Monday, October 27, 2008

Brevard judge steps aside in murder trial

Police deny drinking with suspect


Circuit Judge Meryl Allawas recused herself from a murder case Wednesday because she is the godmother of the lead detective's children.

Allawas made the disclosure during the hearing on a defense motion to throw out the confession of Michael Lilja, a homeless man accused of killing his companion, 56-year-old Robert Stephen Ault, last year in a dispute over body odor.

The judge said she usually sees Brevard County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Gary Harrell's children with their mother, has minimal contact with Harrell and would be impartial.

But she granted the defendant's ensuing recusal request to avoid the perception of bias.

The case will be reassigned to a different judge.

The defendant should "feel he is getting a judge that has no relationship at all" to the witnesses, Allawas said.

Lilja, 45, faces life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder in connection with Ault's death.

Police said a boater found Ault's body floating in Sykes Creek near the Beachline Expressway on Merritt Island on July 26, 2007, near the campsite where the two men lived.

An autopsy showed Ault died of multiple blunt-force trauma and strangulation, authorities said.

Defense attorney Todd Deratany claims investigators illegally detained and questioned Lilja in a room at the Clarion Hotel on Merritt Island and gained the confession by plying Lilja with beer that they bought and drank with him.

Prosecutor Tom Brown said after Wednesday's hearing that the allegations in Deratany's motion are "absolutely false."

In an e-mailed statement to FLORIDA TODAY, Lt. Bruce Barnett of the Brevard County Sheriff's Office homicide unit said his agency offered Lilja a place to sleep and bathe because he couldn't return to his campsite, which was under investigation by crime-scene personnel.

Officers also wanted an idea of where to find him if they needed to speak with him the next morning, Barnett said.

Agents did not stay with him or conduct an interview at the hotel, Barnett said.

Lilja was questioned the next day at the police precinct, where he waived his Miranda rights, he said.

"At no time did the sheriff's office covertly watch him at the hotel, nor was he told that he was not free to leave the hotel and there was no security provided by the sheriff's office at the hotel to insure that he remained there," Barnett wrote.

Contact Summers at 242-3642 or

Fla.'s death penalty unchanged 2 years after study

Associated Press Writer

Two years ago, an independent panel made 12 recommendations to reform Florida's death penalty process. That report has since done little more than gather dust ever since.

None of the proposals from the American Bar Association panel of judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers and college professors has been adopted by the state and it's now unlikely any ever will.

Some panel members say it all comes down to politics: Gov. Charlie Crist and state lawmakers don't want to appear soft on the death penalty by adopting measures that would be seen as impeding executions.

Some of the recommendations were controversial. One required that juries be unanimous in recommending death and would make it illegal for a judge to overrule a jury that has recommended life in prison instead of death. Currently, a jury's vote is only advisory and can be split.

Other recommendations included requiring better qualifications and pay for appellate attorneys; taking steps to eliminate juror confusion on capital cases; examining racial and geographic disparities in sentencing; and creating commissions to explore the cause of wrongful convictions and review claims of innocence.

Christopher Slobogin, a former University of Florida law professor, was the chairman of the panel. He said state politicians fear that if they took up the panel's recommendations that "would make them look like they were anti-death penalty, which is the kiss of death, so to speak, in Florida politics."

But some legislators counter that many of the recommendations are unconstitutional and accuse the panel of making them with an anti-death penalty bias.

"We've looked at all the recommendations that were available and we've made the necessary changes," said state Sen. Victor Crist, who is not related to the governor. "Our experts tell us we've done everything we need to do. Florida has the most highly advanced, most aggressively funded and most finely tuned death penalty process and representation any where in the world."

One the eight committee members, Mark R. Schlakman, senior program director at Florida State University's Center for the Advancement of Human Rights, is pushing for Florida officials to take another look at the report.

He has recently visited new Supreme Court Chief Justice Peggy A. Quince. He's also talked to Roger Maas, executive director of the Commission on Capital Cases, and state legislative leaders. With the recent appointment of two new Supreme Court justices, Quince offered no commitments on the proposals.

"Florida residents expect a system of justice that engenders confidence based upon fairness and accuracy," Schlakman said.

Sandy D'Alemberte, former Florida State University president and a former president of the American Bar Association, served on the National Advisory Board of the ABA project, which also examined the death penalty in Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee.

He believes changes still need to be made.

"The whole system of criminal justice is broken," he said. "Look at the number of DNA exonerations in Florida and these have not been followed by any corrections of the problems in the system."

Gov. Crist has no further interest in the ABA's suggestions, according to his spokesman, Sterling Ivey. He is particularly opposed to requiring an unanimous jury recommendation.

In urging the Legislature not to change the law in 2005, Crist - then attorney general - noted that serial killers Ted Bundy and Aileen Wuornos would have been spared if an unanimous jury vote had been required. Both had 10-2 jury votes for death.

Just months after the report was released, the botched execution of Angel Diaz in December 2006 took the attention off problems with the death penalty and changed the focus to the state's death chamber procedures and lethal chemicals. Gov. Jeb Bush imposed a moratorium until the protocols could be examined. first by a state committee and then by the U.S. Supreme Court in a Kentucky case.

Another committee member, Harry Shorstein, the state attorney in Jacksonville for 27 years, continues to favor the death penalty, but only for "the worst of the worst."

"The system as it applies to the death penalty is broken," Shorstein said. "I'm not sure it is capable of being fixed."

Decomposition evidence in Casey Anthony's trunk, lab says

Story Highlights
Preliminary lab tests say decomposition evidence could be human, report says

Tests also find "unusually large concentration of chloroform" in trunk

Casey Anthony is charged with first-degree murder in daughter's disappearance

Lawyer's spokesman says evidence doesn't link Casey to any wrongdoing

(CNN) -- Evidence consistent with human decomposition was found in the trunk of a car belonging to a Florida woman charged with killing her 3-year-old daughter, according to a forensic report released Friday.

"Both odor analysis and LIBS results appear to be quite consistent with a decompositional event having occurred in the trunk of the vehicle," said the report from Tennessee's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, noting that the results were preliminary.

Testing indicates that the decomposition could be human, the report adds.

Casey Anthony, who drove the car, was arrested this month and charged with first-degree murder and other charges in the disappearance of her daughter, Caylee.

Caylee was last seen in mid-June, but Casey Anthony waited about a month before telling her family the child was gone.

LIBS is laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy, one of the techniques used in chemical analysis.

Testing was conducted on air and carpet samples from the vehicle. The tests indicated "the presence of the five key major compounds associated with human decomposition," the report said.

The tests also found "an unusually large concentration of chloroform" in the trunk, according to the Oak Ridge report. Chloroform can be used to render someone unconscious. However, trace amounts of chloroform were also found on a control carpet sample, the report said. Watch Nancy Grace report on the chloroform discovery »

The report also says evidence of possible decomposition was found on a hair located among debris in the trunk. The hair is "microscopically similar" to one recovered from Caylee's hair brush, the report said, but "a more meaningful conclusion cannot be reached as this is not a suitable known hair sample."

The report was released by prosecutors as part of the case's public record. Prosecutors said they would not comment further on them.

Todd Black, a spokesman for Casey Anthony's attorney, Jose Baez, said the evidence does not link Casey Anthony to any criminal behavior.

"There's nothing in those reports that links Casey Anthony to any wrongdoing with her daughter, Caylee," he said.

Casey Anthony was arrested October 14 in a traffic stop after a grand jury indicted her on seven counts of first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse, aggravated manslaughter of a child and four counts of providing false information to police.

If convicted of the capital murder charge, she could face the death penalty or a life sentence.

Police and prosecutors have said little about the case, but hundreds of pages of documents and investigative reports have been released.

They indicate that Casey Anthony went to nightclubs, entered "hot body" contests and text-messaged her friends while her daughter was missing. Copies of cell phone and text records released to the public show that she hardly ever mentioned Caylee during the time just before and after the girl was reported missing. And in May, just before Caylee disappeared, her mother referred to the girl as "the little snot head."

Casey's mother, Cindy Anthony, called the sheriff in Orange County, Florida, on July 15, saying her daughter wouldn't tell her where Caylee was.

Casey's brother, Lee Anthony, also pleaded with his sister to tell him where Caylee was, according to police documents. She told him she hadn't seen the child in "31 days."

When questioned, Casey Anthony gave conflicting statements to police, including some that were later disproved, accounting for the charges of providing false information.

She claimed that she dropped Caylee off with a baby-sitter, but when police checked out her story, they learned that the address Casey Anthony supplied belonged to an apartment that had been vacant for weeks. The woman Casey Anthony named as her baby-sitter told police she did not know her.

Investigators have said cadaver dogs picked up the scent of death in Casey Anthony's car and her parents' backyard. A neighbor told police Casey Anthony had asked to borrow a shovel.

Preliminary air quality tests conducted by the FBI found evidence consistent with human decomposition and chloroform in the trunk of Casey Anthony's car, investigators previously said.

Further analysis of Casey Anthony's computer found that she had visited Web sites discussing chloroform, as well as Internet searches of missing children.

CNN Headline News' Natisha Lance contributed to this report.

Updated: Trial delayed for man charged in killing of Gadsden County confidential informant

By Jennifer Portman
Democrat senior writer

updated 9:52 a.m.

The capital-murder trial of one of two defendants charged in the 2002 killing of confidential informant Constance Dupont has been postponed.

The trial is expected to start sometime later this year or in January, according to various court officials.

A Leon County court spokesman earlier today said the trial was beginning this morning. It's been delayed, however, because one of the attorneys involved is ill.

morning update

One of two men charged in the 2002 shooting death of a Gadsden County woman is set to go on trial today in Quincy.

Hernandez Lopaz Daniels, currently serving a life sentence on federal drug-dealing charges, faces the death penalty in the killing of Constance Dupont. Investigators say Daniels hired another man, Fernando Taylor, to kill Dupont, who had been working as a confidential informant for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

On Aug. 3, 2002, the 39-year-old grandmother heard a knock on a window at her Havana apartment. When she peeked through the blinds, bullets shot through the glass and into her chest.

Taylor, who is in state prison for armed robbery, also faces the death penalty. He is being tried separately. A date hasn't been set.

Jury selection happened earlier this month in Daniels' trial. Leon Circuit Judge Thomas Bateman is presiding.

Check back with for more on this story.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Tough new policies in Florida schools target bullies

Dave Weber

Sentinel Staff Writer

October 18, 2008

Schoolhouse bullies, your days are numbered.

Tough new policies being rushed into schools across Florida call for swift, sharp punishment for students who pick on others. They may be spending time in detention or even be expelled.

"We want to make sure every student who comes to school feels safe and protected," said Keith Baber, a district counselor leading the counterattack on bullying for Orange schools.

Many school districts across the state, including Orange, have increased their anti-bullying efforts in recent years. But a new law passed by the Legislature last spring requires every school district to have a strict bullying and harassment policy in place by Dec. 1 that meets state guidelines.

The policies must spell out a process for students to report bullying, allow anonymous complaints, and require school officials to investigate immediately and report quickly. The Seminole school district's policy calls for an investigation to be completed within 10 school days.

The definition of bullying is broad, too.

"This is not just about somebody beating you up for lunch money," said Jeanne Morris, a Seminole School Board member. "It's teasing and exclusion, too."

Morris said schools need to clearly explain ramifications of the new policy so students understand that they could ultimately be kicked out of school.

For example, isolating kids by constantly leaving them out of group activities could end up as a bullying issue. That doesn't mean everybody has to be your best friend, officials said, but repeatedly saying, "We don't want Bobby on our team" in gym class could be an offense.

Broad authority

The policies must cover cyberbullying, too, and will give schools broad authority to deal with students who use computers to pick on others.

Employees, school volunteers and anyone visiting a school will fall under the policies along with students.

Districts will set punishments for students who bully and harass. Depending upon the severity of the infraction, in Seminole bullies could face Saturday school, in-school suspension, out-of-school suspension, expulsion or even arrest.

"Bullying is all over. It is sad how much bullying goes on," said Terri Iannuzzi, a physical-education teacher at Winter Springs High who leads a group of students called Safe School Ambassadors.

The ambassadors, including senior Greg Black, are trained to defuse fights and discourage bullying. Iannuzzi says the ambassadors have had a lot of success.

But Black, kicker on the school's football team, says there still is a lot of work to do. Bullying these days often entails head games, he said.

"Bullying is not so much physical fighting anymore. It is more of put-downs and teasing and excluding kids that is more serious," he said. "It is really kind of scary."

The December deadline has set districts scurrying to meet the requirements. Seminole and Lake gave tentative approval to their policies this week, with a final nod expected next month. Orange, Osceola and Volusia are working on policies, too.

Broward County was among the first school districts in the state to approve a bullying policy, and the Department of Education is using that one as a model for others.

Ironically, the state is holding a club over districts to make them comply with the anti-bullying requirements. Districts that don't have a policy won't receive Safe Schools funding that they use to pay for school-resource officers and other safety-related items. Orange County alone is in line for more than $5.2 million of the $73.5 million statewide pot of Safe Schools money this year.

Victims are frustrated

Much of the public and many educators for years accepted bullying, which experts say is ingrained by fourth grade and peaks in middle school, as a normal part of growing up. But thinking has changed more recently.

That has been prompted in part by the growing number of school shootings, with authorities concluding many of the shooters were frustrated victims of bullying. Last spring, a DeLand Middle School boy who threatened to kill fellow students said he was reacting to intense bullying.

Other bullying victims become so frustrated that they kill themselves. The new law is called the Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act, named after a Cape Coral teenager who hanged himself in his bedroom closet after repeatedly being bullied at middle school.

But those extremes are only a fraction of the millions of kids who are scarred by bullying, officials say. Most adults remember being bullied or seeing someone bullied in school, Orange counselor Baber said. That means the incident left a mark, he said.

Federal figures show that in 2005, almost 30 percent of students 12 to 18 years old reported being bullied.

"A lot of students' lives are miserable because they are bullied," said Walt Griffin, supervisor of secondary education for Seminole schools. "Now they will know they can report it."

Dave Weber can be reached at or 407-320-0915.

Teen admitted hiding girl's body but says her death was accident

But he said teen died accidentally when she attacked him after sex
By Rafael A. Olmeda

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

October 18, 2008

First, he lied about everything.

Then Jason Hartley told a Fort Lauderdale police detective that he found the body of Neica Marie Gibbs, 14, near the trailer where he lives.

Later, in a videotaped statement shown by his attorney Friday, Hartley, 15, tearfully admitted Gibbs was with him when she died. But he said her death was an accident.

Hartley, 15, is being charged as an adult with second-degree murder in the June 28 death of Gibbs and could face life in prison if convicted.

In his 90-minute interview with Detective John Curcio, recorded July 24, Hartley initially said he and Gibbs had sex and that she left his trailer.

Then he claimed he found Gibbs dead and hid her body out of fear he would be held responsible for her death.

"Why didn't you just call 911?" Curcio asked.

"I was scared," Hartley responded. After further questioning, Hartley leaned in toward Curcio.

"You're trying to make me say I did kill her," he said.

"I'm trying to get you to tell the truth," Curcio said. "That's all I want from you, man."

Sobbing, gulping for air and sometimes struggling to get his words out, Hartley finally said he agreed to pay Gibbs for the sexual encounter, but that she got angry because he didn't have any money on him. She threatened him, Hartley said, and then got violent, attacking him with a piece of a broken vacuum cleaner in Hartley's bedroom.

Hartley said he fought back, and that in the struggle, a strap hanging on a treadmill ended up wrapped around the girl's neck.

Before Hartley could make sense of what was happening, he said, the girl stopped moving.

"She fell to the ground," he said, crying almost uncontrollably. "I checked her arm. She wasn't breathing."

Afraid no one would believe it was an accident, Hartley said he put Gibbs' body in a tarp and lugged it outside on a dolly to a trash bin.

No one saw him, he said, contradicting an 11-year-old friend who, in a sworn deposition, told the same detective he saw Hartley and touched the body through the tarp, not knowing what was underneath.

Hartley's lawyer, George Reres, said Hartley never intended to kill Gibbs.

"He had a long-term crush on the girl," Reres said.

In the video, Hartley tells the detective his sexual encounter with Gibbs was his first with anyone.

Gibbs was missing for three weeks before her body was found. Hartley was arrested soon afterward.

"The totality of the evidence proves this was not an accident," Assistant State Attorney Maria Schneider wrote in e-mail to the Sun Sentinel. "I believe that an impartial jury will see this quite clearly."

Staff Writer Joel Marino contributed to this report. Rafael Olmeda can be reached at or 954-356-4694.

Gateway double-killing suspect will be retried


Fred Cooper will be back in court Tuesday as prosecutors prepare to retry him on charges of murdering a Gateway couple in December 2005 after a jury came back deadlocked late Friday.

Cooper, 30, is charged with shooting to death Steven Andrews and strangling Michelle Andrews in their Gateway home Dec. 27, 2005. Jurors spent six days listening to testimony and viewing evidence and deliberated for most of four days — 321⁄2 hours, to be exact — but declared they couldn’t come to a unanimous verdict around 9 p.m.

The judge didn’t ask each juror which verdict he or she favored before he dismissed the panel.

As Lee Circuit Judge Thomas Reese declared a mistrial, Cooper had no reaction. His sister, Angela Cox, wept as she sat beside family members with her head in her hands. Just five feet away, the mother of Steven Andrews, Barbara Andrews, sat quietly as family members stood around her, seemingly in disbelief. Michelle Andrews’ parents — Daniel and Linda Kokora — weren’t in the courtroom when the mistrial was declared.

“We are extremely disappointed; the Andrewses and the Kokoras are extremely disappointed,” assistant state attorney Anthony Kunasek told a horde of reporters.

“We are going to start preparing the case and getting ready for another trial.”

Jurors offered no comment as they were escorted out of the courthouse and onto a bus back to their cars. Some covered their faces to avoid cameras; others didn’t acknowledge reporters’ questions.

They had labored longer than any Lee County jury in recent history.

No family members of Cooper or the Andrewses wanted to comment.

Assistant deputy public defender Beatriz Taquechel had no explanation for what hung up the jury.

“I have no idea,” she said. “It’s really hard on everyone.”

In Gateway, former neighbors of Steven and Michelle Andrews were distraught when they heard about the mistrial.

“I’m in shock,” neighbor Sarah Smiarowski said. “The jury was persuaded by lies and not facts. The only thing Michelle wanted was to save her marriage and her family.”

Neighbors Brad and Jennifer Buffington also were upset.

“Some of the stories that were told in court ... concerning his relationship with Michelle is unbelievable,” Brad Buffington said. “We’re not the only ones who are going to be shocked when they hear the news.”

If this case follows the pattern of previous mistrials, Cooper will be retried within 90 days and he will remain in custody at the Lee County Jail until his second trial.

The trial

The state made its case in chronological order, beginning with the deputy who arrived at the Gateway house around 7 a.m. Dec. 27, 2005. Sheriff’s dispatchers received a call with no one on the other line. Deputy Tracie Gaydash saw 2-year-old Lukasz Andrews and he guided her upstairs. There, she discovered the bodies of Steven and Michelle Andrews.

Detectives swarmed the house and crime scene investigators poured through the inside, looking for DNA, fingerprints and clues.

Medical Examiner Rebecca Hamilton determined Steven Andrews was shot to death, while Michelle Andrews was strangled.

That afternoon, Cooper called his girlfriend, Kellie Ballew, to tell her the Andrewses had been killed. He said he’d seen a report on television. She called sheriff’s detectives and gave them a statement.

That led them to Cooper, whom detectives believe knew of an affair between Ballew and Steven Andrews and, in a jealous rage, drove his motorcycle to Gateway and slaughtered the couple in their home. Prosecutors tried to show Cooper went back to the house around 7 a.m. and called 911.

After he was arrested Jan. 11, 2006, he confessed to having a sexual affair with Michelle Andrews, which explained why his DNA was found on her, detectives said at the time.

The defense presented four witnesses, but its case hinged on Cooper, who took the stand Monday.

During testimony, Cooper admitted he knew Ballew and Andrews were having an affair, but he denied harming the couple.

“I did not kill Steven and Michelle,” Cooper declared.

That contradicted his statements Dec. 27 and Dec. 29, 2005, when he told investigators he had no idea Ballew and Steven Andrews were having an affair and he had never been to Gateway. Prosecutors pointed out at least a dozen lies they said Cooper made between the statements and his testimony.

Cooper said he lied to detectives because he never thought he’d be a suspect and that he didn’t want to lose his daughter, then 5.

He also testified he didn’t tell detectives of his sexual encounter with Michelle Andrews before his arrest because he didn’t want Ballew to find out.

Prosecutors presented DNA evidence that indicated Cooper could have been in contact with Michelle Andrews’ nightgown. A DNA analyst said she didn’t know what type of stain was on the nightgown.

In his closing argument, Chief Assistant State Attorney Randy McGruther said Cooper’s testimony was an extravagant story made up while Cooper was sitting in the Lee County Jail for the last 32 months.

“The only person who could say, ‘That didn’t happen; we were not together,’ is dead,” McGruther told jurors. “Just like she was unable to defend herself on Dec. 26, 2005, in her bedroom, she was unable to defend herself on Oct. 14, 2008, in this courtroom.”

But Deputy Public Defender Ken Garber offered a different perspective on the state’s evidence. He said the crime scene — where Steven Andrews was shot in the cheek and Michelle Andrews was dragged off their bed, beaten and strangled — supports the theory Michelle Andrews was the target instead of her husband.

“She could be the target of this crime, not Steven,” he told them. “I think when you look at this case, coolly, calmly, reviewing all the evidence, setting aside sympathy, setting aside false assumptions, there’s only one fair and just verdict in this case — and that is to find Fred Cooper not guilty.”

The jury was not convinced.

— Staff writers Sam Cook and Francesca Donlan contributed to this report.


Inmate charged for bringing anxiety medication into jail

Wendy Victora
September 10, 2008 - 8:53AM

CRESTVIEW -- A man reporting for weekend incarceration to the Okaloosa County Jail added a felony charge to his record.

Landon L. Blair, 32, was charged with introducing contraband into a detention facility after a routine property and strip search uncovered about 20 green capsules in his bag. After those pills were discovered, Blair reached into his shirt pocket and produced two more, according to his Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office arrest report.

The capsules were identified as Vistaril and are used to treat anxiety.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Man sentenced to life in 'Joe Cool' boat slayings

MIAMI (AP) — An Arkansas man convicted of murdering four people aboard the Florida charter boat "Joe Cool" will spend the rest of his life in prison.

A Florida judge sentenced Kirby Archer to five consecutive life terms Tuesday as tearful family members and friends of the victims looked on. The 36-year-old Archer pleaded guilty in July to first-degree murder, robbery, kidnapping and hijacking the boat last year after it left Miami for the Bahamas.

The plea spared Archer the possible death penalty, although he admitted in court that he deserved to die.

Prosecutors say Archer hijacked the boat to escape child molestation and theft investigations in Arkansas.

A mistrial was declared earlier this month for a second man accused in the slayings.

Trial Date Set For Sottile Murder Suspect


Highlands Today

Published: October 9, 2008

SEBRING A March trial date has been set for a Sebring man charged with killing Florida Highway Patrol Sgt. Nick Sottile.

Assistant State Attorney Steve Houchin said 20-year-old Joshua Lee Altersberger will face a jury starting March 9.

Altersberger is charged with first-degree murder and possession of a firearm after previously being convicted of a juvenile offense.

The charges stem from a Jan. 12, 2007, incident, where authorities say Altersberger shot and killed Sottile, 48, a 24-year FHP veteran, after the officer stopped a 2003 Toyota Camry driven by the defendant. A passenger, Quintin Jerome Kinder, of Bainbridge, Ga., then fled into a nearby orange grove following the shooting.

Houchin said the prosecution will seek the death penalty for Altersberger, who remains in the Highlands County Jail.

Kinder, who surrendered to authorities on Jan. 13, will testify in the case, according to Houchin.

He was charged with trespassing in a cultivated grove following his surrender to authorities. Kinder was then taken back to Georgia to face a violation of probation charge.

Houchin added that Kinder is still residing in Georgia, where he is on probation. Records from Georgia's Decatur County Jail listed several past criminal charges for Kinder, including theft, burglary and possession of marijuana.

Defense attorneys had previously discussed seeking a change of venue for the case so it could be held outside Highlands County. Houchin said that, so far, no such motion has been filed.

Calls to public defender Debra Goins seeking comment weren't returned before press time Wednesday.

Professor Charles Rose, with Stetson University's College of Law, said that, in order for a change of venue motion to be granted in such cases, the defense would have to show that the jury pool has been so polluted that it would be impossible to seat a fair and impartial jury.

This could be accomplished through a legal issue, such as potential jurors hearing about a suspect's confession that a judge ruled inadmissible for trial, according to Rose.

Such was the case in the 2007 murder trial of John Evander Couey, who was eventually found guilty of raping and murdering 11-year-old Jessica Lunsford. The death penalty was recommended.

The case was moved to Miami after a Lake County judge stopped jury selection because most of the potential jurors had heard about Couey's confession that was ruled inadmissible.

It was the second change of venue granted in the case, after a judge in Citrus County - where the crime took place - ruled that high publicity would make it impossible to seat a jury.

Brad Dickerson can be reached at 863-386-5838.

Fred Cooper says he was not in Gateway

Jury hears his 2006 denials of murders


Jurors heard continued denials by Fred Cooper that he killed Steven and Michelle Andrews in their Gateway home December 2005.

That was the highlight of Wednesday's testimony in Day 6 of Cooper's trial in Fort Myers.

The case's lead detective was on the stand most of the afternoon and prosecutors played three taped statements Cooper made the month of the killings.

"I have nothin' to worry about -I know I wasn't there," Cooper said defiantly. "I don't know what you're talkin' about 'cause I wasn't there and I did not do this."

The Andrewses were slain in their home Dec. 27, 2005. On Jan. 11, 2006, Cooper was arrested and charged with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of armed burglary. He faces the death penalty, if convicted of the crimes.

Sheriff's Detective Sgt. Walter Ryan, the lead investigator, testified that Cooper was quickly established as a suspect based on his girlfriend Kellie Ballew's admission that she was having an affair with Steven Andrews. They asked him to provide statements, fingerprint sets and DNA samples, which he did, Ryan said.

Ryan testified detectives sent off three guns for testing, but none matched the bullet found in the Andrews' master bedroom.

On cross-examination by Deputy Public Defender Ken Garber, Ryan admitted that fingerprints were lifted from a sliding glass door and none matched Cooper's. A fingerprint was found at the top of the door, but matched no one, Ryan said.

He said there is no forensic evidence that connects Cooper to the house, but then on re-direct examination, Ryan said there is evidence that connects Cooper to Michelle Andrews' body. He didn't say what the evidence is.

Cooper's former boss, Jim Peters of Sun Sports Cycle & Watercraft, testified that two days after the homicides, detectives visited Cooper, who was a motorcycle mechanic. After a brief chat, detectives left and Cooper ran an errand for about 25 minutes. When he returned, Peters testified, Cooper worked on his camouflage jacket.

"When he came back to the shop, he had his camouflage jacket with him and spent about the next hour cleaning and scrubbing on it," Peters said. He testified Cooper used spray solvents, which are typically used to clean dirt and debris from motorcycle parts to clean the jacket. Cooper also cut the lining out of the jacket.

Later, Peters asked whether Cooper killed the couple.

"I asked him if he did it," Peters testified. "He said, 'No, I had nothing to do with it.'"

Ryan explained that detectives went to the shop and asked Cooper for his camouflage jacket - because they believed he was wearing it and walked through the Gateway neighborhood the night of Dec. 26 and the morning of Dec. 27.

Cooper gave them consent to search his house and they left. When they came back to Sun Sports, Cooper had the jacket.

"I told him that I just left his home. It wasn't in the garage as he said," Ryan testified. "He said, 'I'm sorry I sent you all the way down there, it's there in my work trunk.'"

Detectives also found the lining of the jacket at the top a garbage can in Cooper's work station.

In his statement to detectives, Cooper said the lining was torn, so he cut it off. He told detectives he didn't know Ballew was having an affair until detectives told him. Investigators believe that was the motive for murder.

"Up until tonight, I had no motive," he said. "I've never - I didn't know that she was seeing Steven until just now. I had no idea that was the case."

Cooper talked with detectives Dec. 27 and then after retrieving the jacket, they talked with him again after work Dec. 29.

That's when detectives laid out evidence against him.

They said they had DNA evidence against him, video surveillance of a motorcycle riding down Gateway Boulevard on Dec. 27 and neighbors of the Andrewses saying they saw a man wearing a camouflage jacket the night before and the morning the bodies were found.

"I know ... my whereabouts ... last night and it wasn't in Gateway," he said. "It was only an hour. From Bonita to Gateway, drove back to Bonita? My bike's fast, but not that damn fast."

Two Florida Department of Law Enforcement experts testified about gunshot residue and what type of bullet could have been shot and killed Steven Andrews.

Rosemary Jassoy testified she couldn't determine from what type of gun the bullet was fired. Deborah Lightfoot, a gunshot residue expert, testified that gunshot residue found on Steven Andrews' hand indicates he could have been shot from between three inches to three feet away.

The trial will continue Friday because today is Yom Kippur and the courthouse is closed for the day.


Kopsho's new trial for wife's murder delayed until 2009

By Suevon Lee

Published: Tuesday, October 7, 2008 at 6:33 p.m.

OCALA - The capital murder retrial for William Michael Kopsho won't proceed as planned next week.

Circuit Judge David Eddy ruled Tuesday to grant a defense motion to continue the trial on the grounds that the four days remaining wasn't enough time to depose a new witness the state recently announced for the trial's penalty phase.

The earliest the new trial could occur is February 2009 because of conflicting schedules the rest of the calendar year.

The penalty phase, which comes after the guilt phase in capital cases, is when jurors hear testimony from family members and other witnesses close to the defendant to help guide them toward a recommendation of a life sentence or the death penalty.

Kopsho is facing a possible death penalty if convicted on charges he shot and killed his wife, Lynne, in October 2000. The 54-year-old was previously convicted and sentenced to death during a high-profile case in 2005. Due to pretrial publicity, the case was moved from Marion to Sumter County.

However, last June the Florida Supreme Court vacated the conviction and ordered a new trial based on a technicality during jury selection.

Kopsho's lawyer, Chief Assistant Public Defender Bill Miller, expressed somber relief at the judge's decision to continue the case.

"I know I've got a lot more work to do in the next four months," he said. "I don't make those motions lightly."

As he told the court Tuesday, Miller was concerned about the narrow window of time he had in which to depose the new witness, Debra Dahlen — Kopsho's first wife — and a person who Miller said "could put my client in a death chamber."

Prosecutors plan to use Dahlen to rebut statements Kopsho made to psychologist Elizabeth McMahon that suggest he was victimized by all his former wives, of whom there were five, because they either cheated on him or left him.

That was Kopsho's only real shot at mitigating evidence, prosecutors said Tuesday.

"She is the impeachment of Dr. McMahon's analysis of Kopsho," State Attorney Brad King said of Dahlen, who lives in Indiana.

Kopsho is charged with first-degree murder and armed kidnapping for shooting his 21-year-old wife at close range three times along State Road 40 while preventing bystanders from coming to her aid. The couple was estranged at the time and earlier court testimony revealed that jealousy factored into the strained three-year relationship.

Judge Eddy expressed reluctance to continue the trial but, in making his ruling Tuesday, said the defense had the right to properly depose Dahlen, a non-expert, material witness.

Eddy, who presided over the case the first time around, will keep the case, despite a docket change scheduled for January 2009 in which the judges will trade dockets.

"I've had this case since the inception of this case," Eddy said in court. "I think it's the only feasible way to proceed."

Suevon Lee may be reached at or 867-4065.

State attorney's candidates say budget crisis is priority


Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Saturday, October 04, 2008

WEST PALM BEACH — Two attorneys who say there are few distinct policy differences between them seek the seat of one of the chief law enforcement officers in the county, the state attorney, who leads more than 100 lawyers in prosecuting crimes.

Republican Joseph Tringali and heavily endorsed Democrat Michael McAuliffe will square off on Election Day Nov. 4.

Both men say the dramatic budget cuts recently hitting the Palm Beach County office will be a top priority for them - keeping the office stable, staffed and functioning. Over the past year and a half, legislators have cut the office's budget by about 14 percent, and some veteran lawyers have gone. Fewer and fewer lawyers have to handle more and more cases.

Tringali, 62, who has worked as an assistant attorney general for 17 years, says he knows well the stresses of being a government lawyer with his current salary of about $60,000 a year.

"I'm well-aware of the financial situation. I'm living it," he said.

A former mayor and councilman in North Palm Beach, Tringali said his political experience and work under former Attorney General Charlie Crist, now governor, will help open doors for him in Tallahassee. Tringali is also a neighbor of Senate President Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, and says he knows him personally.

Tringali said he understands from practicing bankruptcy law that when there is no money, there is no money, but the contacts he knows may at least get him in the door to talk with legislators. Tallahassee would be his first stop if elected state attorney.

He has mulled using more volunteers in the office to handle cases, but he has done no specific research on various programs.

McAuliffe, 45, who is endorsed by State Attorney Barry Krischer, said if more of the budget is lost, the office will face a real operational crisis - not enough lawyers to staff courtrooms, for example. McAuliffe said he has looked specifically at programs on the west coast where volunteer lawyers from the private Bar are used to prosecute lower-level misdemeanor crimes, freeing sworn prosecutors to work on more serious ones.

"I think I bring to the role an energy and passion and purpose for being a very assertive state attorney," he said.

A former lawyer for the U.S. Department of Justice, McAuliffe was most recently in private practice. He would leave a salary he estimates at $350,000 a year for the state attorney's salary of about $153,000.

"I would be taking a substantial pay cut and would be happy to do so. That's clearly a voluntary choice I am making," McAuliffe said.

Other priorities, he said, would be protecting children and the elderly. A current domestic violence unit that uses grant money is an example of creative solutions that can be used, he said.

The state attorney wields tremendous power in the criminal justice system: setting policies for the prosecution of tens of thousands of criminal cases, launching grand jury investigations and leading the largest law firm in the county.

He or she also may make trenchant individual decisions, including when to pursue the death penalty and who should be given protection from prosecution, or immunity, for cooperation.

Tringali said he alone would make the ultimate decision about seeking the death penalty. McAuliffe has said he will continue a committee review process in which top prosecutors also review the cases.

Assistant State Attorney Paula Russell ran against McAuliffe in the Democratic primary. Russell has said McAuliffe's lack of experience in the state system will put him at a great disadvantage in leading prosecutions there.

Russell has since endorsed Tringali, who said he also is endorsed by former State Attorney David Bludworth.

McAuliffe has garnered almost every significant endorsement, including those of Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw and various voter and political organizations.

According to the Division of Elections, McAuliffe's campaign account is filled with nearly a half million dollars. Tringali's campaign has about $25,000.

Tringali said he was prompted to seek the seat to give back to the community. He also saw the justice system from a victim's perspective after his adult daughter was robbed.

He said the robber originally received just a two-year sentence when he would have gotten a 10-year sentence in most other counties.

"It really more than anything brought home to me what victims of crime go through. It's time to do something about that," he said.

Jason Wheeler case heads to Supreme Court

STEPHEN HUDAK | Sentinel Staff Writer

5:15 PM EDT, October 6, 2008

TAVARES - A public defender will attempt to persuade the Florida Supreme Court Tuesday that Jason Wheeler did not receive a fair trial or sentence for killing Lake County Deputy Sheriff Wayne Koester in an armed ambush.

Wheeler, 33, sentenced to death in the Feb. 9, 2005, slaying, will not attend the hearing scheduled for 9:40 a.m. Tuesday in Tallahassee, but Koester's widow, Ashley Koester, will.

"I just want to see it through," said Ashley Koester, now 35 and a deputy sheriff in Volusia County. "I want to make sure the truth is told and the sentence is carried out."

She said she will be wearing a sheriff's badge bearing a black ribbon, a gift from the late Lake County Sheriff Chris Daniels that honors her husband's sacrifice.

Wheeler, confined to a death-row cell at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford that accommodates his wheelchair, was convicted of first-degree murder in the killing and two counts of attempted first-degree murder for wounding deputies Tom McKane and William Crotty. The lawmen were investigating a sexual-assault complaint filed by Wheeler's girlfriend, Sarah Heckerman. Wheeler was paralyzed when shot during his capture by a pursuing deputy.

Court filings show Public Defender James S. Purdy, who handles death-penalty appeals, will argue that Lake Circuit Judge T. Michael Johnson should have given the jury a special instruction outlining the "heat of passion" defense and should have limited "prejudicial" closing remarks by State Attorney Brad King.

Purdy also complained in written arguments that Johnson allowed excessive victim-impact testimony, suggesting it unfairly persuaded the jury to vote, 10-2, to recommend death over life in prison.

Assistant State Attorney Bill Gladson, who helped prosecute Wheeler, also plans to attend the proceedings scheduled for live broadcast over the Internet ( and slated to feature the arguments of Senior Assistant Attorney General Kenneth S. Nunnelly.

In a written rebuttal, Nunnelly refuted Wheeler's arguments, suggesting the Paisley man acted with premeditation - not the "heat of passion" - when he emerged from surrounding woods and ambushed the lawmen.

The state's defense of the verdict and sentence include reference to a conversation between Wheeler and deputy Rick Brown, who was assigned to guard Wheeler while he recovered from his wounds at Orlando Regional Medical Center. In the secretly recorded chat, Wheeler confided to Brown that he had a choice when he saw the deputies arrive.

"I could either run or I could go out in a blaze of glory," Brown said.

Wheeler's case is one of seven death-penalty appeals that will be heard this week by the state's high court.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Death penalty sought in Sumter murder case

Carl Dausch


Staff Writer

BUSHNELL -- Prosecutors will seek the death penalty for a hitchhiker if he is convicted on accusations of tying up, raping, robbing and stomping to death a Lake Panasoffkee man.

A trial date has not been set yet for Carl Dausch, 47, who now faces capital murder charges as well as sexual battery charges in the death of Adrian Renard Mobley.

Dausch will have his next court appearance Oct. 20 in the Sumter County courthouse.

He is being held at the Sumter County jail on no bail.

State Attorney Brad King would not go into details today of why they decided to seek the death penalty. But he said based on aggravated and mitigating factors in the case, they are sure the Florida Supreme Court would uphold the death penalty.

Dausch was serving 60 years in an Indiana prison on an unrelated rape and battery, when he was indicted in the Mobley murder. He was brought back to Sumter County in August to begin facing court proceedings here.

Assistant State Attorney Peter Magrino couldn't be reach for comment today but said earlier he wanted to study Dausch's criminal record and other factors in the case before making the decision whether to seek the death penalty.

Magrino, who worked on the case of convicted child rapist and killer John Couey, called the Mobley murder a horrendous crime, but stopped short of ranking it among other heinous murders for which he has sought the death penalty.

Florida to reprimand judge in capital case

TALLAHASSEE, Fla., Sept. 30 (UPI) -- A Florida judge had yet to decide Tuesday if she would seek a new hearing on allegations she abused defense lawyers during a death-penalty trial.

Broward Circuit Judge Cheryl Aleman has the option to seek a new hearing after the Florida Supreme Court ruled Monday that she should be reprimanded for her conduct in the case.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel said the court issued a 13-page opinion stating Aleman was "arrogant, discourteous and impatient" with the attorneys in the case.

Specifically, Aleman at one point limited defense motions to 15 minutes and threatened to cite the attorneys with contempt if they went too long.

The justices wrote that the time limit "forced defense counsel to decide between diligently representing their client and abiding by the court's order."

The newspaper said the judge's lawyer unsuccessfully argues that the complaint stemmed from her rulings in the case rather than the manner in which she ran the trial.

Confession of Suspect in Florida Officer's Death Could Be Tossed

Alfred Gordon Sr

Posted: September 26th, 2008 12:01 PM EDT

Story by


An attorney says Orange County deputies broke the rules interrogating an accused cop killer and his confession could be thrown out.

Davin Smith is accused of killing Orlando Police Officer Alfred Gordon last October. Smith is on tape claiming to detectives he accidentally shot Alfred Gordon minutes after Gordon took money out of an ATM. Now that testimony may be thrown out, because the defense says they got his statement illegally.

When Orange County detectives arrested Smith and Hugo Terry for allegedly murdering Alfred Gordon, they thought they had a slam dunk. In fact, Smith even admitted in a videotaped interrogation that he killed the off-duty officer.

"I heard the gunshot go off and that was it," Smith told investigators.

Gordon had just left the ATM at a Bank of America parking lot in Pine Hills when the two suspects approached him. Detectives said Gordon reached for his gun and Smith reached for his gun and that's when Smith shot him. The state is asking for the death penalty.

But now, Eyewitness News has learned Judge Belvin Perry may throw out Smith's statements to two detectives, including his confession while homicide detectives were interrogating Smith. The defense says they ignored his repeated requests for an attorney, a possible Miranda rights violation.

"He wanted to terminate that interview," said assistant public defender Marc Burnham.

"I want to call my mom and tell her to get my lawyer because this s*** ain't right," Smith told investigators.

The defense says detectives obtained Smith's statements illegally and without that confession the state has no case.

"Without that, all they have is Hugo Terry and his brothers making statements bringing my client into this," Burnham said.

With or without Smith's statement, prosecutors still feel they have a good case.

The public defender's office also claimed a deputy lied about whether he interviewed Smith and wanted the judge to take the death penalty off the table. Perry ruled the deputy may have simply forgotten.

Copyright 2008 by All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Victims' parents: Allred should be in court


Published: Monday, September 22, 2008 at 9:36 a.m.

SEMINOLE - The parents of the two young people whom Andrew Allred has admitted killing were upset this afternoon that Allred wasn't in court during his sentencing hearing.

"He was my son's judge and jury," said Janice Ruschak, whose son, Michael, was killed last year along with his friend Tiffany Barwick, an Ocala native.

Allred previously pleaded guilty to killing the two last September inside an Oviedo house.

The state is seeking the death penalty. The defense is seeking life in prison. Allred has waived his right to a jury in the sentencing hearing. The judge has granted his wish to be absent from the courtroom.

The state took testimony from a man who lives across from 100 Shady Oak Lane in Oviedo, where the killings happened. He told the judge that he saw Allred drive up to the house the night of the killings, ram into Barwick's car, then go inside.

The judge also heard from the other people who were inside the house that night, including one young man whom Allred shot, though not fatally. Barwick and Ruschak both were shot to death.

In its opening statement, the prosecution listed the aggravating factors that it says apply to the killing of Tiffany Barwick. Among them: that the killing was heinous, atrocious and cruel; that it was cold, calculated and premeditated; that it was committed during an armed burglary; and that it created a great risk of death to many people.

For Ruschak's case, the factors were the same except for the heinous, atrocious and cruel portion.

The defense, meantime, listed the mitigating factors that it intends to prove. Among them: that Allred lacked the capability to conform to the law; and that he was suffering a severe emotional disturbance.

The proceedings halted this afternoon and are scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the Seminole County courthouse.

Allred was present in court briefly during the morning because Circuit Judge O.H. Eaton wanted to make sure he still didn't want to attend the full proceedings.

Allred said loudly and firmly, "No, sir."

Allred appeared disheveled, his hair and beard long and unkempt. He covered his face from the cameras, while raising his middle finger.

In comments after court, the victims' families said Allred shouldn't be allowed to take a pass.

"All these kids have a right to face him," Mrs. Ruschak said, referencing the witnesses who had been inside the house that night.

Testimony ends for day in trial of Oviedo man who murdered former girlfriend, UCF student

Rene Stutzman | Sentinel Staff Writer
4:38 PM EDT, September 22, 2008
Testimony had concluded for the day in Sanford at the trial of a 22-year-old Oviedo man who murdered his former girlfriend and a University of Central Florida student last year.

Andrew Allred pleaded guilty in April to those slayings.

The penalty phase of his trial began today even though he refused to go into the courtroom. That didn't stop the judge and attorneys. They began picking a panel anyway while Allred sat in a holding cell at Seminole's Criminal Justice Center and watched the proceedings by video.

Testimony is to continue in the morning.

Jurors this week will decide one issue – whether Allred should be given the death penalty or life without the possibility of parole.

Allred shot Tiffany Barwick, 19, and her friend Michael Ruschak, 22, on Sept, 24, 2007, at Ruschak's home in Oviedo, where several friends had gathered.

Allred crashed his car into the house then shot his way inside. He wounded a third person.

Allred and Barwick had broken up, but he had been cyberstalking Barwick, according to police records. The day of the slayings, Barwick and Ruschak had asked the Seminole County Sheriff's Office to arrest Allred, but that didn't happen.

Editorial Endorsement: 19th Judicial Circuit Judge, the general election

RACE: 19th Judicial Circuit Judge

SEAT: Group 4

PARTY: Non-partisan


Dwight Geiger, 65, Stuart

Fran Ross, 54, Fort Pierce

PRIMARY RESULTS: Geiger, 47.2 percent of 76,578 votes cast Treasure Coast-wide; Ross, 27.5 percent; Faith Litvack, 25.3 percent

KEY ISSUES: Knowledge of the law, efficiency, fairness, temperament, leadership

WHY WE ENDORSED: Geiger's (judicial) and Ross' (personal and legal) experiences stand out. Likewise, Ross' common-sense, regular-Jane, real-world approach to the court is refreshing.

Geiger was a solid circuit judge on the Treasure Coast for 28 years, handling all sorts of cases - from imposing the death penalty to rendering complex civil judgments. He also has given to his country, having retired as a colonel from the U.S. Army reserves and serving in Vietnam and Operation Desert Storm. He is known as a methodical judge, whose court pace occasionally slows in his efforts to be fair to all.

Ross started her education in Gifford schools, before desegregation in Indian River County. The route to her own law practice has been unorthodox and inspiring, having worked at a Woolworth's, a prison and school system to pay her way through Indian River Community College, Florida Atlantic and Southern universities.

A single mother and criminal defense attorney, Ross knows the pulse of the Fort Pierce teen community, gangs and all. Her ascension to the bench would provide a role model with a tough-love demeanor. Ross pledged to collaborate with officials in the justice system to make the courts work more efficiently and limit crowding in county jails.

WHY WE DIDN'T ENDORSE: While Ross lacks the experience and legal knowledge of Geiger, she has more upside in the long run. Geiger will be prohibited from seeking office again in 2014, unless the state constitution is changed to allow judges to run after age 70. Geiger said he has looked into changing the constitution, noting he would hope to work into his 80s assuming his health holds out. While a noble goal, Geiger's explanation seemed more aimed at personal job satisfaction than serving the community.


Ross says: "The appropriate temperament is to be respectful to all parties, litigants and others appearing before the court. With juveniles, I will take the same approach, however, I will probably take a sterner tone of cautioning them of the dangers of breaking the law and at the same time encourage them to get an education or trade in order to better themselves in life."

State Attorney's Office Seeking Death Penalty in Hoffman Case

The State Attorney's Office has confirmed that they have filed a notice to seek the death penalty against the two defendants charged with murdering Tallahassee police informant Rachel Hoffman.

The notice was filed Monday but was not added to the docket until this morning. It is signed by Assistant State Attorney Frank Allman.

Should we seek death penalty?


Staff Writer

BUSHNELL -- Prosecutors are trying to determine whether to seek the death penalty for a hitchhiker accused of tying up, raping, robbing and stomping to death a Lake Panasoffkee man.

Carl Dausch, 47, will be arraigned Tuesday in the Sumter County courthouse on murder and sexual battery charges in the death of Adrian Renard Mobley.

Assistant State Attorney Peter Magrino said he is studying Dausch's criminal record and other factors in the case -- including the wishes of the victim's family -- before making the decision.

Magrino, who worked on the case of convicted child rapist and killer John Couey, called the Mobley murder a horrendous crime, but stopped short of ranking it among other heinous murders for which he has sought the death penalty.

"On a dark road in the middle of nowhere, I can't imagine how scared the victim was," Magrino said.

On July 15, 1987, Mobley was found on County Road 475, just north of Bushnell -- hog-tied with a blue bedsheet and white T-shirt and beaten to death. An autopsy revealed he had been kicked and stomped -- so hard that a fracture to the nasal bone caused massive swelling in the brain, which was the proximate cause of death.

Mobley's 1981 red Honda Accord also was missing. It later turned up in Whitehouse, Tenn., just north of Nashville. A witness told detectives he saw a white male with blond, shaggy ear-length hair, leave the car there and begin hitchhiking.

Sumter County sheriff's officials didn't know the identity of the hitchhiker. But Lt. Steve Binegar said detectives knew Mobley had a history of picking up blond males.

The murder would go unsolved for 17 years.

Then in 2004, the cold case heated up after cigarette butts retrieved from the car were tested for DNA. That DNA pointed to Dausch, an Indiana prison inmate, serving 60 years on an unrelated rape and battery conviction.

Sheriff's Capt. Gary Brannen said detectives began putting the pieces together:

Dausch was on a trip with family members from Ohio to Florida when an argument ensued, and they left him stranded. Mobley, a local Wal-Mart employee, picked up Dausch. Brannen said they believe Dausch had ulterior motives, wanting to get a ride back to Ohio, any way he could.

Brannen said Mobley wouldn't give him a ride to Ohio or give him the car, and Dausch got upset.

"What makes the crime so heinous crime is he didn't have to kill him," Brannen said. "He was in a position where he could have just taken the car."

A Sumter County grand jury eventually indicted Dausch for the murder and battery and he was brought back to the Sumter County jail in August to begin court proceedings in the Mobley case. The statue of limitations had run out for any robbery or grand theft charges.

Magrino said he has 45 days from the time Dausch is arraigned Tuesday to make a decision to seek the death penalty, although he could ask for more time.

Public defender wins capital murder case


Assistant Public Defender Mike Pirolo couldn't remember the last time the public defender's office won a capital murder case. Now, he can.

Pirolo and George McCarthy successfully defended 20-year-
old Nikee Turner, who was facing life in prison in the shooting death of Lonsley Dortly Jr. in 2005. A jury acquitted Turner of first-degree murder.

Pirolo and McCarthy argued that Turner was supposed to take the fall and that he was threatened since his arrest not to "rat out" the real killer. They said that fear was what prompted Turner to make a videotaped confession -- a confession that never matched the facts.

A few months after being charged with the murder, Turner tried hanging himself in the Brevard County jail where he was being held until the trial.

Police said Dortly was killed at the Colonial Arms Apartments on Merritt Island after buying crack cocaine and that Turner shot him in retaliation for threats made against Turner's brother.

"There was a video introduced into evidence containing a confession," Pirolo said. "We argued that it was a false confession because he had to take the fall for the person who really committed the crime.

The state presented three convicted felons as witnesses in the case, including one who admitted to being a gang member and two who said they received deals in exchange for their testimony.

Because of his age, Turner was not facing the death penalty.

"It's tragic what happened to Mr. Dorlty, however, Nikee was not the one who committed the crime," Pirolo said.

Usually hamstrung by small budgets and an inability to spend what the prosecution does, the public defender's office rarely is able to boast of an acquittal in such a serious case.

Contact Torres at 242-3649 or