Braves pitcher's killer freed from prison

Dave Shotkoski wasn't kidding himself. He had already done his time in the minor leagues and knew major league pitching wasn't in the cards.

But even with a wife, newborn daughter and job in Illinois, the chance to play major league baseball, even if just for a few weeks, wasn't one the 30-year-old could pass up.

So he signed on as an Atlanta Braves replacement player during the major league strike.

All of that ended during spring training when he was gunned down on sidewalk in West Palm Beach, Fla., on March 24, 1995.

Now, just days past the 17-year anniversary of Shotkoski's death, his killer is a free man. Neal Evans, 47, was released Tuesday from a Florida prison after serving 17 years of a 27-year sentence, according to the state's Department of Corrections.

Shotkoski's widow told the AJC Wednesday she's shocked that Evans, who had an extensive criminal record before the murder, is a free man.

"He should have been in prison for 27 years to protect everyone that is still here," Felicia Shotkoski said by telephone from Chicago, where she works. "I can’t change it. But what I can try and do is protect other people from going through what we went through. This is just plain wrong."

Evans pleaded guilty in 1997 to second-degree murder in Dave Shotkoski's death. Prosecutors made a plea deal after Evans' first trial ended in a hung jury. He had originally faced the death penalty.

"The inmate reached the end of his sentence according to Florida Statutes in place at the time his offense was committed," Florida DOC said in a statement Wednesday.

Evans received 20 days "gain time" for each month that he served in prison and also earned time for education programs he completed, according the DOC. He is now under "community supervision" for nearly 10 years, jail records show.

Evans has been in Florida prisons seven times since 1988, when he was 23 years old, according to prison records. His crimes have included carrying concealed weapons, burglary, theft and drug possession, records show.

Efforts to locate Evans for comment were unsuccessful.

Evans' punishment doesn't fit the crime of killing her husband, Felicia Shotkoski said.

"The day he killed my husband, he did not show up for a court hearing," she said. "I truly believe the criminals have more rights."

Felicia Shotkoski said when her husband signed as a Braves "replacement player" during the major league strike, he knew it was just for a few weeks. The couple, high school sweethearts from Illinois, had an 8-month-old daughter, Alexis, at the time, so Dave Shotkoski made the trip to Florida alone, hoping maybe it might lead to a minor-league coaching job at some point.

"Go, have fun and just enjoy yourself," Felicia Shotkoski recalled telling her husband.

Dave Shotkoski died on a Friday night as he was walking back to the team's hotel after dinner.

In the weeks following, the strike ended and the regular players returned. Braves pitchers John Smoltz and Tom Glavine helped set up a trust fund for the Shotkoski's daughter. And that October, the Braves won the World Series.

For Felicia Shotkoski, the story isn't about a baseball player being killed, or even her now-teenage daughter who never had the chance to know her father. Instead she believes the criminal justice system failed to adequately punish a murderer.

"How did this happen? How could it happen?" she said. "Someone with this many priors and murdering someone, what have we done to reform him?"