75th Street West, told police at around 10:30 or 11 p.m. she saw Sotomayor pull Walker’s hair and grab her arm during an argument in the restaurant.

The witness said the couple later told each other they loved each other. Sotomayor denied having an argument with her at Tequila Beach, the police report said.

Tequila Beach owner Jeremy Runo said he and the staff at his restaurant were struggling with Walker’s death, but declined further comment as police continue to investigate the shooting.

Sheriff’s spokesman Dave Bristow said he doesn’t believe there is any rhyme or reason for the outbreak of violence that has plagued Manatee so far this year.

“You never can tell with homicides. We are getting more than usual right now, but then we will go two months without one,” he said. “So far this year these have been isolated events that are not random.”