Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
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Former paratrooper acquitted, arrested in Stock Island 2 years ago

A Key West graduate and former Army paratrooper accused of shooting a man to death with a shotgun in North Carolina before his capture on Stock Island two years ago has been acquitted.

It took Cumberland County, N.C. jurors about 12 hours to find Brandon Joseph Mims not guilty of murdering 23-year-old Michael Ray Staggs after a two-week trial that culminated with their verdict on Feb. 6, said Staggs' mother, Barbara Staggs.

Barbara Staggs told The Citizen Monday that some jurors told her prosecutors didn't have enough evidence to convict Mims.

The Fayetteville Observer reported that prosecutors had circumstantial evidence that indicated Mims could have been the shooter, but no direct evidence, such as positive identification from witnesses to the shooting.

"The jury wanted proof that we couldn't give them," Barbara Staggs said, adding that Mims' grandfather -- a key witness in the case -- died last year.

Prosecutors and the Staggs family were looking to put Mims' grandfather on the stand. Mims' grandfather could have testified that Mims brought him the shotgun used in the shooting and admitted to the killing, Barbara Staggs said.

"We couldn't give them [the jury] that extra piece of evidence, because the grandfather isn't alive anymore," she said.

Cumberland County, N.C. lead prosecutor Nitza Rothstein did not return a phone message seeking comment.

"I still want justice for my son," Barbara Staggs said.

Fayetteville police accused Mims of shooting Michael Staggs in the head with a 12-gauge shotgun in a Fayetteville strip mall parking lot on Jan. 29, 2011 before he was picked up less than 24 hours later by Key West police as well as U.S. Marshals, FBI and Homeland Security agents.

Mims reportedly ran from officers and agents who were staking out a house, ran through several properties, jumped a fence and refused to stop until he was shocked with a Taser.

Fayetteville Police Department homicide detectives had been en route to Key West to extradite Mims, who previously was seen in the Hope Mills, N.C., area -- near Fort Bragg -- before his capture here.

Mims reportedly has family in Key West and was a student at Sugarloaf Elementary School and Key West High School, Harrison Kelly, a Stock Island resident, told The Citizen shortly after Mims' capture.

Barbara Staggs' and her family believe Mims is back in Key West, she said.

"He doesn't have anyone here and his family is down there," Staggs' said.

Neither Mims nor his family members could be reached Monday for comment.

Mims, a former paratrooper in the Army's 82nd Airborne Division based at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, left Key West for the Army in 2009 and initially hoped to join the elite 75th Ranger Regiment, Kelly told The Citizen.

Mims had completed a humanitarian mission in Haiti from January to May 2010, but had not been deployed to the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, according to the public affairs office at Fort Bragg.

alinhardt@keysnews.com

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