Saturday, August 30, 2008

Osceola teen pleads guilty in neighbor's killing

Susan Jacobson Sentinel Staff Writer
August 30, 2008
An 18-year-old man who was charged with raping and strangling his 99-year-old neighbor in Osceola County pleaded guilty Friday and will be sentenced Oct. 30 to 65 years in prison, prosecutors said.

Moise Opont, the son of a minister, was 17 when he broke into Edith McCalla's home and killed her Oct. 9. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, sexual battery and burglary. Under state guidelines, he could get out when he is 73.

Enid Sealy, one of McCalla's nine living children, said the family agreed.

"We don't want this thing dragging on for 10 years," Sealy said.

Broward deputies Taser mentally ill inmate twice in court

A Broward circuit judge had ruled the man, 22, was mentally incapable to stand trial
Joel Marino

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

10:46 AM EDT, August 30, 2008


Upset by a judge's ruling, a mentally ill defendant asked deputies to let him catch his breath before they carted him from the Broward Circuit Court back to jail on Friday, his lawyer said.

The deputies told him he had to go, according to Assistant Public Defender Anne LeMaster, and when he resisted, they shocked him with a Taser -- twice.

The county's Public Defender's Office says the deputies used excessive force and filed a complaint with the Broward Sheriff's Office. David Jones, 22, the inmate, was handcuffed and shackled, LeMaster said.

"It just seems as though Tasering was not necessary in this case," said Doug Brawley, head of the Public Defender's mental health division.

Jones asked for a brief break after Judge Geoffrey Cohen ruled the inmate was mentally incapable to stand trial and ordered transferred to a state mental hospital, LeMaster said.

Jones faces several charges from an April 21 arrest, including domestic battery by strangulation.

Two deputies told him he had to leave. LeMaster said they tried to get Jones to stand up and one punched him in the face when he resisted. She said they then shocked him with a stun gun.

"He told them to remove the prongs and then became very abrasive," she said. "When they didn't, he said 'Why don't you just Tase me again?'"

They did, she said.

Jones was hospitalized, but it was unknown if he returned to the Broward Main Jail on Friday night.

"Any time a Taser is used, it's well documented and we'll look into it," said sheriff's spokesman Jim Leljedal.

Staff Writer Brian Haas and Staff Researcher Barbara Hijek contributed to this report.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Woman in $1M NY adoption scam is back in Fla.

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Authorities say a woman who lied to adopt 11 disabled children from New York to get more than $1 million in subsidies has been returned to a Florida jail.

Judith Leekin is in the St. Lucie County jail on charges of aggravated child abuse and aggravated abuse of disabled adults.

She was sentenced in July in New York federal court to nearly 11 years in prison for fraud.

The 63-year-old woman is accused of treating the children like prisoners, beating and handcuffing them while they were in a locked room without food in her Florida home. Authorities say she also deprived them of medical care and school. She has pleaded not guilty to the Florida charges. Her attorney is in plea discussions with prosecutors.

She was returned to Florida on Aug. 8.

Jury recommends death for killer

A jury voted 9-3 to recommend that Cornelius Baker be put to death for kidnapping and killing a Daytona Beach woman last year.
The same jury on Monday convicted the 21-year-old man of first-degree murder for breaking into Elizabeth Uptagrafft's home, kidnapping her and fatally shooting her.

A circuit judge will make the final decision of whether Baker should receive life in prison or a lethal injection, but the judge must give Thursday's recommendation great weight.

Authorities say Baker was joined by his girlfriend, 20-year-old Patricia Roosa, when he broke into Uptagrafft's house. Roosa's trial date, where she also will face a first-degree murder charge, has not been set.

Attorneys hint at defense strategy for Shenfeld trial


Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Thursday, August 28, 2008

WEST PALM BEACH — Attorneys for Jason Shenfeld, charged with the strangulation murder of college-bound softball player Amanda Buckley, gave the first hint Thursday of the defense they may employ: Rough sex gone bad.

They'll have a lot of time to prepare. Circuit Judge Krista Marx set a trial date of March 2, 2009.

During a court hearing at which they sought approval of a public state agency paying for various experts on Shenfeld's behalf, defense attorneys said they have had trouble obtaining Buckley's cell phone records for the month-long period up to her death, as well as MySpace records for July 21, 2007, the day she died. She logged into her MySpace page twice that day, around 4 a.m. and 1 p.m., said attorney Brian Gabriel.

Gabriel said the defense is looking for evidence that Buckley, 18, had consensual sex with Shenfeld, 27, and was aware that he had been accused in November 2006 with sexual assault by two women who were ages 18 and 19 at the time. Why?

"They want to assert rough sex gone bad," said Circuit Judge Krista Marx. Gabriel and co-counsel Bryan Raymond, didn't deny it.

Shenfeld was arrested in connection with the November 2006 incident, but prosecutors said the women told conflicting stories and opted not to prosecute.

Prosecutors in Buckley's murder case, however, are mulling a move to perhaps have the women testify against Shenfeld in their case. Florida law allows testimony about a defendant's prior crimes or bad acts if the evidence it elicits shows a behavior pattern by the defendant suggesting that the current alleged crime was no accident.

A hearing would have to be scheduled before that could happen, and defense lawyers would certainly vigorously oppose any attempt to allow the women to testify about Shenfeld's actions with them.

Shenfeld has private attorneys, but early in the case was declared indigent for costs. His lawyers got approval on Thursday to hire - at public expense - a neuropharmacologist (cq) to determine the amounts and effects of the trace amounts of drugs found in Buckley's system.

They also were allowed to hire a confidential medical examiner to analyze autopsy and toxicology reports, and a confidential neurologist to evaluate Shenfeld for any brain impairment due to head injuries.

The findings of the latter expert might be used by Shenfeld's attorneys in the sentencing phase of the case if he is convicted of first-degree murder. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Accused killer of Customs agent bonds out of jail

By Brian Haas

5:08 PM EDT, August 29, 2008

A 65-year-old retired truck driver accused of killing a federal agent after a road rage incident has bonded out of a Broward County jail.

James Wonder had been held without bond on an initial charge of premeditated murder in the Aug. 5 shooting death of U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agent Donald Pettit.

But a Broward County grand jury Thursday elected to indict him on the lesser charge of manslaughter. That lesser charge made Wonder eligible for $10,000 bond.

His attorneys had hoped to bond him out of jail as soon as possible because they say he requires dialysis treatments.

Instead of life in prison or even the death penalty, Wonder faces a maximum of 15 years in prison if found guilty. His attorneys plan to argue he killed the agent in self-defense.

Wonder killed Pettit, 52, in a Pembroke Pines post office parking lot after the two argued, police said. Pettit's 12-year-old was in his car and witnessed the shooting, according to authorities.

Wonder pulled into the lot and Pettit followed in his car, where the two continued a dispute they had begun while driving.

Wonder's lawyers acknowledge their client shot Pettit, but said they will prove he was not the aggressor.

"James Wonder went into that post office with letters in his hand -- mail," said defense attorney Frank Maister. "One of them was an official letter that had to be hand-delivered there. We have not been provided with any information that Mr. Pettit had any legitimate business in that parking lot."

Pettit's family could not be reached for comment, and attempts to reach Customs and Border Protection were unsuccessful.

Pettit left a wife and two daughters.

Wonder was arrested the day after the shooting at a Davie dialysis center where he was receiving treatment.

Police said the suspect had rented a car and darkened his hair to avoid being captured.

Wonder's arrest was announced with great fanfare by authorities, but local lawyers said he may be able to make a strong claim under Florida law that he was within his rights to shoot Pettit.

The state's self-defense laws allow people to use deadly force if they are in fear of death or great bodily harm.

Criminal defense attorney Fred Haddad said he would have been shocked if Wonder had been charged with anything more severe than manslaughter.

He said the possibility that Pettit was the aggressor in a road rage incident would provide Wonder a strong defense.

Maister said there should have been no indictment by grand jurors in the first place.

"We're a little bit disappointed that they came back with any indictment at all," Maister said. "We thought that this was absolutely self defense."

Brian Haas can be reached at or 954-356-4597.

Jury selection begins in Zahid murder trial


In May 2007, 3-year-old Zahid Jones suffered a brutal death - beaten over three nights until his intestines ruptured, liver hemorrhaged, stomach bruised and chest torn, according to authorities.

This week, prosecutors will seek to punish his mother's boyfriend by putting the 30-year-old in prison for the rest of his life.

Jury selection in the trial of Kashon Scott is scheduled to begin today, with opening arguments starting Tuesday and the trial lasting through the week.

Assistant State Attorney Francine Donnorummo said the jury should focus on the facts of the case, but she will set the tone for jurors.

"You have to have the jury feel that energy and hear the facts, which are emotional," she said.

Scott is charged with first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse and faces life in prison because prosecutors last month said they won't seek the death penalty against him. Also charged in Zahid's death is the boy's mother, Nicole Brewington, who faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted of aggravated manslaughter of a child. Only Scott will be on trial this week, as their cases have been separated.

Donnorummo said Zahid's siblings will testify during the trial, which may make the case tough for jurors to hear.

"Whenever you have children testify - especially about a deceased sibling - it's tough on the children, in all cases," she said.

Scott's attorney, assistant regional counsel Michael Reiter, had no comment.

The case sparked change at The Department of Children and Families, which had investigated Zahid's family and admitted it failed to protect him.

Since Zahid's death, the Lee County Sheriff's Office began reviewing all claims of abuse and neglect flowing into DCF's child abuse hot line. The department now employs a grandparents' liaison. Zahid's grandmother, Janice Jones, had warned of problems in her grandson's home but was told she had no right to make a claim. DCF cases are now red-flagged and teams of staffers meet to discuss the best plan for the children involved. Also, the investigator training program has been revamped and communication among agencies improved, Cookie Coleman, head of DCF operations in Southwest Florida, has said.

Rep. Nick Thompson, R-Fort Myers, introduced a bill last legislative session that would have given grandparents and other caregiver relatives more of a say in family court proceedings, although it failed in the Senate after passing in the House unanimously.

Thompson's newest plan is to bring to Florida programs in Texas and Colorado that pair nurses and nursing students with at-risk mothers, visiting the mothers once a week from before birth until their children are 3 years old. At-risk mothers would be identified as low-income and single who need help with parenting skills. Thompson said the program gets mothers more invested in their children's lives.

"They're a whole lot less likely to let some jerk come in and abuse and neglect their children," he said.

Thompson, a former assistant state attorney, has had the duty of putting criminals in prison. Now, part of his job is to introduce and vote on new laws that can further the goal. He said both jobs serve an important role.

And punishment for Scott, whom he believes is responsible for Zahid's death, is key.

"People in Lee County and around the state have to know if you harm a child, you are going to be punished severely," he said.

But, he said the deaths of children shouldn't be the reason changes are made in government.

"We don't want to have these tragedies before these things happen," Thompson said. "We've got a lot of lessons we can learn from this."

Crist taps Canady as first state Supreme Court appointment

By Jennifer Liberto, Times Staff Writer

Published Thursday, August 28, 2008 10:16 PM


TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Charlie Crist on Thursday tapped for the Florida Supreme Court an appellate judge who led the impeachment of President Bill Clinton and who crafted federal antiabortion legislation.

Charles T. Canady, 54, of Lakeland is the first of four appointments the Republican governor is expected to make to the seven-member court in the coming year due to resignations and mandatory retirements.

Considered a brilliant intellectual and constitutional expert, Canady has spent most of his career working for government, including the past five years on the 2nd District Court of Appeal.

Crist's selection of Canady helps shore up social conservative support, which has waned with Crist's work expanding gambling at Indian casinos and restoring civil rights for nonviolent felons. His tepid support of a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage has also angered conservatives.

"Canady is about as doctrinaire right-wing Republican as you'll find, but he's outstanding in his intellectual ability," said lawyer W. Dexter Douglass, who advised former Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles on Supreme Court selections. "I suppose the governor felt he had to recognize that wing of the party at some point, and he picked a good one to do it with."

Crist said he did not select Canady for his political ideology, although acknowledged some may see it that way.

"I was looking for a nominee with great integrity, great intellect and great compassion," Crist said in an interview. "He so impressed me in his interview. … He's a humble man, a very good listener."

Canady fills the at-large vacancy being left by Justice Raoul Cantero, 47, who will step down next week. Crist also is expected to announce by Oct. 13 his pick to replace resigning Justice Kenneth Bell, 52.

Bell and Cantero, appointed by previous Gov. Jeb Bush, are considered the high court's most consistent conservatives, as they often deferred to the executive and legislative branches. The two were the only dissenting votes in a high-profile ruling that struck down Bush's program that provided private school vouchers for students attending failing public schools.

In a press conference on the front lawn of the Governor's Mansion on Thursday, Crist twice invoked the word "humility" to describe Canady, who also used the word in his application to explain his view of the Supreme Court's role.

"Courts should proceed with a sense of humility, with an awareness of the inherent limitations of the judicial decisionmaking process, and with an attitude of respect for the determination of the legislative and executive branches," Canady wrote.

Standing beside his wife, Jennifer, and daughters, Julia, 9, and Anna, 7, Canady said he's "never been more grateful than I am today to have this opportunity to serve on the state's highest court," and that he would "strive to do the best I can for every Floridian."

The son of a politically connected Polk County family, Canady is a graduate of Haverford College and Yale Law School. Canady served in the Florida House for six years. He had been a Democrat, but switched parties in 1989. His father, Charles E. Canady, managed Lawton Chiles' 1970 U.S. Senate campaign and later worked for him.

In 1992, the younger Canady won election to Congress, where he led the charge for many conservative social causes. He's credited with developing the ideologically charged phrase "partial-birth abortion" and crafting the original legislation vetoed by Clinton that banned the procedure. President George W. Bush signed another version into law in 2003, which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in 2007.

Canady also served as Gov. Jeb Bush's chief attorney for two years before Bush appointed him to the 2nd District Court of Appeal.

Sitting on that bench last year, Canady was among judges who affirmed a trial court's ruling rejecting a Catholic teenager's request to obtain an abortion without notifying her parents. The panel affirmed the lower court's denial, even as a dissenting colleague said the trial judge injected his religious beliefs in the proceeding by saying an abortion is "one of the biggest things of the Catholic faith regarding what they believe should never be done."

Florida Democrats attending their national convention in Denver reeled over the news of Crist's pick.

"It's just very disappointing that the governor chose someone associated so much with the right wing and most conservative ideologies instead of someone who is more mainstream," said state Sen. Nan Rich, D-Weston.

Social conservatives hailed the decision. Over the past two weeks, the Florida Family Policy Council had asked its churchgoing members to e-mail Crist's office and lobby for Canady. Council president John Stemberger called the governor's choice outstanding, saying Crist "hit a home run with this appointment and is to be commended and praised."

Many marveled at the speed of Crist's decision. His office announced plans for the press conference less than six hours after Crist interviewed Canady and four other finalists.

"His broad-based political and legal experience and his consistent application of the law as a judge make him an excellent choice," said Chris Kise, a former chief attorney to Crist.

Canady said he planned to head straight over to the Supreme Court on Thursday to get up to speed on cases, which could include a Sept. 8 death penalty hearing. Cantero will continue to serve during the Wednesday arguments about whether three controversial measures will remain on the November ballot, Supreme Court spokesman Craig Waters confirmed. The measures include a property tax swap and two measures aimed at reinstating Bush's school voucher program.

Canady also said that he plans to relocate his family to Tallahassee and will remain on the bench until mandatory retirement age, assuming voters retain him. Both Cantero and Bell cited their young families as reasons they were leaving.

Times staff writer Steve Bousquet and Times researcher Will Short Gorham contributed to this report.

Canady's most important cases

Each applicant for the Florida Supreme Court was asked to list the "five most significant cases you have personally litigated." Unlike other applicants, Charles Canady's list were all cases in the political arena, either as a U.S. representative or general counsel for Gov. Jeb Bush. On his list:

Impeachment of President Clinton, 1999: "I was appointed as one of 13 Managers to represent the United States House of Representatives. My responsibilities in the case primarily involved organizing and participating in the presentation of the arguments."

Holmes vs. Bush, 2000: "I represented Governor Bush in defending the Opportunity Scholarship Program (school vouchers) … against the constitutional challenge."

Florida Senate vs. Florida Public Employees Council 79, AFSCHME, 2001: Wrote a friend of the court brief for Bush, who sided with the Legislature in appealing a ruling barring lawmakers from meeting to consider issues related to collective bargaining.

Constitutionality of a House Joint Resolution 1897, 2002: Prepared a friend of the court brief for Bush, who opposed Attorney General Bob Butterworth's efforts to have the courts throw out the Legislature's redrawing of political districts.

Bottoson vs. Moore; King vs. Moore, 2002: Wrote friend of the court briefs for Bush in defense of Florida's death sentencing system.

Death sentence upheld in Vero murder


7:21 AM EDT, August 29, 2008


Florida's highest court Thursday rejected the final state appeal of a Vero Beach man sentenced to death for a 1991 murder.

By unanimous ruling, the Florida Supreme Court rejected all arguments brought on behalf of Paul Evans, sentenced to death in 1999 for the murder of Alan Pfeiffer, who was gunned down in his mobile home as part of a plot to collect insurance money.

The rejection ends Evans' appeals in the state court system, although he can appeal the court's ruling to the 11th District Court of Appeals, a federal appellate court in Atlanta.

Evans' attorney argued in April that his client received inadequate representation during his trial and later during the penalty phase, when his attorney choose not to call witnesses on his behalf.

The court disagreed, saying decisions made by attorneys who represented Evans were strategic in nature, based on the evidence in the case.

"In sum, counsel clearly made an informed decision about not presenting any witnesses during the guilt phase, which is exactly what he told the judge at the guilt phase," the court wrote in a group opinion.

The court also dismissed allegations the death penalty was unconstitutionally cruel.

Thursday's ruling is the latest development in a chapter in a 17-year saga. Evans entered Pfeiffer's mobile home before 9 p.m. March 22, 1991. He laid in wait for Pfeiffer and shot him three times.

The murder, the jury ruled, was part of a conspiracy launched by Connie Pfeiffer to kill her abusive husband and collect a $120,000 life insurance payout.

During his unsuccessful direct appeal in 2001, Evans' attorney tried to poke holes in the state case by saying Connie Pfeiffer may have instead pulled the trigger hours later, killing her estranged husband in a conspiracy that would not be unraveled for six years. Connie Pfeiffer is serving life in prison.

The conspirators' alibi, which included being seen at a local fair the night of the shooting, was not unraveled until 1997, when law-enforcement officials persuaded conspirator Sara Thomas to come forward.

Evans' first trial resulted in a hung jury, and the judge declared a mistrial during jury selection during his second trial. Evans finally was convicted at his third trial.

Evans, 19 at the time of the murder, was sentenced to death in June 1999 by a 9-3 vote. He is being held at the Union Correctional Institution in Raiford.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Attorneys hint at defense strategy for Shenfeld trial


Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Thursday, August 28, 2008

WEST PALM BEACH — Attorneys for Jason Shenfeld, charged with the strangulation murder of college-bound softball player Amanda Buckley, gave the first hint Thursday of the defense they may employ: Rough sex gone bad.

They'll have a lot of time to prepare. Circuit Judge Krista Marx set a trial date of March 2, 2009.

During a court hearing at which they sought approval of a public state agency paying for various experts on Shenfeld's behalf, defense attorneys said they have had trouble obtaining Buckley's cell phone records for the month-long period up to her death, as well as MySpace records for July 21, 2007, the day she died. She logged into her MySpace page twice that day, around 4 a.m. and 1 p.m., said attorney Brian Gabriel.

Gabriel said the defense is looking for evidence that Buckley, 18, had consensual sex with Shenfeld, 27, and was aware that he had been accused in November 2006 with sexual assault by two women who were ages 18 and 19 at the time. Why?

"They want to assert rough sex gone bad," said Circuit Judge Krista Marx. Gabriel and co-counsel Bryan Raymond, didn't deny it.

Shenfeld was arrested in connection with the November 2006 incident, but prosecutors said the women told conflicting stories and opted not to prosecute.

Prosecutors in Buckley's murder case, however, are mulling a move to perhaps have the women testify against Shenfeld in their case. Florida law allows testimony about a defendant's prior crimes or bad acts if the evidence it elicits shows a behavior pattern by the defendant suggesting that the current alleged crime was no accident.

A hearing would have to be scheduled before that could happen, and defense lawyers would certainly vigorously oppose any attempt to allow the women to testify about Shenfeld's actions with them.

Shenfeld has private attorneys, but early in the case was declared indigent for costs. His lawyers got approval on Thursday to hire - at public expense - a neuropharmacologist (cq) to determine the amounts and effects of the trace amounts of drugs found in Buckley's system.

They also were allowed to hire a confidential medical examiner to analyze autopsy and toxicology reports, and a confidential neurologist to evaluate Shenfeld for any brain impairment due to head injuries.

The findings of the latter expert might be used by Shenfeld's attorneys in the sentencing phase of the case if he is convicted of first-degree murder. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

We think: Gov. Crist's grand plan for restoring ex-felons' rights needs revamping

August 27, 2008

Say this for Gov. Charlie Crist: He has an A-game for hype.

We've heard great things about property-tax reform and insurance relief. But those great expectations have yet to be met.

His latest empty promise comes after celebrating the restoration of civil rights for about 115,000 ex-felons in June. "We should welcome them back into society and give them that second chance," Mr. Crist said.

Agreed, Mr. Crist.

Now if only the state could find them.

Thousands of ex-felons have yet to get word of their newfound rights because the state sent notification letters to the wrong addresses. Others have been lost in the bureaucratic shuffle because county elections supervisors say they've been unable to access a state database to learn who is eligible to register.

The results are predictable. Only about 9,000 of those ex-felons had registered to vote by the end of July, based on an analysis by the Orlando Sentinel.

Not every ex-felon who is notified will register. We get that. But shouldn't the state at least make a genuine effort to notify them?

Mr. Crist had touted a policy change in June that streamlined the process for restoring rights. That was a good thing. But the process remains archaic because Florida is one of a few states that won't automatically restore civil rights to ex-felons.

One of the key problems is that the same state bureaucrats who are supposed to notify ex-felons that they can now vote are also poring through background checks from ex-felons who are applying for jobs that require a state professional license -- everything from hair-stylists to nurses.

That's chewing up a lot of time, but there's a simple way to solve that: The state's Board of Executive Clemency can simply readopt previous regulations that automatically restore civil rights -- including the chance to vote and serve on a jury -- once prisoners complete their sentences.

Then state agencies that provide occupational licenses could determine if an ex-felon is fit for a job. There are obvious red flags -- you wouldn't want someone convicted of embezzlement to become a mortgage broker -- but that system would address public-safety concerns.

That would free up the state's parole office to find those ex-felons. It's embarrassing that there are thousands of letters, marked "Return to Sender," stacked at its office. No one has even counted them.

We understand the state is in the throes of a budget crisis, but just about every public and private business is struggling to do the same work with fewer people. That's no excuse for inefficiency.

If you're going to pat yourself on the back for restoring civil rights, Mr. Crist, you may as well free up a few hands to finish what you started.

Police: Palm Bay teen attacked family with knife, sugar cane after computer restrictions

PALM BAY - Authorities say a Palm Bay teen chased his mother with a knife and beat his brother with a sugar cane because of a change to his computer privileges.

The 15-year-old boy was on the home computer Sunday when he discovered changes to the system made by his older brother. Police say the teen then threw several objects and picked up a knife and a stick of sugar cane.

The older brother and mother told police the teen pushed his mother several times while clutching the knife.

The teen was arrested and charged with aggravated assault and battery.

Employees of girls program accused of sexual abuse

DAYTONA BEACH - Authorities say at least three employees of a program for troubled girls in Daytona Beach are under investigation, accused of having sexual relations with some of the girls they were supervising.

An investigator with the Department of Children & Families filed a complaint on Sunday with the sheriff's office regarding sexual abuse involving at least four girls at the Stewart-Marchman Center.

A spokesman for the Juvenile Justice Department says the three employees are no longer working with juveniles.

Man Convicted Of Killing Flagler Woman

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- A Flagler County jury has convicted Cornelius Baker of first-degree murder for kidnapping and killing a Daytona Beach woman last year.

The jury deliberated for less than two hours on Monday before convicting the 21-year-old man of breaking into Elizabeth Uptagrafft's home, kidnapping her and fatally shooting her.

The penalty phase, where jurors recommend whether Baker should receive life in prison or the death penalty, begins Wednesday. The judge is not bound by the decision but must give it great weight.

Authorities say Baker was joined by his girlfriend, 20-year-old Patricia Roosa, when he broke into Uptagrafft's house. Roosa's trial date, where she also will face a first-degree murder charge, has not been set.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Corrections chief brings experience to new post

Mark Pino Sentinel Staff Writer
August 23, 2008

OSCEOLA COUNTY - Greg Futch is slated to start as Osceola County's new director of corrections Monday. Most recently he ran the Flagler County Inmate Facility with a staff of 60 and a budget of $4.6 million. In 2005, he resigned after a year leading the Brevard County Jail, where he was credited with improving conditions after a spate of inmate suicides. Futch ran the Seminole County Jail from 1998 to 2001. He will earn about $120,000 a year.

Dad charged with killing his kids' mom

Ludmilla Lelis Sentinel Staff Writer
August 23, 2008

DAYTONA BEACH - A 37-year-old Daytona Beach man was indicted Friday in the slaying of his former girlfriend and the mother of four of his children. Craig Flynt is charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of Kyishi Dowdell outside her Maley Street home Aug. 4. Witnesses say they saw Flynt drag Dowdell into the street after midnight and then fire a gun at her as she lay in a neighbor's yard, according to a police report. The couple have four children, and Flynt already had a domestic-violence conviction for past abuse against Dowdell.

Suspect in agent's road-rage death: I had `anger problems'


In the days after James Wonder gunned down a federal customs agent, neighbors and friends described him as a quiet, mild-mannered senior citizen.
But Wonder admitted to having ''serious anger problems'' to nurses just minutes after he shot Donald Pettit and fled the scene to go to a doctor's appointment, according to details in a search warrant.

The warrant, which shedded more light into the mind set of Wonder after the shooting, details how a shaken Wonder, 65, told nurses on Aug. 5 he was almost killed at a stop sign on his way to his routine dialysis treatment. He also admitted that he was involved in a road-rage incident.

He referred to Pettit's killing unsolicited and said the triggerman had to be a professional killer, the document says.

All this happened about 40 minutes after reports that Pettit, 52, was killed in the parking lot of a Pembroke Pines post office.

According to police, Wonder had been driving erratically on the road when he got into a confrontation with Pettit, who worked as a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent. Pettit was on duty and had his 12-year-old daughter with him in the unmarked car.

The two men eventually got into a shouting match on the road and exchanged hand gestures before pulling into the South Florida Mail Processing Center at Pembroke Pines Boulevard and Dykes Road.

The confrontation ended when Wonder pulled his concealed .40 caliber Colt Defender handgun from out of his waistband and squeezed off a single shot, striking Pettit in the head, authorities said.

Wonder then left the scene.

The shooting sparked a massive manhunt involving some 200 law-enforcement officials. Agents were originally looking for a middle-age man driving a Chrysler 300.

Wonder drove a Dodge Charger. After leaving the doctor's appointment, Wonder drove to his Pembroke Pines home, went to his backyard and buried the handgun he used to shoot Pettit in the head, according to authorities.

He then dug it back up and hid it in his two-car garage, the search warrant said.

Wonder also changed his hair color from its natural silver coloring to black and rented a car from Avis to conceal his involvement in the shooting.

On Aug. 6, Wonder returned to the Davie dialysis center in the new car and with a new hairdo, which signaled to nurses that something was wrong.

Wonder then confessed to nurses that he needed counseling to deal with his anger issues, which might have prompted nurses to call police.

Moments later, Wonder was taken into custody and eventually confessed to shooting Pettit in what has been labeled a fatal road rage incident.

Wonder has been charged with first-degree pre-meditated murder and faces life in prison or the death penalty if convicted.

Teen indicted on murder charge

PANAMA CITY — Jurors indicted a 16-year-old Wednesday on a charge of first-degree murder.

Jose Gonzalez is too young to face the death penalty, according to his lawyer, so the maximum penalty he faces is life in prison. He's accused of stabbing to death Timothy Roy Humphries, 49, Aug. 2 near the 1400 block of Lisenby Avenue.

Gonzalez was arrested Aug. 4 in Orlando, minutes before he was scheduled to board a flight to Puerto Rico. Another man, Luis Rios Robledo, 27, was arrested with Gonzalez and charged with being an accessory after the fact to murder.

Deputy Public Defender Walter Smith said Wednesday he believes Robledo was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. He said Gonzalez's family has told him that Robledo had been scheduled to fly back to Puerto Rico for some time and was not trying to help Gonzalez escape justice.

Smith said appeals courts have ruled defendants in Florida younger than 17 cannot be executed. The indictment automatically waives Gonzalez up to adult court, and Smith said he expects he will have to take the case to trial.

Smith said he's still very early in the discovery process but is beginning to hear there was a dispute between Humphries and Gonzalez about two weeks before Aug. 2 in which Humphries had threatened Gonzalez.

"This looks like a case of two guys who don't like each other just went at it," Smith said. His next goal will be to find out what happened the day of the stabbing to instigate the violence.

Smith said Orlando authorities interviewed Gonzalez in Spanish, which will complicate things a little. He said he'll have to get the tape transcribed and translated into English, then check the transcription against the tape to make sure it's accurate.

Smith said there also is some question about Gonzalez's mental health, but that probably will not factor into the trial.

If Gonzalez is convicted of first- or second-degree murder, he would spend the rest of his life in prison. If convicted of manslaughter, he could be sentenced to 30 years in prison.

"If he gets manslaughter, he gets out of prison while he's in his 40s," Smith said, "instead of dying in prison."

Fugitive escapes death penalty

What was shaping up to be a diplomatic row between the US and Jamaican governments has been quelled after US prosecutors in Tampa, Florida, promised not to seek the death penalty for a Jamaican fugitive wanted in the US for multiple killings.

Davion Parson, 19, is wanted by US prosecutors for a triple killing at a Tampa nightclub in Florida.

He was looking at the death penalty if convicted.

But the Jamaican government, through the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), had sought a commitment from the US government that it will not seek the ultimate punishment for Parson.

According to the DPP's office it wanted the undertaking before proceeding with the extradition.

The US prosecutors yielded to the request this month, thus clearing a major hurdle in the matter.

Under the extradition treaty, the Jamaican government can refuse to release Parson if the US government insists that he face the death penalty.

Parson is wanted in Central Florida for the May 24 shooting death of three people in the Thunderbird Bar in Tampa.

He is accused of killing reggae DJ's Antone Neely, Michael Rattigan, and their friend Kevin Webster in an act of revenge.

Rattigan and Neely were part of a local reggae DJ group called "Poison Dart" that was performing at the club when the shooting happened.

Detectives say the shootings were a carry-over from an earlier fight.

After the attack, detectives say a relative paid for a cab to take Parson to Orlando International Airport, where he boarded a flight that took him to Miami, then Montego Bay.

He was captured in June by members of the Fugitive Apprehension Team during an operation in Kingston.

Parson appeared in court Friday were the extradition case against him was mentioned.

Prison could be built within Marion Oaks

By Rick Cundiff

Published: Saturday, August 23, 2008 at 6:30 a.m.

OCALA - Corrections Corporation of America, the country's largest private prison management company, confirmed Friday that it is vying for a state contract to build and operate a 2,000-bed prison, and wants to put it in Marion County.

The Nashville, Tenn.-based company has its eyes on more than 900 acres along the south side of County Road 484, almost 2 miles west of Interstate 75, in a sparsely populated area of Marion Oaks. A sand mine, a home and pasture currently occupy the property, which the McGinley Family Limited Partnership owns.

The proximity of the facility to a residential area has raised concerns among members of the Marion Oaks Civic Association.

"We do not want this prison facility built in the middle of Marion Oaks. That's the general consensus," said Miguel Santos, the association president.

"The Marion Oaks community is stereotypically seen in a<0x000a>negative sense, and having a prison would just add to that."

CCA is responding to an "invitation to negotiate," issued by the state Department of Management Services, to design, build and operate the prison. The 2,000-bed facility would house a mix of medium-security inmates and prisoners under close custody, who have to be within an armed perimeter or directly under armed supervision at all times, said CCA spokesman Steve Owen.

Under Florida law, prisoners from other states could not be incarcerated there, according to a Department of Corrections spokeswoman.

A contract for the facility is expected to be signed by Nov. 1, and the prison would be required to be built by April 30, 2010, according to the documents that the Florida Department of Management Services issued.

CCA considered expanding two additional facilities it operates in other counties, but decided the Marion Oaks location would be the most feasible solution, Owen said.

The prison would cost about $100 million, Owen said. It likely would require about 300 construction workers, and would offer about the same number of permanent full-time jobs once completed, he added.

Once the prison opens, each job would offer an average salary and benefits totaling about $40,000 per year, he said. Owen was unable to break out salaries separately, but said benefits typically account for 20 percent to 25 percent of the $40,000 figure.

Santos, from the Marion Oaks Civic Association, said he'd like to see the property used instead for a hospital or a Central Florida Community College satellite campus. Santos and Mildred Musho, another association member, said County Commissioner Jim Payton, CCA officials, a member of the McGinley family and a representative of Moss Construction, which would be in charge of the construction project, met with a small group of residents recently to discuss the planned prison.

Santos and Musho said they appreciated the officials' openness, but the Civic Association plans to send a letter to Payton formally voicing its opposition.

"I want to see Marion Oaks attract high quality residents and I don't think this will do it," Musho said.

Owen said concerns over property values and security are common when CCA announces plans to build a prison. "It's almost impossible to site a correctional facility anywhere without some level of objection," he said.

But Owen maintained that the company often wins communities over because of the economic boost it offers and a commitment to safety as "our number one priority."

Although talk of CCA looking at sites in Marion first surfaced in February, the Department of Management Services officially started soliciting companies to build a new prison in mid-July. Companies have until Sept. 9 to submit bids, with a contract awarded Nov. 1 - at a construction cost not to exceed $110 million.

Chris Curry may be reached at or 867-4115. Rick Cundiff may be reached at or 867-4130.

David Onstott gets life in prison in 13-year-old Sarah Michelle Lunde's slaying

By Colleen Jenkins, Times Staff Writer

Published Friday, August 22, 2008 8:49 PM


TAMPA — Minutes before David Lee Onstott received a life sentence Friday for second-degree murder, authorities released the taped confession that jurors never heard.

Its contents could put to rest any lingering questions about whether Onstott killed 13-year-old Sarah Michelle Lunde.

"I did it," he told detectives.

And then, "I'm guilty of murder."

The 22-minute interview began at 9:54 p.m. on April 16, 2005, hours after searchers found Sarah's decomposed body on an abandoned fish farm a half-mile from her home in Ruskin. It wasn't played at trial because Hillsborough Circuit Judge Ronald Ficarrotta ruled that detectives ignored Onstott's requests for an attorney.

Onstott, 40, didn't offer many new details on the tape, saying he had been drunk and may have smoked pot before finding Sarah home alone early April 10.

"What happened?" Sheriff's Detective Steve Lewis asked.

"Argument broke out, one thing led to another," Onstott said.

"I think I did choke her," he added.

• • •

During Onstott's nearly two-week trial, which ended Thursday evening with guilty verdicts of second-degree murder and battery, a former jail deputy testified that Onstott told him he choked the girl, heard her gasp for air and then he blacked out.

Backed by that testimony, prosecutors argued that Onstott, 40, had gone to Sarah's home hoping to have sex with her mother but choked Sarah and killed her with crushing blows to her head.

Onstott's attorneys said he was innocent. No physical or forensic evidence tied him to the crime.

The circumstantial evidence proved enough to convince 12 jurors of Onstott's guilt.

Ficarrotta praised the jury as one of the hardest working he had ever seen. They deliberated nearly 13 hours over two days.

Reached by phone Friday, juror Gregg McGlasson said much of their discussion Thursday focused on the secretly recorded conversation Onstott had with his mother the same day Sarah was found. Prosecutors provided a transcript that included Onstott telling his mother, "I killed her." The defense disputed that interpretation.

McGlasson said most jurors thought the statement sounded more like "I feel it." They listened again and again and decided to ignore the transcript.

Jurors did not give much weight to Onstott telling his estranged wife that he had now broken every one of the Ten Commandments, McGlasson said.

Onstott's statements to the jail deputy, however, played "a big part" in the conviction.

McGlasson felt Onstott "got what he deserved" with the life sentence, but juror Marygrace Lowe said the lack of evidence left her less sure.

"It broke my heart when I found that he was sentenced to life in prison," she said Friday.

• • •

Before getting sentenced Friday morning, Onstott spoke to Sarah Lunde's mother, Kelly May.

"For what it's worth — I'm sure she don't want to hear it — Kelly, you know, my condolences," Onstott said. "I'm sorry."

May shook her head.

"No you're not," she said.

Assistant Public Defender John Skye told the judge that Onstott, a construction worker and father of four, had paid for his past mistakes. He spent about six years in prison for a 1995 sexual battery conviction.

"I would ask you, quite frankly, not to throw Mr. Onstott away," Skye said.

Ficarrotta sentenced Onstott to life in prison anyway, plus a concurrent five years for failing to report as a sex offender. In jail since his April 2005 arrest, he received time served for the battery conviction.

The life term is the same punishment Onstott would have faced had he been convicted of first-degree murder as charged.

Beneath an umbrella in a summer shower outside the courthouse, May said she had not heard Onstott's confession. Already certain of his guilt, she said she didn't need to.

"He's not sorry," she said. "He's sorry he got caught."

Another grieving parent stood behind her in support: Mark Lunsford, whose 9-year-old daughter Jessica was kidnapped, raped and murdered in February 2005 in Homosassa. Her killer now sits on death row.

Prosecutors took the death penalty off the table in Onstott's case after losing his key confession. May doesn't begrudge the decision.

"Life in prison," she said, "is death."

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at or (813) 226-3337.

>>fast facts

Excerpts from Onstott's confession

Confession told to Hillsborough sheriff's detectives. To read the transcript and listen to the report, go to

Detective Steve Lewis: Did you choke her?

Onstott: I think I did choke her.


Lewis: Did you have sex with her?

Onstott: Not that I remember.


Lewis: Can you tell me a reason why this happened?

Onstott: The sad part is, no.

Lewis: Were you intoxicated at the time?

Onstott: I was drunk.


Lewis: Is there anything else you can think of David?

Onstott: It's not who I am. (He starts to cry.)

Lewis: Is there anything you'd like to say to her family?

Onstott: I'm so sorry.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Death penalty sought for 2 men

Tony Gonsoulin

Rene Stutzman Sentinel Staff Writer
August 20, 2008

SANFORD - Seminole County prosecutors have decided to seek the death penalty against two men charged with killing children in their care. Tony Gonsoulin, 49, who lived near Apopka, is charged with first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse in the death of his 6-year-old nephew. Cameron Palmer died July 4, a day after Gonsoulin disciplined the boy for lying, investigative records show.

The child suffered severe head and other injuries. Prosecutors filed notice last week that they would seek the death penalty. They filed the same notice the same day in the case of Fidel Juarez-Avilla, 28, of Sanford. He is charged with first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse. His 14-month-old daughter, Aurelia Juarez, died June 25. The medical examiner concluded that she suffered blunt-force injuries to her abdomen and head. Juarez-Avilla told authorities the child fell from a bed.

Jail guards accused of jail 'fight club' will not be charged

Susan Jacobson Sentinel Staff Writer
August 20, 2008

No criminal charges will be filed against several guards accused of allowing a "fight club" in which Orange County Jail inmates were pitted against each other, at least once along racial lines.

An Orange sheriff's investigation concluded that nothing criminal happened during a fight at the jail May 18.

Three guards will remain on duty, in jobs away from inmates, until an internal investigation is completed. A fourth resigned this month.

The sheriff's investigation found that corrections officer Samuel Cruz let two inmates involved in the fight out of their cells.

But investigators said the behavior was likely a policy violation, not a criminal act.

Cruz denied to investigators that he let inmates out of their cells to fight.

No battery charges can be filed against either inmate because the men voluntarily fought each other, the Sheriff's Office said.

Witnesses told investigators that Hispanic inmates had accused black inmate Christopher Redding, now 40, of stealing food from a Hispanic prisoner. Some of the Hispanic inmates wanted Redding to fight in the recreation yard, so he went there with other black inmates, the report states.

Cruz is said to have told them "there would be no riot on this floor" and that the matter would be settled after the 10:30 p.m. lockdown, according to the report.

Redding and Anthony Hobdy-Franco, 27, were fighting when, witnesses said, Cruz held Redding by the arms or hair, allowing Hobdy-Franco to hit him in the face.

Both inmates suffered minor bruises and scrapes on their legs, arms and faces. Redding also had a cut lip, he said.

Cruz broke up the fight when someone yelled that a nurse was on her way, the report says.

Two other corrections officers are accused of watching but not interfering. Investigators faulted all three for not writing a report or notifying their supervisor.

Accusations that guards sanctioned two other fights earlier this year between two other inmates were not substantiated.

Hobdy-Franco was jailed on a carjacking charge, and Redding had been arrested on suspicion of driving with a revoked license as a habitual offender.

Susan Jacobson can be reached at or 407-540-5981.

Families of murder victims discover they aren't only ones hurting

Willoughby Mariano

Sentinel Staff Writer

August 14, 2008

Lucy Ramos said she could not help it. Since the murder of her teenage son, her heart has been screaming, and Ramos wanted everyone to hear it.

Ramos told friends who have lost loved ones that their grief was not as bad as hers. She yelled at relatives who tried to help. Before joining a group for families and friends of Orlando-area murder victims, she wanted to die.

Sometimes, she still does.

"When I came here, I was furious. I was delirious," Ramos, 53, said at a recent meeting of the group, Bereaved Survivors of Homicide. "Then I learned, I'm not the only one hurting."

In Orlando, where killings have hovered at record levels for more than two years, Ramos' case is not unusual, and experts think people like her are not getting the help they need.

Since the beginning of the year, 76 people have been slain in Orlando and unincorporated Orange County. Typically, for each killing, 10 people are stricken by serious grief, according to the National Organization of Parents of Murdered Children, which means that hundreds of people have joined the ranks of the bereaved this year alone.

Locally, few groups specialize in helping loved ones of murder victims with their emotional turmoil, and despite the efforts of victim advocates and law enforcement, few of those who need help are getting it.

Two other people attended the survivors meeting where Ramos spoke. Sometimes, no one comes.

Three local groups that do exist survive on little funding.

A federal grant of $26,400 goes in part to pay for a licensed counselor to attend Bereaved Survivors of Homicide meetings this fiscal year. The rest goes to two counselors at Hughes Counseling Service who provide the area's only free one-on-one sessions to the loved ones of homicide victims. They served 57 clients last year.

Orlando's other support group, Mothers Against Homicide, runs without any outside funding, said founder Regina Clark, whose son Thessalonis Clark, 20, was Orlando's first murder victim of 2007. Families of two victims regularly attend that group.Similar programs struggle nationwide.

In Miami, Victim Services -- The Trauma Resolution Center, a well-respected group, slashed its staff of 25 to nine this spring because of insufficient funds. Mothers Against Murderers Association, an all-volunteer West Palm Beach support group, pays its $1,800-a-month office rent by pooling money from the founder's family members.

"Many of these efforts are led by survivors, and often they are overwhelmed by the effort," said Kerrin Darkow, director of victim services at The National Center for Victims of Crime, a Washington-based group.

Even though violent crime often makes headlines, there's little public awareness of how bereaved families struggle, advocates said.

"Society as a whole is more educated about crimes against women, or domestic violence, or rape, than they are murder," said Nancy Ruhe, executive director of the National Organization of Parents of Murdered Children, the only national self-help support group for such families.

"There's a stigma. Like AIDS," she added.

Monica Mahtani, vice president of Bereaved Survivors of Homicide, suffered years of panic attacks after her mother, Rajini Mahtani, was kidnapped from the parking lot of Orlando Fashion Square and slain in 2001. Mahtani also lost her best friend of 10 years because the woman found the grief too difficult to deal with, she said.

Most people "are emotionally inadequate to deal with this," Mahtani said.

Ramos said counseling helped her after her son, Jose "Joey" Vera, 18, was shot and killed while leaving a barbershop in east Orange County in 2006, but she is far from recovered. She has alienated friends and relatives and worries that if she returns to work, she will clash with co-workers.

Her husband, Milton Maisonet, 52, said he has not sought counseling because he fears it will make him feel worse. Her daughter, Jacqueline Ramos, 36, who has three children, is seven months pregnant and often works 11-hour days, said she doesn't have time for counseling.

Although it might make her feel better, "There's no counseling that could make it go away," Jacqueline Ramos said of her brother's death.

Her mother feels that burden keenly. Simply getting out of bed remains difficult, Lucy Ramos said at a recent survivors meeting at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church in Orlando.

"I feel when they murdered my son, they murdered me," she said. "I do want to feel better, but this was my little boy, my hope."

Others nodded. Donna Everly, 53, whose son was killed in a 1999 home invasion, described how she dreamed of becoming a special-education teacher to help children at risk of becoming violent criminals.

They all said that during the worst of their grieving, they thought they were going crazy.

Mahtani joined a church to find peace. With counseling and time, she forgave, she said.

And on Mother's Day, she dreamed about her mother as if she were alive. They were shopping, trying on new outfits. Her mother's clothes were too large, and they laughed.

"The dream was so vivid and tangible that I actually felt her," Mahtani said. "It was so wonderful."

Willoughby Mariano can be reached at 407-420-5171 or

Jim Turner runs for circuit judge

By Lyn Payne

Associate Editor

When attorney N. James (“Jim”) Turner reflects on the inspiration he draws from Jewish tradition, he thinks that “perseverance is the key to success.”

“I stood in solidarity with the refuseniks of the Soviet Union at a time when the idea of emigration was dismal,” he told the Heritage by phone last week. “But we continued to fight and to pursue the goal of the complete emigration of all Soviet Jews, and we succeeded,” he said of his participation in the movement to free Soviet Jewry decades ago. Turner, then a member of Congregation of Reform Judaism, participated with the synagogue in “adopting” a Soviet Jewish family and maintaining regular contact to keep their spirits up. Turner also served as Orlando-area fundraising chair for the United Jewish Appeal effort to free the Russians. Other service in the Jewish community includes two years as president of the Hebrew Day School.

Now he wants to take his perseverance and his career to the next level: filling the seat of retiring Judge George Sprinkel in Group 22 in the Ninth Circuit Court. Serving Orange and Osceola counties, the Ninth Circuit covers more than 2,000 square miles and serves more than 1.3 million residents and receives an average of 590,000 new cases a year; that makes it among the largest circuits in Florida. It handles civil, criminal, domestic and juvenile issues. Turner believes his 32 years of practicing law in Florida—“ten more years of legal experience than either of my opponents”—puts him ahead of rivals Fred Schott (also profiled recently in the Heritage) and John Crotty. Voters will decide on Aug. 26.

Turner may be more well known as a father than as a judge: His only child is Amy Turner, who makes up one-third of the acclaimed singing trio Visions, and when Turner gets asked “Are you Amy’s father?” he’s “bursting with pride.” The group got its start when the talent of the three young girls was recognized by Cantor Allan Robuck as they studied to become b’not mitzvah. Turner used to be a member of COS, along with his former wife Phyllis, and he plans to rejoin. “My heart is with Ohev,” he said.

Turner graduated from Bentley College and cum laude from the University of Miami Law School. He’s a former chair of the Orange County Bar’s Labor and Employment Law Section, and has written several articles for the Florida Bar Journal. His volunteer efforts include the Coalition for the Homeless, the Legal Aid Society and the Friends of the Orlando Philharmonic.

“I decided that after practicing for 32 years and having done everything I could do as a lawyer”—he said he’s tried cases in courts of every level except the U.S. Supreme Court—“it was time to step up and to go farther in my legal career.”

He said his “significant courtroom experience,” including trying cases in the very court for which he’s running, gives him an edge: “One of my opponents is a workers comp lawyer and doesn’t try cases in circuit court.”

He also believes that his military background sets him apart: “I think that I’m the only candidate with prior military service. And I think prior military service means something. That you’re willing to serve.”

He takes pride in being a Vietman era veteran—he served in Europe during that war. “It made me in retrospect become very patriotic. I am more aware of the young men and women that are serving our country today, and am much more sensitive to them than I ever was before.” How would this translate on the bench? “I think it just makes me someone who’s got some life experience that gives me a different view, a broader view of things.”

What does he think is the most important quality for a judge? “Integrity. If you’re the smartest judge in the world but without integrity, you’re not going to be a good judge. Experience is second.” He’s a board certified civil trial lawyer, and is also certified by the Florida Supreme Court to teach constitutional law to high school students. He’s given presentations to schools, rotary clubs and veterans’ groups.

One of Turner’s topics is the pledge of allegiance and its meaning: “How ‘under God’ was put in there and what that means.” He tells groups about the history of the Supreme Court and religious freedom cases—as in the famous case of a Jehovah’s Witness who asserted the right not to say the pledge on religious grounds. In the original case in the 1940s, the Supreme Court, he said, found that “national unity is more important than individual rights on religion.” “That’s quite a broad, sweeping statement that sounds like something that comes out of the U.S.S.R.” Fortunately, thinks Turner, the court later reversed itself in favor of religious freedom.

Turner is co-founder of NELA, a “trade association of lawyers whose specialty is to educate lawyers and the public on civil rights.” He’s tried and won a variety of cases on civil rights in the workplace, specifically the rights of women and minorities. One involved a group of Hispanic drivers, many of them immigrants, who worked for a large transportation company and were “forced to accept lower wages and to work certain hours and accept certain [lower] pay” because the company claimed they were subject to an independent contractor agreement, rather than having the status of regular employees.

“It’s one of the cases I’m proudest of, because it was about economic oppression.” Turner won for the drivers, who often worked 60 – 80 hours a week, overtime pay and other rights. He’s also concerned about the sexual harassment of women in the workplace, and recently won a significant case (Hinton v. Supervision Intern, Inc.) for a victim. “My sympathies, my heart, are in protecting the rights of minorities,” including women.

With all that constitutional background, how does Turner think he’d address family law issues on the bench? “When it comes to children, I’m going to be concerned about the best interests of the child... children are paramount.”

On the death penalty: “I’m obligated to follow the law. All of the death penalty cases are heard by a jury, and the jury makes the recommendation to a judge [whether to impose the death penalty].”

His idea of the perfect judge? “Aside from integrity and experience, it’s somebody who listens... And that’s what I will do. I will be open-minded, I will be fair and I will listen.”

He also wants greater efficiency in the courts. As a judge, “I would be efficient, and make myself available for hearings.” Often, he said, lawyers find judges with whom they can’t schedule a hearing for four to six months. “I want to give people the opportunity to have their cases heard. Respect breeds respect.”

Should he be elected, he knows he’d face budget cuts. One solution would be to have non-violent criminals sentenced to “non-make-work projects” such as building houses with Habitat for Humanity. He’s also concerned that currently only three Spanish interpreters serve the Ninth Circuit, and his goal is to become bilingual himself by Jan. 1 to assist in serving the Hispanic population.

Turner’s endorsements include a significant one: Orlando mayor Buddy Dyer.

“I’ve been campaigning for over a year,” Turner said, “and I’ve gotten to know the needs of the community and I’ve met some phenomenal people... Physically, spiritually and emotionally, it has been the greatest experience of my life. I hope I win.”

One of Turner’s proudest recent moments was being asked as a veteran to be one of the three people in an honor guard at a fellow veteran’s funeral. He didn’t even know the person, but “that’s one of the duties you have. To give final salute. The most important thing is to do the right thing—and that’s what I try to do regardless of the consequences.”

For more information about Jim Turner and his campaign, visit

Murder victim's father calls for change

TAMPA, FL -- After the conviction of his son's killer, Ron Tomlinson knew things had to change.

22-year-old Joshua Rosa was sentenced to life in prison for killing Tomlinson's son, Stephen at Logan Gate Park in 2005. But Tomlinson feels the punishment was not harsh enough.

"I trusted this monster," Tomlinson said. "And he goes out and murders my child."

Rosa served as Stephen Tomlinson's youth minister and had a clean record. The death penalty was never considered. Now, Ron Tomlinson is proposing "Stephen's Law," an addition to the Florida State Statute.

"If there is any authority over a child as a babysitter, a youth minister, a teacher," Tomlinson said. "If a child is murdered in their care... I would like the death penalty to be considered."

Former Hillsborough County prosecutor Lyanne Goude says not every first-degree murder case deserves the death penalty.

"To seek death on an individual, you have to have circumstances that are egregious," Goude said. "And set apart this murder from all other murders that are committed."

Tomlinson disagrees and is moving forward with a petition for "Stephen's Law".

"I would like to see people sign the petition," Tomlinson said. "Especially those that have kids because they never know what'll happen one day to the next."

Candidate Profiles: 4th Judicial Circuit State Attorney, Circuit Judges

There is no Democrat in the race, so Republican primary between Jay Plotkin and Angela Corey is open to all voters and whoever wins will replace Harry Shorstein, who is not seeking reelection.

Angela Corey

AGE: 53

FAMILY: Parents: Thomas and Lorraine Corey. Siblings: Susan Corey; Thomas S. Corey IV and wife Tammie Corey, Nephew Thomas S. Corey, IV, Niece Renee Corey; Cathy Corey; Marlo Corey Hunt and husband Patrick Hunt, Niece: Abigail Hunt.

OCCUPATION: I was appointed as an Assistant State Attorney in November of 1981 in the Fourth Judicial Circuit by Ed Austin, State Attorney, then reappointed by Harry Shorstein, State Attorney, and served in that capacity until November of 2006. I was appointed as an Assistant State Attorney in February of 2007 by John Tanner, State Attorney, and serve in that capacity to date. (I am currently on leave without pay.)

EDUCATION: PRIMARY EDUCATION: Hogan Spring Glen Elementary School,Jacksonville, FL, Grades 1 to 6; Southside Junior High School, Jacksonville, Florida, Grades 7 to 9; Englewood Senior High School, Jacksonville, Florida, Grades 10 to 12. FORMAL EDUCATION: Florida State University, Bachelor of Science, June 1976; University of Florida, College of Law, Juris Doctor, December 1979.


The top three issues in this race are:
The appalling number of violent crimes, especially the murders in Duval County, is the most critical issue facing our circuit. Immediate, focused, and aggressive prosecution of violent criminals and repeat offenders is vital to stopping this revolving door of crime. Better handling of repeat misdemeanor offenders must also be a priority.
A critical issue in our circuit is the lack of public trust in the State Attorney’s Office. I will restore the trust of the public by prosecuting cases that are constitutionally and legally sound; working with law enforcement and our city leaders, not against them; and by working with our intervention and prevention specialists without trying to control those efforts. Most importantly, I pledge to prosecute with a fair and even hand regardless of the race, gender or social standing of the offender or the victim.
The Shorstein / Plotkin administration has failed in its initiatives to prevent juvenile and young adult violent crime. A major factor in this is their continued shuffling of attorney's from one case load to another costing the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in "taxpayer billable dollars"

The resounding endorsements I received from Sheriffs Rutherford, Beseler, and Seagraves, as well as all of the law enforcement groups in our Circuit are based their personal knowledge of my 26 years of courtroom performance and legal expertise. When I take office in January of 2009, I will have an immediate, positive working relationship within the law enforcement community. With that positive energy and stability, our law enforcement team will be best equipped to fight the crime that is currently threatening to consume our community

I want to be remembered as a State Attorney who cared passionately about this community, who created synergy with both law enforcement and our community leaders and worked hard to restore justice thus eliminating the nickname “murder capital of Florida”.



Jay Plotkin

AGE: 47 years of age, Born June 8, 1961

FAMILY: Wife of 18 years, three children ages 15, 12, and 9

OCCUPATION: Chief Assistant State Attorney

EDUCATION: Law: University of Florida College of Law, Gainesville, Florida Juris Doctor; May 1986. Pre-Law: University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida Bachelor of Arts in Political Science; University of Florida; December 1982

POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: N/A – I’m a prosecutor not a politician


First, the senseless murders and crimes committed against our citizens is the most pressing issue facing our community today. First and foremost it is the job of the top prosecutor to aggressively prosecute murders. In the last 18 months, our office as taken a record number of homicide cases to trial with a 96% conviction rate. We have and will continue to seek appropriate sentences for these murderers. That is why our State Attorney’s Office leads the state in the number of convicted murderers on death row. I support the death penalty and will continue to seek it when appropriate.

If we want to rid our great city of the title “the homicide capital of Florida” we must aggressively prosecute chronic and violent offenders and proactively work to keep our children out of trouble. This is why I am the clear choice to be our next State Attorney. I am the only candidate with a proven record of tough prosecution and successful intervention with our youth.

Finally, we must listen to our community. If we want our citizens to cooperate with law enforcement, they must know and trust law enforcement. This can only be accomplished through open and honest dialogue. I will utilize the many relationships that I have throughout our communities to assist in these efforts.

Second and third, there is no more important issue than assuring that our families are safe from violent crime. I assure the people of Clay, Duval, and Nassau counties that I will spend every waking moment working to reduce crime in our community.
I will continue to serve the people as a tough prosecutor and an effective competent leader of the State Attorney’s Office. I am the only candidate who has tried significant trials while simultaneously managing the 100 lawyers, 277 professional staff and the State Attorney’s Offices $24 million budget.

As a leader and representative of the people in the courtroom, I am an accomplished trial lawyer. I have personally handled over 90 trials including 25 murder trials with a 90% conviction rate. I have put 5 murderers on death row. I will continue to lead by example by personally prosecuting the most significant cases in our community.

I have always been and will continue to be a leader in this community in the efforts to prevent and prosecute juvenile crime. As a national leader in this area, I have implemented programs that have led to a 45% decrease in juvenile crime. We must continue to do more.

As a community, we must demand aggressive prosecution of habitual and violent juveniles. I have personally made the very difficult decision to prosecute more than 2500 juveniles as adults since 1993 and will continue to do so when we must. I am a tough no nonsense prosecutor who also understands the importance of prevention and early intervention. My opponent continues to say that leading efforts to reduce juvenile crime is not a primary role for the State Attorney. She could not be more wrong.

I have spent my entire professional career aggressively prosecuting chronic and violent offenders, from those who abuse our children, to murderers and habitual offenders. As a division chief in our repeat offender court, I went to Tallahassee to fight to maintain the tools we need to put habitual offenders in prison for lengthy sentences. As Chief Assistant State Attorney for the past 9 years, I prioritized our resources so that we could provide the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office with two of our best prosecutors as a part of Operation Safe Streets (OSS). OSS has proven to be a tremendous tool in our efforts to protect this community from violent offenders. Working together with the Sheriff’s office we create strong cases that stand up in court. Because of our joint efforts these offenders are serving nearly 1300 years in prison. I pledge to triple the number of lawyers working in this important area with the Sheriff.

This is a critical time in our community. Politics must be put aside to solve the pressing issues. I have said often I am a prosecutor, not a politician. This is not just a phrase it defines who I am. At the end of the day when I go home to my wife and three children and know that I have done all I can do to make this a safer place for my family and the families in our community then I know it has been a good day, that is what I would want to be remembered for.



This is a non-partisan race between Adrian Soud and Mark Hulsey.

Mark Hulsey

OFFICE: Circuit Court Judge, Group 11

AGE: 58

FAMILY: Married to Donna Kellam Hulsey; have raised four children and have 5 grandchildren.

OCCUPATION: Attorney in Private Practice for 25 years, specializing in Civil Law; a court recognized expert in child custody evaluations.

EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree from the University of Florida; Master's in History from the University of South California; a Juris Doctorate from George Mason University

POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: This is my first campaign.

As the Florida Times Union pointed out when they endorsed my candidacy, I have the overall life and legal experience that is needed on the bench. Wisdom comes with age and experience, and I have that.
As a judicial candidate, neither I nor my opponent can "make" law, or promise to change the law. It's only the legislature that can do that.
As a judge, you swear to uphold the laws of the State. I'm prepared to do just that.

I think I am the better candidate because of the diversity of my legal and life experiences that enable me to know the law, and understand compassion. I have worked in all areas of civil law and have had 200 trials. I have traveled all over the country as a Court recognized expert in Child Custody Evaluations, having performed over 100 for the Court. I have been a certified family mediator for eight years. I also believe that I have a variety of life experiences, including serving in the military, volunteering with the Duval County School Board, pro bono work through the Christian Legal Society’s project with Legal Aid and various service and business groups. It's this diversity of life and legal experience that will enable me to be the kind of judge our community deserves.

When I leave office, I hope that people will remember that I worked hard to guarantee that everyone was treated with respect; that everyone was treated fairly and had their day in court; that I applied the law compassionate and justly.



Adrian G. Soud

AGE: 34

FAMILY: Wife - Marcie; Daughters - Emily and Elizabeth


EDUCATION: Bachelor's Degree, University of Florida; Juris Doctor, cum laude, Stetson University College of Law

POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: Never previously held elected office


Crime – The court must be meticulous in fulfilling its role of protecting public safety. While always ensuring the constitutional guarantees of an accused, when the burden of proof has been met and the defendant found guilty, either because of verdict or plea agreement, a judge must impose sentences that will ensure the public safety and protect our families. Sentences should be intended to not only protect against often escalating patterns of criminal activity from a particular accused, but act as a deterrent to other potential criminals. Additionally, the judge is vested with the prerogative to reject plea agreements arrived at by the prosecutor and defendant if a particular agreement and the sentence, or any part thereof, does not adequately protect the public. Cases of any nature, and particularly criminal cases, cannot simply be processed so mechanically and with the attitude that this is the way we’ve always done it. Cases should be brought to trial and let juries decide the guilt or innocence. Each case must have a thorough review.

Serious Family Issues – There is rampant incidences of domestic violence and cases of abused, neglected and/or abandoned children. Our society and culture is feeling the results with increased violent crimes, single parents living at or below the poverty level, and pervasive cases of children performing at failure levels in schools in an academic environment where behavior violations are seriously impacting the ability of teachers to teach and children to learn in a safe school setting.

This area of the law is where the Court can be proactive without being activist. All community resources, private and public, should be utilized to penetrate this culture of dysfunction. If resources are available and provided, once again there must be accountability required on the part of service providers and the families. Government cannot raise children. Parents do. The Court, however, can let it be known in no uncertain terms that the level of expectation must be met. The next generation will require it.

Effective Case Management - As a judge, I will be committed to working hard and ensuring cases move through the court as efficiently as possible. This must not come at the expense of a thorough review of each and every case pending before the court. People must have adequate time to prepare their case. However, justice delayed is justice denied.

I believe I have the assets the public would expect their Circuit Judge to exercise: broad and balanced experience; a thorough work ethic; patience in listening to people with serious personal, family or financial concerns; the ability to manage a large case load so that cases can move through the system with promptness bringing cases to a conclusion; bringing criminal cases to jury trial rather than approve plea negotiated sentences that are good for the defendant and poor for the public safety. My world view and philosophy is what I've seen written, that the Founders intended the Constitution to be a vault where our principles of government were deposited for safe keeping, not a pantry where those principles are used, misused and\or modified according to the judge's appetite.

That I discharged the duties of the Court in a manner of unimpeached integrity, always remaining committed to making rulings on the law and evidence alone without preference for any person for any reason. That I ruled in a manner to protect our families and the public at large from criminals. Finally, that I remained humble, always embracing a judge's limited role in our constitutional form of government and never legislating from the bench.



Mark Hulsey
The incumbent in this seat. Channel 4 has not received a response from this candidate.


This is a non-partisan race between Virginia Norton and Rick Buttner.

Rick Buttner

AGE: 40

FAMILY: Wife of 16 years, Sharon, and two children, Charlotte and Nolan

OCCUPATION: Attorney. Partner: Hamilton and Buttner

EDUCATION: Valdosta State University Bachelor of Arts 1986-1990. Cumberland School of Law Juris Doctor 1992-1995.


Experience – Circuit judges must have the breadth and depth of experience to be ready from day one. As someone who has been a prosecutor, civil trial advocate, family law attorney, and commercial lawyer, I am the only Group 28 candidate who has practiced in each of the areas where a circuit judge presides – and the only candidate with significant jury trial experience.
Law Enforcement – As an Assistant State Attorney in Duval and Nassau Counties, I prosecuted criminals, represented the interests of crime victims, and worked hard to make our streets safe. Police and firefighter associations in Duval, Clay, and Nassau Counties have endorsed me for Circuit Judge in Group 28. Our public safety officers believe that I am the best qualified and most experienced candidate.
Family – Circuit judges are often called upon to handle difficult family matters like divorce and child custody. I am the only candidate in this race who has practiced family law. As a husband of 16 years and the father of two children, I understand the importance of family and have tried to represent my family law clients with the sensitivity and good judgment that they deserve. I will do the same in family law cases as a circuit judge.

As the only candidate in the race who has practiced in each of the areas over which a Circuit Judge presides – criminal law, civil and commercial matters, family law, juvenile court, and probate – I will bring unique experience to the bench. As an Assistant State Attorney, I prosecuted thousands of defendants and conducted dozens of trials, making me the only candidate in this race with criminal law and significant jury trial experience. In private practice, I have litigated a wide variety of civil cases, including business disputes. I have also executed the same types of real estate and business transactions that sometimes end up in circuit court litigation, which gives me a keen understanding of many of the issues that will come before me as a Circuit Judge.

I hope people remember Rick Buttner as a firm but fair circuit judge who followed the law, served with integrity, and never lost sight of the real people whose lives are significantly impacted by litigation. I also hope they remember me as a no-nonsense judge who moved cases as quickly as possible because he understood that justice delayed can easily become justice denied.



Virginia Norton

AGE: 36

FAMILY: Gloria and Ray Norton, Parents; Hamilton Norton, Brother

OCCUPATION: Assistant General Counsel, City of Jacksonville

As an Assistant General Counsel for the City of Jacksonville, I serve the Consolidated City of Jacksonville and its respective agencies. My clients include the Duval County School Board and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. In addition, I also represent deputies with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office who are sued in their individual capacity. I maintain an active calendar in State, Federal, Appellate, and Administrative courts.

In February 2006, I was named the City of Jacksonville’s lead attorney in defending section 674.502, Jacksonville Municipal Code (“Sexual Predator Residency Restriction Ordinance). Over the past, two years, I have litigated this matter with prosecutors from the Office of the State Attorney. This Ordinance restricts where sexual predators may live with regard to our children.

EDUCATION: University of Virginia, Bachelor of Arts Degree, Rhetoric and Communications Studies, 1994. University of Florida College of Law, Juris Doctor, 1997. Post-Baccalaureate Classes, University of North Florida Coggin College of Business, 2000.

POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: Special Master for the City of Jacksonville- January 2006 to present- I have presided over three thousand (3000) hearings concerning the Jacksonville Municipal Code.


Experience- The Fourth Judicial Circuit faces a backlog of cases as well as the pressure of budget cuts. Consequently, the next Circuit Court Judge needs to be able to hit the ground running on the first day. Relying on my experience as a Special Master for the City of Jacksonville, I will be able to move cases to completion while balancing efficiency with common sense, fairness, and adherence to the law. Having gotten my first job at the age of 13, I understand the importance of hard work and being industrious with limited resources.
Public Safety- As a victim of a violent crime myself and as a lawyer for Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford, I know firsthand the need for public safety.As a Circuit Court Judge, it will be my priority to act in accordance with the law to keep Northeast Florida safe.
Values- A Circuit Court Judge should be an individual who possesses the strength, integrity, and humility to hold such a crucial position. I have dedicated my personal and professional life to serving the citizens of Northeast Florida.It is my pledge to remain a humble, public servant if elected as Circuit Court Judge.

As a Special Master for the City of Jacksonville, I have already presided over three thousand (3000) hearings. I am the only candidate in this race with this level of experience in making the tough decisions that Circuit Court Judges make. I am also the only candidate who TODAY works with prosecutors in protecting our children from criminals. As the City of Jacksonville's lead attorney in protecting the Sexual Predator Residency Restriction Ordinance, I fight for our children. Although I have the experience of private, legal practice, I chose, and still do choose, to make the children and families of this community as the focus of my legal career. My commitment to public safety, especially with regard to children, will help our community be a safer and better place to live and raise a family. I have also appeared in the County Court, Circuit Court, First District Court of Appeals, and Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. This experience shows a proven, track record for addressing some of Northeast Florida's greatest problems. Finally, my volunteer service brings a unique perspective to the bench. Whether as a member of the Justice Coalition Board or the Women's Board of Wolfson Children's Hospital, I have dedicated myself to public safety and children.

I hope to be remembered for being a Judge who made Northeast Florida a safer and better place to live and raise a family. I also hope to be remembered for being a hard working, public servant who put her community's needs before her own. As a Circuit Court Judge, I will be a fair but tough Judge who treats all people with respect and dignity.