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Meriweather cleared in probe

He’s not a suspect in Florida shooting

By Bob Hohler and Monique Walker
Globe Staff / August 13, 2011

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For nearly six months, no one doubted that Brandon Meriweather was standing next to two acquaintances when a gunman shot them in the face at an after-hours party in his hometown of Apopka, Fla. The mystery was, what role, if any, the Patriots Pro Bowl safety played in the incident.

While many questions remain unanswered because Meriweather has refused to cooperate in the investigation, police yesterday said they had developed enough independent evidence to rule out Meriweather as a suspect in the Feb. 28 shootings.

The assailant remains at large.

“The witness testimony says that [Meriweather] was there,’’ said Jeff Williamson, a spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. “But there was no one we could find that would say that he indeed was involved in the actual shooting.’’

Without Meriweather’s cooperation or additional evidence, detectives plan to shelve the investigation.

“It’s really swiftly heading in that direction,’’ Williamson said. “It will be inactivated, but it could be reopened if someone comes up with some sort of monumental evidence or information.’’

A lawyer for the victims, both of whom played high school football with Meriweather, initially identified Meriweather as the shooter. But a Globe inquiry indicated that Meriweather, while at the scene and familiar with the gunman, did not possess or discharge a weapon. The after-hours party was the final social event in a weekend of activities Meriweather staged for his friends and supporters in Apopka.

Despite a large number of witnesses, police have yet to gather sufficient evidence to hold anyone in the attack.

“We don’t have enough information to call someone the shooter or even a person of interest,’’ Williamson said.

In 2006, Meriweather was cleared of criminal liability after he fired a handgun during an assault on a University of Miami teammate.

Mankins’s biggest fan Now that the Patriots have Logan Mankins under contract for the next six seasons, coach Bill Belichick didn’t hide his emotions about the move.

On Wednesday, Mankins became the highest-paid interior lineman in the NFL. Yesterday Belichick showered him with praise.

“I think the world of Logan and he’s done a great job for us here since he’s come to the Patriots,’’ Belichick said. “I’m glad that he’ll be here for many years in the future. He’s one of our best players, one of our most consistent players. He’s been durable. He’s got a great work ethic. He’s really smart. He plays hard. He’s tough. There’re almost no negatives with Logan.’’

Mankins’s deal is worth $51 million and it includes $30 million guaranteed. The Patriots drafted Mankins in the first round in 2005 out of Fresno State and he has become an All-Pro and respected lineman.

“He’s an outstanding person,’’ Belichick said. “He’s an outstanding player, and he does things the way that we would like our team to do them, so he’s a great example for all of us to look at because he plays hard, he’s unselfish, he’s tough, he puts the team first and he’s a winner. I’m glad we have him on our team.’’

Film reviews are good After reviewing Thursday night’s exhibition victory over the Jaguars, Belichick said he was encouraged by the overall fundamentals by the players who participated in the 47-12 win.

Most of the starters from last season watched from the sideline while rookies and free agent signees took advantage of valuable playing time.

Backup quarterback Brian Hoyer and rookie Ryan Mallett displayed accuracy and control. Rookie running back Stevan Ridley made the most of his carries, rushing for 64 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries. He also had seven catches for 47 yards and one touchdown.

Receiver Taylor Price had 105 yards on five catches and added a touchdown. Second-year linebacker Dane Fletcher called the plays for the defense.

“I’m not saying that [it was perfect], but overall I’d say that we were able to play 80-some plays on offense and 50-some on defense without . . . we’ve all seen fumbled snaps, dropped balls, false starts, offsides penalties, missed tackles, just sloppy, poor football,’’ Belichick said. “We had some mistakes out there, but I thought overall that the fundamentals and techniques were at a decent, competent level.’’

Extreme makeover Steve Maneri caught the attention of the Patriots as a tight end at Temple. But what Belichick saw in Maneri was an offensive lineman. Last year, Maneri worked through the adjustments to mold himself into a tackle, and Thursday night he logged a few snaps at the position.

With one season behind him and a strong offseason, Belichick said he can see the difference in the 6-foot-6-inch, 290-pounder.

“He’s improved his strength and explosion and power and he’s still pretty athletic for his size, but he’s grown into the position and into the frame that he has and his techniques are a lot better,’’ Belichick said. “He’s still got a lot of things to work on, but I think we saw a lot of improvement from him since the last time we saw him in January.’’

Back to work The players were off yesterday, but will resume practices today on the fields behind Gillette Stadium. The team will practice today and tomorrow from 1:30-4 p.m. - both are open to the public.

Bob Hohler can be reached at hohler@globe.com. Monique Walker can be reached at mwalker@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @monwalker.

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