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Anthony Kyser didn’t have money for the tubes of toothpaste he stuffed in his jacket before he walked out of a Little Village CVS store Saturday morning.

He paid with his life, instead.

Chased out of the store and down a litter-strewn alley shortly before 11 a.m., the 35-year-old unemployed barber was strangled to death by a CVS employee who had seen him shoplifting, officials said.

Witnesses said Kyser, of the 1400 block of South Hamlin, cried, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe!” as the CVS worker held him in a chokehold for what they thought was several minutes. Three other men attempted to restrain him in the alley behind the 2600 block of South Pulaski, the witnesses said.

The medical examiner ruled Kyser’s death a homicide, saying an autopsy showed he had been strangled, but police said Sunday the employee who killed him won’t be charged.

Police are treating the death as “accidental,” Chicago Police spokesman Daniel O’Brien said.

That’s a decision Kyser’s outraged family can’t understand.

“Why would you kill someone over toothpaste?” his ex-wife, Ann Balboa, said through tears Sunday.

“Why would you even chase them, and how is this not murder — it doesn’t make sense.”

Kyser’s family said that though he had served prison time for drug convictions and had a drug problem and “his ups and downs,” nothing he had done came close to justifying his death.

They also said they want a full investigation into claims — made by two witnesses to the Chicago Sun-Times — that an off-duty Chicago cop was at the scene and had drawn her weapon on Kyser before he died.

Chicago Police say there is no reference to an off-duty officer in their report.

The witnesses, whose homes back onto the alley where Kyser died and who asked not to be identified, say the officer announced herself, pointed her weapon at a bleeding Kyser and told him to stop resisting the CVS employee and other men who were holding him down.

When he continued to struggle, she holstered her weapon, got in her car and made a phone call, the witnesses said.

Chicago Police spokesman John Mirabelli said Kyser was unconscious when officers arrived at the scene at 10:52 a.m. Police Lt. Maureen Biggane said the probe continues, adding that “we have no indication of CPD involvement.” She said camera footage is being reviewed and urged witnesses to contact detectives.

Initially described as in “fair-to-serious” condition, Kyser was declared dead 45 minutes later at Mount Sinai Hospital, according to the medical examiner’s office.

Staff at the store declined to comment Sunday, but CVS spokesman Michael DeAngelis said the company was investigating “the unfortunate incident involving a suspected shoplifter who fled our store.”

The Independent Police Review Authority is not investigating, spokesman Curtis Tarver said.

There were 15 thefts in the 2600 block of South Pulaski in the first four months of 2010, statistics show. Witnesses said they have previously seen CVS employees tackle shoplifters.

Balboa says Kyser’s family plans to sue. “He was a loving stepfather to my three sons,” she said. “They’ve taken away my kids’ pops, and you don’t do that.

“They murdered him.”

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