Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Does death row await Casey Anthony?

Even if she is sentenced to die, she might not be executed — few women are in Florida

By Sarah Lundy

Sentinel Staff Writer

April 26, 2009

In the past 82 years, 16 women were singled out to receive Florida's ultimate punishment: the death penalty.

These women killed their husbands. Or they killed cops. Half a dozen of them murdered multiple people. Some killed during robberies and murder-for-hire schemes. One tortured and killed her young son.

This month, prosecutors announced they are seeking the death penalty for Casey Anthony, an Orange County mother charged with first-degree murder in the death of her daughter, Caylee Marie.

With Florida's death-row history, experts say prosecutors face an uphill challenge in convicting Anthony, sending her to death row and keeping her there.

Of the 16 women initially ordered to die by state execution, the lives of 13 have been spared when their sentences were vacated or commuted to life on appeal.

Death-penalty expert Victor Streib said there are fewer women on death row across the country because fewer women commit murder. Only about one in 10 murders is committed by a woman.

Those killings usually don't rise to the level of death-penalty cases — ones considered especially heinous, ones committed by violent habitual offenders or those committed during another crime, said Streib, a law professor at Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio.

Society sees women as the "source of life," Streib said, and there is a general urge to protect them. Juries could be biased, finding it harder to condemn a woman to death than a man. But there are exceptions, he conceded.

Florida has executed two: Judy "The Black Widow" Buenoano in 1998 and Aileen Wuornos in 2002.

Florida currently has 392 death-row inmates.

Only one is a woman.

Judy Buenoano,

Orange County

On March 30, 1998, officials strapped the 54-year-old 'Black Widow' to the electric chair, making her the first woman in Florida to be executed. Twice before, her death warrants were stayed. She was sentenced to die in 1985 for the 1971 arsenic poisoning of her husband in Orange County. In 1980, she drowned her paralyzed son in Santa Rosa County and was sentenced to life. Two years earlier, she poisoned her common-law husband in Colorado.

Aileen Wuornos,

Volusia County

On Oct. 9, 2002, Wuornos was executed. She was ordered to die for the 1989 shooting death of a Clearwater businessman. The former Volusia County prostitute confessed to killing seven men as she hitchhiked along Florida's highways.

Tiffany Cole,

Duval County

Cole is the only woman on death row. On March 6, 2008, she was sentenced to death for her part in the murder of a Jacksonville couple. She and three men kidnapped the couple, demanded their ATM numbers, then buried them alive in 2005. Two co-defendants also received the death penalty. The third testified against the others and received 45 years in prison.

Bertha Hall,

Duval County


Oct. 10, 1926

Hall and another man killed her husband. Sentence commuted in 1929; freed from prison by early 1935.

Billie Jackson,

Duval County


Feb. 1, 1927

Jackson stabbed her husband to death. Sentence commuted in September 1927. She was freed by early 1936.

Ruby McCollum,

Suwannee County

Sentenced: 1954

McCollum fatally shot a doctor. The state Supreme Court reversed her sentence in 1956. Sent to state mental hospital for 20 years before her release in 1974.

Irene Laverne Jackson,

Pasco County


April 24, 1962

Jackson killed her husband for insurance money. In 1964, after a new trial, she was convicted of second-degree murder and given life in prison. She was paroled in 1972.

Marie Dean


Hernando County


Dec. 6, 1968

Arrington was sentenced to die for killing the secretary of the Lake County public defender. She previously was convicted of manslaughter in the death of her husband but later escaped from prison. She was captured in Marion County. In 1972, her death sentence was commuted to life. She is at Lowell Annex in Marion County.

Sonia Jacobs, Broward County

Sentenced: 1976

Jacobs was sentenced to die for her part in killing two law-enforcement officers. But in 1981 her sentence was changed to life in prison. In 1992, her case was reversed on appeal. She pleaded to second-degree murder and was sentenced to time served in prison. She was released Oct. 9, 1992.

Kaysie Dudley,

Pinellas County


Jan. 27, 1987

Sentenced to die for killing her mother's employer during a robbery, Dudley in 1989 was resentenced to life in prison with a 25-year minimum. She is housed at Lowell Correctional Institution in Marion County.

Carla Caillier, Hillsborough County


March 19, 1987

Sentenced to die for killing her husband, Caillier was resentenced to life in prison with a minimum of 25 years in 1988. She was moved to a prison out of state for her own safety, according to Department of Corrections officials.

Dee Casteel,

Miami-Dade County


Sept. 16, 1987

Casteel paid two men to kill a woman after the woman asked about her missing son, whom Casteel had ordered killed a month earlier. In 1991 she was resentenced to life in prison. She died at Broward Correctional Institution in 2002.

Deidre Hunt,

Volusia County


Sept. 13, 1990

Hunt took part in the fatal shooting of two men with whom she was involved in a murder-for-money scheme. In 1998 she was resentenced to life in prison. She's housed at Homestead Correctional Institution in Miami-Dade County.

Andrea Hicks


Duval County


Feb. 10, 1984

Jackson shot a Jacksonville police officer five times when he tried to arrest her for filing a false report. Her death warrant was signed in 1989 but was stayed two months later by the Florida Supreme Court. She was resentenced to life in 2000. She's at Lowell Correctional Institution in Marion County.

Ana Maria


Miami-Dade County


March 3, 1992

Cardona and her lover beat and tortured her 3-year-old son, whose 18-pound body was found on Miami Beach. The boy was often tied to the bed, locked in a closet or left in the bathtub in very cold or hot water. Cardona won an appeal in 2002 and a new trial, which is expected to begin this summer. She's at the Miami-Dade County Women's Detention Center.



Volusia County


May 11, 1993

Sentenced to die for her part in killing her husband, Larzelere was resentenced to life in prison in 2008. She is serving her time at Lowell Annex in Marion County.

Gabby Tennis takes plea, escapes death penalty

Convicted of stomping man, 91, to death

Lisa J. Huriash | South Florida Sun-Sentinel
5:10 PM EDT, April 27, 2009
FORT LAUDERDALE - Hours before a jury would have starting debating whether convicted killer Gabby Tennis should live or die, a deal was struck today that will send him to prison for the rest of his life.

After a retrial, Tennis, 29, was convicted last week of the June 2003 stomping death of Albert Vessella, 91, a disabled Navy veteran. Tennis went to Vessella's Hollywood home to steal money for a traditional Gypsy dowry so he could marry his 16-year-old girlfriend, Sophia Adams.

She testified against him. He was convicted in 2005 and sent to Death Row, but the Florida Supreme Court overturned the conviction because Tennis was not given a hearing when he asked to represent himself.

In the retrial, Tennis represented himself until midway through the state's case, when he decided to let standby attorneys handle his defense.

"The family of the victim never has to be subjected to this again," prosecutor Brian Cavanagh said following today's court session.

After the jurors were dismissed, two of them said Tennis made the right choice.

"I was giving the state what they wanted," a death recommendation, said Alex Garcia, of Fort Lauderdale.

So was Rudy Lacosse, of Miramar.

"He didn't have no sympathy for anybody," Lacosse said of Tennis. "He didn't care about nobody's life but his.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Snack price hikes lead to anger in Fla. prisons

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Price increases at prison snack shops have angered inmates and caused at least one reported case of violence at a Florida prison.

The state raised prices about three weeks ago under a new contract with an outside company. Since then, the department has gotten at least 60 phone calls and letters from inmates and their families complaining about the hikes.

The Department of Corrections says it's working to see if some prices can be lowered, but costs are going up everywhere. Some of the price changes: Peanut M&Ms and Snickers (66 cents to 89 cents), a can of Coke (57 cents to 89 cents) and a Honey Bun pastry (66 cents to 99 cents).

Florida has the nation's third largest state prison system.

Pinellas Officials Investigating Death of Inmate

TBO.com Staff

A 50-year-old inmate who was in the medical building at the Pinellas County Jail died this morning, and authorities have launched an investigation to try to determine how.

Jennifer S. DeGraw, of 3530 51st Ave. N., was unresponsive when jail staff checked in on her in her cell in the medical building at about 6:30 a.m., sheriff's officials said. DeGraw had been placed in the medical building because of a undisclosed pre-existing medical condition, they said.

She was then transported to Northside Hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 7:44 a.m., authorities said.

DeGraw was booked into the jail on March 16, on a charge of battery on a law enforcement officer.

Detectives say the inmate's death does not appear suspicious; however an autopsy will be conducted to determine the cause of death.

2 S. Florida men guilty of burglaries, rapes at Port St. Lucie homes

By Tyler Treadway

Friday, April 24, 2009

FORT PIERCE — Two men face up to life in prison after being convicted Thursday night in connection with two home invasions and sexual assaults on Easter night 2007.

Stardale Owens, 30, of Lake Worth, and Terrince Ervin, 27, of Deerfield Beach, were found guilty of robbery with a deadly weapon, burglary with an assault or battery and sexual battery by more than one perpetrator. Each will get at least 10 years in prison when they’re sentenced May 8 because jurors found the two men used firearms in the crimes.

The jury deliberated about 2½ hours before reaching the verdict shortly after 8:30 p.m. Thursday.

During the three-day trial, victims testified three armed men wearing masks burst into a home on Tahoe Court in Port St. Lucie late on the night of April 9, 2007, beat and threatened to kill the four young people there and raped the one woman among them several times.

When the robbers didn’t find the money and drugs they were looking for, victims said, two of the assailants took one of the young men to a house on nearby Bella Road, where two occupants were bound and gagged.

Timmy Owens, 32, Stardale Owens’ brother, was convicted in March of armed robbery and burglary, but not the sexual assault charge, in connection with the incident and is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday.

Assistant State Attorney Linda Baldree said DNA evidence was the key to the conviction. Condoms with DNA from Stardale Owens and Ervin were fished from the septic system at the Tahoe Court house, and a beer bottle with Ervin’s DNA was found inside the home.

Victims testified they could hear one of their assailants open a beer bottle and drink it.

Defense attorney Curt Levine of Orlando, who represents Owens, said he plans to appeal the verdict, noting Circuit Judge Robert Belanger refused to allow jurors to hear evidence that a prostitution ring may have been operated out of one or both houses.

“That would go a long way in explaining how my client’s DNA was found on a condom there,” Levine said.

Jennifer Hixson, who represents Ervin, could not be reached.

Baldree said she was “very happy with the verdict. There are some very violent, very angry men; and we’re glad to get them off the street.”

Florida budget compromise difficult task

State awaits answers as anxiety builds up

By Bill Cotterell and Jim Ash
news-press.com Tallahassee bureau

TALLAHASSEE - From a big Wall Street bond-rating house to a Miami-area tobacco company, from the ranks of police and prison guards to the executive suites of Florida universities, the legislative budget standoff caused grim concern Thursday.

"I still think it's possible to get out on time" May 1, said Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville. "But I don't think this budget is like good whisky - it doesn't get better as it gets older."

The House and Senate passed divergent $65 billion-plus budgets Friday but no joint conferences have been held because the presiding officers can't settle on distributions. They have to work out new revenues and spending cuts each side will accept, notably a $1-per-pack cigarette-tax increase the Senate wants.

The House Majority Office notified members Friday that Moody's Investors Service has put Florida bonds on its "downgrade watch list." Lowering the rating would cost taxpayers hundreds of millions, even billions, in interest costs over several years. House Republicans insist on steeper cuts to spending to preserve the credit rating.

Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, said most members were not worried about the secrecy of the leadership's phone calls and infrequent small huddles with few members.

"This is the way it works," said Workman. "We had a month and a half to put our two-cents worth in and now they're doing some private talks. "

Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, said time is running out. The session is due to adjourn May 1 and the budget has to sit on members desks for 72 hours before a vote, meaning a compromise is needed by Tuesday.

"If it gets into a contentious area of disagreement, there's no way we'll finish on time," said Dean. "I think we need to have a transparency, to be able to represent to my constituents - a half-million people that expect me to know what's going on."

Yolanda Nader, chief executive of Dosal Tobacco in Opa-locka, said she was closing the cigarette plant to bring all 120 of her employees to Tallahassee today to fight the cigarette tax - along with about 150 employees of cigarette distributors whose jobs she said are threatened by the tax hike.

"They're very afraid of losing their jobs," she said.

So are state employees, who face pay cuts and layoffs. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees has a rally set at the Capitol today.

The Police Benevolent Association warned against privatizing 531 jobs at the Suwannee Correctional Facility, eliminating 69 probation jobs and closing 14 regional offices of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

In a meeting with Senate Democrats, budget chief J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, outlined the sticking points. The Senate balked at House proposals to slash university and community college budgets by about $500 million, while most House members disliked the $1 billion cigarette tax the Senate sought.

Mary Musings: Ministering to men in prison personally rewarding

April 24, 2009

Rev. Mary McQueen
Special for news-press.com

Everyone talks about the increasing number of violent crimes in our culture. I recently had an opportunity to become a small part of the solution.

My daughter Beth and I spent 30 hours on a weekend inside a large Midwestern men’s high-security state penitentiary working with violent offenders who are about to be released.

We were working with a program called the Anti Violence Project, or AVP, and several prisons in Florida are also working with these programs.

Beth has degrees in working with these folks and has spent the last 10 years working in shelters for women and children and now with offenders, hopefully helping people to find out they have other choices for conflict resolution.

We checked in at the main prison gate and went through metal detectors, body “patting down,” and X-rays. We could carry nothing in with us. They took our driver’s license in return for an official badge.

It is quite an experience to step through those big metal doors and hear that steel gate clang shut behind you, locking you in. Your hand is stamped with a symbol they read by black light when you leave. We had to be escorted everywhere we went.

The group of men in our weekend AVP Workshop have spent many months in drug and alcohol rehabilitation and were very responsive to all the activities. We laughed together, did role playing skits, played some community building games to help them begin to think about trusting again, and shared our stories about dealing with conflict. The men were from their early 20s to late 50s in age.

Beth and I stood in long lines with the men, waiting to be served meals and ate in a dining area with a couple of hundred inmates. No coffee was served. Too much problem with caffeine, I guess.

As the weekend progressed, I couldn’t help but think of Jesus’ words, “When you visited someone in prison, you visited me.”

Some folks likely consider these folks are “getting what they deserved,” and well they may be. But that does not change Jesus’ words. We are to visit those in prison.

The AVP program likes to have some women of different ages among the participants from the “outside,” because a lot of these men need to learn how to have positive interactions and relationships with the women in their future life on the “outside.”

When the men shared about who they respected the most, many of them cited their mothers. Some had tears in their eyes as they told us, “Mom has always stood by me, kept on telling me what was right, and expected the best when no one else did.”

One young man, barely out of his teens, sat down carefully beside me during one of the discussion sessions and said, “My grandma’s name is Mary…uh, she is my favorite grandma. Can I sit here a moment and talk about her?”

And so we did. I was holding back tears in my eyes, too.

One of the things I most appreciated about this group of men is that they have been in therapy long enough to realize that it does no good to try to put blame for your behavior on someone else. They all seemed quick to say, “I got myself in here. It is up to me to keep me outside of here in the future. No one else is at fault and no one else can do it for me.”

I thought to myself we could use a lot more of that kind of honesty in the “outside world” too.

I have visited in penitentiaries before, but never have I spent so many hours actually deep inside the prison interacting with a group of inmates. I think I learned as much or more than anyone in the group.

The men welcomed me and seemed to listen carefully when I shared my ideas and experiences. They were particularly interested in knowing that I was born to a non-recovering alcoholic and had experienced many of the scenarios that their own families have experienced due to their behavior.

Many told me they felt hopeful when I encouraged them to seek out positive people who can lead them to a better way of life.

I know that many of them will re-offend and find themselves back inside that prison. My prayer is that somehow, in some small way, we contributed to helping at least a few of them know some better options for handling conflict resolution and just plain living better lives.

I definitely felt privileged to be allowed to minister there. The great thing about visiting people in prison is you find Jesus is there waiting to visit with you, too!

— Rev. Mary McQueen is a freelance writer. She is a wife, mother, workshop leader, childbirth and gentle parenting educator, prison and police chaplain, and author of several books on Bible study and wholeness. E-mail her at pastormary@getfitgetfaith.com.

Disbarred Boca Raton lawyer faces up to 30 years in prison

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

2:39 PM EDT, April 24, 2009

A disbarred Boca Raton lawyer has pleaded guilty to misappropriating about $1.2 million from clients' funds, prosecutors said.

Richard Bagdasarian pleaded guilty to organized scheming to defraud and is facing up to 30 years in prison when he is sentenced June 5.

Prosecutors said he took the money for his personal use betwenn November 2002 and September 2007.

Bagdasarian's law license has been revoked by the Florida Bar and he was ordered to reimburse the victims, according to prosecutors.

Bagdasarian, 53, had his own practice at 1800 NW Corporate Blvd., and first came under Boca Raton police radar when someone filed a complaint in July 2007. Detectives said he admitted to defrauding 41 clients.

Fla. lawmakers providing for inflation in crime

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Someone shoplifting a $400 camera in Florida now faces a charge of felony grand theft. A bill passed by the Florida Senate would be more lenient on those kinds of crimes.

Currently, anyone who steals $300 to $20,000 faces up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Under the proposal (SB 1548) passed Friday, stealing up to $600 wouldn't trigger those penalties. Instead, shoplifting items costing between $100 and $600 would be punished by up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine.

Changing the law could mean 76 fewer people sentenced to prison next year, saving the state $762,508. The theft law hasn't been changed since 1986. The price of a $300 item then would now be about $600 because of inflation, one lawmaker said.

Eliminating death penalty in Colorado the right move

Eliminating death penalty in Colorado the right move

By Erika Stutzman
Thursday, April 23, 2009

Count us among those applauding the Colorado House's close-as-a-shave vote to eliminate the death penalty here. The bill, which now goes to the state Senate, would take money used for death penalty cases and apply it toward solving cold cases.

There are more than 1,400 unsolved homicides since 1970 in Colorado. House Majority Leader Paul Weissmann, D-Louisville, pointed out that the last death-penalty case tried in Colorado cost $1.4 million to prosecute.

Here's what happened: Jose Luis Rubi-Nava, charged with the brutal killing of his girlfriend, pleaded guilty instead. That grand price tag didn't result in his death -- something that a whole lot of people still clamor for -- but instead with a sentence of life in prison without parole.

Non-capital cases cost about $70,000, Weissmann said. There are two men on Colorado's death row now. Imagine if the state were to spend $140,000 prosecuting those cases, rather than an estimated $2.8 million. Imagine if those millions, instead, were able to solve the murder of Boulder's Sid Wells, who at 22 was found killed execution-style on Aug. 1, 1983.

A Gallup poll in the fall showed that 64 percent of Americans favor the death penalty for someone convicted of murder, while just 30 percent oppose it. But death as a deterrent to hideous, heinous crimes doesn't seem to hold water in the United States, despite that widespread support of it.

Texas has 373 people on death row. It has put 423 convicts to death since 1974, when the death penalty was reinstated. The murder rate there is 5.9 per 100,000.

Colorado, which has executed just one person since 1975 when the death penalty was reinstated, has a murder rate of 3.3 per 100,000. So the "don't mess with Texas" adage as a deterrent isn't working as planned. North Dakota, with no death penalty, has a murder rate of 1.3 per 100,000. Iowa doesn't have the death penalty; the rate there is 1.8 per 100,000.

To be fair, New Hampshire does have the death penalty and its murder rate is about as low as it can go: 1 per 100,000. New Hampshire also hasn't put anyone to death since the death penalty was reinstated there.

There is also the issue of a terrible possibility: Innocent people on death row. Texas has released nine people from death row, in addition to two clemencies. Florida, in addition to six clemencies, has reported 22 innocent people have been freed from death row.

The bill passed the House by just one vote, but is expected to pass in the Senate. Gov. Bill Ritter has not said whether he supports it.

We hope it does pass in the Senate, and we hope the governor signs it. For the grieving friends and families of more than 1,400 Coloradans, that expanded chance for justice outweighs the desire for ultimate revenge on a very few, who will spend the rest of their days in prison where they belong.

-- Erika Stutzman,

for the Camera editorial board

Extradition Agreement: Murder Suspect to Florida

Posted: April 23, 2009 04:43 PM

Eau Claire (WQOW) - A western Wisconsin man will be sent to Florida to face capital murder charges.

Bill Marquardt is accused of killing two people in Florida in 2000. A woman and her daughter were shot and stabbed.

On Thursday, the Chippewa County district attorney says an agreement has been reached to extradite Marquardt from Wisconsin to Florida. Right now, he's being held in Wisconsin at a state mental institution.

Three years ago, he was acquitted in the murder of his mother in Chippewa County, but was committed to that mental institution after being convicted of another crime. During that time, Chippewa County District Attorney Jon Theisen received a tip that Marquardt was connected to a double-murder in Florida. He started looking into it and eventually, investigators said DNA found on a knife owned by Marquardt matched the DNA of the murder victims in Florida.

Theisen says arrangements have been made to send Marquardt to Florida, but no date has been set. Theisen says it should happen pretty quickly. A grand jury has indicted him on two counts of capital murder. He could face the death penalty if he's convicted.

Woman commits suicide in jail

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (AP) — Authorities say a female inmate at the Bay County Jail committed suicide.

The sheriff's office reports that the 26-year-old woman hanged herself some time Sunday night. Investigators believe the woman used a bed sheet to form a noose around her neck and tied the other end to the door of her cell.

The woman had previously been placed on suicide watch but was removed March 9 after showing improvement. A judge had ordered her to be transferred to Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee. She was staying at the jail until room at the hospital became available.

The woman had been at the jail since Jan. 25, when she was booked on a robbery charge.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

FSP officers fired for alleged inmate abuse

By: Mark J. Crawford, Editor

Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Walter McNeil ordered the immediate termination of five Florida State Prison officers and another has resigned following allegations of abusing an inmate.

As a result of an on-going criminal investigation of an April 8 incident at the Starke prison, Lt. William Hinson, Sgt. Anthony Reed, Sgt. Richard Kross, Sgt. James Coleman, officer Charles Reames and officer Raymond Williams all lost their jobs. Reames resigned. The others were fired.

"I want to be crystal clear about this," McNeil said. "I will never tolerate inmate abuse. I will take swift, decisive action anytime it occurs."

McNeil said his goal is to rid the Florida prison system of the handful of employees with this mindset and that he intends to cooperate fully in prosecuting those engaged in criminal acts.

"I will also seek revocation of correctional officer certification for these officers," he said.

Upon completion of the investigation, the case will be turned over to the State Attorney's office for criminal prosecution.

Acting Inspector General Walt Murphree stated that despite these actions by a few officers, the department's employees routinely perform their duties faithfully.

"Each [officer] has a duty to report misconduct and I routinely see our employees coming forward reporting incidents and assisting investigators," said Murphree.
To protect the integrity of the investigation, the state said details of the incident cannot be released at this time. The inmate is receiving appropriate medical care. His injuries are consistent with a physical attack and are not life threatening.

McNeil said he would not allow the actions of a few to damage the reputation of all employees and the image of the Department of Corrections.

There were additional officers placed on administrative leave from FSP pending further investigation.

While details of what happened at the prison were not released, it has been widely reported that an inmate was pulled from his cell and beaten during a power outage believe their actions were not being recorded.

Video cameras were reportedly operational, however.

Several more are on leave from Union Correctional Institution pending investigation into a separate incident. Even less is known about this incident.

VIDEO REPLAY: Hearing on alleged south Fort Myers child killer

Judge to decide if Grodin is competent to stand trial


Today, Lee Circuit Judge Edward Volz Jr. will face a familiar scene - doctors and attorneys arguing whether Justin Grodin is competent to stand trial.

It has happened for most of the last six years since Grodin, 35, was extradited from Arizona to Florida to face charges of first-degree murder and child abuse for allegedly beating to death and burying his 11-month-old daughter Gretchen in 2000 in south Fort Myers. He faces the death penalty.

Attorneys, a new round of doctors and other witnesses will gather in Courtroom B of the Lee County Justice Center this afternoon and Volz will have the burden of deciding to keep the case on track for a June 9 trial or delaying it again. If the judge finds Grodin competent, his trial should start in two months. But if Volz finds Grodin incompetent, he could send him back to a state hospital.

"This man — he needs hospital care and should be there for the rest of his life," said Grodin's uncle, Herbert Grodin, of New Jersey. "He is, really, a mental case."

Volz ruled in 2007 and in 2008 the accused killer is competent to stand trial, writing Grodin is trying to "game the system" by lying and faking a mental illness. That followed a previous judge, who in 2005 found Grodin incompetent. Competency deals with a defendant's understanding of the court system, its players and possible penalties of a conviction. An incompetent person cannot go on trial.

Although Volz has said he wants the case to go to trial, he appointed three doctors in February to examine Grodin at the urging of Grodin's attorneys, who say their client won't communicate with them. They also say he has lost 120 pounds in six years. Two of the three mental health experts who have seen Grodin this year believe he is incompetent to stand trial. Both of the last two times Volz ruled Grodin competent, two of the three doctors found Grodin incompetent.

Assistant State Attorney Anthony Kunasek said he and one of Grodin's attorneys, J.L. "Ray" LeGrande have not discussed a plea deal in this case, but prosecutors have talked among each other about coming to some other type of resolution. One option is sending Grodin to a mental facility for life.

"Those discussions have taken place," he said. "They have to in a case like this, when you come up on nine years old."

But, Kunasek said, he is focused on seeking a murder conviction for Grodin.

"We want to get this case resolved," he said.

Long haul

Grodin was most recently set for trial April 13 - one of dozens of trial dates that have come and gone in the case's lifespan.

While first-degree murder cases in Lee County are known to take three to four years to get to trial, Grodin's nine years in the system is longest in recent memory.

Because of an extended pre-trial life, more tax dollars have been spent on the case as well.

An analysis by The News-Press last May showed Grodin's case has cost taxpayers at least $300,000. Add to that in the last 11 months at least another $25,000 in Lee County Jail housing costs, $18,000 in state-funded defense costs and undetermined amounts on courtroom expenses, state attorney fees, deposition costs and doctor examinations.

But LeGrande said he doesn't request competency hearings to seek delays.

"There's nobody who wants this case to go to trial more than me," said LeGrande, glancing at the dozen boxes and shelves of material in his office dedicated to Grodin.

But he said his client is unable to answer questions or contribute to his defense.

In court, Grodin exhibits bizarre behavior. He is often found mumbling to himself and talking over attorneys. He once said he owned the New York Yankees and created the television series "Friends." He once said he is a good parent to his children. According to court documents, Grodin has urinated in his cell, spit on corrections officers and consumed his own feces.

"How can any defense attorney defend any defendant who is not competent? We're talking basic constitutional rights," LeGrande said. "He's at the bottom - he's a pathetic animal."

Herbert Grodin described his nephew as disturbed from a young age. Justin Grodin's mother was an alcoholic and father had psychological problems, he said. They didn't give their son the treatment he needed, the elder Grodin said.

"He had lots of issues when he was younger," he said. "He was a problem since birth."

He said he used to get calls from his nephew from jail and a state hospital, but the calls have ceased in the last six months.

"He is not normal," Herbert Grodin said. "He could be bright in some areas, but he doesn't know what's going on."

He said a conviction and death imposition wouldn't be right.

"It's the wrong thing to do - this guy is sick," he said. "If he goes to jail, it's a misjustice."

Medical history

LeGrande said Grodin suffers from hypothyroidism, which has caused the 120-pound loss and contributed to his mental deterioration. Grodin also isn't taking medicine while in the Lee County Jail, which contributes to his mental deterioration, LeGrande said.

"So, we're dealing with not only a medical problem, but a mental problem," LeGrande said. "I think medication is the answer."

A 1992 U.S. Supreme Court case reversed a Nevada murder conviction because the defendant was forced to take medication to restore his competency. LeGrande said Florida doesn't have a provision for allowing forced medication for defendants.

"He can literally sue the jail if they hold him down and force him to take medication," said Coral Gables psychiatrist Dr. Jerald Ratner, who has not been involved in Grodin's case, but has 30 years of experience testifying about such matters.

Ratner said if Grodin is again found incompetent to stand trial, a guardian could be appointed and that person could make decisions for him, including the decision to take medicine. Once Grodin's competency is restored, though, Grodin would again be responsible for making his own decisions.

It's a cycle that may not cease until Grodin is found competent and goes to trial.

"I think everybody involved is frustrated," Kunasek said. "That being said, everyone also understands this is a capital case - it is the most serious case one could be tried for. Things need to be done in a certain way."

One flaw in the system that may account for some of the delays, Ratner said, is how much time is dedicated by court-appointed doctors. Ratner said mental health professionals should visit a patient twice if the first visit isn't sufficient. Several of the doctors who have evaluated Grodin met with him one time before coming to an assessment.

"We can also be fooled," Ratner said. "I don't care how much training you have."

In the life of the case, two judges and nearly a dozen mental health professionals have disagreed about Grodin's competency, which highlights the difficulty in making a competency determination.

Dr. Richard Hanson, a Lake Mary psychiatrist, testified during the June 2008 competency hearing he saw Grodin twice because the first time Grodin was "quite psychotic in behavior."

"It never surprises me to find that there can be a remarkable difference on one day versus the next day that an evaluation is done," he testified. "And oftentimes I think it could explain why there's so many diverse opinions by well-trained professionals when they see the person on a different day."

Fort Myers psychologist Robert Silver examined Grodin in 2005 and found him competent to stand trial, although two other doctors disagreed. Lee Circuit Judge Lynn Gerald Jr. agreed with the majority and sent Grodin to a state hospital in the Florida Panhandle for treatment.

Silver believed Grodin was lying to him, faking a mental illness so he wouldn't face prosecution. In March 2007, Silver paid Grodin another court-ordered visit at the Lee County Jail. That time, however, Silver couldn't even get Grodin to talk.

"He has become what he wanted to be," Silver said. "He really deteriorated mentally."


Prison fight leaves 14

Second incident this year at Coleman

Last Edited: Thursday, 12 Mar 2009, 11:31 PM EDT
Created On: Thursday, 12 Mar 2009, 11:25 PM EDT

COLEMAN, Fla. - Authorities say a fight broke out at a federal prison near Orlando, sending fourteen inmates to the hospital.

Officials at the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex noticed the fight in the recreation yard shortly before 2 p.m. on Thursday and say it was quickly brought under control.

Several inmates were injured, including the fourteen who had to receive outside medical treatment. Eleven were transported via helicopter. There were no reports of prison employees injured. No further details were immediately available. Authorities continue to investigate the incident.

This is the second incident requiring the air-lifting of injured inmates to nearby hospitals. A fight broke out on January 26 where eight male inmates were injured, including one shot by prison staff. That brawl began on the recreation yard of the prison northwest of Orlando, and inmates ignored calls to stop, leading prison staff to fire shots.

Coleman has four units which house low to high-security inmates. The prison is located about 50 miles northwest of Orlando and 60 miles northeast of Tampa. That particular unit houses some 1,700 inmates

Man gets death for raping, strangling SC student

By MEG KINNARD – 1 day ago

PICKENS, S.C. (AP) — A Tennessee man who raped and strangled a South Carolina college student with her own bikini top was sentenced to die Wednesday, hours after he asked a judge to put him to death.

Jerry Buck Inman, 38, showed no reaction when Circuit Court Judge Edward Miller said he should die for killing Tiffany Marie Souers. Inman then apologized to the slain woman's family, though no relatives were in the courtroom.

"There is no excuse for any of the things I've done. There's nothing I can say that will ease any of the pain I've caused them. I'm just sorry for taking their daughter and their sister away from them," he said.

Inman's attorneys had argued their client should receive life in prison because he suffers from psychological problems and feels extreme guilt for his crimes. He asked Miller for the sentence, which is carried out with either lethal injection or the electric chair in South Carolina.

"I've shown by my actions both in and out of prison that I cannot be rehabilitated," Inman, 38, told the judge. "I don't say any of this to be disrespectful, but your honor, in all reality, there's really only one sentence appropriate for someone like me, and I ask you to impose that sentence."

Inman pleaded guilty last year to killing Tiffany Souers in May 2006. The body of the 20-year-old Clemson University engineering student from Ladue, Mo., was found in her apartment near campus with the striped bikini top used to strangle her still wound around her neck.

His comments Wednesday marked the first time the sex offender from Dandridge, Tenn., has addressed the court. Inman's comments mirrored arguments made by prosecutors.

"There are mean and evil people in this world who do not deserve to continue to live with the rest of us, regardless of how confined they may be," Solicitor Bob Ariail told Miller. "Jerry Buck Inman and this murder and his prior behavior makes this one of those cases where the death penalty should be applied. ... He's been in prison virtually all of his adult life, and he's exhibited no change."

Under South Carolina law, those who plead guilty are sentenced by judges.

In his brief closing, defense attorney Jim Bannister argued that life in prison will be more punishing for Inman than execution. Inman feels extreme guilt for his crimes, and sex offenders are harshly treated by other prisoners, he said.

"He cannot erase the life that he took," said Bannister, adding that Inman attempted suicide seven times during 19 years in prison. "He lives under this burden under the murder that he committed, the things that he's done."

Earlier Wednesday, a social worker hired by the defense to assemble a chronology of Inman's troubled history and mental health struggles told the judge that Inman's early years were marked by repeated abuse by his father, beginning when he was about 3. Inman's stepfather also took the stand briefly, tearfully telling the judge he and his wife love Inman very much.

Inman's mother joined her husband in court later Wednesday.

Inman also faces charges in an attempted rape in Alabama and a rape in Tennessee that authorities have said occurred in the days before Souers' death.

He spent 18 years in prison for rapes he committed as a teenager in North Carolina and Florida and is a registered sex offender. He had been free for about nine months before his arrest in Souers' death.

When Inman pleaded guilty to rape and murder, he confirmed everything in handwritten confessions shortly after his June 2006 arrest.

Jacksonville lawyer faces Bar probe on overbilling claims

A Jacksonville lawyer accused of overbilling taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars to represent poor defendants could face discipline by The Florida Bar, where a formal complaint has been filed against him.

The complaint accuses David Taylor of submitting grossly excessive bills, including 41 days when his invoices show him working more than 24 hours.

It was filed Friday by Florida’s Justice Administrative Commission and obtained Wednesday by the Times-Union. Bar complaints normally aren’t public until action is taken, but the commission, which oversees funding for court-appointed counsel, is subject to Florida’s public records law.

“Whether you’re a doctor or a lawyer or whatever your line of work, there are only 24 hours in a day, and to bill your client in excess of that is an insult to the intelligence,” said commission Chairman Dennis Roberts, the public defender in Lake City. “I can’t think of a worse case ... in which the taxpayers of the state have been ripped off by an individual attorney.”

Taylor said the allegations in the complaint are the same as those raised by the commission when it terminated his contract in February. He said he has hired a Tallahassee lawyer to represent him before the Bar. Beyond that, he wouldn’t comment.

The Bar, which regulates lawyers’ conduct, could do nothing or recommend that the Florida Supreme Court impose sanctions ranging from a private reprimand to suspension or disbarment. A Bar investigator confirmed that the organization already was looking into the issue after a Times-Union report last month.

Taylor was one of about 100 lawyers in Duval, Clay and Nassau counties who accept court appointments for indigent criminal defendants when both the Public Defender’s Office and the Regional Conflict Counsel office have conflicts of interest. That most frequently happens in cases with multiple defendants or when the victims or witnesses have their own criminal records.

The commission removed Taylor from the court appointment list after determining he had billed Florida taxpayers almost $700,000 since July, including about 100 days when his invoices show more than 16 hours. The amount was more than twice as much as the next highest paid court-appointed lawyer in Florida, who billed exclusively for death penalty cases in Miami.

Since then, Taylor has shaved about a third of the hours from his invoices, citing clerical errors and saying the initial bills were drafts, the complaint says. He also said he subcontracted legal work to other lawyers when he overcommitted himself, a violation of his contract with the commission.

Neither explanation is reasonable or logical, the complaint says. The overbilling was too excessive to all be attributed to clerical errors, and nothing in the invoices indicates the involvement of any other lawyers, the complaint says. Taylor hasn’t returned any money, it says.

The commission said Taylor has misrepresented to two judges that he has resolved the issue and that the initial allegations against him are less dramatic than initially presented.
“In fact, that was far from the truth,” Roberts said.

(904) 359-4107

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Prison lockdown still in effect in Cocoa

Eloisa Ruano Gonzalez

Sentinel Staff Writer

4:50 PM EDT, April 18, 2009


Not far from where a state prisoner in Volusia County was stabbed to death earlier this week, several inmates were injured at another prison.

The Brevard Correctional Institution in Cocoa remains in lockdown this weekend after a gang-related fight broke out earlier this week. None of the injuries were life-threatening.

It's common for prisons to be locked down while officials investigate possible gang activity, said Jo Ellyn Rackleff, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Corrections.

"We're especially careful because the animosity and loyalty of the gangs. That makes it difficult to conduct an investigation," she said.

No visitation will be allowed this weekend.

This is the second lockdown this year at the Brevard prison, which holds 19- to 24- year old men. On Feb. 26, Rackleff said the facility was locked down due to a fight.

On Thursday, Dexter L. Bridges, 46, was stabbed to death at the Tomoka Correctional Institution west of Daytona Beach. Bridges, who was serving a life sentence, got into a fight with another prisoner, Tommy Holmes, in the recreation yard. Holmes is accused of stabbing Bridges, who had been charged with attempted first-degree murder and robbery, with a makeshift knife in a dorm.

Lawyers for killer of Broward Sheriff's deputy ask judges for new trial

By Vanessa Blum

South Florida Sun Sentinel

3:56 PM EDT, April 15, 2009


For 40 minutes Wednesday morning, three black-robed federal judges revisited one of the most painful episodes in Broward Sheriff's Office history: a bungled 2004 raid that led to the shooting death of a deputy.

It will now be up to the judges to decide if confessed killer Kenneth Wilk, who was found guilty in 2007 of first-degree murder, deserves a new trial.

The judges are considering whether Wilk, 47, received a fair chance to argue he acted in self-defense when he shot Deputy Todd Fatta and Sgt. Angelo Cedeño, who were at his home executing a federal warrant in a child pornography investigation.

Fatta died, while Cedeno was wounded.

Though the legal arguments were brief and focused on technical questions, they touched on old emotions around the high-profile case.

Defense lawyers Bill Matthewman and Rafael Rodriguez recounted Wilk's version of events--that he was surprised by officers who broke into his Fort Lauderdale home on the morning of Aug. 19, 2004 and fired thinking they were intruders.

Assistant U.S. Attorney E.J. Yera said the shooting was no accident: Wilk, whose online profile listed "hunting cops" as a hobby, knew police would be coming and readied for attack by placing guns throughout his home, Yera said.

Wilk has never denied he killed Fatta. His appeal centers on the federal district court's handling of evidence and legal instructions related to his claim of self-defense.

Specifically, defense attorneys argued they should have been permitted to reveal the slain deputy had steroids in his system and that police procedures were not followed during the raid.

U.S. District Judge James Cohn barred that evidence at trial, saying it would confuse and distract jurors.

Defense lawyers also say Cohn gave jurors a flawed explanation of self-defense that helped prosecutors.

The visiting judges from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta have the power to overturn Wilk's conviction and order a new trial.

However, U.S. Circuit Judge Charles Wilson reminded attorneys the bar is a high one.

"If I were the district judge, I might have let you put the evidence on," Wilson said. "But the standard of review is abuse of discretion."

Wilson said Fatta's apparent steroid use would have been more relevant if the deputy, not Wilk, had fired the first shot. The judge also noted that Wilk "had every opportunity" to explain his version of events on the witness stand.

"The jury had before it what happened that day," echoed U.S. Circuit Judge Stanley Birch Jr. "They understood what his defense was."

Birch said evidence the Sheriff's Office's failed to follow proper procedures during the raid would have bolstered the defense case.

Rounding out the panel was U.S. Circuit Judge Joel Durbina.

Wilk, who is serving a life sentence at a federal prison in Tucson, Ariz, did not attend the hearing. The 11th Circuit is not expected to issue a ruling for several months.

Vanessa Blum can be reached at vblum@SunSentinel.com or 954-356-4605.

Public defender in Illinois' Cook County seeks to stop death penalty case for lack of cash

By RUPA SHENOY , Associated Press

Last update: April 10, 2009 - 6:26 PM

CHICAGO - The nation's second-largest public defender's office this week asked a judge to exclude the death penalty in a double murder case because it doesn't have the cash to represent the accused.

Defendant Brian Gilbert cannot get a fair trial because the Cook County public defender's office has depleted its portion of a state fund that pays for costs in death penalty cases, Assistant Public Defender Julie Harmon said Friday.

Wednesday's motion was the first in what Harmon said could become a series of motions to block death penalty cases for lack of resources.

The public defender's office received $1.75 million from the Capital Litigation Trust Fund for the fiscal year. The general assembly approved an increase to $2.25 million last year, but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

About 60 percent of the fund money was used to pay back debt, and next year that could grow to 75 percent, Harmon said. Meanwhile, the office's number of death penalty cases has held steady, at around the current level of 120 cases, she said.

"Each year the percentage we use to pay old bills has been growing," Harmon said. "We can't ever get caught up — we're always working from a deficit."

The public defender requested a $400,000 supplemental grant a month ago in a letter to the Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, who administers the fund, Harmon said.

Giannoulias spokeswoman Kati Phillips said the office responded this week, saying the public defender has to appeal directly to state lawmakers for an increase.

No other Illinois public defender has used up all of its fund money, Phillips said.

Meanwhile, interpreters, psychologists, DNA specialists and others required as experts in many death penalty cases wait up to seven months to get paid by the office, and they're beginning to get fed up, Harmon said. Many have called with threats to stop work.

"All the costs are going up," Harmon said. "I'm concerned about it getting worse in the future."

The Cook County state's attorney's office plans to challenge the public defender's filing in Gilbert's case, said spokeswoman Sally Daly. Gilbert is charged with fatally stabbing his girlfriend's 12-year-old and 14-year-old sons.

Former Gov. George Ryan placed a moratorium on executions in 2000 after 13 people were exonerated from death row. The trust fund was created in response, and the moratorium is still in effect.

The Cook County state's attorney's office plans to challenge the public defender's filing in Gilbert's case, said spokeswoman Sally Daly. Gilbert is charged with fatally stabbing his girlfriend's 12-year-old and 14-year-old sons.

Former Gov. George Ryan placed a moratorium on executions in 2000 after 13 people were exonerated from death row. The trust fund was created in response, and the moratorium is still in effect

16-year old inmate dies at the Okeechobee County Jail

Marianne Wellendorf
March 11, 2009 - 8:17AM

Yesterday afternoon Detention Deputies at the Okeechobee County Jail discovered the body of a 16-year old inmate, dead, in his cell.

He was found hanging by a bed sheet from the top bunk in his cell. Deputies cut the victim down and began CPR to save his life. Okeechobee County Fire and Rescue were called to the scene and the boy was pronounced dead soon after their arrival.

Deputies say every indication is that his death was suicide. At the time of his death he was locked in his cell alone. The other inmates in the pod were also locked alone in their cell. Surveillance footage indicates that no one approached the cell during this period of time.

His body has been taken to the Ft. Pierce Medical Examiner for an autopsy and those results will take at least 8 weeks.

The boy was in the county jail to face adult charges of Aggravated Battery. A criminal investigation is ongoing to make sure no foul play exists and an internal investigation will be conducted to review the actions and procedures used by the officers.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Inmates Injured At Federal Prison

COLEMAN -- There has been another incident at the federal prison in Sumter County.

According to Federal Corrections Complex in Coleman, around 1:55 p.m. several inmates got into a fight in the recreation yard of the penitentiary.

They said the incident was quickly brought under control and the institution was placed on lockdown. Fourteen inmates required outside medical treatment.

At least four of those inmates have been airlifted to Orlando Regional Medical Center to be treated for their injuries.

No prison personnel were reported to be injured. The incident is under investigation.

This is the third case of trouble at the facility in recent weeks.

Last month, a man had to be airlifted to Orlando after being stabbed in the chest at the facility. Earlier this year, a prison yard dustup left eight inmates seriously injured. One ended up being shot by a guard.

Gang probe puts prison on lockdown


Visitation at the Brevard Correctional Institution has been canceled this weekend as the prison goes on lockdown for an investigation into gang activity.

The lockdown does not affect the Brevard County Jail, which is across the street from the state prison in Sharpes.

“Assistant Secretary of Institutions Mark Redd had ordered a lockdown over the weekend while the inspector general’s office conducts interviews,” said Florida Department of Corrections spokeswoman Jo Ellyn Rackleff .

The investigation comes after a recent fight, during which several people were injured. Rackleff said the injuries were not life-threatening.

The prison could open for visitors next weekend.

Police Beat for Saturday, April 18

Published: Saturday, April 18, 2009 at 6:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 17, 2009 at 10:59 p.m.
Couple charged with neglected their child

OCALA — The Marion County Sheriff’s Office arrested a Silver Springs Shores couple on child neglect charges after they found their child was living in what deputies described as “deplorable” conditions. They were charged with third-degree felony child neglect.

Deputies responded to the home after receiving a report about the condition of the home and found a large amount of garbage, rotting food, dirty laundry and animal and human waste inside, according to a Sheriff’s Office news release.

The floors in the home also appeared to be partly covered in sewage water caused by a septic drain backup.

The names of the parents were withheld to protect the identity of the child.

On Tuesday, the child had been sent home from school with head lice. Two days later, the parents still had not treated the problem, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

Officials says golf cart crushed woman’s lungs

OCALA — Marion County sheriff’s deputies released the name of a woman killed Wednesday when a golf cart ran over her at a horse farm.

The victim, Linda S. Cassidy, 54, tended to horses at Hidden Lake Farms. Deputies said she died from traumatic asphyxia. When the cart ran over her, it crushed her lungs and she could not breathe.

According to a deputy’s report, Judy Brosius, another farm employee, told the official she saw Cassidy feeding horses around 8:30 a.m. Around noon, when she went back to the area, she saw Cassidy underneath the cart.

Deputies believe feeding buckets on the seat fell onto the accelerator and the cart ran over Cassidy.

Murder trial jurors told to avoid media reports

OCALA — Prospective jurors for the first degree-murder trial of William Kopsho will get a letter instructing them to steer clear of researching the case, which will be sent along with their summons.

State Attorney Brad King and Chief Assistant Public Defender Bill Miller agreed on the letter and a questionnaire jurors will fill out during a 15-minute hearing Friday. With Judge David Eddy presiding, King and Miller also agreed they will select a jury from a pool of 150.

The letter instructs possible jurors to not view or listen to stories about the case through television, newspapers, the Internet or radio.

“It’s always difficult to send a letter like this because, psychologically, it could tempt people to read up on the case,” Miller said during the hearing. “But I think it’s important to explain to them why they shouldn’t.”

Kopsho, 55, is facing the death penalty on charges of first-degree murder and armed kidnapping for the fatal shooting of his wife in October 2000. He was previously convicted in a 2005 trial in Sumter County, but that conviction was vacated in 2007 because of a juror selection issue.

Wounded man arrested for crack possession

OCALA — A man who had been shot in the left shoulder was arrested at a hospital Friday morning and charged with possession of crack cocaine.

At about midnight, officers went to Southwest 19th Avenue and Southwest Third Street in response to shots being fired, according to an Ocala police report. While searching the area, they got word that someone had dropped off 19-year-old Kenterrell Wright at Munroe Regional Medical Center.

Wright, officials later learned, had been shot in the left shoulder.

Wright reportedly told an officer he and a friend were hanging out when a masked man approached and pointed a handgun at him. Wright said when he tried to drive away the gunman fired into the car and a bullet struck him.

Wright reportedly asked the officer to search his pocket for his cell phone. Instead of finding the phone, the officer found a container with a white powdery substance that proved to be crack cocaine, according to the report.

Wright was arrested and taken to the Marion County Jail.

Police: Stabbing victim is expected to recover

OCALA — Police say a 20-year-old man who reportedly was stabbed three times in the Hollywood 16 parking lot Thursday night is expected to recover.

Interviewed at Munroe Regional Medical Center, the victim told Ocala police he was entering the passenger door of his girlfriend’s car when two men approached him from behind and demanded his wallet and cash.

The victim said he refused, and the three began struggling. He said he was stabbed three times. Officers reported one wound was to the left side of his chest and the other two were above the waist.

The assailants left empty-handed.

Anyone with any information can call the Ocala Police Department at 369-7000 or Crime Stoppers at 368-STOP.

Authorities arrest man they say robbed CVS

OCALA — A man who reportedly robbed the CVS pharmacy at 2401 S.W. 27th Ave. in the early morning hours of April 8 was arrested by detectives Friday and charged with armed robbery, according to officials.

On Thursday, an officer spotted a Suzuki Grand Vitari that resembled the vehicle the suspect was seen getting into after the robbery. On Friday, three detectives met with Bryan Dehaven, who was wearing black shorts with white stains on the left front, which matched the one’s the robber wore.

Dehaven was transported to the Marion County Jail.

Authorities say around 12:35 a.m. on April 8, a man entered the CVS and approached the counter with a bottle of aspirin. He then handed the clerk a note demanding $100. The clerk opened the register, and the robber grabbed cash before fleeing.

Two loose horses struck, one killed on CR 484

OCALA — A horse was killed Friday after it was struck by a pickup in the 12700 block of Southwest County Road 484.

Florida Highway Patrol troopers said two horses ran out of a private residence onto County Road 484 and were hit by two separate trucks.

Authorities say one of the horses died, while the other was injured.

The gate to the residence was unlocked, officials said.

The drivers of the trucks were not injured.

Man faces same charges that put him in jail before

SILVER SPRINGS SHORES — Christopher D. Robinson, 35, was arrested Friday after Marion County sheriff’s deputies reportedly watched him kick in the front door of a Silver Springs Shores home, go inside and come out with a game system and a camera.

Robinson — who had been released from prison in October after serving 15 years for grand theft and burglary — is once again charged with grand theft and burglary, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

Detectives followed him from the home and arrested him Friday afternoon. His probation was also violated, according to officials.

Robinson reportedly told detectives that he committed another six or seven similar break-ins, and they are looking at additional charges.

Since November, homes in Silver Springs Shores, along Baseline Road and in other surrounding areas, have had burglaries during which the robber would kick in the front door and, once inside, steal firearms, game systems, jewelry and other items.

During the Sheriff’s Office investigation, detectives developed Robinson as a suspect and began tracking him.

On Wednesday, they reportedly saw him kicking down a front door. However, Robinson did not enter. Instead he was seen limping back to his car before driving away.

On Friday, they caught him in the act and took him into custody.

Prison Problems Must Be Addressed Quickly, Report Says

The Associated Press

The agency that oversees Florida's six privately run prisons needs to ensure that problems found during audits — such as broken alarms and unsanitary infirmaries — are quickly fixed, lawmakers were told today as part of a report reviewing the agency.

Audits of private prisons by the Florida Department of Corrections had previously found broken escape sensors and buildings that had not been checked for any attempts by inmates to tunnel out.

Audits also found delays in medical care and problems involving contraband.

"Some of these problems were repeated year after year at the same prisons," said analyst Vic Williams, who summarized the report for lawmakers in testimony before the Senate Committee on Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations.

The report was written by the Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability and released in December. Lawmakers heard a formal presentation of the details today.

An official with the Department of Management Services, the agency that oversees the private prisons, told lawmakers that his agency has already begun to address some of the issues raised by the report.

"We've already started the process to implement a lot of these recommendations," Department of Management Services' J.D. Solie told the panel.

Solie promised that any future violations found by Department of Corrections audits would be corrected within 45 days.

"This is an eye-opening report," said Sen. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami.

The state has six private prisons housing approximately 8,000 inmates or about 8 percent of the state's inmates. The facilities cost the state about $133 million a year, or some 6 percent of the Department of Corrections' $2.2 billion budget.

The state currently contracts with two private prison companies: Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America and Boca Raton-based GEO Group Inc. The state's 131 other facilities are run by the Florida Department of Corrections.

CCA said in a statement that it has "worked closely" with the state to "ensure contract compliance and will continue to do so." A message left for a spokesman at GEO was not immediately returned.

Among recommendations, the report also said private prisons should be required to track the percentage of inmates who successfully complete substance abuse and education programs.

It also noted that phone calls made from private prisons are more expensive than calls from prisons run by the Department of Corrections. A 15 minute phone call from a private prison costs around $6 while the same call costs 50 cents in a state-run prison, lawmakers were told.

And while families can visit state-run prisons on Saturdays and Sundays, private facilities allow visits either every other weekend or only one of the two weekend days, the report found.

The Department of Management Services said future contracts would require private prisons to measure and report graduation rates from education and treatment programs. Contracts will also require that phone call prices be "more in line" with the cost at state-run prisons, according to a written reply from the agency.

But, the agency wrote it believed the visitation policies at private prisons were appropriate, though it agreed to ask inmates and families about their satisfaction.

Third CCI officer charged in prisoner beating

Staff Writer

Another former Charlotte Correctional Institution employee was arrested Tuesday in connection to the December attack of an inmate.

Shaun Oppe, 29, was charged with battery on a prisoner and submitting a false statement, after a Florida Department of Corrections investigation concluded he used "unjustified and excessive physical force."

The alleged incident occurred Dec. 17, 2008, while the inmate received a psychological evaluation from the institution's head nurse.

According to the investigation, the prisoner was tackled and repeatedly punched by two other officers in the room.

Moments later, Oppe responded.

At that point, one of the officers reportedly told Oppe to "come get some." A co-worker testified that Oppe began kicking the inmate, who suffered multiple bruises, lacerations and scratches all over his face and body.

William George Langenbrunner, 30, and David Lee Cox, 32, were also charged in the attack. The men, along with Oppe, have been fired.

Following the incident, the nurse said one of the officers told her to "be careful what you say and write, because there are officers here that will find out where you live and what you drive," according to the report.

Oppe reportedly called one of the officers on scene several days later and said, "if we get all of our stories straight, we should be OK," the report stated.

He was released from the Charlotte County Jail on $3,500 bond.

E-mail: jwitz@sun-herald.com

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Fugitives linked to Florida slaying

PALATKA, Fla., April 16 (UPI) -- Two Florida prison fugitives may have been involved in the slaying of the grandmother of one of them, officials said.

A search intensified Thursday for Doni Ray Brown, 23, and Timothy Wayne Fletcher, 25, who broke out of the Putnam County jail in Palatka, Fla., hours before authorities found Fletcher's grandmother Helen Key Googe, 66, dead in her home Wednesday and her car missing.

Police suspect the fugitives fled in Googe's 1999 gold, four-door Lincoln with a tan vinyl top and a Florida tag (H28-8TV), the Jacksonville Times-Union said.

About 40 officers took part in the search with tracking dogs and a helicopter. Residents within a 5-mile radius of the jail were notified of the escape.

Googe and her husband had taken in Fletcher for four months about a year ago when he had nowhere to go, her cousin Jackie Cone told police.

Cone said Fletcher had stolen prescription medicine and other items and that Googe was glad he had been arrested.

Brown was arrested Aug. 17 on an armed-robbery charge. Fletcher was charged March 3 on three counts of failure to appear in court on an aggravated assault charge.

Six prison guards forced out over videotaped beating of inmate

By Meg Laughlin, Times Staff Writer

Published Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Six officers at Florida State Prison in Starke have been terminated for the beating of an unidentified inmate in solitary confinement. Five more have been put on administrative leave.

On April 8, the power went out at FSP. The officers — a lieutenant, three sergeants and two line officers — thinking that the video cameras in solitary confinement weren't working, pulled an inmate out of his cell and beat him up.

But the cameras were on a backup charger, and a camera recorded the beating. Based on a tip from an officer, "prison leadership" checked the camera and got the evidence. Details of the incident were unavailable Wednesday.

"I want to be crystal-clear about this: I will never tolerate inmate abuse. I will take swift, decisive action anytime it occurs," said Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Walter McNeil on Wednesday.

McNeil also said that when the department completes its investigation he will turn over the findings to the State Attorney for the 8th Judicial Circuit and the U.S. Attorney's Office for possible prosecution.

"My goal is to rid the Florida prison system of the handful of employees with this mind-set," he said.

In an unrelated incident at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford on April 9, four correctional officers have been put on administrative leave while an incident of excessive force against an inmate is investigated.

The unidentified FSP inmate is being treated for his injuries, said DOC acting Inspector General Walt Murphree. "His injuries are consistent with a physical attack and are not life-threatening," he said.

The swift condemnation of the beating by DOC officials stands in sharp contrast to the reaction of prison administrators a decade ago when correctional officers beat to death Frank Valdes, an inmate in solitary confinement at FSP.

For months after the incident, department officials called Valdes' death "a suicide," insisting he dove headfirst off his bunk. Ultimately, eight officers were prosecuted. Three were acquitted, and charges were eventually dropped against the five others. The Valdes family received more than $700,000 in a wrongful death lawsuit two years ago.

Of the six officers at FSP who were terminated after the April 8 beating, one resigned before being fired. He is Correctional Officer Charles Reames, who has been a correctional officer for 25 years.

The others are: Lt. William Hinson (22 years with the department), Sgt. Anthony Reed (16 years), Correctional Officer Raymond Williams (12 years) and Sgt. James Coleman and Sgt. Richard Kross (both with the department for six years).

Hinson has four disciplinary infractions in his personnel file — one for "negligent actions," one for "disobeying an order" and two for "conduct unbecoming of an officer." Reed has one infraction for "negligent actions," and Williams has one for "abuse of sick leave." Details of the infractions were not available Wednesday.

Kross, Coleman and Reames have no disciplinary records.

The names of the nine correctional officers put on administrative leave — five at FSP and four at Union — have not been released.

Meg Laughlin can be reached at mlaughlin@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8068.

Casey Anthony case: Family says it will continue to support her but is "clearly in shock" yet "hopeful," WESH reports

How did the Anthony family react when the state decided to seek the death penalty for Casey Anthony?

WKMG-Channel 6 read a statement this afternoon that Brad Conway, the attorney for George and Cindy Anthony, had e-mailed to media:

"The state's decision to seek the death penalty will not change the support and love the Anthonys have for Casey. Casey Anthony, like all other defendants, is entitled to the presumption of innocence. If the state can overcome that presumption before a jury of 12 of Casey's peers, the Anthonys will then begin to to deal with the potential sentence."

Casey Anthony is charged with the murder of her daughter, Caylee.

WESH-Channel 2's Bob Kealing talked to "a number of people" in the Anthony camp.

"The family's clearly in shock but they're not completely surprised," Kealing said. "They're resigned to seeing this process through to the finish. The Anthony family is also hopeful that even if Casey is convicted, which is not at all a certainty, that the death penalty will not be imposed."

Kealing talked to Thomas Luka, attorney for Lee Anthony. "He is probably in shock and horror, as well as the rest of his family, that the state is actually pursuing this case to this level," Luka said.

The state's pursuit of the death penalty suggests prosecutors must have stronger evidence, Luka speculated.

George, Cindy and Lee Anthony are at the top of the prosecution's witness list, Kealing noted. Luka, a former prosecutor, told WESH that Lee will continue to cooperate with the state to avoid criminal contempt charges and jail time.

WKMG's Mike DeForest also tried to ask questions of private investigator Dominic Casey. DeForest had no success, but traced the man's past: work in construction and consulting since the 1980s, incorporation of his investigative business five months before Caylee disappeared.

The private eye once worked for Jose Baez, who is representing Casey Anthony. Baez's spokeswoman said the defense team hasn't paid the private eye. Another private eye, Jim Hoover, said Baez and Dominic Casey had a falling-out.

Dominic Casey now works for George and Cindy Anthony, although George said they haven't paid the detective, either. Anthony attorney Conway defended the the private investigator and said the family didn't question his motives.

Dominic Casey is facing foreclosure on his home, DeForest reported. The Baez spokeswoman said the Anthony case has attracted "characters, charlatans and good-hearted people," but DeForest said she wouldn't say which Dominic Casey is.

Jose Baez cannot remain lead counsel in death penalty case against Casey Anthony

On Monday, the Florida State Attorney’s Office announced it would seek the death penalty against Casey Anthony, which means Jose Baez cannot continue as lead counsel.

According to WKMG’s Tony Pipitone, “To be lead counsel in a death penalty case in Florida, you have to have tried nine serious and complex cases to completion—and been trial counsel or co-counsel on two death penalty cases.”

Although Baez could remain on the case, it is believed he has not met the second standard required by the state.

Baez told WESH 2 News, “We’ve been prepared from day one and we have death-qualified lawyers on our team. We plan on making this a whole lot tougher for the state now.”

A statement was also released by the Anthony defense team, which read, “We will do whatever is necessary to defend Casey Anthony from the state trying to take her life. We already have death-qualified defense lawyers on our team and are prepared for a vigorous defense.”

Casey is charged with the first-degree murder of her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee. Her trial is tentatively scheduled for Oct. 12.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Killer's mental acumen at issue


After 31 years on Death Row, William Lee Thompson gets another chance to do what Sally Ivester never could: live out his golden years.
Lawyers will argue Monday in a Miami courtroom whether Thompson, 57, is mentally retarded -- a determination that would save him from execution for the 1976 rape, torture and murder of Ivester inside a North Dade motel.

The Florida Supreme Court, in a 4-3 decision in February, ordered a Miami-Dade court to allow Thompson a hearing to present his case, despite prosecutors' contentions that his IQ is above the legal standard for mental retardation.

Thompson and another man raped Ivester, 23, with a chair leg, burned her flesh with cigarettes and whipped her for hours with a chain-link belt.

Then, Dade's top prosecutor called Ivester's slaying ''the most brutal torture-murder'' he had ever seen. During a graphic trial, one juror fainted.

Over the years, Thompson has skirted death several times: Two death warrants were stayed by the courts, and he survived a homemade-knife wound to the stomach in a failed suicide bid.

''There was never anything to indicate any mental infirmity,'' remembered former prosecutor George T. Yoss, who tried the case in 1976. ``They were just mean, vicious, nasty people. I still remember those autopsy pictures -- you can't forget them.''

Ivester's torture happened at the Sunny Isles Motel, 16375 Biscayne Blvd., in March 1976.

Thompson, then 23, was a listless former short-order cook, carnival worker, prostitute and soldier. He checked into the motel with motorcycle gang leader Rocco James Surace, 30. With them were two girlfriends: Ivester, of Georgia, and Barbara Savage, 19.

At their urging, Ivester had asked her mother for money. She produced only $25. For two days, the men exploded in an orgy of rage, stopped only briefly when they hauled Ivester to a phone booth and forced her to call her mother for more money.

They also forced Ivester to lick spilled beer off the floor. Her chest bore deep imprints of the chain. She died of internal bleeding.

In a rare move, Dade State Attorney Richard Gerstein tried the case himself, along with Yoss. Back then, justice was swifter -- the trial started within three months.

During Yoss' graphic opening statement, one juror sobbed, then fainted. She was excused.

After the men pleaded guilty mid-trial, a judge sentenced them to death. But the state's high court tossed out the convictions because the men believed the judge had agreed to spare their lives.

Jurors later found Surace guilty of second-degree murder. Sentence: life in prison, where he died in 1993.

In 1978, Thompson again pleaded guilty -- and again received death. He has spent the ensuing decades filing appeal after appeal.

Over the years, testimony was given about his mental capacity but never in a hearing solely to determine whether he was retarded.

The Florida Supreme Court in 1987 tossed his death sentence because penalty-phase jurors thought they could not consider his low IQ and history of abuse as a child when recommending death.

A 1989 resentencing brought the same result: the death penalty.

At that proceeding, according to defense lawyer Terri L. Backhus' appeal, a prosecutor acknowledged Thompson's mental status to jurors by calling him a ``retarded bump on a log.''

His latest appeal came after a landmark 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision that outlawed execution of the mentally retarded. Their diminished ability to understand why they faced an executioner, justices ruled, was cruel and unusual punishment -- especially as more states barred such executions.

States were left to mold their own criteria for retardation -- and Florida's is hotly debated.

Thompson's prosecutors maintained that the state Supreme Court mandates a cutoff -- IQs below 70 -- and two of Thompson's childhood IQ tests scored out at 74 and 75.

In their February decision, four state Supreme Court justices, while not deciding on Thompson's claim, said he deserved a full evidentiary hearing on the retardation issue. Three justices dissented.

Backhus did not return calls for comment. She wrote in her appeal that at least one IQ test pegged Thompson's IQ at 70; prosecutors said that test was not valid.

She also pointed out that Thompson was found mildly retarded in the second grade and was later placed in a special-education class.

''He was tall, lanky and uncoordinated and didn't make friends,'' Backhus wrote. ``He was clumsy and unpopular. He was so needy for attention that he volunteered to bring Christmas trees for all the classes at school.''

On Monday, Backhus and Assistant State Attorney Abbe Rifkin will present their respective experts on mental retardation in front of Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jacqueline Hogan Scola.

''Nothing that I have reviewed,'' Rifkin said, ``indicates he is retarded and did not know exactly what was doing when he killed this poor girl.''

For state Rep. Renny Cushing, repeal of death penalty is inevitable

Speech by son of murder victim credited with passage in House

By Patrick Cronin

April 12, 2009 6:00 AM
State Rep. Renny Cushing is once again at the forefront of a drive to abolish capital punishment in the state of New Hampshire.

The Hampton Democrat's emotional testimony two weeks ago on the House floor was credited by some with swaying enough votes — 193-174 — to send a bill repealing the death penalty to the Senate.

On the floor, Cushing shared his own tragic story. His father was shot to death in the doorway of his Hampton home in 1988 by a neighbor who was a town police officer.

"There was a knock on the front door ... my dad got up to open it and two shotgun blasts rang out, turned his chest into hamburger and he died in front of my mother in the home they lived in for 35 years and raised seven children."

And while his family wanted justice, Cushing testified that killing the man who killed his Dad wasn't the answer.

"The death penalty would not have brought my father back, it would only further victimize another family," Cushing said. If we make those who kill, make us into killers, then evil triumphs. And we all lose."

For Cushing, the speech that left some lawmakers in tears was 20 years in the making.

Since his father's death, Cushing has turned his loss into something positive by becoming a leading voice in victim's rights and an advocate against the death penalty.

"I didn't chose this path, it chose me," Cushing said in a recent interview. "It wasn't my choice to be a survivor of a murder victim. But I can't change the past. What I can do is take from life experiences and try to make good of it."

Brought up with what he recalls a religious background and a strong morality instilled into him by his parents, he always opposed the death penalty.

Cushing said he did not waver from that stance even after his father was killed by the neighbor with a grudge against the Cushing family.

The two people who were convicted of the murder — Robert McLaughlin Sr. and his wife, Susan — are now serving sentences of life without parole.

"If I changed my opinion it would have given my father's murderer more power," Cushing said. "Not only would my father be taken from me but so would my values."

But his public fight for the repeal of the death penalty, Cushing said, didn't begin until 11 years ago.

At the time, he was a state representative and the issue of expanding the grounds of death penalty came to the forefront in 1998 after a number of grisly murders.

Cushing said he reluctantly became a stakeholder in the discussion on what to do with killers in the aftermath of homicide because his father was murdered.

"Most people presume those who have someone murdered support the death penalty," Cushing said. "I felt that I had the moral obligation to honor my father's memory and myself by speaking out publicly in opposition of filling another coffin."

Cushing did so by fighting against the bill and sponsoring another to abolish the death penalty.

While his bill failed, so did the one to expand the death penalty.

The debate, however, spurred Cushing to take the debate nationwide.

"I met other people who were just like me," Cushing said. "They had family members who were murdered but opposed the death penalty. They needed a voice."

As a result, in 2004 he founded Murder Victim Families for Human Rights — an organization against the death penalty — and since then has given numerous speeches across the country.

"For me this is way that I honor my father's memory," Cushing said.

Cushing admitted that he was surprised the bill to repeal the death penalty passed the House.

The vote came three months after Michael Addison was sentenced to death in December for killing Manchester police officer Michael Briggs in 2006.

Cushing said possibly hearing from a victim who didn't support retribution flipped some votes.

But whatever the reason, Cushing is glad the bill will now be debated in the Senate.

"Justice has nothing to do with the death penalty," Cushing said. "There is nobody that wants killers caught, prosecuted and held accountable more than I do," Cushing said. "But capital punishment is nothing more than a state-sanctioned, ritualized murder."

Cushing said all the death penalty does is make people focus on the killer rather than the real needs of the victims.

The last time the state executed someone was in 1939 and to carry out future executions it will need to spend a million dollars to construct an execution chamber.

While the bill's fate in the Senate is uncertain, Gov. John Lynch has already vowed a veto if it reaches his desk.

Cushing said he plans to keep working.

His speech on the House floor was very emotional for him.

"Just as the abolition of slavery, women suffrage and the right of workers to organize have all come part of our society so too will the death penalty be repealed," Cushing said. "It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when."

Investigation ordered into conduct of Broward judge, prosecutor


The state's highest court has ordered a hearing to determine the veracity of allegations that a Broward judge and prosecutor had improper conversations about a death penalty case outside the courtroom.
If true, the allegations potentially could affect the death sentence of Omar Loureiro, who was convicted of first-degree murder in 2007. The case was prosecuted by former Assistant State Attorney Howard Scheinberg in front of Circuit Judge Ana Gardiner.

Last year, prosecutor and Sunrise City Commissioner Sheila Alu came forward saying she had heard Gardiner and Scheinberg joking about the murder trial while at dinner, while the trial was ongoing.

The allegations arose during Loureiro's appeal, which has reached the Florida Supreme Court.

On March 31, the court ordered an evidentiary hearing -- outside of Broward County -- to weigh the allegations before Loureiro's full appeal is finished.

The case has been assigned to Palm Beach Circuit Judge Lucy Chernow Brown. No hearing date has been set yet.

Gardiner has since been transferred from the criminal section, and now is hearing civil cases. Scheinberg now is a private lawyer. Loureiro, 46, remains in custody at Florida State Prison in Raiford.

A jury convicted Loureiro in March 2007 of fatally stabbing 57-year-old James Lentry in 2001, after the two had sex.

Michael Tenzer, Loureiro's lawyer during the initial trial, said he believed the Supreme Court has done the right thing.

''If they are true,'' Tenzer said of the allegations, ``I would suspect that something should be done.''

Bruce Lyons, Scheinberg's lawyer, said his client still disputes Alu's allegations.

''Obviously, there seems to be a discrepancy between what is alleged to have taken place by Sheila Alu and the other participants,'' he said.

In an affidavit, Alu said that she did not come forward about the conversation until after the trial because she feared endangering her legal career and didn't know who to alert. When the alleged transgression happened, Alu was not a lawyer.

Alu said that on March 23, 2007, she was at a restaurant when Gardiner called her over and asked Alu to join her. Gardiner told Alu: ''I am with someone I should not be with,'' the affidavit stated.

Eventually, Gardiner, Scheinberg and Circuit Court Judge Charles Kaplan joined Alu and her friends.

Alu stated in the affidavit that she heard Gardiner and Scheinberg joke about the defendant being gay. They also talked about a juror who passed out after seeing photographs during trial.

Alu, concerned about the conversation, told Scheinberg what she had heard. He responded by telling her that if she felt he had broken a code of ethics, then she was obligated to report her concerns to the Florida Bar, the affidavit stated.

Alu also shared her concerns with Gardiner, the document stated.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement faces large budget cuts

By Sofia Santana

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

April 12, 2009

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement no longer can afford to regularly help local police agencies with major gang and drug investigations, and drastic funding cuts now being proposed cast a dark shadow on its future.

For South Florida police departments, the FDLE's cost-cutting has meant backlogs in the state's criminal records systems, possible delays in the disbursement of grant money it administers, and a reduction in the backup and guidance the state's top law enforcement agency can offer on complex cases.

More reductions would threaten the FDLE's identity as an agency that, for the last decade or so, has geared itself to specialized fields, such as criminal profiling, public corruption, cold cases and the creation of vast online databases. Those databases include a public list of all sex offenders registered statewide at www.fdle.state.fl.us.

All of those functions — and hundreds of jobs — could be trimmed under proposals included in the state's 2009-10 budget.

"The impact of these cuts can carry into the long term," said FDLE Assistant Commissioner Ken Tucker, who listed among his primary concerns the investment the agency must make in training its employees, including special agents and crime lab technicians.

"These are resources that take two to three years to become fully productive," Tucker said.

For the current fiscal year, which will end in June, the FDLE shaved $6 million from its budget of about $340 million, as well as cut 96 positions and overtime benefits to some senior staffers.

Budget proposals for the next fiscal year being debated in the Legislature could pare an additional 10 to 15 percent from the agency's budget and lead to the closing of almost all FDLE field offices, including those in West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale.

The agency also is considering eliminating 33 positions assigned to monitor gambling at Florida's racetrack casinos, including three in Broward County and one in Palm Beach County. Should those jobs be cut, the FDLE wouldn't have enough agents to maintain a constant presence at the facilities, Tucker said.

Potential changes in the state agency, which has about 1,900 employees, would affect South Florida police departments' operations.

Some departments already foresee having to juggle resources.

"You have to find out ways to redistribute your funds," said Fort Lauderdale police Sgt. Frank Sousa. The ultimate goal, Sousa said, is to make sure criminal investigations are unaffected.

Any changes at the FDLE are likely to cut much more deeply into law enforcement operations in other parts of the state, however. In South Florida, many local police agencies are equipped to handle high-profile investigations on their own and have access to local private crime labs.

Sheriff's offices in Broward and Palm Beach counties run their own labs, as does their counterpart to the south, Miami-Dade Police.

"We are really not dependent on FDLE for anything," said Broward Sheriff's spokesman Jim Leljedal.

Staff Writer Megan O'Matz contributed to this report.

Sofia Santana can be reached at svsantana@SunSentinel.com or 954-356-4631.

Jessica Lunsford's father has a new son -- with same birthday as Jessica

The Associated Press

2:17 PM EDT, April 11, 2009


The father of Jessica Lunsford, a Florida girl whose abduction and murder prompted better tracking of sex offenders and harsher punishment for repeat offenders, says he has a new child.

The Ocala Star-Banner reported Saturday that Mark Lunsford revealed in an interview this week that his girlfriend gave birth to a boy on Oct. 6, 2007 -- 12 years to the day after Jessica's birth.

Mark Lunsford says he took the new birth as a sign that God was giving him a second chance at being a father. He tried to keep it a secret to shield the infant from the spotlight.

John Evander Couey, a repeat sex offender, was convicted in Jessica's 2005 murder and sentenced to death.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Martin Correctional Institute's inmates learn about life after prison

Edwin Bear, correspondent
Originally published 01:27 p.m., April 6, 2009
Updated 04:05 p.m., April 6, 2009

INDIANTOWN — Convicted felon Michael Clark is tired of wasting his life sitting behind bars.

He’s scheduled to be released from the Martin Correctional Institution on April 21 and he wants to see his daughter get married in May.

“My daughter told me please don’t get in trouble because I want you to give me away at the wedding,” Clark said.

That’s why Clark, 38, is preparing for his release date by taking a mandatory class about life after prison.

Martin Correctional Institution’s Correctional Sentence Specialist Jane VanTassel, a 16-year veteran of her profession, teaches each student enrolled to be presentable in public and respectful to others. Since February 2008, she has taught the basic tools necessary for a life outside prison.

“The overall goal is to keep the inmates from coming back,” VanTassel said. “We don’t need them. We want them to go out there and get a life.”

It costs $1.4 million to run the transition classes in facilities throughout the state, funded by the Florida State Legislature, said Joellyn Rackleff, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Corrections.

Inmates with 180 days or less from their projected release date are eligible. Every state prison in Florida is required to offer the class and each prisoner must complete 100 hours before they can be released, VanTassel said.

There are 40,000 inmates scheduled to be released this year. If the program is not in place at the facility where they’re locked up, they will be transferred to a facility that has it, Rackleff said.

Clark, who plans to move in with his mother in Miami-Dade County upon his release, said he has been in and out of prison since he was tried as an adult and convicted at the age of 15 for stabbing a friend who slapped him during an argument. He’s currently serving a 14-year sentence for burglary assault and battery with a deadly weapon.

Once some inmates are released, adjusting to life after prison and maintaining their freedom is not easy. Motivating inmates to set goals and stay out of prison is VanTassel’s objective.

Thomas Bell, 52, is scheduled for release July 22 and already has a job lined up. He said he was a contractor in Orlando before being sentenced to one year and one day for cocaine possession.

Even with his future more secure than most prisoners, who usually do not have a job ready after their release, he still thinks the program will help him adjust to life outside prison.

“It’s been very good,” he said. “Nobody wants to go out there blinded. Most people that go out blinded, they’re coming back.”

Edwin Bear is a Florida Atlantic University student working as a correspondent for Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers as part of a senior-level journalism course.