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Friends recall slain boxer

SARASOTA -- Almost two years to the day after promising boxer Cornell “Pickle” Harris, 21, was shot to death, friends and family gathered to remember him with an afternoon of fashion, food and sparring.

Organizers were also hoping to make a little money to go into a college fund for the slain boxer’s son, Cornell Harris III. During the day, several hundred people stopped by the benefit.

When Pickle Harris died, the gym where he trained, the Sarasota Boxing Club, 1325 N. Lime Ave., seemed to die for a while, too, said Tommy Pettiti, owner of Peterson Pettiti Modeling and Talent Agency, who organized the fundraiser.

“Now, it’s started to talk again,” Pettiti said. “Cornell Harris was like a brother to me. We wanted to turn a negative into a positive.”

Harris, who has family in Bradenton and Sarasota, was on the verge of turning pro when he was shot to death March 7, 2009. In January 2010, 19-year-old Robert B. Cummings was sentenced to life in prison for the murder in the home invasion robbery.

Harris’ fiance, Whitney Torres, was also shot several times when she tried to fend off Cummings.

Torres and Harris were childhood sweethearts at Booker High School and had been together six years at the time of his death.

Sunday, recovered from her wounds, she attended the benefit with Cornell III, the son she had with Harris.

“I love it. It’s a good thing keeping a memory alive in a positive way,” Torres said of the benefit.

Torres is enrolled at Sarasota Technical Institute, studying to become a licensed practical nurse.

Pickle Harris’ father, Cornell “Short Dog” Harris Sr., also a boxer with 15 professional bouts, put on the gloves Sunday for an exhibition bout with Cesar Cisneros.

“I think about him all the time. Sometimes it gets to me. I was looking for good things to come from him. I visited him at the cemetery this morning,” Short Dog Harris said of his son. “I think the benefit is a great thing to bring everybody together.”

The local boxing community was shocked at the news of Pickle Harris’ death. “Unbelievable. He was training in the club the night before,” said Harold Wilen, director of the Sarasota Boxing Club.

“He had the rare combination of speed and power. Usually a boxer has only one or the other. He was an extraordinary prospect,” Wilen said.

This is the second year that a benefit has been held for the slain boxer’s family.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 745-7021.