Saturday, February 23, 2008

Man's IQ Delays Murder Trial

An Orange County man's murder trial has been delayed again.

A judge ruled on Friday morning that Rafael Florian is still incompetent to stand trial for the killing of Margarita Hidalgo.

Hidalgo's body was discovered in a church closet in 2004.

Prosecutors want to seek the death penalty for Hidalgo, but his mental status is in question because he has an IQ of just 60.

Florian will remain at a mental facility in South Florida.

The judge will reconsider the case again in August.

The ruling in 2nd DCA - Michael Mordenti

The ruling in 2nd DCA - Michael Mordenti

http://www.floridasupport.us/Florida/MichaelMordenti/2ndDCAopinion.htm

http://www.floridasupport.us/Florida/MichaelMordenti/2D05-4407.pdf


NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING

MOTION AND, IF FILED, DETERMINED

IN THE DISTRICT COURT OF APPEAL

OF FLORIDA

SECOND DISTRICT

MICHAEL MORDENTI, )

)

Appellant, )

)

v. ) Case No. 2D05-4407

)

STATE OF FLORIDA, )

)

Appellee. )

_____________________________________ )

Opinion filed February 22, 2008.

Appeal from the Circuit Court for Hillsborough

County; Barbara Fleischer, Judge.

James Marion Moorman, Public Defender,

and Terri L. Backhus, Special Assistant Public

Defender, Bartow, for Appellant.

Bill McCollum, Attorney General, Tallahassee,

and Richard M. Fishkin, Assistant Attorney

General, Tampa, for Appellee.

HARRIS, CHARLES M., Associate Senior

Judge.

The issue in this case is whether the trial court erred in excluding

statements made by the alleged coconspirator, deceased at the time of trial, which, if

believed by the jury, would exonerate Michael Mordenti. We hold that the trial court did

err and reverse.

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Mordenti was first convicted of first-degree murder in 1991, at which time

he received the death penalty. Mordenti's conviction and sentence was affirmed by the

Florida Supreme Court in 1994. However, on review of a denied motion for

postconviction relief, that court reversed the conviction and sentence because of a

Brady1 violation. Mordenti v. State, 894 So. 2d 161 (Fla. 2004). A second trial resulted

in a mistrial (hung jury). Mordenti was tried once again, resulting in a second conviction

and this appeal.

Larry Royston, the victim's husband, was immediately the prime suspect in

the case. Because he had an alibi (he was with the victim's mother at the time of the

murder), law enforcement believed a hired killer was involved. Through Royston's

telephone records, the police were led to Gail Mordenti Milligan. When she was called

in for questioning, Mrs. Milligan demanded immunity for her cooperation, and apparently

without any additional investigation, she received it. She then told the investigators that

indeed she was the go-between in setting up this murder-for-hire. Royston offered

$10,000 for the murder of his wife, and Mrs. Milligan set out to find a contract killer.

Mrs. Milligan told authorities that her former husband, Michael Mordenti, after initially

refusing, had agreed to do the murder. This was her testimony at trial, and it was the

only material evidence against Mordenti.

The Florida Supreme Court in reversing Mordenti's original conviction

noted how critical Mrs. Milligan's testimony was in obtaining the conviction:2

1 Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963).

2 Had Mrs. Milligan testified that her boyfriend had committed the murder, there

would have been some corroboration because independent witnesses stated that two

people were seen in the vicinity of the murder at or near the appropriate time and that

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Mordenti was convicted primarily on the testimony of

one woman, Gail Mordenti Milligan. No physical evidence

was produced linking Mordenti to the murder, and Gail was

the only witness who was able to place Mordenti at the

scene of the murder. There was no money trail, no

eyewitnesses, no confession, no murder weapon, no blood,

no footprints, and no DNA evidence linking Mordenti to the

murder. The prosecution's entire case relied solely on Gail's

testimony, and the jury crediting that testimony.

894 So. 2d at 168.

The testimony in the case indicates that Royston never met Mordenti.

This is important because when Royston first saw Mordenti in court, he blurted out to

his attorney in a crowded courtroom, "That's not the guy" or "That's not him."3 This

statement, as well as others, was not discovered until after Royston committed suicide

shortly before his trial.4 The prosecutors of Mordenti convinced a judge that Royston's

attorney-client privilege ended with his death and obtained an ex parte order requiring

Royston's attorney, Trevena, to respond to the State's questions. Although the above

quoted courtroom statement was not specifically mentioned, the Florida Supreme Court

discussed the importance of Trevena's testimony in its decision overturning Mordenti's

conviction:

After Royston committed suicide, the State obtained an ex parte order

signed by the trial judge stating that the attorney-client privilege did not

apply and ordering Trevena to submit to an interview with the State. . . .

while neither met the description of Mordenti, one did meet the description of Mrs.

Milligan's boyfriend.

3 Royston's attorney testified on proffer that Royston had been "adamant that

[Mordenti] had absolutely nothing to do with [the murder]."

4 Suppose Mordenti had been executed following his first conviction and

sentence before this information was revealed by the State? What confidence would

the public have in the criminal justice system?

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During the evidentiary hearing [on the motion for

postconviction relief] the trial court ruled that Trevena's

testimony with regard to the information he received from his

deceased client in preparation for his murder trial was

inadmissible hearsay. However, the trial court permitted

postconviction counsel to proffer Trevena's testimony. The

proffer indicated that Trevena conveyed to the prosecution

that Larry Royston believed that "Gail Mordenti had

orchestrated [the murder]." Trevena informed the State that

"Mr. Royston had indicated to [him] that [Royston] did have a

sexual affair with Gail Mordenti, and that she wanted to

continue that affair." Trevena further informed the State that

Gail "wanted Mr. Royston freed up so that she could share . . .

in his assets." Finally, Trevena communicated to the State

that Royston maintained that the thirteen-minute cellular

phone call on June 7, 1989, the day of the murder, from

Royston to Mordenti was "innocent in nature and that it was

relating to some type of a boat or motor vehicle," and "[t]here

was no discussion concerning any homicide or violence, . . . it

was related to business and . . . the call had been set up by

Gail."

Id. at 173 (some alteration in original).

Even though the credibility of Mrs. Milligan was the central issue of this

case, the trial court refused to allow Trevena's testimony on the basis of hearsay and

privilege. There was simply no privilege remaining at the time of the third trial. If the

privilege ever existed (the statement was blurted out in a crowded courtroom for anyone

to hear), it was waived when the State inappropriately required Trevena to respond to

its questions. The statement then became public information. The Florida Supreme

Court made this abundantly clear in its decision. The court did not treat the information

as privileged and discussed its potential admissibility. That has become the law of the

case as it relates to privilege.

With regard to the application of the hearsay rule, the United States

Supreme Court has stated that "where constitutional rights directly affecting the

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ascertainment of guilt are implicated, the hearsay rule may not be applied

mechanistically to defeat the ends of justice." Chambers v. Mississippi, 410 U.S. 284,

302 (1973). The uncorroborated statement of a coconspirator raises such concerns.

The one who took the money, picked the murderer, and was given immunity must be

subject to the closest scrutiny during cross-examination. Mrs. Milligan was not. The

Florida Supreme Court discussed the potential problem of hearsay in its decision and

suggested it should be available for impeachment of Mrs. Milligan who, for example,

had denied a sexual relationship with Royston. Royston's statement also meets the

spontaneous statement exception as well as the statement against interest exception to

the hearsay rule.

It may well be that the jury will not believe Mr. Trevena or may put some

other construction on Mr. Royston's statements. But the jury should have that

opportunity.

Reversed and remanded for a new trial.

DAVIS, J., Concurs with opinion.

STRINGER, J., Dissents with opinion.

DAVIS, J., Concurs specially with opinion.

I concur with Judge Harris' conclusion that the trial court committed

reversible error in determining that the testimony of the attorney who represented Larry

Royston prior to his death was inadmissible in the third Mordenti trial. However, I write

to explain why I believe that the attorney-client privilege does not apply in this case.

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The issue presented in this case is whether the privilege should now

preclude the use of Royston's attorney's testimony given the unique procedural posture

presented here. That is, the issue of whether the trial court was correct when it

originally determined that the privilege did not apply is not germane to our current

review.5

The purpose of the privilege is to bar the disclosure of information; it is not

a test of admissibility. See § 90.502(2), Fla. Stat. (2006) ("A client has a privilege to

refuse to disclose, and to prevent any other person from disclosing, the contents of

confidential communications . . . ."); see also E. Colonial Refuse Serv., Inc. v. Velocci,

416 So. 2d 1276, 1277-78 (Fla. 5th DCA 1982) (stating that although testimony may be

relevant and admissible, the information sought "may be privileged and therefore

beyond permissible discovery"). Once it is determined that a privilege does not prohibit

the disclosure of information, the question of whether it is admissible is determined by

the rules of evidence.

In the instant case, after Royston's death but prior to Mordenti's first trial,

the State obtained a ruling from the trial court that Royston's attorney could not assert

the privilege to keep from disclosing the conversations he had with this client.6

Royston's attorney never appealed this ruling, but rather complied by answering the

5 I recognize that section 90.508, Florida Statutes (2006), renders inadmissible

those disclosures that are erroneously compelled by the court; however, this section

does not apply to these facts because the statements here are not sought to be

admitted against the holder of the privilege, Larry Royston.

6 Because the State was the party that sought the ruling originally, an argument

can be made that the State should now be collaterally estopped from arguing that the

privilege should bar the use of the testimony at the retrial. However, the State does not

have standing to assert the privilege. See § 90.502(3).

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State's questions regarding the information shared with him by his client prior to the

client's death.

After discovering that the State had obtained this information but had

failed to disclose it to his counsel prior to trial, Mordenti sought postconviction relief

alleging a Brady7 violation. In reversing the postconviction court's denial of relief, the

Florida Supreme Court reviewed the information disclosed by the attorney pursuant to

the trial court's determination that the privilege did not apply and found that the State

had, in fact, committed a Brady violation by not providing the information to Mordenti's

counsel. Mordenti v. State, 894 So. 2d 161, 174 (Fla. 2004). The court granted

Mordenti a new trial, impliedly concluding that the defense should be provided the same

information that the State had obtained from Royston's attorney. Id. at 177.

Despite the fact that Royston's attorney never sought appellate review of

the trial court's determination of the inapplicability of the privilege, the Florida Supreme

Court, by ordering the further disclosure of the attorney-client conversation, implicitly

affirmed the trial court's determination that the privilege did not apply. Although the

privilege issue was not before the supreme court in this postconviction proceeding, the

practical effect of the court's order directing that the information again be disclosed to

Mordenti's counsel was that the conversations between Royston and his attorney were

no longer protected by the attorney-client privilege. Thus, as Mordenti argues on

appeal, this became the law of the case, and the trial court erred in determining that the

7 Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963).

- 8 -

testimony was inadmissible at Mordenti's third trial because of the privilege.8 See Smith

v. City of Fort Myers, 944 So. 2d 1092, 1094 (Fla. 2d DCA 2006) (" 'The doctrine of the

law of the case requires that questions of law actually decided on appeal must govern

the case in the same court and the trial court, through all subsequent stages of the

proceedings.' " (quoting Fla. Dep't of Transp. v. Juliano, 801 So. 2d 101, 105 (Fla.

2001))).

Having determined that the attorney-client privilege was not a proper basis

to exclude the attorney's testimony, I would further agree with Judge Harris' opinion in

concluding that the three portions of testimony at issue were admissible. The

spontaneous statement made by Royston to his attorney in open court that Mordenti

was "not the guy" would meet the statement against interest exception to the hearsay

rule. See § 90.804(2)(c). The other two statements would be admissible as

impeachment testimony. See § 90.608. I would therefore concur with Judge Harris that

the trial court erred in excluding the testimony and agree that the case should be

remanded for a new trial.

STRINGER, J., Dissents with opinion.

I respectfully dissent. I would affirm Mordenti's conviction because

Mordenti has not established any reversible error from the trial court's determination that

Trevena's testimony was protected by the attorney-client privilege. Let me begin by

stating that while the statements at issue would certainly assist in Mordenti's defense,

8 As mentioned in Judge Harris' opinion, it is not clear that the privilege was the

actual basis for the trial court's ruling. In fact, upon remand, the trial court entered

another order directing the attorney to answer the questions of Mordenti's counsel.

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those statements do not amount to a "smoking gun" that would exonerate Mordenti. In

order to understand the importance of the statements to Mordenti's defense, a better

explanation of the background facts is required. The facts adduced at Mordenti's third

trial have not changed substantially from those reported in Mordenti's first appeal by the

Florida Supreme Court:

This case involves the murder of Thelma Royston.

The victim's husband, Larry Royston (Royston), allegedly

hired Mordenti to commit the murder. Royston and Mordenti

were charged with the victim's murder after Royston's

cellular phone records led detectives to Mordenti's former

wife, Gail Mordenti,[9] who subsequently confessed that she

had acted as the contact person between Mordenti and

Royston. After Royston and Mordenti were charged,

Royston committed suicide. Consequently, his version of

the events at issue was not available. At trial, Mordenti's

defense was that he was some place else when the murder

occurred.

Testimony at trial revealed the following details

regarding the murder. The victim, Thelma Royston, lived

with her mother and her husband. On the night of the

murder, Royston told the victim that the lights were off in the

barn. Because the Roystons' horse business required the

barn lights to be left on until 10:00 or 11:00 each night, the

victim and her mother went outside to turn on the lights.

When they went outside, they noticed an unidentified man

off in the distance. The victim went to talk to him and called

back to her mother that the man was there to discuss a

horse Royston had for sale. The victim's mother went back

inside to tell Royston that the man was there, but when her

dog began barking she went back out to investigate. Upon

doing so, she discovered the victim's body in the barn. The

victim had suffered multiple gunshot and stab wounds.

Because it was night and the man had been so far off in the

distance, the victim's mother was unable to furnish a

description of him to the police.

9 Gail Mordenti married sometime after the events at issue and became Gail

Milligan.

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Because the victim suffered multiple gunshot and

stab wounds, the medical examiner was unable to

determine from which wounds the victim had died or

whether she had died instantaneously. However, there

were no defensive wounds and no indication that anything

had been taken or that the victim had been sexually

assaulted.

Additional testimony revealed that the victim and

Royston had been contemplating divorce, but that Royston

thought the victim was asking for too much money. A

former girlfriend of Royston's testified that Royston had

asked her to kill his wife by either shooting or stabbing her

to make it look like a burglary, but the former girlfriend had

refused. Mordenti's former wife, Gail Mordenti, testified that

Royston asked her if she knew of anyone who would "get rid

of his wife" for $10,000. Gail Mordenti stated that she

subsequently asked Mordenti if he knew of anyone who

would kill Royston's wife and he responded: "Oh, hell, for

that kind of money, I'll probably do it myself." Gail Mordenti

explained that she acted as the middle person between

Royston and Mordenti by conveying information about the

best time and place for the murder and by supplying a

photograph of the victim and a map of the ranch.

Gail Mordenti further testified that, when she first

approached Mordenti about murdering the victim, he

informed her that it would be impossible to commit the

murder as Royston wanted and that he would not do it.

However, Royston continued to insist to Gail Mordenti that

he wanted the murder committed. Gail Mordenti finally

placed Royston directly in touch with Mordenti. Royston's

cellular phone records reflected that he made a thirteenminute

telephone call to Mordenti's number on the day of

the murder. After the murder, Gail Mordenti delivered

payments totaling $17,000 from Royston to Mordenti.

According to her, the amount had risen from $10,000 to

$17,000 because Mordenti had to get rid of a car. Mordenti

gave Gail Mordenti between $5,000 and $6,000 of the

$17,000 over time to help her pay her bills. Additionally,

Gail Mordenti testified that Mordenti described the murder to

her, stating that the victim "put up quite a fight" and that he

"shot her in the head with a .22." He also told Gail Mordenti

that the victim had a lot of jewelry on and that he felt really

bad that he couldn't take it. She also testified that Mordenti

had a number of guns that he kept as "throw away" pieces

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and that she knew he was associated with some "shady"

people. (A cellmate of Mordenti's also testified that

Mordenti told him he was "in the mob.") For her testimony,

Gail Mordenti was offered complete immunity.

No physical evidence was produced linking Mordenti

to the crime, and Gail Mordenti was the only witness who

was able to place him at the scene of the murder. However,

her testimony was consistent with what police knew about

the murder and some of her testimony matched information

about the murder that had not been made public.

In his defense, Mordenti produced three witnesses

who stated that he had attended an automobile auction on

the night of the murder. Mordenti was a used car dealer

and frequently attended auctions where he purchased cars

for resale. The prosecution, however, was able to point to a

number of inconsistencies in the witnesses' testimony.

Additionally, one of the three witnesses was one of

Mordenti's girlfriends, and the other two witnesses had

testified only after being contacted by the girlfriend over a

year after the murder and after being reminded by the

girlfriend that the night of the murder was the same night

Mordenti had attended the auction.

Mordenti v. State, 630 So. 2d 1080, 1082-83 (Fla. 1994) (alteration in original). In the

appeal of the denial of Mordenti's motion for postconviction relief, the supreme court set

forth the statements Royston made to attorney Trevena during the initial proffer as

follows:

The proffer indicated that Trevena conveyed to the

prosecution that Larry Royston believed that "Gail Mordenti

had orchestrated [the murder]." Trevena informed the State

that "Mr. Royston had indicated to [him] that [Royston] did

have a sexual affair with Gail Mordenti, and that she wanted

to continue that affair." Trevena further informed the State

that Gail "wanted Mr. Royston freed up so that she could

share . . . in his assets." Finally, Trevena communicated to

the State that Royston maintained that the thirteen-minute

cellular phone call on June 7, 1989, the day of the murder,

from Royston to Mordenti was "innocent in nature and that it

was relating to some type of a boat or motor vehicle," and

"[t]here was no discussion concerning any homicide or

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violence, . . . it was related to business and . . . the call had

been set up by Gail." The defense was not privy to any of

this information.

Mordenti v. State, 894 So. 2d 161, 173 (Fla. 2004). In his proffer before the court at his

third trial, Trevena also explained that Royston did not admit any culpability in the

victim's death and insisted that Mordenti also had nothing to do with it. Trevena also

acknowledged that Royston blurted out to him in court, "That's not the guy," when

Royston saw Mordenti. While Trevena believed this statement may have been an

admission that Royston was involved in the offense, Trevena and Royston did not

discuss the matter further.

As I previously stated, Royston's statements would certainly assist in

Mordenti's defense, but I do not believe that the statements are the equivalent of a

"smoking gun" that will exonerate Mordenti. As the trial court below noted, "This is a

defendant who's talking to his defense attorney making what are clearly obviously selfserving

statements." Nothing Royston said to his attorney proves that Gail Milligan was

lying when she testified that Royston hired Mordenti to murder the victim.

Turning to the merits, the majority appears to hold that the State waived

the attorney-client privilege when it obtained an ex parte order ruling that the privilege

was not applicable to Royston's statements and ordering Trevena to participate in an

interview with the State in 1991. However, it was not the State who sought to assert the

privilege at Mordenti's third trial in 2005; it was attorney Trevena. Furthermore, the

State did not have the authority to waive or assert the attorney-client privilege. See §

90.502(3), Fla. Stat. (2005); Restatement (Third) of the Law Governing Lawyers § 86

(2000).

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Moreover, I respectfully disagree with the suggestion in both the majority

and the concurring opinion that the trial court's 1991 ex parte ruling that the testimony at

issue was not protected by the attorney-client privilege became law of the case when

the supreme court reversed the denial of Mordenti's motion for postconviction relief in

2004. The issue before the supreme court was whether the postconviction court erred

in denying relief on Mordenti's claim that the State committed a Brady violation by failing

to disclose the statements Trevena made at the interview that followed the ex parte

order at issue. See Mordenti, 894 So. 2d at 173. In order to analyze this issue, the

supreme court determined (1) that Trevena's statements in the interview were favorable,

(2) that the State suppressed the evidence, and (3) that the State's failure to disclose

the evidence prejudiced Mordenti. Id. at 173-74. The supreme court did not have

before it the issue of whether Royston's statements to Trevena were protected by

attorney-client privilege. The doctrine of law of the case applies only to those issues "

'actually decided on appeal.' " State v. McBride, 848 So. 2d 287, 289 (Fla. 2003)

(quoting Fla. Dep't of Transp. v. Juliano, 801 So. 2d 101, 105 (Fla. 2001) (emphasis

added)).

I reject the concurring opinion's suggestion that the supreme court in

Mordenti implicitly affirmed the trial court's ex parte ruling that the attorney-client

privilege did not apply. It was not necessary for the supreme court to rule on the

privilege issue for its determination of whether the State committed a Brady violation in

failing to disclose the statements. Furthermore, I do not believe that Trevena had a duty

to seek review of the trial court's ex parte order in order to preserve his ability to claim

the privilege in a separate judicial proceeding. Without appellate review of the trial

- 14 -

court's order, the trial court's order cannot become the law of the case. See McBride,

848 So. 2d at 290.

Nor do I believe that publication of Royston's privileged statements by the

Florida Supreme Court constitutes a sort of abrogation of the privilege. It is true that the

cat is out of the bag, so to speak, and the content of Royston's confidential statements

to attorney Trevena has been made public. However, the fact that the information is

public does not mean that the information is discoverable for trial. Because the privilege

has not been waived by anyone authorized to do so, the fact that Trevena's proffer was

subsequently published should not abrogate the privilege.

Finally, I reject the majority's suggestion that Royston may have waived

the attorney-client privilege by communicating to his attorney via courtroom "outburst."

The majority notes that Royston "blurted out" the communication in a crowded

courtroom where he could have been overheard. However, this issue was not raised by

Mordenti on appeal, and we are precluded from addressing it for that reason. See

Johnson v. State, 660 So. 2d 637, 645 (Fla. 1995); Grimsley v. State, 939 So. 2d 123,

125 (Fla. 2d DCA 2006). Furthermore, there is no evidence that the statement was

heard by anyone other than attorney Trevena.

My determination that Mordenti has not established any error in excluding

the statements at issue as privileged renders moot a determination of whether the

statements constituted inadmissible hearsay. However, I do not share the majority's

concern with the application of the hearsay rule "to defeat the ends of justice" in this

case. In fact, the admission of a codefendant's self-serving hearsay statements to his

attorney, which were made to assist a defense that was seeking to avoid the death

- 15 -

penalty and which were not subject to cross-examination, gives me greater concern for

the ends of justice.

Accordingly, I conclude that Mordenti has not established any reversible

error from the trial court's determination that Trevena's testimony was protected by the

attorney-client privilege. Therefore, I would affirm Mordenti's conviction.

2nd conviction overturned


2nd conviction overturned

An appeals court finds statements were improperly excluded.

By Colleen Jenkins, Times Staff Writer
Published February 23, 2008

TAMPA - Before he committed suicide, Larry Royston told his attorney that prosecutors had charged the wrong man with killing Royston's wife in a 1989 murder-for-hire plot.

But three separate juries never heard his claim.

Twice, St. Petersburg used car dealer Michael Mordenti was convicted of taking $17,000 from Royston to carry out the hit.

The Florida Supreme Court overturned the first conviction, saving Mordenti from death row. A second trial ended with a hung jury, and a third trial brought a life prison sentence with the possibility of parole after 25 years.

On Friday, the testimony jurors never heard won Mordenti his fourth shot at redemption.

In a 2-1 decision, an appellate panel overturned his conviction, saying Royston's statements to attorney John Trevena should have been admitted at trial and would exonerate Mordenti if believed by a jury.

"It may well be that the jury will not believe Mr. Trevena or may put some other construction on Mr. Royston's statements," wrote 2nd District Court of Appeal Associate Senior Judge Charles M. Harris. "But the jury should have that opportunity."

Judge Thomas E. Stringer dissented. He acknowledged that the statements would help Mordenti but said they did not amount to a "smoking gun."

Attorney Marty McClain, who represented Mordenti during his second and third trials, found that stance hard to believe.

"I think that this is just powerful stuff," he said. "I don't know how much more of a smoking gun you need."

Prosecutors will review their options in light of the ruling, said Assistant State Attorney Pam Bondi, who helped convict Mordenti in 2005.

Now 66, he has been imprisoned since his 1991 conviction.

Prosecutors said he shot and stabbed 54-year-old Thelma Royston in her Odessa horse barn June 7, 1989. They said her husband paid Mordenti to do it.

They based their case against Mordenti on the testimony of his ex-wife, Gail Mordenti Milligan. The Largo woman told authorities that she acted as the go-between for the contract killing; she received immunity in exchange for naming Mordenti.

No physical evidence, no money trail, no eyewitnesses and no confession tied Mordenti to the crime. Because the prosecution's case against Mordenti relied solely on his ex-wife's account of events, her credibility was a central issue in the case, the appellate judges said.

"The one who took the money, picked the murderer and was given immunity must be subject to the closest scrutiny during cross-examination," the opinion stated. "Mrs. Milligan was not."

The appellate judges' concern: Jurors never heard statements that could raise questions about Milligan's truthfulness.

Trevena said his client claimed Milligan orchestrated the murder because she was having an affair with Royston and wanted him "freed up so that she could share ... in his assets."

When Royston first saw Mordenti in court, he had blurted out, "That's not the guy," to his attorney.

Royston killed himself before his own trial. Milligan denied any romantic link.

Trevena also said Royston maintained that a 13-minute cell phone call between Royston and Mordenti a few hours before the murder was set up by Milligan and was "innocent in nature and that it was relating to some type of a boat or motor vehicle." He said there was no discussion concerninghomicide or violence.

In an unusual move, prosecutors persuaded a judge to allow them to interview Trevena in private before Mordenti's first trial. They did not share the attorney's recounting of his client's statements with the defense - an omission that helped get Mordenti's death sentence reversed.

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Barbara Fleischer considered the testimony multiple times during the two subsequent trials, and prosecutors argued strenuously to keep it out. Each time, the judge refused Trevena's testimony on the basis that it was hearsay and subject to attorney-client privilege.

"If I'm wrong," Fleischer said in May 2005, "the Supreme Court will tell me."

Instead, she heard from the 2nd District Court of Appeal. The ruling Friday did not surprise Trevena, who will now testify should Mordenti's case get retried.

"I just scratched my head in disbelief when Fleischer said she wouldn't allow it," Trevena said. "It's just another case where an innocent guy has rotted in prison for 20 years."

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at cjenkins@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3337.

SUMMARY OF THE MICHAEL MORDENTI CASE


SUMMARY OF THE MICHAEL MORDENTI CASE

On June 7, 1989, at around 9:00 p.m., Thelma Royston was murdered in a horse barn located on the property she owned with husband Larry Royston. At the time of murder, Mr. Royston was inside the family residence with Thelma’s mother. Because of marital difficulties, law enforcement immediately suspected that Larry Royston had perhaps arranged the murder. However, the State could not put a case against Mr. Royston together until March of 1990. At that time, word on the street was that Gail Mordenti had been looking to hire someone to kill Ms. Royston. This word reignited the investigation into the murder. In late February and early March, law enforcement interviewed a number of persons connected with Gail Mordenti.

On March 8, 1990, law enforcement swooped down on Gail Mordenti’s residence to execute a State Attorney subpoena requiring her appearance before an assistant state attorney to give a sworn statement. When they arrived at 7:00 a.m., they expected to find Gail and her live-in boyfriend, Michael Milligan. However, Gail was alone; she reported that Michael Milligan had spent the night elsewhere. She later testified that when she was picked up by Detectives Baker and Kroll, on March 8, 1990, "they said they had the power - - that they could grant me immunity if I would tell them everything that I knew, and I said that if they could do that, then I would tell them everything that I knew about it, and they said fine. And then nothing else was said until we got here." At the State Attorney’s Office, she was given immunity. In return, she gave a sworn statement that Larry Royston asked her to find someone to kill his wife and that her ex-husband, Michael Mordenti, committed the murder.

Pursuant to her immunity, Gail Mordenti was not charged and remained free. Shortly after she gave her statement, she married Michael Milligan, on April 20, 1990.

Both Larry Royston and Michael Mordenti were arrested on murder charges. They were both released on bond pending trial. Mr. Royston’s trial was scheduled to go first in March of 1991. However on the eve of trial, Mr. Royston committed suicide.

Mr. Mordenti’s case then proceeded to trial in July of 1991. Mr. Mordenti was convicted and sentenced to death. Even though Mr. Mordenti presented an alibi for the time of the murder, the jury rejected the alibi based upon the testimony of Gail Mordenti Milligan.

The Florida Supreme Court acknowledged on direct appeal that "[n]o physical evidence was produced linking Mordenti to the crime, and Gail Mordenti [Milligan] was the only witness who was able to place him at the scene of the murder." Mordenti v. State, 630 So.2d 1080, 1083 (Fla. 1994). Thus, the State’s case rested entirely upon the credibility of Gail Mordenti Milligan, who testified that "as long as I told the truth, that I had total immunity." Gail elaborated in cross-examination at trial that "as long as I told the truth, the whole truth, that I had immunity."

At an evidentiary hearing in the fall of 2001, new evidence surfaced which established that Gail Mordenti Milligan had not told the whole truth at trial. At trial, Gail testified Larry Royston came to her house for lunch "it was either late February, or the beginning of March [of 1989]." At that luncheon, Larry Royston asked Gail if she knew anyone who could kill his wife. When Gail testified at the evidentiary hearing on November of 2001, she acknowledged that her date-book established that the luncheon with Larry Royston was not in February or March of 1989, but was on April 11, 1989. Gail testified at the evidentiary hearing when confronted with her trial testimony about the lunch with Larry: "If my book says that it was April 11th, then I was wrong." Gail also acknowledged that on April 11th, she had the first conversation she had with Larry Royston about his desire to find someone to kill Thelma. Accordingly, prior to April 11, 1989, she had undertaken no actions in search of a killer. Thus, she admitted her trial testimony was not the truth, the whole truth.

Interestingly, Gail Mordenti Milligan admitted at the evidentiary hearing that on April 12, 1989, the day after Larry Royston came to a luncheon at her house at her invitation, she gave a statement to law enforcement regarding an investigation into an allegation that she had stolen $200,000. According to her testimony at the evidentiary hearing, she had been notified prior to April 12th that the police wanted to talk to her about $200,000 that was missing from her prior place of business. Because defense counsel was not provided access to the date-book, he did not know to inquire about the proximity of the luncheon to the police questioning of Gail Mordenti Milligan regarding the missing money. However, the State did have the date book and did not share it with the defense.

At trial, Gail testified that prior to contacting Michael Mordenti about killing Thelma Royston, she had unsuccessfully sought to recruit three other individuals to do the murder. After some time had passed and she was unsuccessful in recruiting a killer, Gail testified that she turned to Michael Mordenti within a couple of weeks of the luncheon with Larry "which took place sometime, I think, in February, or the beginning of March." According to Gail’s trial testimony, Michael Mordenti wanted to scope out the Royston place in the daytime. Gail testified that later Michael Mordenti wanted to take a second drive out to the Royston’s place, this time at night. According to Gail’s trial testimony, Michael Mordenti went to Gail’s house in the middle of the night. Gail and Michael Mordenti then went and checked into a motel near the Royston place. In regard to this second trip (maybe a month after the first trip) that she and Michael Mordenti made to the Royston place, Gail testified that it occurred before Michael Milligan moved in to her house "either the end of March or beginning of April." Thus, the date-book reveals that Gail’s trial testimony was completely wrong about the timing sequence and provides a basis for arguing that Michael Milligan, her live-in boyfriend at the time, was the more likely accomplice on a late night trip in late April or May to scope out the Royston place.

Since the luncheon was not until April 11th, Michael Milligan had already moved in with her, thus it is unlikely that Michael Mordenti, as her trial testimony conceded, arrived at her house in the middle of the night to rouse her to go to the Royston place after Milligan had moved in. Since Gail was facing a mountain of debt and lawsuits as she revealed in 2001, it is certainly plausible that she turned to the man with whom she was living and going to marry, Michael Milligan for help in killing Royston’s wife. Interestingly, Milligan’s description matches that of one of the men seen near the Royston place on the night of the murder shortly before the murder.

Gail’s entry for June 7, 1989, the day Thelma Royston was murder included, "Call on ticket for Michael." And later, "Make calls again to Bus Co." In 2001, Gail Mordenti Milligan has testified that the entry "Call on ticket for Michael" refers to Michael Milligan, the man she was living with and would marry in April of 1990. She testified that this was in reference to a "speeding ticket." When asked how she knew that, she answered "[b]ecause he got a lot of them." She had no explanation for the entry "Make calls again to Bus Co."

Meanwhile, the trial prosecutor, Karen Cox, identified her handwritten notes documenting a 2/10/91 interview of Michael Milligan.. The notes reveal that Milligan worked for Michael Flynn of Flynn Motors as a transportation representative since 1985, that he met Gail in 1988 and starting seeing her in March 1989. The notes further indicated, "6/89- mordenti called him & had car picked up w was used in bank robbery from New Mexico." Thus, this note reveals that Michael Milligan told the prosecutor that he went to New Mexico in June of 1989, the month of Thelma Royston’s murder. At trial, Gail Mordenti Milligan indicated that the car used in the murder was left on the Mexican border. In his undisclosed statement to Karen Cox, Michael Milligan placed himself in New Mexico, relatively near the Mexico border, at the time that Gail says the car was being left at the Mexican border.

At trial, Gail testified that Michael Mordenti had given her a gun. "Michael gave it back to me after the murder, and I had it at the house." (R. 662). Gail gave the gun to the police in March of 1990, and evidence was introduced at trial regarding the FBI’s metallurgical examination of the bullets that were in the gun, finding them metallurgical similar to the bullets used in the homicide. The prosecution argued that this linked the bullets to the murder. On cross-examination at trial, Gail testified that Michael Mordenti gave her the gun while she worked at Carlisle which was "from October of ‘89 until April of ‘90, and it had to have been during that time." Thus, making her receipt of the gun after Ms. Royston’s homicide.

Previously in her March 8, 1990, sworn statement, Gail indicated that she received the gun "January, February, March [ ] 89." Gail had explained on March 8, 1990, "yeah, it was kind of a long time ago." This sworn statement placed the receipt of the gun before Thelma Royston’s murder. When asked at trial in cross-examination about this prior statement, Gail testified "I don’t remember making [that statement], no. I can read it, but I don’t remember making it."

In 2001, Gail recanted her trial testimony and acknowledged that she did not know when she received the gun, before or after the murder.

By the time of the 2001 hearing, both the lead prosecutor, Karen Cox, and the lead defense attorney, John Atti, have been suspended from the practicing of law by the Florida Bar.

New trial for Michael Mordenti




The 2nd DCA granted Michael Mordenti a new trial

This is an innocence case

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Fun Times in State Prison


Tue Feb 19, 2008 at 06:29:56 AM

Orgies? Check.

Hyper-competitive softball parties? Check.

A taxpayer-funded party pad? Absolutely!

Lest you think we're referring to a local agency/branch of government/City Hall official, we here at Riptide want to assure you that corruption happens at all levels of government. The aforementioned hijinks all happened at Florida's State Prisons. That's right, the place where they lockup the, uh, criminals.

This all came to light recently when outgoing state Prison boss James McDonough talked to CNN.

Our favorite quote:

"Corruption had gone to an extreme," McDonough said, saying it all began at the top. "They seemed to be drunk half the time and had orgies the other half, when they weren't taking money and beating each other up."

McDonough detailed how prison officials used a "waterfront ranch house built on prison grounds for a former warden with taxpayer dollars, McDonough said. The house was complete with a bar, pool table and hot tub."

During his two-year tenure as the head of Florida's prison system, he fired 90 people, demoted 280 others and watched as 40 more of the prison staff were indicted.

Union And Activists Call For Investigation Of Aramark’s Florida Prison Contract


Posted: February 19th, 2008 11:56 AM PDT

The Campaign for Quality Services, a joint project of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and UNITE HERE, held a rally in Miami, Fla. where labor, elected, and community leaders called for an investigation of Aramark's food service contract with Florida's Department of Corrections.

A 2007 report by the Inspector General of the Florida Department of Corrections found that Aramark was collecting "windfall profits" from its food service contract with the state's prison system at the expense of Florida taxpayers, according to the campaign. The report found that by getting rid of Aramark and doing the work itself, the State of Florida could save approximately $7 million dollars per year, the campaign claims. But instead of firing Aramark, the State of Florida gave them a new five-year contract, the group claims.

Labor leaders at the rally spoke out against Aramark's practices.

"Aramark is charging for phantom meals, cutting food quality and pocketing the savings," said Bruce Raynor, general president, UNITE HERE International, in a prepared statement. "We don't have to stand for this and the Department of Corrections needs to make a change."

"Florida's working families need a break instead of paying millions of dollars to fill the pockets of Aramark's top officials. Under the new contract, Florida appears to continue paying Aramark millions of dollars for meals that are never served. Aramark needs to reimburse Florida taxpayers for their windfall profits. It's time to get rid of Aramark. Florida taxpayers deserve better," said Monica Russo, president, SEIU Healthcare Florida.

Elected and community leaders called for a change on behalf of taxpayers.

"Aramark turns a profit on Florida's dime and a blind eye to Florida's budget problems," said Senator Tony Hill, Senate District 1. "We as legislators cannot and will not stand for this type of greed. There are too many critical needs in this state to allow any private contractor to operate strictly on greed and not quality service."

"This money could help fund community centers, job-training programs, or the institutions that help build Florida communities. Instead the money went to Aramark," said Bernard Poitier, ACORN member.

"Florida is in the midst of a budget crisis and it is financially irresponsible for the State to continue doing business with any company proven to be overcharging on a contract. Florida is not a cash cow for private industry. Companies caught overcharging, must be made to pay back the excess money, with interest. This also illustrates the need for stricter guidelines, oversight and scrutiny of the companies contracted with the State," said Representative Luis Garcia, House District 107.

The campaign is calling for:

An investigation of Aramark's current and past conduct in the Florida prisons, especially regarding the gap between served and meals billed for, savings resulting from menu changes, and hiring of any state official who approved menu changes.
Aramark should be called on to return the millions of dollars it saved through reduced-quality food and the over 8 percent drop in inmate participation between 2001and 2007.

The State of Florida should re-bid Aramark's contract and replace it with a contract (and another contractor) that maintains stable facility conditions, ensures that savings are passed along to taxpayers, and removes incentives to reduce food quality in order to increase profits. Specifically, this would include contractors billing based on meals served, rather than inmate population.

The Campaign for Quality Services is a joint project of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and UNITE HERE, which brings together workers, parents, clergy and community leaders to raise standards throughout the food, cleaning and maintenance service industries. We work together to raise standards by improving the quality of services, treatment of employees and accountability to the community, taxpayers, and clients.

Florida State Officials Under Fire Over Anti-Muslim Film, Promoting Christianity


by Jason Leopold http://www.opednews.com

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum agreed to establish a Muslim community advisory group late last week after his office came under fire for directing state officials to watch "Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West," a controversial film featuring one of three alleged ex-terrorists promoting fundamentalist Christianity and vilifying Muslims as terrorists and Islam as "evil."

McCollum's office said the attorney general sent an email to about 500 state employees last month urging them to attend a screening of the film "Obsession" in order to better understand "the terrorist threat to Florida and the West by radical Islam." The attorney general said he still believes the film has "value" and has refused to "dissasociate" himself from a decision to ask members of his staff to view it.

The film was produced and financed by HonestReporting, a media watchdog group based in New York and Jerusalem that says its mission is to "defend Israel from prejudice."

The Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles and the Council of American Islamic Relations said "Obsession" is an "anti-Muslim propaganda film."

"We are gravely alarmed that a respectable, high-level official such as yourself would be promoting such inflammatory anti-Muslim propaganda through your office," MPAC executive director Salam Al Marayati wrote to in a January 23 letter to McCollom." The office that hate crime victims turn to for legal aid and justice is itself igniting the fire of bias and fear through such events."

Jack Shaheen, an Oxford University research scholar and author of four books on racism, stereotyping and propaganda, agreed. He told the St. Petersburg Times in an interview February 12 that the film was "very convincing."

"Goebbels would be proud. This film has a place in cinema history with the racist film Birth of a Nation and the Nazi film Triumph of the Will because it so cleverly advances lies to vilify a people," Shaheen said.

Daniel Pipes, the director of Middle East Forum, is interviewed in the film saying, "Islamists hate everything other than what they are themselves." In 2001, Pipes claimed the "presence" and "enfranchisement" of American Muslims present "true dangers to American Jews." Pipes once wrote on his website: "Yes, I do support the internment of Japanese Americans in World War II."

The film features Walid Shoebat, who claims he is a former terrorist and was once affiliated with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Two weeks ago, Shoebat, and two other alleged ex-terrorists he works closely with were invited to speak to cadets at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs about radical Islam. However, their discussion centered on fundamentalist Christianity and how turning oneself over to Jesus Christ is crucial to winning the war on terror.

Collectively, the alleged ex-terrorists claim responsibility for the deaths of at least 223 Arabs. They have all denounced Islam. One of the alleged ex-terrorists became a preacher in the 1990s.

Last September, Shoebat told the Missouri Springfield News-Leader that he sees "many parallels between the Antichrist and Islam" and "Islam is not the religion of God -- Islam is the devil."

Mikey Weinstein, a graduate of the US Air Force Academy and the founder and president of the watchdog group The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said the academy invited the men to speak to cadets and staff in hopes of capitalizing off the alleged terrorists' conversion to fundamentialist Christianity as a way to proselytize and convert the "unchurched."

Weinstein said their appearance at the academy just another example of the school's long documented history of using "unconstitutional, propaganda, fear, and military command influence to promote fundamentalist Christianity to its cadets and staff."

"In the four years that our Military Religious Freedom Foundation has been fighting this invasion of fundamentalist Christianity in the US military absolutely nothing has been as surreal as this event," Weinstein said in an interview a day before the ex-terrorists' appearance. "The US Air Force Academy has either invited Osama Bin Laden and his buddies or Las Vegas Elvis impersonators to come to speak. No matter which category this falls into to this represents a scandalous outrage that is off the scale of repugnancy and duplicity. These three frauds are as much Islamic terrorists as Arnold Schwarzenegger is a real Terminator. Our foundation will immediately include this entire sordid matter as part of our federal lawsuit against the Pentagon currently being litigated in Kansas City."

Shoebat claims he volunteered for the PLO as a child. At 16, Shoebat said the PLO ordered him to bomb a Jewish-owned bank in Bethlehem with a device he smuggled from Jerusalem inside a loaf of bread. He was supposed to plant it near the bank’s door, but Palestinian children played nearby. He decided to throw it onto the roof of a nearby building instead, where it exploded without harming anyone, he said.

Later that year during a riot in Bethlehem, Shoebat led youths in an attempt to lynch an Israeli solider. Shoebat and a friend beat the solider bloody with clubs before other Israeli soldiers arrived.

He claims he was imprisoned in the Russian Compound, Jerusalem's central prison for incitement and violence against Israel. Officials at the Israeli consulate said they did not have immediate comment on Shoebat's claims. Shoebat says he discovered Christianity when he was 18-years-old when he arrived in the US.

The outcry from the Muslim community over the screening of "Obsession" led to a hastily arranged community meeting last week in Tallahassee, Florida with state and national Islamic leaders and McCollom and members of his staff.

During the meeting with representatives of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), the ACLU of Florida, and the Florida Muslim Bar Association, McCollum also agreed to offer educational programs on Islam and Muslims to his staff and to help build better relations between the Muslim community and law enforcement agencies.

"The challenge for all state and federal law enforcement agencies is to treat Muslim Americans as partners in keeping our country safe," said MPAC Executive Director Salam al-Marayati, who attended the meeting last week. "Reliance on propagandistic films like "Obsession" is an obstacle to that objective."

Rabbi Steven Jacobs, who works with the Los Angeles County Sherriff's Department on hate crimes, traveled to Tallahassee specifically for the meeting.

"We ought to be obsessed with the truth, not distortions that lead to demonization and hatred of any group," Jacobs said.

Separately, while some members of the Muslim community met with McCollom and his staff, Brigitte Gabriel, who says she is a Lebanese Christian, was in Palm Beach County speaking to the Women's division of the Jewish Federation speaking critically about Muslims and Islam. Gabriel and Shoebat have appeared together at various events and Gabriel was once a guest speaker for an event sponsored by Shoebat's foundation.

Gabriel founded the American Congress for Truth (ACT), an organization that says it is dedicated to motivating Americans to take action against terrorism. Her biography on the website for ACT says she worked in the Middle East as news anchor for “World News,” an evening Arabic news broadcast, and covered the Israeli security zone in Lebanon and the Palestinian uprising in the West Bank. She immigrated to the United States in 1989 and started a television production and advertising company.

Her website contains a recommended reading list which includes the book "The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam" underscoring what appears to be her deep disdain for the Islamic faith.

In June 2007, Gabriel was invited to speak to the Joint Forces Staff College (JFSC) as part of the school's Islam elective studies program. According to its website, the JFSC "educates military officers and other national security leaders in joint, multinational, and interagency operational-level planning and war fighting."

Her appearance at the prestigious military college was carried by C-Span. Her lecture was controversial to say the least. International, allied officers were not permitted to participate in Gabriel's lecture.

During a question and answer session, Gabriel said that Muslims should be prohibited from holding political office in the U.S.

"If a Muslim who has -- who is -- a practicing Muslim who believes the word of the Koran to be the word of Allah, who abides by Islam, who goes to mosque and prays every Friday, who prays five times a day -- this practicing Muslim, who believes in the teachings of the Koran, cannot be a loyal citizen to the United States of America," she said.

Gabriel added that because Muslim's are permitted to lie "under any situation to make Islam, or for the benefit of Islam in the long run" their promise to uphold US laws while holding public office is meaningless.

"A Muslm sworn to office can lay his hand on the Koran and say 'I swear that I'm telling the truth and nothing but the truth,' fully knowing that he is lying because the same Koran that he is swearing on justifies his lying in order to advance the cause of Islam," she told students last year. "What is worrisome about that is when we are faced with war and a Muslim political official in office has to make a decision either in the interest of the United States, which is considered infidel according to the teachings of Islam, and our Constitution is uncompatible [sic] with Islam -- not compatible -- that Muslim in office will always have his loyalty to Islam."

Weinstein said he was familiar with Gabriel's "bigoted work." He said the Military Religious Freedom Foundation intended to take legal action against the Pentagon because Gabriel's invitation to speak at high-level military events is "yet another example of the pernicious and pervasive pattern and practice of unconstitutional rape being visited upon our military members by the draconian specter of overwhelming fundamentalist Christian command influence."

"This woman is a putrescent example of a clear proponent of ethnic cleansing and the fact that she would be invited as an honored, paid guest into the hallowed halls of one of the nation's most prestigious military officers' staff colleges represents unconstitutional complicity that cries out for only one word: treason," Weinstein said.

www.newsjunkiebook.com

Jason Leopold is the author of the National Bestseller, News Junkie, a memoir. Mr. Leopold is also a two-time winner of the Project Censored award, most recently, in 2007, for an investigative story related to Halliburton's work in Iran.

Reports indicate history of violence shared between Pafford and Philpot

By TONY BRITT
tbritt@lakecityreporter.com

Published: Wednesday, February 20, 2008 6:07 AM EST

Pamela Pafford feared for her life and, according to court documents, attempted to get a restraining order against Michael Philpot eight months before the two were involved in a head-on collision Monday which claimed Pafford’s life.

According to documents on file with the Columbia County Clerk of Courts, Pafford was denied a petition for injunction for protection against domestic violence from Philpot eight months ago. The paperwork was filed at the Clerk of Courts office on June 4, 2007.

Circuit Judge Paul Bryan denied the petition because Pafford failed to allege facts sufficient to support the entry of an injunction for protection against domestic violence because of an incident in 2004, where it was a condition of Philpot’s probation to have no contact with her, the court documents state.

In her attempt to file the restraining order Pafford’s statement in the court document is the following: “He (Philpot) went to prison for false imprisonment against me ... He pulled me in his car at the Dollar Store. I was kicking and screaming and he took off with me in the car. He wrecked (because) I was fighting him and an older couple followed us and called 911. Before this incident he choked me, put me in the trunk of a car and I was and still am very scared of him. He has threatened my family and tried to snatch my little boy from me one time while we were arguing. He just got out of prison and I wasn’t even notified like I was told I would be. He is very sneaky and I am in fear for me and my son.”

Florida Highway Patrol public affairs officer for Troop B Lt. Mike Burroughs said Philpot served time in prison in 2005 for the false imprisonment charge.

“We have received information from the Columbia County Sheriff’s Department that Michael Philpot was charged, in the past, with false imprisonment to a female,” Burroughs said. “He was imprisoned, served time and has been released. We have personally verified that Pamela Pafford was the victim of the past false imprisonment. Those matters are being taken into consideration under the umbrella of this criminal investigation.”

Philpot served two years and six months in the Bay Correctional Facility, a Panama City medium security prison, for the crime against Pafford, according to reports. He was released May 31, 2007.

According to police reports from the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office and the Lake City Police Department, Philpot has a history of violent crimes, as well as a history of domestic abuse against Pafford.

On Tuesday afternoon, Columbia County Sheriff Bill Gootee verified that on Nov. 30, 2001, Philpot was arrested and charged with kidnapping, attempted felony murder and carrying a concealed weapon when he and his brother, George Jerome Philpot, were arrested by the Lake City Police Department in what Columbia County Sheriff’s Office detectives described as a botched robbery attempt. Michael Philpot received probation in the case, while Jerome Philpot was sentenced to prison.

On Dec. 12, 2004, Michael Philpot was charged with battery (domestic violence) after he was observed at the Dollar General parking lot screaming at Pafford. A witness said in the report that Pafford was trying to get out of the car and Philpot drove out of the parking lot and was later seen choking Pafford. Reports state a witness saw him grabbing Pafford by the throat while inside his vehicle. Later, another witness reported Philpot dragging Pafford into the vehicle while she was screaming and that he was also beating and dragging her.

Reports state the witnesses called 911 and followed the arguing couple and watched as the car crashed into some trees. One of the witnesses reported that when he pulled up to the crash, Philpot was beating and dragging Pafford. The witness said he thought that Pafford was abducted by Philpot and when he saw Philpot was going to get away, he pulled out his gun and held it at Philpot until Lake City Police officers arrived at the scene.

Two days later, reports state that while in custody at the Columbia County Jail, Philpot was charged with a violation of probation on original charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon that was not a firearm. He was charged by a probation/parole officer from the Florida Department of Corrections.

Philpot was arrested again by the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office in January 2005 on a warrant issued by the Lake City Police Department stemming from the 2004 false imprisonment charges regarding Pafford.

Man Guilty In Ex-Girlfriend's Burning Death

"I'll break your neck," Sook-Deo said. "That's how I feel because of what he did to my little girl. This is the worst thing to happen to a father. Six days, I drove day and night, everywhere not knowing she was dead. It is the worst thing, everyday crying and missing your daughter."

Teen Doused With Gas, Set On Fire

POSTED: 12:17 am EST February 20, 2008
UPDATED: 12:21 am EST February 20, 2008


ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. -- A jury found a Central Florida man guilty of first-degree murder in connection with the burning death of his ex-girlfriend after she was doused with gasoline and ignited by the man.

Dane Abdool admitted to pouring gasoline on Amelia Sook-Deo, 17, and lighting her on fire but he said her March 2006 death was an accident.

The victim's father, Deolall Sook-Deo, was shaking after hearing the guilty verdict late Tuesday and said he was still angry with Abdool.

"If you could say anything to (Abdool), what would you say to him?" a reporter asked.

"I'll break your neck," Sook-Deo said. "That's how I feel because of what he did to my little girl. This is the worst thing to happen to a father. Six days, I drove day and night, everywhere not knowing she was dead. It is the worst thing, everyday crying and missing your daughter."

"Our job now is saving one kid's life," defense attorney Kelly Simms said late Tuesday. "The other is already lost. We are going to try to save this one and that is going to start tomorrow."

"I would like to see the death penalty, that is what I would like to see," Sook-Deo said.

Prosecutors said that Amelia Sook-Deo sneaked out of her bedroom window to meet Abdool, who claimed that Sook-Deo told him she was pregnant. A medical examiner determined that Sook-Deo was not pregnant.

Prosecutors said Abdool bound Sook-Deo with duct tape, took her to a rural road in Winter Garden, poured gasoline on her and ignited a fire with a cigarette lighter before speeding off.

The penalty phase begins at 9 a.m.Wednesday.

Watch Local 6 News for more on this story.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Death sentence stands for killer of gay men


Staff Report

A serial killer of gay men will remain on death row after losing another in a long list of appeals.

The Florida Supreme Court denied Gary Ray Bowles' appeal to vacate his death sentence Thursday. Bowles previously petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court without success.

Bowles, 46, first received the death penalty in 1996 for the 1994 murder of Walter Jammell Hinton of Jacksonville. In all of his appeals including this one, Bowles alleges that his counsel was ineffective.

Nicknamed the "95 Killer," Bowles had been on the FBI's list of 10 most-wanted fugitives in 1994 and admitted to two murders in Nassau County, one in Daytona Beach, two in Georgia and one in Maryland, according to a 1999 News-Journal story.

His first admitted victim was John Hardy Roberts, 56, a Daytona Beach insurance adjuster who Bowles beat, strangled, and then stuffed a towel in his mouth -- which became his trademark.