CLEARWATER — The prosecutor called it a “brutal, brutal bashing.”
The trial for Jeremy Brown, 24, charged with first-degree murder in the June 24, 2011, stabbing death of his neighbor, began Wednesday with Assistant State Attorney Fred Schaub demonstrating to jurors how Brown would have given Paul Wiggins 108 knife wounds to the neck, face, head and hands in a premeditated attack.
Brown and Wiggins lived in the same Tarpon Springs mobile home park along U.S. 19 at the time of Wiggins’ death, along with Brown’s aunt, Jacquelyn Kleplek, who was a witness Wednesday.
Wiggins wasn’t well-liked around the park before his death, Kleplek said, and Brown, who recently had moved to the park, didn’t know Wiggins. However, statements made in June 2011 that Wiggins had raped Kleplek were motivation for Brown to kill him, prosecutors argued.
Kleplek, who said in court Wiggins did not rape her, said her boyfriend at the time, who is now deceased, offered Brown $100 to kill the man. Kleplek said Brown did not respond to the offer, but did say during a trip to a gas station the day of Wiggins’ death that he would kill Wiggins for family honor.
Several witnesses Wednesday said they saw Brown the day of the killing, spinning a knife and looking serious and angry at a gathering in another mobile home. Some told him to calm down.
Later that evening, witnesses say they saw Brown pacing in front of Wiggins’ home. Wiggins’ two guests left to go to a gas station and say they returned shortly after to find his body, with little sign of struggle.
Jurors were shown photographs of the scene and of Wiggins’ body.
After the killing, investigators woke park residents looking for witnesses or information. When they knocked on Brown’s door, it appeared no one was home.
Kleplek’s boyfriend, who was said to have an ongoing feud with Wiggins, was in the mobile home when she opened the door to police.
She testified that she heard cries for help coming from Wiggins’ trailer while in bed about 10 minutes earlier. She told her boyfriend, but he said it was likely just Wiggins’ TV or radio, and not to worry.
Kleplek testified she saw Brown the morning after the murder, and he said he “did it for family honor.” He did not explicitly say what “it” was.
Police obtained a warrant to search Brown’s mobile home and found wet clothes in a trash can there, some that contained Wiggins’ DNA and blood that couldn’t be identified.
In February, more than 21/2 years after the incident, another witness came forward to tell investigators she was sitting outside her mobile home the night of the killing and saw Brown kneeling nearby in gravel. She said she heard him say he was going to get away with it and that police wouldn’t be able to catch him.
Brown’s trial is expected to continue today. First-degree murder convictions in Florida come with either a sentence of life in prison without parole or the death penalty; however lawyers said they didn’t expect the death penalty to be involved.