It’s been more than two years since Devon Freeman claims he was threatened by Frank Brice while he was preparing to move into an East Bradenton neighborhood.
“You don’t want to be moving in here, there will be trouble,” Brice allegedly told Freeman’s girlfriend on Nov. 6, 2016.
There are different accounts of what happened in the moments that followed but ultimately it led to trouble for Freeman.
After claiming Brice pulled a gun, Freeman shot his own gun multiple times at the car Brice was driving, hitting and killing Moriah Hope Goode, Brice’s girlfriend who was a passenger.
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Freeman was later charged with second-degree murder with a firearm and has been held without bond at the Manatee County jail since, awaiting trial.
Brice and Freeman’s hostility was part an on-going rivalry between groups of people in Bradenton and Sarasota. Freeman, like law enforcement, knew of the Brice’s reputation to be violent and involved in criminal activity. Brice was acquitted of a murder charge in March 2015 for the fatal shooting of another teen, Teria’le Rawls, outside a Bradenton movie theater, which gained national headlines.
On Monday, Freeman’s trial was set to begin with jury selection but he took a plea deal instead.
Freeman pleaded to a lesser charge of manslaughter. He had faced life in prison as charged, but now as part of the terms of a plea agreement, Freeman is facing a maximum of 15 years in prison.
He will be sentenced at a hearing scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Feb. 8.
Assistant State Attorney Art Brown discussed the circumstances of the case with the victim’s family before agreeing to the deal, he said. Among the circumstances were Freeman’s confinement to a wheelchair and that two of the key witnesses who were associated with Freeman, including his girlfriend, had initially lied to law enforcement and could not be depended on to testify truthfully at trial.
“After consideration of all those circumstances, the victim’s family agreed that this was an appropriate resolution,” Brown said.
The plea agreement comes about two weeks after Circuit Judge Charles Sniffen denied a motion by the defense to have the murder charge against Freeman dismissed after he immunity under Florida’s “Stand your ground” law.
According to a written order dated Dec. 21, Sniffen found Freeman’s testimony during a hearing in November was “neither reliable nor credible.” Freeman’s account of the shooting was “inconsistent with the physical evidence in the case” and his account of his actions in the days that followed the shooting defied “logic and common sense,” Sniffen concluded.
But the judge also had concerns about the reliability and credibility of Brice’s testimony during the same hearing, finding he appeared guarded, at times hostile and that he contradicted his own previous statements.
Detectives were never able to recover the murder weapon, and also never found any evidence that Brice had been armed at the time of the shooting or that a second gun had been fired.
During his testimony at the hearing in November, Brice said “If you think I had a gun that day and there were bullets flying and I didn’t shoot,” and then snickered.
The victim’s mother also testified during the same hearing about how she met with Brice about a week after her daughter’s death. Referring to notes she took at the meeting, Janet Goode testified that Brice admitted to telling Freeman, “You don’t want to be moving in here, there will be trouble.”
Brice also told her that he said, “I guess we better go to the police,” to her daughter as he drove away from the shooting but that Moriah said he’d better take her to the hospital instead, Goode said.