Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Parents jailed, charged in abuse of son

October 31, 2007

Orange County

The mother of a 12-year-old Orange County boy was accused Tuesday of using a hammer to beat her son, and her husband faces charges of failing to report the abuse.

Maria Aguirre, 29, and Fidel Enamorado, 32, were arrested by Orange County deputy sheriffs and booked into the Orange County Jail. Aguirre is accused of aggravated child abuse, and Enamorado faces charges of child neglect and failure to report child abuse.

According to an arrest affidavit, the abuse was first reported last month when numerous scars and injuries could be seen on the boy's body.

Initially, the child denied the abuse and said his injuries were from swimming in a river in his native El Salvador.

He later told an Orange County deputy that Aguirre would force him to remove his clothes and then beat him. She hit him as many as 12 times in a row with extension cords, cans, bottles and once chased him with scissors, according to the report.

"He would then go take a shower to clean the blood off and put his clothes back on," the affidavit stated.

At other times, the child said his mother would chain him to a towel rack in the bathroom or to a bar inside of a shed in the backyard and hit him with a metal pole, according to the document. She recently used a hammer to pound on his feet and used a kitchen knife to hit him in the head, deputies said.

Enamorado knew about the beatings but didn't stop his wife, investigators said. The boy and two sisters have been placed in foster care.

Bianca Prieto, Christopher Sherman and Katie Fretland of the Sentinel staff contributed to this report. Wire services also were used.

Report: Dead boy endured many beatings

An arrest affidavit says his godmother struck the child and allowed him to be abused.
Bianca Prieto

Sentinel Staff Writer

October 31, 2007

Levares Key knew all too well the sting of a belt hitting his skin and breaking the flesh.

For almost half of his short life, caregivers beat the 8-year-old repeatedly and left at least 30 scars on his backside, according to an Orange County sheriff's arrest affidavit filed Tuesday.

The dead boy's godmother, Sandra Annette Blackmon, 43, was arrested on charges of child abuse and child neglect. Detectives said their investigation found that Blackmon, who raised Levares for most of his life, beat him and allowed him to be abused before his death last month.

Blackmon, the third person charged in connection with the boy's death, was being held Tuesday night at the Orange County Jail. She declined to be interviewed.

Levares died Sept. 29 after being kicked, punched and hit at his mother's apartment on South Texas Avenue. Orange County sheriff's investigators have charged his older brother Demetrius Key, 13, with premeditated murder.

It wasn't the first time the younger boy had been hit. The medical examiner told sheriff's investigators that Levares' body displayed numerous wounds in various stages of healing.

"Levares was a chronically battered child," according to Blackmon's arrest affidavit.

When Levares was four and a half months old, the boy's mother, Tangela Key, gave him to Blackmon, who kept him until he was 11 months old and then returned him to Key. For the next three months Key took care of him while she lived in New York, according to the affidavit.

When the child was 14 months old, Blackmon resumed care of Levares, which continued until June 14, when she gave him back to Key. The affidavit did not state why Key began taking care of Levares again.

During an interview with sheriff's investigators earlier this month, Blackmon admitted to hitting Levares from the time he was four and a half years old until the boy left her in June.

"Sandra Blackmon admitted to leaving approximately thirty linear permanent marks on Levares' butt and back after she 'whooped' him," according to the affidavit. "She also said her brother 'whooped' Levares and left an estimated ten permanent marks on his body."

Blackmon and her brother, Stacy Allen, would use a belt to discipline the children for various reasons including coming home late, getting suspended from school, stealing, talking back and cussing.

Another child who lived in Blackmon's home, and referred to Levares as his 'brother,' told investigators he saw Levares hit with a belt and also saw marks from the beatings.

Key said the boy told her that Blackmon and Allen had beaten him in the past. He also told her that Blackmon's mother intentionally burned him once with a cigarette lighter, according to the affidavit.

Neither Allen nor Blackmon's mother has been arrested in the case.

Earlier this month, Key was arrested and charged with aggravated child neglect. Investigators say she left Levares in Demetrius' care at the apartment, even though she knew he had harmed the younger boy in the past.

She is free on bail, but Demetrius is being held at the Orange County Juvenile Detention Center. Prosecutors have said they do not intend to try him as an adult.

Levares was one of 56 people murdered in Orange County so far this year.

Bianca Prieto can be reached at or 407-420-5620.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

In all cases, the death penalty is inherently flawed

By Saira Khan
Senior Staff Writer

In 2004 in Kansas City, MO, Lisa Montgomery, 36, strangled Bobbi Jo Stinnett, 23, who was eight months pregnant and then proceeded to cut out the premature infant from her womb; she was found guilty of kidnapping and murder. Now, the main issue lies in one question: should she be given the death penalty? The jury happens to believe so, because late last week, after deliberating for five hours, Lisa Montgomery was sentenced to death. Of course, the story doesn't end here. There will be appeals, and then some more appeals, and thousands of dollars will be spent in trying to drop her sentence to life in prison. Though Montgomery's crime was most heinous in nature, you must ask yourself this: who are we to take another's life?

Capital punishment has been a hot topic for decades now and many countries, including Canada, Australia, and all of Europe have gone as far as to completely outlaw it. Supporters of the death penalty state that it deters crime, and they believe that, as the Bible states, "Life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand" (Ex. 21:23, 24), the punishment should fit the crime--murder for murder.

Films such as Last Dance, Dead Man Walking, and The Life of David Gale do an excellent job of portraying the flaws in capital punishment; each film asks some very pertinent questions regarding matter like the state of mind of the criminal when the crime was committed and, of course, whether the accused is actually guilty or not.

For example, Lisa Montgomery was sexually abused repeatedly as a child, which, her defense attorney states, led to mental illness. It has been established that Montgomery used to use pregnancy as a way of getting attention and lied several times through the course of her life about being pregnant; her attorneys state that this shows a history of mental illness. Do you still feel that Montgomery deserves the death penalty? By ending her life, are we serving justice by murdering an extremely ill woman? Unfortunately, there is no simple black and white answer to the question; it's all gray.

And what are we supposed to do when we wrongfully put someone to death? Can we provide the formerly dubbed criminal, now the victim, with any form of justice? Is there any retribution for the family of the accused? I think not. "I'm sorry we killed your son for a crime he didn't commit - here's $20,000, enjoy!" says it all. People that I have spoken to regarding this matter who support the death penalty tend to beg the question, "How many times can that possibly happen?" But one wrongful death is more than enough, and considering the fact that we have convicted plenty of innocent men and women, some who served forty years before being exonerated, carrying out the death penalty on an innocent does not seem very unlikely. In the cases of the men and women who served days, months, and even years in prison for a crime they did not commit, the jury, the lawyers, and the investigators were, more often than not, one hundred percent sure that justice had been served; if they can be wrong about one case they can sure as hell be wrong about another.

Personally, I feel murders should be given life imprisonment, preferably solitary confinement (it gives them ample time to wallow in their misery and reflect on their wrong doings); they should not be given the luxury of companionship in the form of an inmate.

If you were to look at capital punishment from the economic perspective, then the pros of life in prison will most definitely outweigh the pros of the death penalty. In 1998, Phil Porter studied the costs the death penalty in states such as Texas, California, and Florida, and upon examining the results, stated that "sentencing a prisoner to life in prison is a better allocation of resources than sentencing him to be executed." To break it down, he states, "The cost of keeping a 25-year-old inmate for 50 years at present amounts to $805,000. Assuming 75 years as an average life span, the $805,000 figure would be the cost of life in prison. So roughly it's costing us $2 million more to execute someone than it would cost to keep them in jail for life."

Of course, the answer to the complex question regarding capital punishment cannot be answered in a mere less than 1,000 words article. However, I can state the following: Do I think kidnapping and murder are wrong? Absolutely. Do I think one who commits such a crime should also in turn be murdered? Absolutely not. There is no gray area here; no human on this earth has the right to take another's life, especially if there is a possibility that they may be innocent of the crime or they may be mentally ill. As clich 233 as it is to end something with a quote I feel obligated to say that Mahatma Gandhi had it right, an eye for an eye will definitely make the world go blind.

Lawmaker defends death penalty


An American Bar Association panel found that Florida's death penalty system ''falls short'' in providing defendants with ''fair and accurate'' treatment, but a key state senator Monday dismissed calls for revisions.

Florida was one of several states cited by the lawyers' group, which is calling for a nationwide moratorium on executions until states determine that their systems meet legal standards for fairness.

But Sen. Victor Crist, a Tampa Republican, said Florida has done what it can to eliminate problems.

''The criticisms are unwarranted and nothing more than an attempt to end the death penalty,'' said Crist, who chairs the Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Committee and has made death penalty revisions his chief policy area. ``No matter what we do, as long as we have a death penalty, they'll try to find fault with it.''

Florida was one of eight states the association studied over the past three years. The review team that studied the system in Florida, as well as those in Arizona and Pennsylvania, did not call for moratoriums in those states. Chris Slobogin, a University of Florida School of Law professor and review team member said, however, that a ''significant majority'' of the group voted for a moratorium.

The study notes that Florida leads the nation in Death Row exonerations -- 22 since 1973 -- and that even the state's Supreme Court justices have complained about the quality of legal representation provided by some private Death Row attorneys.

The report also found that there is ''inadequate compensation'' for attorneys in the state-run offices that handle death penalty appeals.

But Crist said Florida is one of the few states that provide such attorneys.

''Every recommendation they've had, we've followed suit,'' Crist said. ``It's just never enough. They're never satisfied and we never reach a resolution.''

Stephen Hanlon, who chairs the death penalty project, said the bar association takes no position for or against the death penalty.

But he added that the bar association ``has no confidence that fairness or accuracy is being provided.''

''The death penalty system does not deliver the justice that the American people deserve, expect and are guaranteed,'' he said.

The report notes that one reviewer, Jacksonville State Attorney Harry Shorstein, said he supported the death penalty and hoped the report would ``facilitate efforts to effect positive changes in the policies and administration of the death penalty.''

The report recommends that Florida set up an independent commission to study the number of wrongful convictions in the state and recommend changes to prevent them.

Judge allows execution in teen's 1982 murder

By Tyler Treadway

Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers

October 30, 2007

Fort Pierce

A circuit judge ruled Monday that a Martin County man on Death Row more than 25 years is not mentally retarded, meaning he legally can be executed.

J.B. "Pig" Parker, 45, is one of four men convicted of the murder of Julia Frances Slater, 19, of Jensen Beach, who was kidnapped from a store on U.S. 1 in north Stuart and killed shortly after midnight April 27, 1982, on State Road 76 west of Stuart.

The case attracted national attention because of Slater's relationshipto famed singer Frances Langford and outboard motor magnate Ralph Evinrude. The victim's mother, Sally Slater, said it was incorrectly portrayed that her daughter was an heiress of the Langford-Evinrude estate. The victim was the step-granddaughter of the couple.

Parker, Alphonso Cave, Terry Wayne "Bo Gator" Johnson and James Earl Bush were convicted in separate trials for kidnapping and murdering Slater. Parker was 19 at the time. Parker, Cave and Bush were sentenced to death. Johnson received a life sentence because evidence indicated he was drunk, did not know what was happening at the time of the homicide and later cooperated in the investigation.

Bush was executed in 1996, but Cave and Parker still are appealing their sentences.

Attorneys for Parker filed motions in June that claimed their client should not be executed because he was not mentally competent and had been ineptly represented at his second trial for the murder.

Dr. Sol M. Blandino, a North Florida psychologist who examined Parker at the state prison in Starke, found Parker has an IQ of 95, prompting Circuit Judge Gary L. Sweet to rule the defendant mentally competent.

A hearing to determine whether Parker had adequate representation will take place in early 2008.

Judge tosses out controversial comment made by state Rep. Bob Allen

Laurin Sellers

Sentinel Staff Writer

11:26 AM EDT, October 30, 2007

A Brevard County judge today tossed out a controversial comment state Rep. Bob Allen allegedly made about his position as a lawmaker during his arrest on a sex-solicitation charge.

Police officers said Allen stated, "I don't suppose it would help if I said I was a State Legislator would it?'' - a comment Judge Oscar Hotusing ruled was not relevant to the solicitation charge.

Allen, who goes on trial Monday, said the comment was taken out of context and was made only in reference to where his car should be taken after his July 11 arrest.

Allen is accused of agreeing to pay $20 to perform a sex act on an undercover police officer in a public park in Titusville. He has pleaded not guilty.

Godmother of boy beaten to death after eating dessert is arrested

Sandra Annette Blackmon

Bianca Prieto

Sentinel Staff Writer

5:15 PM EDT, October 30, 2007

The godmother of an Orange County boy who died at the hands of his older brother last month was arrested today on charges of child abuse and child neglect.

Investigators said they discovered evidence that Sandra Annette Blackmon, who had taken care of Levares Key most of his life, had abused the 8-year-old boy prior to his death on Sept. 29. She returned him to his biological mother, Tangela Key, a few months earlier.

The older brother, Demetrius Key, 13, told investigators he punched, kicked and hit Levares several times after he ate a dessert and picked at a scab. Demetrius had been left in charge of several of his younger siblings while Tangela Key was not at home.

Levares died of a closed head injury, the Orange County medical examiner found. According to the arrest affidavit for Blackmon, he also was a "chronically battered child."

The medical examiner found several injuries in various stages of healing all over the young boy's body, including numerous scars on his backside, investigators said. Blackmon told investigators she left about 30 permanent scars on his rear and back from where she hit him.

Tangela Key told investigators that Levares recounted instances where Blackmon beat him.

Demetrius was charged with premeditated murder but will not be charged as an adult.

Tangela Key was arrested shortly after Levares' death and charged with child neglect.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Father, daughter will give key testimony in murder trial

Renaldo McGirth, left, and Jarrord Roberts are shown at a hearing in Ocala last week. They were to stand trial on murder and other charges beginning this Monday.
Joe Byrnes/Star-Banner


OCALA - I was just before noon. James Miller walked out of the shower. He had a haircut appointment at 12:30 p.m. The 69-year-old man was putting on underpants when he heard a knock.

A man with a small, silver gun grabbed him and took him into a bedroom inside Miller's home in The Villages.

Miller was startled. Then he saw his wife. She had been shot in the chest.

"I lost it. She was covered from head to foot in blood," Miller would say later when telling lawyers what happened on that day in July 2006.

Diana Miller was still conscious. "Don't say anything, Jim. I'm all right. I can handle it," she told her husband.

Minutes later, James Miller was on his stomach and on the floor. His wife was also on the floor, near his feet.

James Miller was shot in the head. He didn't lose consciousness when a second shot was fired, this one at his wife's head. Diana Miller stopped moving, and her husband heard a "gargling" sound. She had been killed.

He waited quietly until the men left. Then he made a run for it.

"I got up, rolled up the shade and busted out the screen and climbed out the window and ran over to my neighbor's house," James Miller said later in his deposition.

Throughout the robbery, James Miller told lawyers, his daughter, Sheila, was nowhere to be seen.

Renaldo McGirth, 19, Theodore C. Houston, 18, and Jarrord M. Roberts, 21, are charged with first-degree murder with a firearm, attempted first-degree murder with a firearm, robbery with a firearm, kidnapping with a firearm and fleeing police in connection with the case.

The state is seeking the death penalty for McGirth and Roberts. Their trial had been scheduled to start with jury selection on Monday, but it was continued until January.

Houston's trial is set for December.
Candace Hawthorne and Brenda Smith represent McGirth. Henry Ferro represents Roberts. Lake County lawyer Michael Graves represents Houston.

State Attorney Brad King and Assistant State Attorney Bob Hodges allege that the three defendants went to the home at 9262 Wesley St. to visit their friend Sheila Miller, 40, who is James and Diana Miller's only child.

They ostensibly were bringing her a gift. But prosecutors say robbery was the real reason for the visit.

The state says Roberts taped Sheila Miller's mouth, face and hands.

Diana Miller, 63, was fatally shot in the chest and head, and James Miller was shot in the head.

The men are accused of stealing the Millers' 2000 maroon Ford Windstar and kidnapping Sheila Miller. They drove to the Oaks Mall in Gainesville. The men wheeled Sheila Miller around the mall, visiting four stores and stopping at several ATM machines. After a high-speed car chase through Reddick and Martin, the men were apprehended.

Last week, Circuit Judge Brian Lambert denied defense requests for additional time to prepare. Defense lawyers want to further investigate Sheila Miller and hire death penalty mitigation experts.

"This is not a simple case in the sense that you have multiple stories," Ferro said.

At the same hearing, the lawyers foreshadowed their strategy: attack Sheila Miller.

There are only two witnesses to The Villages murder: Sheila Miller and her father, who survived that gunshot wound to his head. The daughter was living with her parents because she was recovering from a car accident. She was in a wheelchair and was suffering from a broken pelvis and hip, among other injuries.

Jurors will have to rely on their accounts to determine who is responsible for the crimes.

In their sworn statements, Sheila and James Miller agree on one thing: Three men entered the home that day. After that, their stories vary sharply.

Sheila Miller said McGirth was the shooter. James Miller said he doesn't know who fired the gun.

Sheila Miller says she was a victim. Her father says she was in on the robbery.

The 12-member jury might hear from the defendants themselves, through police interviews. McGirth, Roberts and Houston all talked to police investigators about the incident. It is not clear what each defendant told police because the state, as allowed under Florida law, has not released their statements.

James Miller has said his daughter wanted to collect $750,000 in assets and life insurance payouts. The father's testimony, which has been taped in advance because of his health condition, might just help the defense.

In his deposition, James Miller testified his daughter has a history of drug and alcohol use, and fraud. He said she once obtained a credit card in her mother's name and charged more than $7,000.

"I assume things because, knowing my daughter, she's a conniver and when he - when they shot my wife, why did they have to shoot me? Well, they had to shoot me because she was a beneficiary for all of our goods," James Miller said.

"Until the day I die, if I live that long, I just think she was involved in this murder and I can't think of any other way because of her, because of her methods of doing things."

Hawthorne and Ferro planned to use that theory to cast doubt on Sheila Miller's credibility. In the hearing last week, Hawthorne called the daughter the "mastermind" in the robbery and murder plot. The lawyer claimed the daughter wanted her parents' life insurance money.

Hawthorne also told a judge about an Internet blog that has comments about the crime and suggests Sheila Miller apparently got the idea to have her parents killed from an ex-boyfriend, who is serving prison time in Michigan for murder in an insurance fraud scheme.

The defense asked the judge for permission to question Sheila Miller without restrictions. "It may make a difference between life and death and the kidnapping charges," Hawthorne argued. "She was not kidnapped. She went willingly and planned this robbery."

Hodges asked a judge to limit some questioning in regard to Sheila Miller. In the state's eyes, she is a victim.

Lambert granted the state's request. Sheila Miller can't be questioned about the former boyfriend who is in prison.

Mabel Perez may be reached at or 867-4106.

ABA Calls For Halt of Executions


ABA Calls For Halt of Executions

Group says fairness and accuracy are compromised in death penalty cases.

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON Serious problems in state death penalty systems compromise fairness and accuracy in capital punishment cases and justify a nationwide freeze on executions, the American Bar Association says.

Problems cited in a report released Sunday by the lawyers' organization include:

Spotty collection and preservation of DNA evidence, which has been used to exonerate more than 200 inmates;

Misidentification by eyewitnesses;

False confessions from defendants; and

Persistent racial disparities that make death sentences more likely when victims are white.

The report is a compilation of separate reviews done over the past three years of how the death penalty operates in eight states: Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.

Teams that studied the systems in Arizona, Florida and Pennsylvania did not call for a halt to executions in those states. But the ABA said every state with the death penalty should review its execution procedures before putting anyone else to death.

"After carefully studying the way states across the spectrum handle executions, it has become crystal clear that the process is deeply flawed," said Stephen F. Hanlon, chairman of the ABA Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project. "The death penalty system is rife with irregularity."

The ABA, which takes no position on capital punishment, did not study lethal injection procedures that are under challenge across the nation. The procedures will be reviewed by the Supreme Court early next year in a case from Kentucky.

State and federal courts have effectively stopped most executions pending a high court decision.

Prosecutors and death penalty supporters have said the eight state studies were flawed because the ABA teams were made up mainly of death penalty opponents.

Lawyers renew push for execution moratorium


The American Bar Association on Monday will call again for a nationwide moratorium on executions, finding what it says are major flaws with the death penalty systems in eight states, including Florida.

The association's Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project found problems in the states it studied over the past three years, including major racial disparities, inadequate defense counsel for defendants and irregular review processes, which together make the death penalty systems operate unfairly.

''After carefully studying the way states across the spectrum handle executions, it has become crystal clear that the process is deeply flawed,'' said Stephen F. Hanlon, who chairs the project. ``The death penalty system is rife with irregularity -- supporting the need for a moratorium until states can ensure fairness and accuracy.''

The ABA takes no position on the death penalty itself, but it began calling for a moratorium on executions in 1997 so legal questions could be worked out.

The group's most recent review of death penalty systems in eight states -- including Florida -- was done by teams of local legal experts who used standards developed by the ABA as a means of measuring the fairness of each state's death penalty.

According to the report, which is being released at a press conference Monday, each state appeared to have ``significant racial disparities in imposing the death penalty, particularly associated with the race of the victim.''

The report also charges that states often do not have policies in place to ensure that lawyers representing people with mental retardation or mental illness 'fully appreciate the significance of their clients' mental disabilities.''

The states examined include Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. The team that studied the system in Florida, as well as those in Arizona and Pennsylvania, did not call for a moratorium in those states. But the group is calling for a nationwide ban for death penalty systems to be reviewed.

The report claims Florida falls short in several areas, including failing to ensure that the rights of mentally ill persons are protected during police interrogations.

Florida stopped executions last year after a condemned inmate, Angel Diaz, took 34 minutes to die -- twice the usual time -- when executioners missed a vein.

Gov. Charlie Crist lifted the ban last August after the state changed its execution procedures, including requiring additional training. Mark Dean Schwab, 38, is scheduled to die Nov. 15 for the rape and murder of an 11-year-old.

Schwab and convicted murderer Ian Deco Lightbourne, though, are appealing, arguing that the state's new procedures do not fix the problems revealed by Diaz's execution.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Trial begins in killing of Villages woman

2 men could face the death penalty in Diana Miller's death. One knew her daughter, and she blames herself.

Stephen Hudak

Sentinel Staff Writer

October 28, 2007


Sheila Miller shoulders blame for her mother's death in The Villages last year, a slaying regarded as the first-ever murder in the huge retirement community.

"I know my choice of friends, associates or whatever and my lifestyle is why my mother is dead. I live with that," she said in a phone interview Friday. "My mother was my savior. Anything and everything I got into, from abusive boyfriends to being tardy to school, my mother bailed me out."

Miller figures to be the key witness when a trial begins Monday for two men charged with killing her mother, Diana Miller, 62.

The accused triggerman, Renaldo "Pooney" McGirth, 19, came to the home of Diana Miller and her husband, James, with two friends on July 21, 2006, to see 40-year-old Sheila, the Millers' only child, according to police reports.

Detectives say McGirth knew Sheila Miller from drug deals, and she had loaned him money and her truck in the past.

According to a sworn statement by Sheila Miller, the trio lied their way into the home, saying they had brought a get-well present in a backpack. She said they wanted money and McGirth drew a gun.

"How do you think we have money?" her mother asked them.

" 'Cause you live in The Villages," McGirth replied.

Diana Miller, 62, was shot in the head and chest. Her husband was shot in the ear but survived.

Death penalty possible

McGirth and Jarrord Roberts, 21, could face the death penalty if convicted of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and other crimes, including armed robbery and kidnapping.

A third defendant, Theodore Houston, 19, is scheduled to stand trial on the same charges in December. Prosecutors decided to try Houston separately because he was 17 at the time and, therefore, is not eligible for the death penalty.

Sheila Miller was not charged, and her only role in the case will be as a witness. Circuit Judge Brian Lambert Friday denied a defense request to postpone the trial.

In a deposition taken Oct. 17 in preparation for the trial, Sheila Miller said she did not know McGirth and his friends' intentions and denied that they came to bring her drugs. She insisted that she, too, is a victim.

She said they forced her from her parents' home at gunpoint and stole her parents' van.

She was with the trio when they wrecked the van and were arrested by Marion County deputy sheriffs. The crash ended a high-speed chase.

In the hours between the shooting and the crash, they shopped at the Oaks Mall in Gainesville, browsing for mobile phones, sneakers and clothing. Security videos show they also visited an automated-teller machine and a Kmart, where, Sheila Miller contends, she had tried to use "facial expressions" to alert a sales clerk about her predicament.

"The guy didn't catch on," she said.

In her deposition, Sheila Miller said she kept quiet in the mall because she thought both her parents were still alive and McGirth had promised to "off" them if she fussed.

About six weeks earlier, she had moved in with her parents in "Florida's Friendliest Hometown" to convalesce after a drunken-driving accident in which she was hurled through the windshield, breaking her pelvis and a hip.

Turbulent childhood

Her parents, retired accountants from Michigan, often argued about their daughter, who described herself in her deposition as a "binger" of drugs and alcohol.

A crack cocaine smoker since age 19, she had been convicted of cocaine possession and DUI, dated a series of younger men with substance-abuse problems and rarely held a job longer than six months, according to the court documents.

She often called her parents in the middle of the night to ask for money or to seek their help in evicting unruly guests from her home.

According to her deposition, she stole her mother's Social Security number to get a credit card and used it to rack up $7,000 in charges.

Though disappointed, her mother paid the bill.

"My mom took care of me and my dad didn't like it," she said.

Sheila Miller has bounced between temporary homes, motels and a shelter for battered women since her mother's death.

In her deposition, she identified her emergency contact as Carol Mykolaitis, the mother of a former high-school sweetheart serving a prison sentence for murder. Kevin Mykolaitis killed an accomplice in an insurance fraud.

Dad, daughter estranged

Sheila Miller and her father were never close and the gap has widened, said Carol Mykolaitis, reached by phone in Michigan. Mykolaitis, who knew the Millers before they moved to Florida in 1999, said James Miller would not even tell his daughter where her mother was buried.

Sheila Miller said she could not remember the last time her father said, "I love you." The father won a court order that forbids his daughter from contacting him.

Both Sheila Miller and her father describe Diana Miller's last minutes as heroic.

Though bleeding from a gunshot wound to her chest, Diana Miller tried to keep her daughter and husband calm and appease the men who ordered her to a computer.

Court records suggest the men wanted her to use her credit cards to make online purchases for them.

"She was covered head to foot with blood," James Miller recalled.

"She said, 'Don't say anything, Jim. I'm all right. I can handle it.' "

Sheila Miller said she was duct-taped and sobbing when the men pushed her in her wheelchair to the van.

"The last thing I [saw was] my mom in the computer room and she said to me, 'Quit [crying]. Everything is all right. Everything is OK, thumbs up and I love you.' "

During his deposition, Miller also said he hasn't spoken with his daughter since the day after his wife was killed.

"She called and said, 'I'm sorry,' " he recalled in his deposition. "I said, 'I'm sorry, too. Goodbye.' "

Stephen Hudak can be reached at or 352-742-5930.

Store clerk gets life for Lauderdale double murder

Imran Hussain was convicted earlier this month of two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of robbery with a deadly weapon and one count of arson.

Posted on Wed, Oct. 24, 2007

Store clerk gets life for Lauderdale double murder

The fired dollar store clerk who bludgeoned his former bosses to death and then set their bodies and shop ablaze will spend the rest of his life in prison for the crime.
Broward Circuit Judge Martin Bidwill sentenced Imran Hussain to life in prison without the possibility of parole Tuesday, moments after a majority of jurors recommended that sentence over the death penalty.

Hussain, 32, was convicted earlier this month of two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of robbery with a deadly weapon and one count of arson in the Nov. 29, 2001, deaths of Mohammed Abul Kalam, 45, and his wife, Joynab Chowdhury, 37.

Jury foreman Ron Schnepp said he was in favor of the death penalty, but a majority of jurors thought it would be a harsher penalty for Hussain to spend the rest of his life in prison.

''They wanted to punish him,'' said Schnepp, 59. ``A lot of people felt that the death penalty would be letting him off too easy.''

In closing arguments earlier Tuesday, prosecutor Brian Cavanagh told jurors they should recommend death because of several factors, including the physical and emotional torment that the victims suffered before they died.

During the trial, Cavanagh said Hussain -- who had once lived with the couple and their family -- was motivated by greed and anger when he bludgeoned the couple to death at the Sunrise Dollar Store in Fort Lauderdale.

Defense attorney Barry Butin pleaded with jurors to have mercy on Hussain, whose prior criminal record of drug use and theft did not include violent offenses.

He said Hussain had been a cooperative inmate in the Broward County Jail, and said Hussain's addiction to cocaine had fueled much of his bad behavior in the past.

''I feel bad for everybody, feel bad for us, feel bad for them,'' said Hussain's oldest brother, Iqbal Hussain, who was in court Tuesday.

The victims' son and daughter, Mohammed A. Hossain and Rabeya Khatun, had tears in their eyes after Hussain was sentenced.

They were teenagers when their parents were killed; an older brother was serving in the Marine Corps.

Now 20, Khatun is studying culinary arts. Hossain, 24, graduated recently from Florida Atlantic University, where he majored in criminal justice. He said Tuesday that he wants to be a detective.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

2 plead not guilty in deaths on boat

Indictment alleges they kidnapped and murdered the four missing crew mates of the Joe Cool. They could face the death penalty.

By Carol J. Williams
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

October 26, 2007

MIAMI — Two men who said they survived a pirate attack that killed four others aboard a luxury charter fishing boat last month were indicted Thursday on charges of robbery, kidnapping and first-degree murder of the missing boaters.

Kirby Logan Archer and Guillermo Zarabozo entered pleas of not guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ted Bandstra in a case that has sent a chill through Florida boating circles.

Archer, 36, and Zarabozo, 20, will remain jailed as they await trial before U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck. Bandstra denied bail Tuesday after prosecutors contended that the men might flee or pose a danger to the community if released.

Both men could face the death penalty if convicted. They also are charged with stealing the million-dollar boat they had chartered for $4,000 in cash.

The 47-foot sport fisher Joe Cool was found abandoned and ransacked about 35 miles north of Cuba on Sept. 23 after its owners reported it overdue from the chartered cruise from Miami Beach to Bimini Bay in the Bahamas.

A Coast Guard search for the vessel, its crew and its clients found the two men floating in the Joe Cool's life raft 15 hours after the ghost ship was found.

Neither the bodies of the four missing crew members nor a murder weapon has been recovered. The government has no witnesses or confessions, but intends to proceed with circumstantial evidence and inconsistencies in the men's statements in its effort to prove they plotted to hijack the boat, murder the crew and, apparently, escape to Cuba.

Archer was wanted in Arkansas on allegations of stealing $92,000 from the Batesville Wal-Mart, where he worked as an assistant manager until he disappeared after the alleged theft in January. He is also being investigated for alleged child molestation in Sharp County, Ark.

Zarabozo, a naturalized U.S. citizen who came to Miami with his mother from their native Cuba in 1999, has apparently never been in trouble with the law.

Little is known about how the two men met or what might have motivated them to hijack the Joe Cool and kill its crew, as the U.S. attorney's office has alleged in a six-page indictment filed just minutes before a deadline to charge or release the suspects.

Archer and Zarabozo told Coast Guard and FBI investigators after their rescue that three Cuban pirates had commandeered the sport fisher en route to Bimini. They said the men executed the boat's captain, Jake Branam, and his wife, Kelley, then shot crewmen Scott Gamble and Samuel Kairy when they refused to throw the couple's bodies overboard. Zarabozo disposed of the bodies, both told interrogators.

The defendants were escorted into court on either end of a 15-man chain gang for a full calendar of arraignments in Bandstra's court. Both watched the other proceedings with interest but betrayed no emotion in those cases or their own. Archer at one point stole a long glance at the younger defendant, but they otherwise ignored each other.

Juvenile justice hearing is Oct. 29 in Tampa

Former Florida Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan is chair of the Blueprint Commission, created by Florida’s Department of Juvenile Justice. The panel was formed in response to several concerns such as repeat juvenile offenders, and the overrepresentation of minority youths and the alarming growth of girls in the juvenile justice population.

The Commission will bring together citizens and juvenile justice stakeholders who care deeply about the public safety and at-risk youth of Florida. The role of the Commission is to examine Florida’s juvenile justice system and offer recommendations to address key issues such as ensuring public safety, providing treatment and intervention for troubled youth, and maintaining a fair and balanced approach to assessing the needs of all youth.

The Blueprint Commission has scheduled a series of public hearings in six cities across the state. The Commission will invite input from stakeholders from all aspects of juvenile justice programs and services, as well as citizens of Florida. This hearing will focus on the need for smaller, community-based residential care as an alternative to larger institutions.

When: Oct. 29 1 to 4 p.m.: Opening, Welcome and Presentations 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.: Public Comment

Where: University Area Community Development Center, 14013 N 22nd St. Suite A, Tampa

Mayor, sheriff, council president address high murder rate

Special to the Times-Union

Note to readers: The Times-Union Editorial Page asked the sheriff, the mayor and the City Council president to explain how they are addressing Duval County's state-leading murder rate. Excerpts are below. Complete responses can be found on the Times-Union's Web site. Go to Enter "Reader Mall" in the keyword search.


Question: Do you have a plan to reduce Jacksonville's murder rate to the state average? If so, please describe it. What is your timetable?

Answer: Aspiring to reduce Jacksonville's murder rate to the state average is setting our sights too low, although it would be a good first step. Unfortunately, violence in Jacksonville has been brewing for decades.

Poverty, illiteracy and educational challenges; broken families, unaddressed mental health issues and the decay of our urban core have all contributed to the growth of violent crime here and in other large cities, and we have an even greater challenge than most with regard to literacy.

No one person or institution can address the problem, and it's not going to be solved overnight, or during my term as mayor. That makes the real solution a tough sell, because people want results. Increased support for law enforcement and more effective prosecution are proven violent crime reducers in the short term, but we can't arrest our way out of this problem.

Prevention efforts and targeted interventions - such as family crisis and mental health counseling, truancy prevention, and other services formerly provided through the Juvenile Assessment Center - must be enhanced.

We need to make a commitment as a community to support law enforcement with proper funding and cooperation. But we also need to come up with the wherewithal to fund and support prevention efforts like my early literacy program and the Seeds of Change initiative, and youth services.

Question: What is your office doing to help prevent murders? What is the status of the Harlem project?

Answer: My three top priorities have been public safety, economic growth and early literacy. All three of these priorities will have an effect on violent crime down the road.

I have worked to ensure adequate funding for the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office. My early literacy initiative, RALLY Jacksonville!, is improving the odds for thousands of children in our community by setting them on the path to success and productivity rather than failure, poverty and crime.

We've also worked to empower citizens, improve neighborhoods and remove environmental contributors to crime through the Seeds of Change initiative.

We are currently working to support the reopening of the Juvenile Assessment Center. In spite of enormous financial pressure from the recent actions of the Florida Legislature, we were able to fund both the initial meetings of the Harlem Children's Zone exploratory group and the study phase of the project.

Question: What are you doing to help revive a Juvenile Assessment Center and create a system that helps identify juveniles in trouble and get them help before they commit serious crimes?

Answer: The last year the Juvenile Assessment Center was open - 2005 - it processed nearly 7,000 young people. That was the fourth highest rate in the state of Florida. Clearly, the center needs to be opened and expanded. I am committed to identifying funds to revive the center, which is an important first step on the road to reduced violence in the future. I think re-opening this crucial facility is a must, and I will work with the sheriff and anyone else who steps forward to help.

Additionally, I think it's time to re-examine Juvenile Justice Comprehensive Strategy created on Mayor John Delaney's watch. The Comprehensive Strategy Steering Committee is still meeting, and there is a lot of brain power there.

This strategy identified the priority risk factors for juvenile crime: poverty, early academic failure, a lack of commitment to school, family management problems, availability and use of drugs and mental health issues. There's lots of good information in the original study and recommendations, and we don't have to recreate the wheel; the facts about the effectiveness of targeted intervention speak for themselves.

The difficulty, again, is funding and the community's will to succeed. There's no doubt that the dollars we spend on prevention and intervention will provide a huge return on investment. Think about the fact that it costs about $85 a day to house an inmate in jail - about $31,000 a year.

Clearly, devoting funds today to prevention and intervention efforts that address the root causes of crime will result in huge savings down the road; savings not just of millions of dollars, but - more importantly - thousands of lives.


Question: Do you have a plan to reduce Jacksonville's murder rate to the state average?

Answer: I plan to continue our focus on illegal gun and drug activity; street level, low level, mid level and our high level drug enforcement activities.

Because this is "ground zero" of where the violence and murder are occurring, and we know that drugs and guns (social issues aside) are where law enforcement's greatest success at addressing aggravated batteries and murder can occur.

Question: What is your timetable?

Answer: Operation Safe Streets was launched in spring 2006, and we continue to work both the overt and covert tactical activities that are netting us good arrests. We are continuously improving on that plan - and now that the budget is finalized and the Matrix operations audit is due, I will be able to make even more decisions about how we can "ratchet up" the program.

Question: What is your office doing to prevent murders?

One of the results of Operation Safe Streets, as we learned in the first year, is the number of excellent tips from citizens that resulted in an increase in arrests.

Most first-time offenders don't start out murdering - they rob at gunpoint, they carjack, they deal dope. The work of our school resource officers with students, the work of our Police Athletic League with young children, and all the outreach and contact our men and women are having with citizens in the community, about this issue and the ways it can be prevented with their help, continues to be a major part of the solution.

Question: What is the status of the Chicago-based prevention program?

Answer: I believe you are referring to our violent criminal re-entry program, Dismas. We are on track for our first meeting in December.

We learned a lot observing the other programs, such as Chicago. We decided to improve on a few things. We're putting all the program components into place, like making sure the resources are right there in the room with the participants at the meeting - so they don't have to seek them on their own.

Question: What are you doing to help revive a Juvenile Assessment Center and help create a system that helps identify juveniles in trouble, and get them help before they commit serious crimes?

Answer: First, identifying juveniles in trouble: Our patrol officers work hard on curfew and truancy enforcement. I worked with City Council to enact a new curfew ordinance that now affords the parents of kids with multiple infractions the option of going to a parenting class, instead of paying a fine. I don't know of any preventive action that could be more effective than this - getting the family the help it needs. The Empowered Parent program - the alternative to paying the fine - really works.

On the issue of the Juvenile Assessment Center, my work in Tallahassee for the past two sessions resulted in some funding. But the state budget we worked so hard on was cut, and we were forced to make adjustments. While all the partners are committed to the center, funding remains a challenge. Our department is working to identify some federal forfeiture dollars that we might be able to direct that way. We are in the planning stage now with the Department of Juvenile Justice to renovate the old facility.

Conclusion: My responses to these questions have been primarily focused on law enforcement's work in the area of violence and murder. I have not addressed the underlying social issues that we know are among the root causes of violence and murder.

A breakdown of the family or families with no structure. A lack of parental involvement in a child's life, a child's education, whereabouts, their friends.

Employment opportunities are challenging for those without an education or with a police record, or with a multi-generational history of low education and criminal records. And a lack of focus on character training - all are at the root of any city's crime problem - just to name a few.


Question: Do you have a plan to reduce Jacksonville's murder rate to the state average? If so, please describe it. What is the timetable?

Answer: My job is to fund the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office so it can fight crime and keep our citizens safe. We are awaiting an audit of the office that should give us more details about possible administrative efficiencies. This may allow us to place more officers on the street without additional costs. Meanwhile, City Council should fund measures to increase police presence in high-crime areas.

Question: What is your office doing to help prevent murders?

Answer: I believe the ultimate solution to our problem is to change people on the inside. We have to give hope to the hopeless. I'm currently working with Northeast Florida Builders Association's Builders Care and The Tony Boselli Foundation to refurbish city community centers to create learning centers for needy children. My goal is to establish a model educational outreach in high-crime areas that are replicated across the city.

Question: What are you doing to help revive a Juvenile Assessment Center, and create a system that helps identify juveniles in trouble and get them help before they commit serious crimes?

Answer: We've worked with the state Legislature to fund the capital expenses for a new Juvenile Assessment Center, but were unsuccessful obtaining the funds. In 2008, we will try again.

However, we have to realize prevention as well as public safety costs money. It doesn't just happen.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Sentence Upheld for Fla. Child Killer

By BRIAN SKOLOFF Associated Press Writer

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ An appeals court has upheld a 30-year probation violation sentence for Lionel Tate, who for a time was the youngest person to be sentenced to life in a U.S. prison.

Wednesday’s ruling by the 4th District Court of Appeal sets the stage for Tate’s trial on robbery charges that could carry another life term.

Tate, 20, had sought to have the sentence thrown out based on procedural mistakes, his attorney, Jim Lewis, said Thursday.

Tate was 12 at the time of the 1999 beating death of 6-year-old Tiffany Eunick and became the youngest person in modern U.S. history to receive a life sentence. His lawyers initially claimed Tate killed the girl while imitating pro wrestling moves.

An appeals court overturned his first-degree murder conviction in 2004 after determining it wasn’t clear whether Tate understood the charges against him. He was freed from prison under a deal in which he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 10 years’ probation.

But in May 2005, police said he robbed a pizza delivery man, and he was found to be in possession of a gun even before that, a violation of his probation.

Tate initially pleaded guilty to the robbery and unrelated gun possession charge in return for a sentence of 10 to 30 years. Against the advice of his lawyers, he withdrew the plea in the robbery case but not the gun charge, and was sentenced to 30 years.

Tate’s new attorneys said they plan to file another appeal of his probation violation sentence based on ineffective counsel.

”We’re disappointed, but it’s not the end,” Lewis said.

Prosecutors declined to comment.

No date has been set for the robbery trial.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Catholic Church Teaching on the Death Penalty

There is no evidence that the death penalty deters violent crime.

*To the extent that there is any correlation between imposition of the death penalty and violent crime, the incidence of violent crime and murder of law enforcement officers is greater in states with the death penalty.

*The average murder rate is 5.3 in death penalty states and 2.8 in states without the death penalty (murder rate is murders per 100,000 population). As a region, the South accounts for more than 80% of the executions and has the highest murder rate. The Northeast carries out less than 1% of the executions and has the lowest murder rate. (2004 FBI Uniform Crime Report)

More information on murder rates by state is available from the Death Penalty Information Center:

Grim statistics tell the story.

*The number of executions since reinstatement of the death penalty in 1973 exceeds 1,000.

*The national death row population is greater than 3,300.

*The Florida death row population is more than 370.

*The United States is alone among western democracies in retaining the death penalty for crimes less than treason. In employing the death penalty, it finds itself in company with countries such as China, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Life without parole is an effective and less expensive alternative to the death penalty.

*All death penalty states (other than New Mexico) offer life without parole as a possible sentence in capital cases.

*Lifetime incarceration costs far less than the death penalty. The cost of imposing the death penalty has been estimated as 2- to 6-times greater, $3.2 million versus $750,000 for one person (Miami Herald, 1988).

Victim’s families deserve our special care and concern.

*Repaying cruelty with cruelty does not bring healing. Killing the guilty does not bring back or honor the dead.

*The finality of execution means that great care must be exercised in its application. As a result, there are often long delays between a finding of guilt and execution, thus prolonging the involvement of the victim’s family in a legal process in which they are pressed to maintain a hostile stance toward the criminal. This process may actually delay “closure” for the family.

Execution of innocents is a real danger.

*The U.S. Supreme Court ruled it is constitutional to execute an innocent person if constitutionally required procedures were followed (Herrera v Collins).

*“More often than we want to recognize, some innocent defendants have been convicted and sentenced to death.” Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, 2001.

Mainline religious denominations oppose use of the death penalty.

*Although prosecutors routinely use “an eye for an eye” and similar biblical texts in urging the death penalty, scripture scholars refute this interpretation.

*Attempts to support the death penalty with the Bible rest on verses taken in isolation and ignores the broader context of both the Old Testament and the teaching of Christ in the New Testament that call us to protect life, practice mercy, and reject vengeance.

Statements of religious bodies are available on-line:

Application of the death penalty is deeply flawed.
*More than 120 death row inmates in 25 states have been exonerated since the death penalty was reinstated in 1973.

*"Florida leads the nation in death row exonerations. Since 1973, the State of Florida has exonerated twenty-two death row inmates, significantly more than any other state. Combined, these death row inmates served approximately 150 years in prison before being released…" American Bar Association, “Florida Death Penalty

*Defendants in many states get poor legal advice unless they can afford counsel with death penalty experience.

*In Florida, a unanimous decision by the jury is NOT required to recommend death, only a simple majority vote.

Catholic Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty
For resources to help individuals, parishes and dioceses participate in this national campaign, visit:

For additional information on
the death penalty in Florida contact:
Florida Catholic Conference
201 W. Park Ave., Tallahassee, FL 32301-7715
Phone: (850) 222-3803

Long, winding legal trek ends on Death Row

Howard Steven Ault, left, sits with his attorney Mitchell B. Polay, as they listen to Judge Marc Gold read his sentence at Broward County Courthouse on Wednesday.


Decorum held. A killer with wretched credentials was sentenced to death Wednesday, and the restraint in the courtroom was nearly heroic.

The cameras in the courtroom might have captured something in the judge's expression. A tightness in the face, like stifled anger. But Judge Marc Gold spoke in careful, controlled tones. TV crews and newspaper photographers and reporters were recording his words, but the Broward circuit judge passed on the opportunity for theatrics.

He read a few paragraphs from his sentencing order. That was enough.

Section Six recounted how Howard Steven Ault sexually abused 11-year-old DeAnn Mu'min, then ``placed his hands around DeAnn's neck and squeezed the life out of her. There is no question that DeAnn was fully aware of what was happening. Her anxiety and fear cannot be put into words.

``Having murdered DeAnn, the defendant contemplated his next move. He chose to smoke a cigarette. After finishing his cigarette, he placed the terrified 7-year-old child, Alicia Jones, on the floor, wrapped his hands around her neck and strangled her.''


This case has haunted Broward County for 11 years, although Ault, who had been on probation for child sexual battery, had confessed to police a few days after the murders. And he kept confessing, in letters and phone calls, to any reporter with the stomach to listen.

But years were wasted as he fired his lawyer and represented himself, then switched back to another another lawyer and fired him, and . . . finally, in 1999, he was convicted and sentenced to death. But appeals brought the case back to Broward Circuit Court this summer for yet another sentencing hearing and a reprise of those grisly details.

Wednesday's death sentence was utterly inevitable. Ault's only realistic chance at avoiding the death penalty rested on the unlikely possibility that the U.S. Supreme Court might outlaw capital punishment. Otherwise, these killings more than met the legal requirement for a death sentence: ''especially heinous, atrocious or cruel.'' These killings, Judge Gold pointed out, ''set the standard'' for heinous, atrocious and cruel.

Ault, head shaved, wearing a fresh yellow shirt, gleaming white sneakers and steel manacles, sat in the jury box as the judge read the sentencing order. The killer had no reaction as the judge described the murders, a description based on Ault's own recollections. He declined the judge's offer to make a statement. And the judge sentenced him to die.


Then, as if Gold had finally reached the end of his patience, he told the bailiff, ``Take this man out of here.''

Afterward, prosecutor Tim Donnelly sat alone on the back row. He looked a little tired. ''Tired's not the word,'' he said, searching for a phrase that describes these past 11 years. ``It's been a long journey.''

He sighed. ''People think when they hear a verdict that it's over.'' But years' worth of appeals will follow. Donnelly, who was 39 when the case started, could be in his 60s before Ault is escorted into the execution chamber.

The confessed killer had driven prosecutors, judges, his own lawyers and an outraged public to distraction with years of erratic maneuvers. But the slow, careful, patient, evenhanded treatment afforded Ault says something about a community's allegiance to the legal process.

Even a confessed child-killer gets justice. Even after 11 years, decorum held.

Unfair penalty

To the editor:

Every year it becomes more and more obvious that the death penalty is unjust and unfair. The taking of a person’s life for the sin of murder is most often an act of vengeance rather than justice.

American is one of the few civilized nations in the world to support such an extreme measure. According to Amnesty International, four nations last year accounted for 94 percent of the worldwide executions: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United States, which had 60. Currently, 122 nations have abolished the death penalty.

We shall never know how many innocent prisoners have been executed in the past. We do know that in the United States, more than 123 prisoners have been found innocent and released, although all had previously been found “guilty beyond reasonable doubt.”

In 2003, the Missouri Supreme Court reversed the verdict of a death row inmate, Joseph Amerine, after he had been imprisoned for 18 years. After 26 years, another prisoner, Luis Diaz, 67, of Florida, serving a life term, was released. He was fortunate not to have been previously executed. Minority races, as you might guess, are most often found guilty.

Yes, I oppose the death penalty upon the basis of injustice and lack of fairness for those tried. It falls most upon the poor, the ignorant and the underprivileged.

Many churches now also oppose the death penalty for religious reasons as well. Life imprisonment is a fairer, more humane verdict, in my opinion. I hope Kansas will once again abolish the death penalty.

Harold Piehler,


Fla. man gets death in 1996 double slaying

A Florida judge has sentenced Howard Steven Ault to death for the 1996 abduction and murders of two young sisters.

Ault, 41, was convicted of raping and killing DeAnn Mu'min, 11, at his home in Fort Lauderdale and then killing her 7-year-old sister, Alicia, because she was a witness.

Ault had been sentenced to death in 2003; however, the sentence was overturned on a technicality involving jury selection.

The Miami Herald said Thursday Ault is expected to appeal. His lawyer maintains Ault was mentally ill and had been abused as a child, and that abuse victims often become abusers themselves.

Nevertheless, a jury recommended the death penalty in August. Broward Circuit Judge Marc Gold upheld the recommendation at Wednesday's hearing.

Man convicted in couple's slaying

Posted on Wed, Oct. 24, 2007
Man convicted in couple's slaying

The Associated Press
A Duval County jury Wednesday convicted the fourth and final person charged with killing a retired couple who were buried alive in rural Georgia.

Alan Lyndell Wade, 20, was found guilty of two counts each of first-degree murder, robbery and kidnapping. The bodies of Reggie and Carol Sumner, both 61, were found buried in a shallow grave in Georgia near the Florida state line in July 2005.

"It hurts to see these young people's lives destroyed, but ... we've suffered horribly," said the Rev. Jean Clark, Reggie Sumner's sister. "When you do something wrong, you've got to pay the price."

The same jury will recommend either life in prison or the death penalty for Wade on Nov. 15.

Wade and three other people were charged with the crimes against the Sumners.

Tiffany Cole and her boyfriend, Michael Jackson, also were convicted on the same charges. Cole will be sentenced next month while Jackson was sentenced to death.

Bruce Kent Nixon pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, robbery and kidnapping after leading police to the bodies. By agreeing to testify against the rest, he avoided the death penalty and faces 52 years to life in prison.

Cole met the Sumners in Ladson, S.C., where her stepfather was their neighbor. The Sumners had recently moved to Jacksonville. The group used the Sumners' bank card and PIN number to withdraw money from their bank account, prosecutors said.

Wade's attorney, Refik Eler, said his client was an accessory to murder after the fact. He told jurors Wade's role was limited to laundering the couples money for the real killers.

A telephone message and e-mail left by The Associated Press for Eler were not immediately returned Wednesday.

Information from: The Florida Times-Union,

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Bat out of Hell - Ronald Clark, Jr. Florida Death Row

Written by Ronald Clark, Jr.
The Death Row Poet

March 10, 2005

I was living life
Like a bat out of hell.
Then I dropped into
A Death Row cell.
Yes, my life
Came to a halt
And I can truly say
It was my fault.
For I was doing drugs
Hanging with thugs.
The price I paid
For the mistakes I made.
The prices were high.
For people would die.
Now for another man’s lie
My life will be lost.
Thus he does not have
To pay the cost.
He was the triggerman
Enemy one.
Called me friend -
And put me under the gun.
But that’s the life-
The life I was liven
Yes baby -
It was unforgiving.
For now they seek revenge
Through a dirty syringe.
Yes, I fell
For I was living life
Like a bat out of hell.

Former cop is suspect in 2 killings

Police are searching for Ralph Wright Jr. in the deaths of his ex-girlfriend and son.
Henry Pierson Curtis

Sentinel Staff Writer

October 24, 2007

A former Orange County deputy sheriff and Eatonville police officer was named Tuesday as the only suspect in the double murder last summer in St. Petersburg of his ex-girlfriend and their 15-month-old son.

Ralph "Ron" Wright Jr. is thought to be looking for work in Orlando after losing his job at MacDill Air Force Base as a result of the murder investigation, according to St. Petersburg police.

"After we eliminated everybody else, he was the only one left," police spokesman George Kajtsa said. "He is the focus of the investigation."

Wright, 39, worked for the Orange Sheriff's Office and Eatonville in the early 1990s, records show.

The deaths in July of Paula O'Conner and her toddler Alijah, known as "AJ," came months after she created a Web site, militarydeadbeatdads .com, to expose what she claimed was Wright's lack of support.

"This is my story," O'Conner began when she wrote the Web site's four-page account of love, betrayal and abandonment. "The Military's lack of response on this situation is beyond absurd."

A single mother, O'Conner described how Wright introduced himself at a restaurant in early 2004 as a divorced father who had worked at the Orange County Sheriff's Office until being re-called to active duty with the Air Force after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Wanting to make sure he was honest and sincere, she ran an Internet background check on Wright that came back without any evidence of a criminal record.

"So I was thinking what the heck," she wrote. "He's a nice guy, average looking, was funny, we had things in common, and he wasn't taken."

Upon learning she was pregnant, O'Conner wrote, Wright disappeared for weeks and then claimed the Air Force had sent him on a secret mission. Their son was born last year with serious heart defects that required multiple surgeries, according to the Web site.

The bodies were discovered July 6 in O'Conner's home on Dawson Avenue North in St. Petersburg. Autopsies showed O'Conner had been strangled and AJ had been smothered.

Wright has not cooperated with the investigation, police said. Investigators are trying to locate anyone who might have seen Wright near O'Conner's home in the period surrounding her death. Wright joined the Orange Sheriff's Office in August 1991. He was fired March. 24, 1992. He received a scathing dismissal as one of the worst rookies to wear the uniform.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement records show Wright worked for the Eatonville Police Department from October 1994 to July 1996, leaving because he failed to complete mandatory retraining requirements.

Preliminary DNA tests identified Wright as the father of O'Conner's child. He was married to an Orlando woman when he met O'Conner, police said. The dead mother's estate is suing Wright for $357,000 in medical bills, according to press accounts.

Henry Pierson Curtis can be reached at

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Jury recommends life in prison for man in deaths of couple in Sunrise

4:42 PM EDT, October 23, 2007

A Broward jury Tuesday recommended life in prison for Imran "Bobby" Hussain for the killing of a couple who owned the Sunrise Dollar Store, before torching the business.

The Fort Lauderdale couple had given Hussain a job at the store, located inside the Sunrise Center strip mall on Sunrise Boulevard and Northwest Ninth Street.

Authorities discovered the charred remains of Mohammed Abul Kalam, 45, and his wife, Joynab Chowdhury, 37, after extinguishing the Nov. 29, 2001 fire. They had first been bludgeoned to death.

About a month before the fire, Hussain's crack-cocaine use prompted the couple to turn him into police. Motivated by revenge and greed, Hussain killed the couple, prosecutor Brian Cavanagh said.

Questions Surround Spike in Noose Hangings

By Jack Stripling
NYT Regional media group
GAINESVILLE - Last year, there was the schoolyard in Jena, La.

In September, a cultural center at the University of Maryland was targeted.

And just two weeks ago, a black Columbia University professor's office became one of the latest sites where a noose has been hung.

A symbol of racial bigotry that was tantamount to a death threat during the Jim Crow era, the hangman's noose still evokes a visceral response from most Americans. Many are questioning the meaning behind an apparent spike in intimidation techniques that harken back to some of the darkest days in U.S. history.

Katheryn Russell-Brown, director of Center for the Study of Race and Race Relations at the University of Florida, said the frequency of these recent noose hanging incidents suggests there's still a subsection of American society that harbors a long-standing hatred of minorities.

"It's a small number (of incidents)," said Russell-Brown, who is writing a book about lynching. "But these things represent much larger constituencies, and that's what the concern is."

Russell-Brown, who is black, said she sees college campuses as a ripe place for the noose to make an unsavory return. Students who may have seldom wrestled with issues of race are going to encounter those topics in a university classroom, and a college campus may be the first place where some students see a black person in a figure of authority as a professor, she said.

"You're confronted with people who are different, professors who are different, professors who look different than you and issues you're not used to talking about," she said. "No surprise that tensions would come to the surface there."

The case of the so-called "Jena Six" in Jena, La., may well have been the catalyst for the more recent noose hangings. In that small Southern town, a noose was hung from a tree the morning after black students asked if they could sit under it. Some students described the tree as a favorite lunch spot where only white students traditionally ate.

Several months after the noose appeared in the tree, six black students were accused of beating a white classmate. The prosecution of the black students, and the lack of legal action taken against the suspected noose hangers, sparked a protest of some 10,000 people in September.

Since the Jena Six protest, noose incidents have received a great deal of national news media attention. Russell-Brown says that's a good thing.

"I think it's healthy," she said, "because here's the thing: What if we had nooses hanging up in different parts of the country and no one came? What does that signal?"

It's not just the news media that's following the noose incidents. The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the Jena Six case Tuesday, and some derided Department of Justice officials for not insisting the suspected hangers of the noose be prosecuted.

There is no specific federal law related to noose hangings, but it is against federal law to "intimidate" any person based on race, color, religion or national origin. While there have been federal prosecutions that involved the hanging of nooses, those cases focused on another accompanying crime, according to U.S. Department of Justice officials.

In Florida, hate crime laws allow for enhanced punishment in cases where it can be proven that a crime was motivated by bias against the victim's race. Speaking hypothetically, an act of noose hanging could be linked to a crime of criminal mischief or trespassing, and a person could face enhanced penalties for those crimes under state law, according to Spencer Mann, spokesman for the State Attorneys Office.

Bail denied for Joe Cool murder suspects

By Vanessa Blum

1:07 PM EDT, October 23, 2007


A federal magistrate denied bond Tuesday for two men accused of murdering four crewmembers aboard the Joe Cool fishing vessel, saying circumstantial evidence supported the government's charges.

U.S. Magistrate Ted Bandstra noted Kirby Archer, 35, of Strawberry, Ark., and Guillermo Zarabozo, 20, of Hialeah, would face life in prison or the death penalty if convicted.

"That in and of itself in the view of this court is an incentive to flee," Bandstra said.

Federal prosecutors filed first-degree murder charges Oct. 10 against Archer and Zarabozo in the deaths of Joe Cool Capt. Jake Branam, 27; his wife Kelley, 30; half brother Scott Gamble, 36; and crewman Samuel Kairy, 27.

Prosecutor Michael Gilfarb told Bandstra that Archer and Zarabozo were on a "one-way trip out of the country" and murdered the four crewmembers to eliminate any witnesses.

Gilfarb said knives and a blow gun found in Zarabozo's belongings were not items "you would take on vacation."

The two suspects, who paid $4,000 in cash for a charter to Bimini, were found Sept. 24 in the Joe Cool's life raft about 30 miles north of Cuba. The Miami Beach-based Joe Cool was found adrift several miles from the raft, abandoned and in disarray.

On board the vessel, investigators discovered human blood and a handcuff key, Gilfarb said. A second handcuff key was discovered in Zarabozo's luggage.

Archer and Zarabozo told investigators three hijackers commandeered the Joe Cool and shot the crew. Zarabozo said the hijackers left him unharmed after he agreed to throw the bodies overboard, prosecutors said.

Gilfarb said investigators still have not recovered the victims' bodies or a murder weapon. Among the evidence linking Archer and Zarabozo to the killings are four 9-mm shell casings found aboard the Joe Cool, he said.

A receipt for similar ammunition was found during a search of Zarabozo's home.

Defense attorney Anthony Natale, one of two lawyers representing Zarabozo, asked the government's lead investigator whether there was evidence to disprove his client's hijacking account.

"I cannot present any evidence of any other vessel in the area at that time," said Richard Blais, a Coast Guard investigator.

In charging the men with murder, prosecutors have emphasized contradictions in their stories about the hijacking. For instance, Archer told investigators he saw a man shoot Kelley Branam, while Zarabozo said Archer was not present for her killing.

Archer's attorney Allan Kaiser said such discrepancies do not indicate guilt. He said the government has no hard evidence pointing to Archer.

"We're talking about a horrendous, tragic incident that occurred on this boat," Kaiser said. "It is no wonder that perceptions differ."

Vanessa Blum can be reached at or 954-356-4605.

Hundreds march in Tallahassee over boot camp death

By Brent Kallestad

The Associated Press

3:25 PM EDT, October 23, 2007


About 700 marchers shouted ``We shall overcome'' and ``No justice, no peace'' Tuesday to protest Florida's handling of a teenager's death after guards hit and kicked him at a state boot camp last year.

They want federal authorities to investigate what they allege are civil rights violations by camp staffers and others, including Florida's former top law enforcement official. The U.S. Justice Department is reviewing the state's unsuccessful prosecution of the camp guards and a nurse.

``Lord, we need justice and we need it right now,'' Pastor Fred Maeweathers of the Shady Grove Mission Baptist Church of Ocala said in the opening prayer on the steps of the federal courthouse.

The 90-minute protest came less than two weeks after an all-white jury in Panama City acquitted seven camp guards and a nurse of manslaughter charges in the death of Martin Lee Anderson, a 14-year-old black inmate.

A videotape showed guards repeatedly hitting his limp body and the nurse standing by watching at the military-style camp in Bay County. Anderson died a day later, Jan. 6, 2006, at a Pensacola hospital.

Tallahassee mayor John Marks welcomed the protesters _ many of them busing in from South Florida in an all-night caravan _ and praised them for keeping the pressure on federal authorities to take up the case.

``Why are we here and not in Bay County,'' asked Carolyn Mosley, the NAACP chairwoman for Bay County. ``I think Bay County is still asleep.''

Many of the signs objected to the federal government going after Atlanta Falcons star quarterback Michael Vick in a dogfighting case while the Anderson investigation awaits its attention.

``Kill a dog and go to jail. Kill a black child and get off free,'' one sign read.

``Where are all the dog lovers? Why are you not mad about this?'' another protested.

U.S. Attorney Gregory Miller and two Justice Department officials from Washington met with representatives from the NAACP's Florida branch for nearly two hours while protesters prayed, chanted and sang outside on a warm, muggy fall morning.

``They pretty much assured us that they have taken these types of cases seriously in the past and they are definitely taking this case seriously,'' NAACP attorney Chuck Hobbs said. ``They are going to make sure no stones are left unturned in the determination of the facts.''

After meeting with the NAACP, Miller and the representatives from the civil rights division and FBI met with Martin Lee Anderson's parents and their counsel.

Miller's office said ``if there is sufficient evidence to establish a prosecutable violation of any federal criminal civil rights statutes, appropriate action will be taken.'' But it declined further comment on an open investigation.

The NAACP-sponsored protest also targeted former Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Guy Tunnell. He was Bay County's sheriff when his office founded the camp and now works as an investigator for the state attorney's office in the area.

The civil rights organization wants Tunnell investigated for allegedly trying to prevent the videotape from being made public, making racist remarks related to the case and inappropriately communicating with current Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen about the death. The sheriff's office ran the now-defunct boot camp under state supervision.

NAACP officials also alleged Tunnell has committed other civil rights violations unrelated to Anderson's death. Joe Grammer, spokesman for State Attorney Steve Meadows, said Tunnell would not discuss the boot camp case because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

Rethinking juvenile justice in Florida

Originally published October 23, 2007

Today's NAACP-organized march from the Florida Capitol down Adams Street to the offices of the U.S. Department of Justice is one important way to keep attention focused on changing our culture, for the better.

Today's event is to win a review of the increasingly infamous trial in Panama City, where seven former boot-camp drill instructors and a camp nurse were acquitted by an all-white jury of manslaughter charges in the death of young Martin Lee Anderson.

A student coalition and other groups and individuals who were shocked and angered by the trial's outcome suggest that violations of the federal civil-rights legislation or other evidence of a miscarriage of justice will come forth when the U.S. Attorney's Office investigates the case, including an examination of transcripts from the trial.

It is the right of the people to petition the government for a redress of grievances, and it should be remembered that this isn't an imposition on officials but American democracy at work.
The Legislature, through a $5 million award to the family of the young man who died while in the charge of boot-camp officials, was not weighing in on criminality but rather acknowledging the failure of a state-run system and responsibility. All boot camps in Florida have now been closed as a result of this incident, which has proved pivotal in taking another look at public policy regarding juvenile justice.

That is perhaps the only tangible and positive outcome to date, following Martin Lee Anderson's death in 2006.

What's critical now is for Florida to begin to turn its thinking and its policies in the direction broadly ascribed to by Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Walt McNeil, as well as by Children and Families Secretary Bob Butterworth and Department of Corrections Secretary Jim McDonough. That is, policies of prevention, therapy, early intervention in education, job training, family involvement and in general a redirection of wayward youths that doesn't begin and end with harsh punishement and militaristic "tough love" run amok.

Florida has not done well over the years in supporting the many juvenile programs that have already committed to this approach, including some excellent ones such as PACE Center for Girls, the Eckerd wilderness camps, marine camps and various other residential and nonresidential programs aimed at turning young lives around, but struggling, struggling, struggling.

Closure in the Martin Lee Anderson case may be a long time coming, and lawmakers will eventually tire of paying out tax dollars for the incompetence or outright failure of state-run systems to do their jobs.

What's important for those who march in today's event to also keep in the forefront is changing our whole approach to juvenile justice, not just seeking it retroactively in one shocking case.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Panel visits Southwest Florida to look at reasons for juvenile crime

By ANN MARINA, Daily News Correspondent

Originally published — 3:19 p.m., October 20, 2007
Updated — 10:03 p.m., October 20, 2007

Felony offenses committed by juveniles in Florida increased by 4 percent over the last two years, and the number of youths being transferred to adult courts rose sharply, by 17 percent this past year.

To address the increase in crime and other key concerns for at-risk juveniles, public hearings were held in the Bonita Springs area this past week by the Florida Blueprint Commission for Youth.

Created by the Department of Juvenile Justice, the commission has 25 members who are community leaders and policy experts. Six public hearings are being held throughout the state this fall, and the commission will make its recommendations to Gov. Charlie Crist in December.

Commission Chairman Frank Brogan is Florida Atlantic University’s president and is a former lieutenant governor.

“We’re looking at what’s being done well, and what needs to change,” Brogan told commissioners, professionals, and community members gathered as the hearing began Wednesday at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort & Spa in Estero.

“The success of this commission depends on participation from those familiar with juvenile justice concerns in your community,” Brogan said.

Juvenile recidivism, the over-representation of minority youths in detention, and an increasing rate of girls entering the justice system are some of the issues being examined by the Blueprint Commission.

One of the youngest speakers at the public hearing was Nathaniel Young, 19. A resident of Palm Beach County, Young recently graduated from the Broward Intensive Halfway House. He’s currently attending ATI Vocational and Community College in West Palm Beach, working toward a career in air conditioning and refrigeration.

Young is also studying business administration, and would like to have his own business.

“What helped me stay out of trouble was finding a trade I enjoy and getting excited about my positive future,” Young said. “Kids need confidence and support to develop career goals. I’m glad I was encouraged to pursue my interests.”

“Zero tolerance” is another issue currently under scrutiny by the Blueprint Commission. Under this policy, a student possessing any drug or weapon on a public school campus may be arrested and possibly expelled and charged with a crime.

“Since the enforcement of zero tolerance, there’s been a spike in juvenile misdemeanor arrests in Florida,” Brogan said. “The way the policy is interpreted and enforced has brought many young people into the juvenile justice system, causing them to be labeled as criminals for life.”

Some schools are now making adjustments in their handling of the zero tolerance policy, Brogan said.

“Many communities have responded to the effects of the policy and are finding ways to keep schools safe by dealing with chronic offenders while striving to keep youth out of the juvenile justice system,” he said.

Cynthia Noonan serves on the Juvenile Justice Council in Indian River County, and works with EdOptions, a private company providing educational products for alternative study programs.

“Kids who drop out of school are more likely to develop delinquent behavior,” she said. “I encourage the Blueprint Commission to address dropout prevention and support after-school programs.”

Between 3 p.m and 6 p.m. on weekdays, there’s a peak in crimes committed by youth.

Noonan attributes this to the “latch-key kid” syndrome, where children come home from school to an empty house.

“We have so many single-parent families now, and many parents work two jobs,” she said.

Bill Naylor, manager of the Lee County sheriff’s Juvenile Assessment Center, thinks more parental involvement would help reduce the juvenile crime rate.

“We processed about 5,000 youth at our center during 2006,” he said. “I see many parents and agencies reacting, instead of responding. We need to develop relationships with our youth, and make better efforts at prevention.”

“Jail does not rehabilitate a kid, as some parents seem to think it does,” Naylor added. “Rather, it puts them in with other kids who are in trouble, and increases their chances of committing more crimes.”

Jeff Shicks directs a youth program in Fort Myers called The Bridge.

“We did an informal poll of kids in the area, and the main complaints we heard were that their parents don’t spend time with them, or they don’t listen to them,” he said. “We try to provide the support and quality time that some youth are lacking at home.”


Contact Ann Marina at