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First-degree murder trial set for next week

BRADENTON — In the early morning hours of June 1, 2007, three masked men dressed in black kicked in the door of a Bradenton home in the 1300 block of 17th Street Court East.

During the chaotic attempted robbery, several shots were fired. One bullet hit the homeowner, Robert Prater Sr., 59, in the head and killed him.

Next week, a 12-person jury will decide if 22-year-old William Caldwell, of Bradenton, is responsible for Prater’s death.

Jury selection is set for March 30 at the Manatee County Judicial Center.

Assistant State Attorney Art Brown, prosecuting the case, said lawyers hope to seat a jury Monday. The trial is expected to last all week.

The state plans to call about 25 witnesses.

A grand jury indicted Caldwell on a first-degree murder charge May 23.

If Caldwell is convicted of the charge, prosecutors will seek a life prison sentence for him.

Authorities have said forensics prove Caldwell took part in the home invasion slaying.

After the killing, Bradenton Police found an abandoned rented vehicle near the Prater’s home believed to be the getaway car.

The person who rented the vehicle said she gave Caldwell, and another man, Brandon Lazier, the vehicle prior to the shooting, Detective Greg Price said.

Forensic evidence found in that car, including fingerprints and DNA on a mask, that links Caldwell to the deadly home invasion, according to Price.

Another witness, he said, also told police Caldwell was one of the men who burst into Prater’s home.

On the day of the shooting, Bradenton Police detectives arrested 18-year-old Kyle L. Goff after two witnesses in the Prater home identified him.

After more than a month in jail, Goff was released after the witnesses recanted their statements. Police said they had doubts he took part.

The same week that prosecutors cleared Goff, 20-year-old Brandon Lazier — deemed a person of interest by detectives — shot himself to death July 5 in an encounter with law enforcement.

Lazier had been wanted for questioning on the found getaway car.

When police tried to pull over Lazier near DeSoto Square mall, he ran on foot behind Florida Wheels skating rink, in the 3600 block of Third Street West.

As police approached him, Lazier shot himself in the head, according to police reports.

During an autopsy confirming suicide, examiners also found a wound police believe he may have suffered during the robbery.