A convicted felon who disappeared from a work release program was arrested Tuesday and charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of two men in St. Petersburg.
Officers arrested 36-year-old Michael Scott Norris Tuesday night. He is also charged with escape, burglary and possession of a firearm.
Detectives say he shot and killed 51-year-old Bruce Johnson and 36-year-old Arthur Regula inside the home where Johnson was staying.
According to police, Johnson was renovating the home, and Regula had been hired to help with tiling.
Norris had been released from prison and was staying at the Largo Residential Re-Entry Center in Clearwater. He had been serving a lengthy term on multiple burglary and armed burglary charges, police said. Investigators say left for work Sunday morning and never returned.
Police say he robbed a room at a motel at 1600 34th Street South, where police say a friend of his was staying, and he stole a semi-automatic handgun.
He then went to the house at the 2600 block of 4th Avenue North, where he shot and killed the two men, stole several items, set the house on fire, and took off in one of the victim's trucks.
Investigators say they don't yet know why Norris targeted that house, or why the victims were killed during the burglary.
"We still have to look at all the victims involved, including the homeowner, on what would have brought this individual to this neighborhood," said Mike Kovacsez, with the St. Petersburg Police Department.
A spokesperson for Goodwill, which runs the halfway house program, said they are "shocked and disturbed," and said what happened was unprecedented. They didn't immediately have any other comments.
The Florida Department of Corrections issued the following statement:
"Inmates or offenders are unpredictable at times...This inmate only had three disciplinary reports while in prison...He had earned the right to go on work release, and complete his prison sentence, because of good behavior in prison...He had only been in work release center one week when this double murder happened....His prison sentence was going to end Dec.29, 2012...He was in the program to readjust to life outside of prison and become a productive citizen once that sentence was completed..."
From FOX 13's Anthony Miller:
By all accounts, Michael Norris was good at getting in trouble.
"He was arrested back in 2000, 2001 for about 50-65 burglaries, grand thefts and auto burglaries," said Major Mike Kovacsez, with the St. Petersburg Police Department.
Those crimes led Norris to prison back in 2004.
According to the Florida Department of Corrections, good behavior behind bars led Norris to this Clearwater work release facility back in August, and he was scheduled to be released in December.
"That essentially allows you to work your way back in the community," Kovacsez said.
Inmates get jobs in the community and are required to return to the facility at the end of the workday.
Sunday, Norris left to go to work, but investigators say he never made it.
"Instead of going to work, he goes to a hotel down on 34th Street South," Kovacsez said.
It's believed he stole a handgun from the hotel room of a friend and eventually made his way to this house on 4th Avenue North in St. Pete where Bruce Johnson lived and Arthur Regula was doing tile work.
Investigators believe he intended to rob the house.
"At some point, there was a confrontation. He shot and killed both individuals and tried to set the house on fire to burn it to the ground to try to cover up his tracks," said Kovacsez.
Investigators say Norris left something behind at the house that tied him to the crime.
The Florida Department of Corrections released a statement that read in part:
"Inmates or offenders are unpredictable at times. This inmate only had three disciplinary reports while in prison. He had earned the right to go work release."
That facility is run by Goodwill Industries.
They also released a statement Thursday saying they are "shocked and disturbed."
While St. Petersburg Police are sure they have their man, they still say they have work to do like figuring out why Norris, who didn't have any clear ties with the victims, ended up at that house apparently ready to kill.
"I'm not going to say random, it was definitely something, we don't know exactly why he went there," Kovacsez said.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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