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Stand your ground means treks to court for mother of Holiday man slain five years ago

NEW PORT RICHEY - Susan Heintz's body shook as she clutched the steering wheel.

She got up at 6 a.m., took a shower and prepared herself for the 40 minute drive - a routine she started five years ago after her only son was stabbed to death.

She thought it would be over by now.

Instead, she traveled from her suburban home in Palm Harbor to the Pasco County judicial center, joined the security line and walked up to the courtroom. It's on the second floor now instead of the third. New judge.

Heintz, 69, has attended almost every court appearance by Christopher Lamarr Amy, accused in the slaying of her son Jason and his roommate at their Holiday home between late May 30 and early May 31, 2014.

It doesn't typically take this long for a murder case to reach trial. Heintz saw the case against Adam Matos, accused in the 2014 slaying of four people in Hudson, wrap up in 2017.

Changes in Florida's death penalty and a bid to use a stand your ground defense have delayed the Amy trial.

The victims, Amy's attorneys have argued, attacked him first when he went to retrieve items from their home.

Amy told a deputy after he was arrested that he hated crackheads. He said they sold his property and one came after him with a knife, according to court records.

A judge ruled against Amy's stand your ground motion, but Amy appealed and won. He plans to raise the defense again soon in a stand your ground hearing.

Heintz sat in the first row at court. The prosecutors know her well. The defense sometimes asks her how she's doing.

Inside the wallet she carries in her purse are small photos of Jason as a child and his senior high school picture. She's thinking of his piercing blue eyes as the man charged in his death walks in front of her.

. . .

Christopher Lamarr Amy said he wanted to cut someone's throat for moving his things, witnesses told deputies.

On May 30, 2014, Amy, then 42, got out of prison in Georgia after serving a nine-month sentence on a drug possession charge. A man identified only as James told investigators he picked Amy up from prison, according to an arrest report.

They drove to Amy's old place, a mobile home on 1847 Pleasure Drive in Holiday where he had lived with Raymond Rossi, 56. Jason Heintz, 39, was Rossi's new roommate.

READ MORE: Motive, time line emerge in grisly Holiday slayings

When Amy went inside, he saw that an urn containing his parents' remains had been moved, the report said. Amy argued with Rossi.

James drove Amy to his house because Amy had nowhere to live. The report did not list an address for James. Some time between 9:30 and 10 p.m., Amy walked back to his old place. He returned home about 11 p.m., wearing only blood-stained boxer shorts.

The next day, deputies stepped into the mobile home to find the bodies of the two roommates and a bloody buck knife. Both men had been stabbed a number of times. Their families were advised not to go see the bodies. Both men were cremated.

The families of Jason Heintz and Raymond Rossi said the two had their demons. Heintz battled with drug use and they had some minor arrests, but both were known as charismatic and likable. They lived on the edge but were trying to get back on their feet. Susan Heintz noted that no drugs were found during her son's autopsy.

Heintz and Rossi were working for a garage door installation business run by Heintz's father. Heintz was going to reconnect with his daughter and son.

Rossi and his ex-wife, Patty Braley, had talked about having Rossi move to her home in North Carolina at the end of summer. Rossi had lost his leg after a motorcycle accident and Braley, married to him for 14 years, worried about him.

Rossi helped raised Braley's daughter, now Lee Ann Muller. The mom and daughter cannot attend court dates because they live states away, but they call the state attorney's office regularly for updates and keep up with the online docket.

"If he wins the stand your ground and ends up walking, what do I tell my children when they grow up and ask about their grandfather?" Muller said. "How do I explain that to them?"

. . .

Christopher Amy's grey beard has grown since he was arrested. Tattoos line arms clutched in front of him, wrists bound by handcuffs. He looked at the judge through small wire glasses.

Susan Heintz pulled out her phone and opened the calendar as the attorneys tried to pick a date for the next meeting.

Denise Lannon sat next to her. She's best friends with Patty Braley so she comes to court on her behalf. She's more fiery than Heintz, her hair big and skin tanned from boating. She half-jokes about holding herself back from pouncing at Amy.

Lannon and Heintz didn't know each other before this. They grew to know one another as they came to the hearings.

Other loved ones attended during the first year. Some stopped because they couldn't bear it anymore, others couldn't find the time. A friend of Rossi's who often came died.

Nancy Payne, a friend of Susan Heintz, sat down with her. She was a little late. The security line was long. Payne now attends often after learning her friend came alone.

The three women sat together then went for lunch across the street at the Boulevard Family Restaurant to talk about what happened. Heintz has decided that to get away with murder in Florida, all you need is to enter someone's home, kill everyone inside, then call it self-defense.

"I realize I have no control. I'm at the mercy of this court," she said. "And the mercy of the Legislature."

At the end of the day, Heintz's routine is to drive home and play Candy Crush or another mindless internet game until she goes to sleep.

. . .

But the action in court is why Heintz comes. She has to be her son's advocate.

On this day, assistant state attorney Bryan Sarabia walked up to the three women.

He asked if the week of Nov. 4 would work for the stand your ground hearing. Heintz said she has a doctor's appointment but could change it.

The attorneys and judge decided on Oct. 24 and Oct. 25. If Amy loses, there will be a trial.

Lannon asks the prosecutor whether these dates are certain. Braley and Muller want to attend, and they'll have to buy plane tickets.

"Tell them don't get anything nonrefundable," Sarabia said.

"You're not leaving us are you?" Heintz asked him in her small voice.

"No," he said. "God willing."

Contact Paige Fry at pfry@tampabay.com. Follow @PaigexFry.

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