Shooter spent years in prison

ST. PETERSBURG — Hydra Lacy Jr. was soft-spoken for such a big man, acquaintances say, but he had already left a tempestuous trail of violence long before he holed up in an attic Monday and killed two police officers.

Court records show two prison terms, starting when he was 17, and arrests for grand theft, aggravated battery, rape, kidnapping, attempted murder and resisting arrest with violence.

When police went looking for him Monday, he was on the lam for a domestic violence charge involving swords and broken liquor bottles.

Lacy, 39, was the oldest of nine children. His brother Jeff was a champion middleweight boxer. Another brother, Kenny, was due to make his professional boxing debut next month.

Dan Birmingham, who trained both Lacy brothers at the St. Pete Boxing Club, said Hydra Lacy Jr. — all 6-foot-4 and 270 pounds of him — "was well-known as a guy you didn't want to cross.''

"He was always real polite. Never a problem and always cool with me,'' Birmingham said. "I remember the last time, he said, 'Dan, I can whup any of these guys in here.' And he was probably right.''

David Santos, Jeff Lacy's longtime friend and a boxing buddy, said he never saw Hydra at his brother's fights — "even the ones in Tampa.''

"Hydra chose his path, and Jeff chose his," Santos said.

The Lacy children grew up in St. Petersburg's Wildwood area, across Interstate 275 from Gibbs High School. Friends said the children were raised largely by their father, Hydra Lacy Sr., who also boxed briefly as a heavyweight. The parents were divorced, friends said.

Kim Capehart, whose family moved to the neighborhood in 1990, remembers the younger Lacys as a decent bunch "who all kind of hung together.''

"I didn't know Hydra,'' Capehart said. "He was never around.''

That's because he was in prison. At age 17, Hydra Lacy Jr. was sentenced to four years for grand theft auto, attempted murder, aggravated assault and resisting arrest with violence. He served two years.

Seven months after his release, he was arrested for kidnapping, aggravated child abuse, sexual battery with a weapon or force and battery on a law enforcement officer.

A 16-year-old Lakewood High School student told police she and Hydra Lacy dated briefly in 1991, but she broke it off. A few months later, she said, Lacy grabbed her outside her apartment one night, forced her into his car, then hit and raped her repeatedly.

That earned him a 15-year prison sentence. He was released in 2001 after serving nine.

In 2004, Hydra Lacy bought the 28th Avenue S house and married Christine Mary Jewell Pitts that same year.

Lacy's criminal past did not worry his new wife, said her sister, Carol Jewell.

"She thought he had changed. She thought he would never do anything to harm her. She thought she was different and he loved her.''

Lacy made a good living as foreman for a truck driving company, Jewell said. He liked to refurbish vehicles, she said, and on weekends the Lacys would often have family cookouts.

During the early days of marriage, Jewell said, "he might look intimidating, but he was not someone you would think would have resorted to any of this.''

That was echoed by Sheila Smith, 45, part of a group that often took motorcycle rides around the Tampa Bay area. Lacy was a "cool guy'' who would ride at the rear of the pack, she said. "He was watching out for us. He would be behind us girls to keep everybody straight."

Smith said she knew nothing of Lacy's violent past.

By 2008, Hydra and Christine Lacy were on the rocks.

They had bought four houses during the go-go days of the real estate boom, hoping to flip or rent them, said Jewell. But when the market collapsed, three of the houses went into foreclosure.

Then Lacy was arrested after the couple had a violent fight. The charges were dropped, but Lacy lost his job, Jewell said.

The next brawl proved more serious. In June 2009, Lacy was charged with aggravated domestic battery. Police say he admitted attacking his wife with two swords. Her injuries included a broken nose, cuts and bruises on the back of her head. Arrest records also say he "broke several liquor bottles over the victim's head."

In a deposition, Christine Lacy says the fight began after she found evidence he was cheating. She also hit him with a liquor bottle and with one of the swords, she said.

Lacy's trial was set for last Nov. 1, but he didn't show. The court sent an electronic warrant for his arrest to the sheriff the next day, court records show. Given his record, a conviction could have sent him back to prison.

St. Petersburg resident Willie Mae Norton, 60, who said she helped raise Lacy, said he came by to visit several days ago.

"He said, 'You know I'm on the run,' " Norton said. "He told me, 'I'm not going back to jail no more.' "