Friday, July 6, 2007

Lawyer who got death threats arrested in Broward courthouse for carrying gun

By Tonya Alanez
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

July 6, 2007

A defense attorney who had been receiving death threats was arrested Thursday morning for carrying a loaded gun into the Broward County courthouse.

Stephen J. Finta, 59, told deputies who found the .357-caliber Ruger revolver in his black briefcase that he had forgotten the gun was there. He did not have a valid permit to carry a concealed weapon.

Finta was headed to the third day of jury selection for the first-degree murder, death-penalty case of Andre Andrew Hall when he was arrested in the courthouse's main lobby.Finta was charged with carrying a concealed firearm, a third-degree felony punishable by a maximum of five years in prison.

He was released about 2:45 p.m. after posting $1,000 bail. Finta could not be reached for comment Thursday.

His arrest delays an already much-delayed case.

Hall, a convicted killer also known as Keenan Clarke, has been in jail awaiting trial longer than any other Broward County defendant: eight years and 40 days. He has a history of having his attorneys fired or recused on the eve of trial.

Finta is Hall's eighth attorney.

One attorney withdrew from the case after Hall told him he had heard of a client who disliked his attorney and stabbed him in the neck with a pencil.

The threats against Finta came by telephone.

Finta described them to the judge: The first caller told Finta's secretary that if her boss proceeded to trial July 2, his life would be in danger. The second caller threatened the secretary's life, said prosecutor Brian Cavanagh.Cavanagh has watched Hall's attorneys come and go.

"When it gets ripe for trial, he has that lawyer removed for one reason or another," Cavanagh said. "He's crazy like a fox."

When Hall, 29, was convicted of the May 20, 1999, murder of Fort Lauderdale auto-body shop owner Spurgeon Bowen, Cavanagh was the prosecutor. Hall's life sentence was upheld on appeal.

The intervening years have been spent bringing Hall to trial for the April 25, 1999, murder of Dwight Brown. His body was found in the trunk of a car parked below Sunrise Boulevard at Interstate 95.

Along the way, Hall picked up additional charges for a 2000 attempted escape from the main jail's maximum-security eighth floor. He and a cellmate used a piece of metal broken from a stool to bash a hole in their cell window. Police found a line made of bed sheets on the ground below.

Mike Gottlieb is the attorney to whom Hall relayed the pencil-in-the-neck story. It was the basis for Gottlieb's motion to withdraw.

"It was nervousness on his part, because I was really close to being ready for trial," Gottlieb said. "It was a way of manipulating the system and creating a delay."

Throughout jury selection, Cavanagh said, Hall made daily motions to remove Finta from the case. They had gone through about 100 jurors, narrowing the group to 40. They were discharged Thursday afternoon.

Hall and the attorneys will meet with Circuit Judge John Murphy at 9 a.m. today to determine whether to begin jury selection anew or remove Finta from the case.

1 comment:

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