Written by Stephanie Allen

Cold Case: Man’s 1998 Murder Haunts Stepson

LAKELAND | Ernest Grayer begged his stepfather to stay with him that evening.

It was Nov. 12, 1998, and Grayer was sitting in his apartment with his 3-week-old daughter.

Carter Evans was smitten with his newborn granddaughter, Grayer said, but the 48-year-old was set on going out that night.

A few hours later, Grayer got a phone that changed his life forever.

“My momma was screaming, ‘Daddy’s been shot. He’s at the hospital,’ ” Grayer said. “I didn’t have a car, so I ran all the way from my apartment to the hospital. When I got there, they had to hold me, the Lakeland police officers, like 12 of them, had to subdue me. I broke free and ran to the scene where he got shot. They were tracking me, trying to call me. I just went berserk.”

Lakeland police said Evans was sitting on a bucket outside an apartment at 512 W. Magnolia St. about 7:30 p.m. when two men attempted to rob him.

He was shot in the stomach as he tried to run away, police said.

Detective Scott Kercher, who helped investigate the case, said there were several witnesses to the shooting.

The day after the incident, police told The Ledger they were interviewing potential suspects. However, nothing ever panned out, and they are still looking for information, Kercher said.

As part of a continuing series in partnership with the Lakeland Police Department, The Ledger is profiling many of the department’s 37 cold cases and unsolved homicides.

Lakeland police detectives said their hope is that with a little extra time to focus on the unsolved homicides and with help from the community, they’ll be able to solve more of the cases. And that, in turn, could bring closure to many more families like Grayer’s.

“There’s a person walking around this world knowing they took somebody’s life,” Grayer said. “And they feel like they got away with it. But if they don’t answer to the law, they’ll have to answer to God.”

GETTING A FRESH START IN FLORIDA

Carter was born and raised in Enterprise, Ala., but after things started getting tough up there, Grayer said the family moved to Florida for a fresh start.

They settled into Panama City for a while, where Carter started working as a tire repairman for Sears Automotive. In 1985, Carter transferred to the Sears store in Lakeland, where the family has lived ever since.

Grayer said his stepfather was a hardworking and loving man.

After working at Sears for more than a decade, Carter left to work at a smaller tire business and later became a salesman for Lash Auto Sales in Lakeland, Grayer said.

He would help anyone who needed it, Grayer said, and was a father figure for many of the younger people he worked with.

Grayer said he wishes every day that Carter could have had the chance to be that positive influence on his daughter, too.

“He didn’t get the chance to see my daughter raise up,” Grayer said. “But I raised her with influence from him, and I’m a better parent because my dad taught me so much in life.”

The past 16 years without Carter have been hard on Grayer and his family, he said, especially since they still have so many unanswered questions about that night.

Grayer said his mother, Margaret Evans, finds solace attending the Church of Christ in Lakeland, but she longs for some type of closure.

The shooting changed the way he views the world and how he interacts with strangers. When he passes people on the street, or shakes hands with someone new, Grayer said he’s always wondering whether that person could be his stepfather’s killer.

He said he knows anger and confusion won’t bring Carter back, but if he could confront the killer, he would just ask “why?”

“If God put you on this earth to breathe, my father should be breathing, too.”

[ Stephanie Allen can be reached at stephanie.allen@theledger.com or 863-802-7550. ]