Monday, April 30, 2007

Law would make lying illegal for legislators

April 27, 2007


The Florida Senate voted Thursday to inject a dose of truth serum into the lawmaking process.

Lobbyists, lawmakers and staffers would be placed under oath every time they testify in legislative committees under the proposal the Senate passed 36-3.

Should they knowingly lie, they could face up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

To this point, people testifying were rarely placed under oath.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Alex Villalobos of Miami said the stern medicine was necessary because, too often, lawmakers act on what proves to be misleading information supplied by lobbyists.

"Lobbyists lie every day. They lie to all of us every day," he said.

But the Truth in Government Act drew strong rebukes from a few senators.

Sen. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, compared the bill to other proposals like the lobbyist gift ban passed in 2005 that some lawmakers feared voting against and getting bad press.

"This is the biggest conspiracy that I've ever seen," Lawson told lawmakers.

"It might seem funny right now, but I can guarantee you members, you are going to be asked, 'Are you telling the truth?' "

The bill wouldn't apply to members of the public who aren't lobbyists, lawmakers or legislative staff members.

Villalobos cited recent instances where lawmakers were told by lobbyists that medical malpractice and insurance reforms would lower rates -- in reality, they didn't -- as a problem only the threat of prison time could correct.

"Stop lying, because if you do you're going to be a guest of the state of Florida," Villalobos said.

Contact Deslatte at 850-222-8384 or

Sunday, April 29, 2007

No charges filed in inmate's death

Sarasota Herald Tribune, FL

PENSACOLA -- Criminal charges will not be filed in the death of an inmate who died after he was shot twice with a stun gun at the Escambia County Jail, the State Attorney's Office said.

State Attorney Bill Eddins announced his decision Wednesday, after Escambia County Judge Thomas Johnson found that Jerry Preyer did not die as a result of criminal acts by detention deputies.

Johnson conducted a six-hour inquest on Tuesday where the medical examiner, deputies and inmates testified about the circumstances surrounding Preyer's death in June 2006.

"While there may have been some negligence in the transmission of the inmate's medical records, especially mental-health issues, the court does not determine this to be criminal in nature," Johnson wrote in his one-page ruling.

The judge also noted that jail procedure has been changed so that an inmate's prior medical records from the jail are immediately provided at the time of a new arrest and booking.

Preyer, 45, of Pensacola, had a history of mental illness, authorities said. He had been arrested for failing to appear in court for an aggravated battery charge. Preyer had become combative and was strapped in a restraint chair at the jail, authorities said. He calmed down in the chair, but got aggressive after he was released. Deputies then tried to restrain him and shot him with a Taser twice to subdue him, the sheriff's office

Preyer later died at Baptist Hospital in Pensacola.

The judge also noted that jail procedure has been changed so that an inmate's prior medical records from the jail are immediately provided at the time of a new arrest and booking.

Preyer, 45, of Pensacola, had a history of mental illness, authorities said. He had been arrested for failing to appear in court for an aggravated battery charge.

Preyer had become combative and was strapped in a restraint chair at the jail, authorities said. He calmed down in the chair, but got aggressive after he was released. Deputies then tried to restrain him and shot him with a Taser twice to subdue him, the sheriff's office reported.Preyer later died at Baptist Hospital in Pensacola.

Sheriff to pay $500,000 to settle jail suit

The deal follows a woman's death in a restraint chair.

It does not rule out use of the device.

Stephen Hudak
Sentinel Staff Writer
April 27, 2007

TAVARES -- The Lake County Sheriff's Office has agreed to pay $500,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by the family of a woman who died while strapped in a jail restraint chair.

The settlement does not prevent the jail from using a restraint chair, a controversial device that is employed generally to control combative inmates.

The Sheriff's Office accepted no responsibility for the death of Denise Ossick, 39, of Clermont, who was asphyxiated by a leather belt, apparently after trying to wriggle out of the chair.

She died March 3, 2004.

The chair was "MacGyvered," complained Ossick's sister, Dawn Edgar, using a reference to the 1980s TV show to deride an improvised repair that played a part in her sister's death.

Edgar, a California woman who filed the lawsuit on behalf of her sister's three children, said she also thinks the corrections staff put her sister in the restraint chair as punishment.

"They were sick of hearing her cuss," Edgar said in an e-mail.Bruce R. Bogan, an Orlando lawyer who represented the Sheriff's Office, said the corrections staff did not violate Ossick's civil rights or act negligently, as the lawsuit charged.

Bogan said the settlement to Ossick's children, all of whom are now adults and living in their mother's home state of Rhode Island, was paid by the Florida Sheriff's Self-Insurance Fund.

The children's lawyer, Nathan P. Carter, said Ossick's death led to changes at the jail, including closer medical observation of inmates in restraint chairs and improved staff training.

He said the corrections officer who strapped Ossick into the chair had claimed that she hadn't receiving training on its use.

Sheriff Gary Borders, who supervised jail operations under his predecessor Chris Daniels, said the jail now has a policy forbidding officers from using restraint chairs with broken or modified features -- such as the belt.

He defended the restraint chair as a useful tool for corrections staffers who often deal with prisoners who are unruly or determined to hurt themselves.

Ossick ended up in the jail because of a call from her sister.

Edgar had contacted deputies, seeking a "well-being" check on her sister because her sister was planning to leave a bully of a boyfriend and Edgar had been unable to reach her by phone. When deputies found Ossick, they arrested her on an existing warrant accusing her of skipping probation appointments and not paying fines for filing a false police report.

At the jail, the 5-foot-2, 100-pound Ossick resisted orders to disrobe and struggled with corrections officers who tried to wrap her in a padded gown known as a "suicide smock."

Corrections officers opted then to put her in a restraint chair, a slightly reclined, armless metal seat that was bolted to the cell floor. Hands cuffed behind her back, she was tied onto the chair with a leather belt around her chest and a nylon strap around her waist. Her legs were shackled and her ankles cuffed.

Prisoners are typically secured with crisscrossing, automobile-style safety straps that lock on the seat. Court documents did not explain why a leather chest belt was used instead of the crisscrossing straps.When corrections staffers found Ossick, she had wriggled off the chair, though her ankles and legs were still secured to its base. The leather belt was around her neck. A medical examiner ruled that she strangled on the belt, a modification not approved by the chair's manufacturer.

Bogan said the modified chair has not been used since the death, which he called an unfortunate and tragic accident.

State and county corrections officials remain divided about the value of restraint chairs. State prison officials do not use them, citing the risk of asphyxiation as a concern, but restraint chairs have been widely used in jails throughout Central Florida.

Lake County Sheriff's spokesman Sgt. John Herrell said the chairs remain an option for corrections staffs to handle inmates who display aggressive or self-destructive behavior.

He said the jail does not track the number of times it is used.

Ossick, who had lost custody of her youngest children and was estranged from her eldest before her death, suffered from medical and psychiatric disorders which were complicated by her abuse of methamphetamine and cocaine, according to court records.

Sheriff's records show jail workers checked her periodically, peering through a glass window on the cell door and logging observation times.

They found her without a pulse, the belt around her neck, at 7:31 p.m. March 3, 2004, 11 minutes after the last logged observation.

The medical examiner listed cocaine as contributing to her death.

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

Ross' fate rests in judge's hands


In the Lionshead driveway on 57th Drive East, the front-page headline read: "ROSS GUILTY."

Next door was the home where Richard and Kathleen Ross were found murdered in their master bedroom in the early morning hours of Jan. 7, 2004.

On Friday, a jury found the couple's son, Blaine Ross, guilty of bludgeoning his parents to death with a baseball bat. A jury deliberated for more than 10 hours Friday before handing up its verdict and will return this week to hear more testimony before deciding whether to recommend that Ross be executed or sentenced to life in prison.

Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty.

Tom Baker, who lives across the street from the former Ross home, now up for sale, said he felt justice was served.

"I'm not surprised he was found guilty," Baker said as he looked across the street.

His thoughts on Ross' punishment?

"Whatever justice is all about will decide that," Baker said.

During interviews with Manatee County Sheriff's detectives, Ross initially denied the killings but later confessed. He often said he didn't remember committing the crimes because he'd been drinking heavily, smoking marijuana and taking Xanax in the days leading up to the killings.

Virginia Blackmore, a retired police dispatcher who lives adjacent to the former Ross home, said Ross had no excuse for the murders.

"Every family has problems," the 75-year-old woman said. "He was on drugs, maybe he wasn't thinking right - No! I have a hard time to believe his reasoning. I don't care if he was under drugs when he did it . . . You don't kill somebody."

Glenn Dunn, who lives around the corner from the Rosses' former home on 39th Street Court, agreed justice was served.

"From all I learned from, I think the death penalty is suitable," Dunn said while sitting inside his garage. "He killed two people."

Money at the root

Prosecutor Art Brown, during closing statements of the two-week, double-murder trial, told jurors Ross killed his parents because they cut him off financially. At the time of the murders, Ross was 21, jobless and living with his parents at the family's East Manatee home.

Prior to the killings, Blaine and Kathleen Ross had signed a personal contract in which she agreed to lend him $1,400. A condition of the contract included that he pay it back and never again ask for money.

On the day his parents' bodies were found, Ross dialed 911 and told authorities he'd found the couple dead in their bedroom, and the family's home, it appeared, had been burglarized.

Prior to the 911 call, the jury found, he had killed his parents, placed ropes around their necks and clumsily staged a burglary to cover his tracks. He then took the bat he killed his parents with and either threw it off the DeSoto Bridge into the Manatee River or put it in a Dumpster. Investigators never found the weapon.

Ross' defense team contended his confession was coerced, and that there was no physical evidence that "reliably and conclusively" linked Ross to the crime scene.

"I've never dealt with a case like that where I thought someone was confessing to a crime even though they didn't do it," Detective William Waldron, who took the confession, said Saturday.

"As far as the evidence . . . it spoke for itself," Waldron said.

Ross' parents' blood was on a pair of black pants, later found at his ex-girlfriend's home.

"When he made the 911 call he was wearing shorts, and I think the defense tried to say he got the blood on his pants when he discovered his parents, which would be impossible," Waldron said Saturday.

Regardless, the detective said he is relieved the case is closed. If he had to do it again, he said, he wouldn't have conducted the interview any differently.

"I fully expected the defense to tear apart my methods . . . but I don't blame them," he said. "That's the nature of the job and the reason why our laws are the way they are.

"I've watched the interview probably six times, at that point when we're doing the last interviews - we'd been up for more than 20 hours, you've got exhaustion setting in for the detectives. There is frustration, and you want to do the best job possible and bring this case to an end quickly for the family's sake and for the people in the neighborhood, so they would feel safe."

Although the seven-man, five-woman jury is expected to return to the Manatee Count Courthouse on Tuesday morning to decide if Ross lives or dies, the decision is ultimately up to presiding Judge Edward Nicholas.


Robert Batey, a Stetson University law professor, called penalty phases "minitrials," in which prosecutors have to establish one or more aggravating circumstances to make defendants eligible for the death penalty. Aggravating circumstances include whether the murder was especially heinous, atrocious or cruel, or if it was conducted in a premeditated manner without any pretense of moral or legal justification.

The defense can present any information that would influence the judge and jury to sentence him to life instead of death.

There are only two men in Florida from Manatee County on death row: Daniel Burns Jr. and Melvin Trotter.Burns, of Highland Park, Mich., was sentenced June 2, 1988, for murdering Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Jeffrey Young with the trooper's own revolver during an Aug. 18, 1987, traffic stop on Interstate 75. He shot Young in the face at point-blank range.

Trotter was sentenced May 18, 1987, for the fatal stabbing of Virgie Langford, 70, during a robbery at her Palmetto grocery store June 16, 1986.

Activists fight jails' solitary cell rules

Staff Writer

DAYTONA BEACH -- It's called "the buck naked cell."

For mentally ill inmates placed in solitary confinement at the Volusia County Branch Jail without clothing to prevent suicide, the experience is frightening.

And demeaning.

But the practice is commonly used in jails and prisons throughout the country, and what some lawyers find most troubling is that the practice is used for people who have yet to stand trial.

"Telephones constantly ringing. Other inmates screaming. Sleep is difficult," inmate Brett Roberts testified during a court hearing on his treatment Wednesday. "I began to bang my head on the door, and I was told by an officer the governor was there to evaluate me for the death penalty."

Human rights activists say mentally ill inmates, who are increasingly finding themselves in county jails as social service budgets are slashed, are at special risk of abuse. Roberts' claims of taunts by those watching him, including jokes about his genitals, are plausible, they said. Prison officials did not address his specific claims, but said protocols were followed.

Calling for change, an attorney with the National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union said Thursday there are alternatives to "stripping a person," including giving inmates suicide-proof gowns. Other options include closer monitoring of possibly suicidal inmates and building cells that make suicide "very difficult."

But such care is staff-intensive and costs more.

"That's why many resort to the far-cheaper option of throwing someone naked into a bare concrete cell," said David C. Fathi, who has brought lawsuits against jails and prisons throughout the country over how mentally ill people are treated in confinement.

In calling jails and prisons "asylums of last resort," Fathi says cost is most often the reason prisoners are held naked, a practice the group finds inhumane and unnecessary. An appeals court recently compared the practice "to a 1930s Soviet gulag," he said.

Roberts, 26, of Titusville spent a month locked up at the county jail for a violation of probation. There was no indication Roberts, who was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 19, was psychotic or a danger to himself or others when he was moved here Feb. 12, according to testimony.

He'd pleaded no contest to a charge of fleeing from officers at a traffic stop and got probation. He was doing well and holding a job.

"People couldn't even tell I was mentally ill," Roberts said.

But when his court-ordered urine sample tested positive for marijuana, he was sentenced to spend six months in the county jail.

Within two weeks, paranoia and delusions that he was going to be killed prompted officials to move Roberts into seclusion. He was placed in a bare cell with a bunk, a toilet, a sink and no movable objects. The medication he got was not what Roberts had requested, and jail doctors never checked with the inmate's physician, he testified.

At times, Roberts testified, he was strapped into a restraint chair and sprayed with a chemical stunning agent because he did not comply with corrections officers. He refused to take his medication, according to testimony.

"He didn't start to get bad until he came to Volusia County," said Virginia Chester, his assistant public defender.

She argued Roberts should complete his sentence at home, claiming the mental breakdown was preventable and his civil rights were violated.

Circuit Judge William Parsons had ordered Roberts released last month until a hearing to determine whether he endured cruel and unusual punishment.

But the judge found the way Roberts was treated was neither cruel nor unusual.

"What does the jail do?" he pondered.

How Roberts was handled "beats the heck out of hanging yourself," he said.

He found care was taken to avoid injury to Roberts. There was no evidence his mental condition worsened because of a change in his medication, the judge said in disagreeing that a constitutional violation occurred.

All agreed, including the county's head of inmate mental-health treatment, who testified jail is not the place for those proven to be mentally ill.

But Dr. David Hager, director of mental-health services for Prison Health Services, defended the psychiatric treatment, saying Roberts was medicated under approved practices. Hager saw Roberts three times at the jail and said he had started "to stabilize."

Asked by attorney Chester if his treatment was humane, Hager answered, "That's a difficult question to answer in a corrections setting. A correctional setting is a different world, with different priorities."

Prosecutor Carine Jarosz told the judge Roberts shouldn't be allowed to use his mental illness as an excuse.

"He still did the crime," she said. "And he still needs to be punished accordingly."

The American Civil Liberties Union has called for reform of how mentally ill inmates are treated.

A federal judge in New York is reviewing the settlement in a lawsuit that could impact how mentally ill inmates are treated in other states, including Florida, in the future.

The New York agreement calls for extensive reviews of all prisoners sent to solitary confinement.

The National Prison Project's Fathi said more reform is needed.

"The fact that so many (people with mental illness) end up in jails and prisons because there's no place else for them needs to change."

Man's execution unlikely 20 years after rampage

Man's execution unlikely 20 years after rampage

By John A. Torres
The Associated Press
Posted April 29 2007
PALM BAY � Two decades ago, William Byran Cruse killed six and wounded 14 during a shooting rampage in Palm Bay. Two years later, he was sentenced to death.

However, officials say it's unlikely he will be executed before his natural life ends. Cruse will turn 80 this year and is the oldest person on Florida's Death Row. Despite an insanity defense at trial, it wasn't until five years ago that the courts declared him incompetent, which stalled his execution.
"You can see he's a madman," said State Attorney Norman Wolfinger, who prosecuted Cruse in 1989. "Whether or not he will ever be competent to be executed is questionable."

That angers some, who think Cruse has lived too long since his murderous rampage April 23, 1987.

"Don't have a death penalty if you're not going to use it," said Satellite Beach resident Ronald Grogan Sr., whose son was one of two Palm Bay police officers killed by Cruse.

Adding to the possibility that Cruse's execution won't go forward is a moratorium imposed on the Florida death penalty late last year because of complications with an execution. The governor's office is reviewing a report issued in March, and a decision is expected soon.

Late that Thursday afternoon 20 years ago, Cruse, then 59 and a retired librarian, stormed out of his home off Palm Bay's Creel Road to confront teens bouncing a basketball in a neighbor's driveway. He was holding a shotgun.

Police said he had run-ins with them before, and he fired and wounded a 14-year-old boy. Then Cruse went back inside and retrieved an assault rifle. He continued to fire shots at his neighbors' homes as he drove away.

He later opened fire on two Florida Tech students, killing both. Two other men were shot and injured.

Cruse then drove his car farther south. There he shot and killed Ruth Greene, 67, who was leaving the Publix Supermarket. Cruse drove across Babcock and stopped at Winn-Dixie.

Officer Gerry Johnson arrived at the store and was shot in the leg. He emptied his revolver at Cruse but missed. Johnson scrambled from his car and tried to reload. Cruse stalked after him and shot him in the head.

Just before he killed the officer, Cruse took aim at Ruben Torres, 39, a mailman at the time. When Torres went to the front of the store, he saw employees and other customers on the floor and Cruse in the parking lot.

"I guess William Cruse saw me because he shot at me right through the doors, and everything I had in my hand went flying," Torres said. "I don't know where I got the strength from, but I took the doors off the track and got out of the store."

As Cruse killed Johnson, Torres ran to his car and ducked.

"I got my gun out of my glove compartment and we started a little shootout," he said.

Originally criticized, Torres since has been credited with distracting Cruse, allowing people to escape from Winn-Dixie. He still has the nickel-plated, silver-handled pistol he used that night.

When Officer Ron Grogan arrived, Cruse shot eight times through the windshield, killing him. The officer had been married only two months.

Cruse then ran into Winn-Dixie, firing at people fleeing through a back exit. He shot Lester Watson, 52, in the back. Forty-five minutes after firing shots at his neighbors, Cruse found two women hiding in the restroom. He let one go; the other, Robin Mucha, would become his hostage. The siege ended six hours later when Cruse released Mucha and came out, as tear gas canisters were shot into the store.

Cruse's defense from the beginning was insanity, and Wolfinger worked hard to dispute it.

"It was obvious that there's something wrong and that he wasn't operating on all cylinders, but that's not insanity," Wolfinger said.

Cruse was convicted in 1989. His next competency hearing is scheduled for July. He has well surpassed the average length of stay for Death Row inmates of almost 13 years. Carolyn Snurkowski, spokeswoman for the state attorney general, said execution is still a possibility.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Flower child on death row

April 28


Flower child on death row

In 1976, Sunny Jacobs and her children got caught up in a shootout in
which 2 state troopers were killed. She and her boyfriend were blamed and
sentenced to the electric chair. Here she describes life in solitary and a
16-year battle to prove her innocence

Saturday April 28, 2007

When Sunny Jacobs and Jesse Tafero met in Miami in 1973, she was a flower
child, he a drifter. It was only later Sunny discovered that, as a
juvenile, Jesse had been jailed for 7 years for robbery. The pair went to
live with her parents in North Carolina. Jesse would go on mysterious
trips, see other women. Sunny let it happen: they were soul mates. Mostly,
they were broke. When Sunny became pregnant, Jesse promised to get regular
work. He came up with a plan to buy damaged guns, repair them and sell
them on for a profit. Sunny was to buy them because he had a record. She
felt nervous about this: "Guns were not a 'peace and love' kind of thing.
But it was legal for me to buy them, and it was something he could do."

Despite her misgivings, in February 1976 Sunny found herself - together
with her son, Eric, and Tina, the new baby - in Florida, driving through
the night with Jesse and his unsavoury friend Walter Rhodes. They pulled
into a rest area off the interstate and settled in to sleep until it got
light. The next morning they were woken by two highway patrolmen, who
found a gun on the floor at Rhodes' feet. The trooper confiscated the gun
and ordered both men out of the car. A scuffle began. The troopers
wrestled Jesse over the hood of the police car. Sunny and the children
froze as the trooper waved his gun, shouting, "The next one to move is a
dead motherfucker!" There was a blast of gunfire. The troopers were on the
ground. Rhodes, gun in hand, bundled Sunny and the children into the
police car. Handing the gun to Jesse, he drove to a parking lot, where he
hijacked a Cadillac, again forcing them into the back, this time with the
car's terrified owner. Soon after, they crashed into a police roadblock.
"The car was rocking from the impact of the bullets. Even after the car
stopped, the barrage of bullets continued and I wondered if they didn't
know there were hostages in the car." Rhodes was taken to a waiting
ambulance with a gunshot wound. Jesse, gun still stuck in the waist-band
of his trousers, was handcuffed and, instead of being rescued, Sunny and
the kids were taken to the police station. All were given gunshot tests.
The only one who had fired a gun - the tests showed - was Rhodes.

Jesse's trial came first, in May 1976. It lasted 4 days. Rhodes testified
against him. This, coupled with a complete lack of any presentation of
defence, meant Jesse was convicted and sentenced to death in short order.

But I was a mother, a hippy and a vegetarian. Surely they couldn't believe
that I would kill anyone? We would go to court and I would tell them and
it would be OK.

At my trial, in July 1976, Rhodes was the state's key witness. He agreed
to accept three life sentences to avoid the electric chair in exchange for
his testimony in court against Jesse and me. My attorney put up a very
poor defence to the charges against me. And, in the second week of the
trial, the prosecution announced another witness: Brenda Isham. I had no
idea who she was. It turned out that she had been in the same holding cell
as me for one night when she was brought in on drugs charges. She was
claiming that I had told her that I did it and I was glad and would do it
again. I had never spoken to her. The jury deliberated for nine hours
before reaching their verdict. One by one they stood and affirmed their
decision. "Guilty." "Guilty." "Guilty." Twelve of them. Guilty, on two
counts of murder and one of kidnapping.

They came for me early on the day I was to be sentenced. I had no idea
what they would do with me. Neither did my attorney. Before we went into
court he handed me an envelope. "To Sunny, With Love." It was from Jesse!

Sunny, I love you with all my heart and soul. Keep your strength and
spirit my precious woman, I love you more each day. I'm with you as
always. Forever you and me.

Love and kisses, Jesse

There was a Polaroid photograph of Jesse inside with "I Love You" written
across the white part at the bottom. He had his right hand raised in a
fist with the thumbs-up sign. He was smiling, sending me strength with his

The jury recommended life. The judge still had the final say. Once again,
the bailiff called my name and I rose.

As the judge's deep voice began to fill the room, I pressed the photograph
to my chest.

"...and you shall be sentenced to die in the electric chair by having a
current of 2,200 volts pass through your body until you shall be
determined to be dead."

No one knew what death row would be like for me, because I was the only
woman in the state of Florida under a sentence of death. Since there was
no death row for women, I hoped they would take me to the men's death row,
where Jesse was. But that wasn't to be. We arrived at the women's prison
in Ocala in the early hours of the morning.

The first step in the process of commitment was to be fingerprinted and
have my mugshots taken by a dried-up-looking old man who turned out to be
one of the women inmates. From that moment on, I would be known as Female
Offender 4015.

I was issued with white cotton pyjamas, underpants and bras, a towel,
washcloth and rubber shower shoes. The underpants were a size too large.
The inmate said she would try to do better next week. I didn't really
care. I didn't expect to be there very long.

A guard escorted me past the dormitories and over a hill. There was only
one building on the other side: the isolation wing. Tightly girdled by two
separate fences topped with massive tangles of barbed wire, it was
separated from the rest of the compound by 50 yards of empty space.
Inside, it was a dungeon. We made our way to the very last cell at the end
of the corridor. She opened it with a large key on a large ring full of
keys. There were no words spoken. What would one say that could possibly
suit the occasion? "Enjoy your stay! Welcome to death row!"

Day 1, death row, August 20 1976

I move my eyes, slowly, seeking the comfort of something familiar. To my
left is a bed - a rusted metal skeleton bolted to the wall, covered by a
thin, striped mattress. I can reach out and touch both walls by rocking
slightly to each side. I noticed a window in the wall above the bed. I had
to kneel on the bed to look through it. A cruel joke - the window looks
out on to another wall.

A wailing fills the space. My body starts to rock forward and back and the
sound builds into a moan that cannot be contained. I sit at its centre,
feeling myself falling away into oblivion.

Taking small steps, placing one foot directly in front of the other, I
paced off the length of the concrete floor. Six steps. It was six steps
from the door to the toilet. I turned back towards the door again. 6
steps. Back and forth - to the door, to the toilet - I began to pace,
hands balled into fists.

My children! When will I see them? How long will it take for the court to
find out they made a mistake?

The daily routine: breakfast at some ungodly hour - footsteps, tray slides
in through slot in door. Footsteps. Tray is taken away. Lunch and dinner
come and go in the same way, and then the long period that I call night.
And I pace. And I cry. And I beg and argue and rationalise with the God I
am not sure exists. The walls get closer together and threaten to smother
me in my own fear and anger.

Happy birthday to me. I am 29 years old.

My hair begins to come out when I comb it. I save it and put it in a piece
of paper. Maybe I could have a wig made from it later on. Crazy thing to
think about, vanity. But in some cases it is good because it keeps your
mind focused on your pride in living and on the future.

The precious first letter from my beloved Jesse since he was sent to death
row has arrived! It has taken four months to get approved.

September 21 1976

My Dearest Sunny,

I love you. As you can see I finally can write to you. I've been worried
about you. Boy, I love you Mama; I'm just sitting here on my bunk smiling,
thinking about you. We're some pair. It's you and me forever honey. I
write Eric and Christina every week.

I presume you're in a one-man cell like me, can you see outside? I hear
you can't smoke, what's the story? ...We are allowed AM/FM radios. I just
got the Sony Matrix so I can do what we call 'Juke-in,' short for 'Juke
boxing,' I hope you can have one. Let me know and I'll get you one. Music
makes a difference. If you have any kind of problems, you make sure to let
me know. You are my main concern. Put your family and mom on your visiting
list, no one else, understand? I'll explain at another time. I'll be in
close touch. I'll be writing probably every day. You do the same.

You're my woman forever. Know in your heart that we are going to make it
out alright. I love you with all my heart, Sunny, my beautiful wife. I'll
close for tonight with thoughts of you.


I created a routine for myself. It helped to overcome the feeling of being
detached, of free-floating in the absence of a time structure. I would
sleep until the smell and sounds of breakfast alerted my senses. Bursting
awake, I would quickly wash my face and smooth my hair and wait by the
door with my face pressed sideways to the 5in x 5in square of safety glass
criss-crossed with wire, waiting for the first sighting of the breakfast
cart and the guard. Sometimes they would let it sit there in the office
for a long time, so it was cold and congealed. I did sit-ups and push-ups
and squats. Then I would run in place on my blanket folded in quarters.
After exercise, I would eat and then go back to sleep. Yoga filled the
next part of my day. Before and after yoga, I would pray and meditate.
Lunch was another marker in the passage of timelessness. Then I would
write or draw or do maths problems in my head or think about my children,
Jesse, my family, and cry. I tried to familiarise myself with the language
of the law books but I couldn't really concentrate on what they were

What's taking so long? When will I receive some news?

October 1976

My Dearest Jesse

I'm grateful for this pen and paper puny way of telling you over and over
again how I feel, but I want to crumple it up and run and tell you I love
you. The children feel it too. Tina is still little and is all surrounded
with love but Eric is older and has to deal with the hardest parts now
when we're not there. I am desperate to be with him... I think my family
will be able to visit soon!

I love you.


Orf and Hysmith. Two prisoners who felt they couldn't just keep quiet
after Rhodes confessed to them. They said, in their sworn statements as
reported in the media, that Rhodes said he shot the policemen and had to
save himself by lying. They quoted Mr Orf as saying that Rhodes told him,
"Hey, man, I had to, no way in the world I thought they would get the
chair. If I had of [thought that], I would not have done it, but I had to
keep from getting the chair myself."

Thank you, Great Spirit! Thank you, Universe! I am going home to my
children! Jesse and I will be together again soon!

Orf and Hysmith were not the only ones who heard Rhodes's statement that
day. A guard said that he heard Rhodes bragging about how he killed the
policemen. But the officer's statement was not revealed until years later.

Our letters were full of planning and dreaming and believing. Our families
were overjoyed. A hearing would surely follow and we would be released.

But no hearing took place. The prosecutor in our case, Michael Satz, was
now district attorney. He sent his assistant from the trial, Walter
LaGraves, and Rhodes's former defence attorney, Ralph Ray, who was now a
prosecutor working for Satz, to talk to Rhodes. Rhodes took back his
confession, saying he "didn't really mean it". It was a devastating

I had been trying to understand the legal process that had been used to
put us here, and had requested a copy of the PSI report used for
sentencing. Normally one did not see a pre-sentencing investigation, even
though it is part of the public record.

I found a paper stamped CONFIDENTIAL which turned out to be Rhodes's
polygraph test report. It should have been given to the defence before the
trial to impeach his testimony. At the trial he said that I either handed
a gun to Jesse or fired it and then handed it to Jesse, but in the
polygraph report they said he wasn't sure if I had done anything at all!
My appeals attorney had no knowledge of it, but the prosecutor, now DA,
made light of it, saying it would not have made any difference to the

March 28 1977

My Dearest Jesse,

It's been pretty chilly at night lately. I hope you are warm enough since
it's damp down there. I guess it's like here - the ground is right under
the floor and with the cold and cement, it does get a bit damp but I guess
I'm used to it and I wear my 'flip flops' and a sweatshirt and socks when
it's cold. I'm okay - very adaptable. I hope you have hot dreams and I
hope I'm what heats them up - and you. Good night with all my love and
kisses and hugs and licks and small bites and little noises.

Love and kisses, Sunny

After filing a civil suit about my conditions, I was moved to another cell
in the hospital wing. A converted storage cupboard, it was better because
I could now see other people even if I couldn't talk to them. But I wasn't
there for long. One night, about 10, the door opened and the
superintendent walked in, wearing a casual shirt and a pair of shorts.
"Get it all, Jacobs. You're being transported tonight."

August 1977, Broward Correctional Institution

BCI is located at the edge of the Everglades swampland. There are no
street lights and the glow from the grid of greenish crime lights that
surround it make it look like a UFO. The room was far larger than the
other two cells I had occupied in my life on death row. And I had my own
washing facilities - a toilet and a shower in a separate bathroom! The
walls were the usual white, the door a heavy metal affair, like the one in
my first cell, but this one didn't have a slot in it for the food tray. I
guessed they would have to open the cage to feed the lions here.

September 1980

Jesse's attorneys were preparing for a hearing on his appeal. And then, at
last, there was the hearing on new evidence in my case from the 1977 PSI

It was held in the Broward County courthouse. I had not seen Jesse in
three years. They brought him through the side door. He was wearing his
prison uniform, handcuffed and shackled. I soaked up the sight of him. My
Jesse! But he looked so aggravated - not tough-guy aggravated but
bone-deep aggravated. I could see that he had been working out by the way
his arms and chest filled out his uniform. But his face was drawn and
tight. My heart was so full I felt I would cry. After they got him settled
in a chair along the side wall, he smiled and winked at me and our eyes
locked. It was the last time Jesse and I would ever see each other.

Ultimately, the judge said it didn't make any difference that Rhodes said
he wasn't really sure I had done anything. I couldn't imagine how it
didn't make a difference since it was quite the opposite of his trial
testimony. Rhodes had confessed to the murders twice more since the Orf
and Hysmith incident. Each time, the district attorney's chief
investigator would make the trip to visit Rhodes, and each time Rhodes
would return to his original testimony. So, even though Rhodes had
confessed twice and had contradicted his trial testimony during a
polygraph interview, the undeniable proof of his guilt, and our innocence,
would remain obscured for another 14 years.

March 1981

Footsteps. More than one person... the tapping of women's heels. I am up
on tippy toes, face pressed to window, turning away to exhale so as not to
fog up my view. There they are! It is Mrs V, the superintendent, and 2
men. One is a guard. The other is wearing a dark business suit. He is
definitely official. He must be from Tallahassee, the state capital, and
main office of the Department of Corrections. Maybe an inspector. Why are
they coming to see me? I haven't sent in any complaints lately. Must be
important for Mrs V to come herself.

"Sonia, there has been some news concerning your appeal." All ears and
eyes, my total attention is fixed on the words as I watch them tumble in
slow motion from her mouth. They are like bubbles that pop in the air
between us.

My sentence had been changed from death to life, but the conviction
remained. This meant that I would no longer have to spend the rest of my
life in isolation. The sword of impending execution would be removed from
over my head, but it also meant I would not be going home.

"The state has 14 days in which to appeal the court's decision to change
your sentence," Mrs Villacorta went on to say. "After that, you will be
moved to Reception and Orientation."

My parents are ecstatic. My dad had been at the Florida Supreme Court
hearing. He said that the panel of judges was appalled when my attorney
said he wasn't prepared to address the fact that his client could be
facing a death sentence. They wanted to know if he was court-appointed or
privately retained in order to ascertain the state's responsibility for
such an unacceptable lack of preparation. So now we could proceed to the
next step in the process. Five years to get to the first appeal. Five
years of isolation. Five years.

I had a major transition to make. After the first three days in R&O, I
lost my voice. I wasn't used to talking and my vocal cords had atrophied.
It came back after a few days, but it was never the same. I had a
different voice - one that sounded like my mother's voice, deeper and more

Another Christmas season passed and another year began with no change in
our situation. I didn't count the days and months, but I did keep track of
the years. I was 27 when this began and I was now 38 years old. Eric was
now 20 and Tina was an 11-year-old. I didn't see much of either of them
now with both of them living so far away.

In 1987, a brilliant young attorney called John Evans was working on my
case and tracked down Brenda Isham. She had made a good, clean life for
herself in Wyoming. Brenda was so filled with remorse that she was willing
to make a taped statement, give a deposition to a court reporter, anything
to make up for what she had done. The only thing she wouldn't do was
return to Florida to testify in court.

We were stuck - until one day Brenda called to say that she would come to
Florida. She told my lawyers that some men had shown up at her ailing
father's house to tell him that he should convince his daughter not to get
involved any further in my case on my behalf. That was what changed her

So Brenda Isham came to testify in federal court. I had all my hopes up,
although I knew from past experience that hope was dangerous. After the
usual fanfare, the judge called for the witness to be brought into the
courtroom. Brenda took the stand and cried the whole time, telling the
judge how and why she had lied. She literally shrank back into her chair
when the former prosecutor, now DA, approached her. And then, to my horror
and everyone's astonishment, she had a heart attack, right there on the
witness stand. The judge called for a nurse. The nurse called for an
ambulance. The judge called for a recess. The paramedics came and took
Brenda away, and the hearing was over.

In mid-April 1990, Jesse's death warrant was signed. His execution was
scheduled for May 5, only 3 weeks away! The wheels went into motion on all
sides - plans for last-minute appeals, plans to safeguard the children. I
was trying to keep my thoughts positive.

Jesse's letters are short. I understand. He does not want them to know
what he is thinking or feeling. His lawyers, a coalition of pro bono
attorneys, were filing appeal after appeal. They were all denied.

The Pope in Rome had issued a plea for Jesse's life. The bishop in
northern Florida had issued his own plea. The media was hot on the story.
There were protesters and revellers. It was a circus. Jesse's death was
reported in the local newspapers:


Saturday May 5 1990. The execution of Jesse Tafero in the big chair at
Florida state prison went awry Friday morning. Flames and smoke rose from
his head as the headset conducting the killer current to his body caught

Tafero's execution coincided with the first march of the first national
movement against the death penalty, and national pilgrimage for the
abolition of the death penalty. Members gathered outside the prison as it
lay shrouded in fog early Friday.

'No execution is normal,' said Sister Helen Prejean of New Orleans, who
led a march to Atlanta today. Prejean stood in a field opposite the prison
with a small group of protesters, holding a vigil as the execution

Tafero, his brown eyes piercing and angry, had these last words before the
executioners fixed the faulty headset to his skull: 'Well, I'd like to say
that the death penalty, as applied in the States, is very arbitrary and
capricious. I think it's very unfair. I think it's time that everyone
wakes up to see that the same laws that can go against crime can go
against you tomorrow.'

He never received my April 26 letter. It was returned to me marked

Just before the execution, I received a letter from my childhood friend
Micki, who now produced and directed documentary films. It felt good to
reconnect to an older, purer part of my past. Over a series of letters and
visits, we renewed our friendship. As Micki's visits continued in late
1990, we were fast approaching the time to submit my federal habeas
corpus. It was, for all practical purposes, my last chance. If we did not
prevail on it, I would most likely spend the rest of my life in prison.
Habeas corpus is only for the purpose of arguing the legal issues - the
process, not the facts. It is not permitted to present new evidence in a
habeas corpus. You couldn't even argue innocence based on new facts any
more, because technically the time for that had passed.

I tried to explain to Micki how the recantations of Walter Rhodes and the
confession of perjury by Brenda Isham could be deemed "harmless error".
She determined to find a way to help. After spending weeks reading about
my case and talking to my attorneys, she came up with a brilliant visual
way to present all the facts - including the independent eyewitness
testimony of two truck drivers, one of whose statements had not been
brought out at trial - making it clear that neither Jesse nor I could have
done the shooting. The brilliance of Micki's solution was that the
presentation of new facts was so inextricably intertwined in the legal
arguments that it couldn't be rejected as untimely new evidence.

In February 1992, with only one dissenting vote, the federal appeals court
overturned my case. This time, both the sentence and my convictions were
quashed. This was it! We had won! I was a free woman again! But not
exactly. You see, the state had the right to appeal. And they did. The
state lost their appeal to reinstate my sentence and conviction. But they
still had the right to take me back to trial again, even though there was
hardly any basis left on which to do so. After so much time, it would be
difficult to locate witnesses, and difficult for either side to present
their case properly. From a political perspective, they could not and
would not concede that a mistake had been made. If that were the case, I
would be entitled to sue the state of Florida for compensation.

Two bail applications were refused. At the third, Jos Quion, who would
lead the defence team should there be a new trial, openly accused Michael
Satz, now Broward state attorney, of "blatant conflict of interest". We
filed a motion asking the judge to remove Satz's office from any new
trial, and appoint outside prosecutors. Bail was again denied, but a new
hearing did begin to have Satz removed from my case. After several days in
court, Jos introduced what came to be the coup de grce - the previously
undisclosed statement of a guard who had heard Walter Rhodes's confession.
It had been buried for 10 years and had only recently been delivered up in
a box of papers. Micki had found it. If Jesse's attorneys had been made
aware of the guard's statement, they could have used it to save his life.
Satz denied any prior knowledge of the guard's statement, but he did offer
a deal. If I said that Rhodes didn't do anything, then I would be freed
that night. I knew that they might not make another offer, and a new trial
could take a long time, but I wouldn't lie. If I said Rhodes didn't do it,
it would be like saying Jesse did. I told them to take me back to prison.

The next day, Friday, I went to work as usual. I did my work as usual. But
I was waiting for a sign I had been praying for, a call, a message. None
came. I was in the bosses' office showing my supervisors how to use a
program on the new computer system. It was almost 4pm. I would soon be
recalled to my cell. The phone rang. The supervisor answered.

"Sonia, you're going out to court."

I could feel myself hyperventilating. No one gets called to court at 4pm
on a Friday unless they are being released, because the jails don't like
to keep us "convicts" over the weekend.

As I turn the corner, I see the van waiting. I begin to run. There are
inmates lining the walkway. The word has spread and they are coming out to
say goodbye. Someone is going home. People gather to participate in the
miracle. They are clapping, and some are crying, as we pass by.

We reach the rear gate. 2 uniformed officers from the Broward Sheriff's
Office are waiting for me.

We are on the way. I can see the prison through the dust behind the van. I
know I will not see it again.

We go up to the courtroom. My attorneys are there and explain that they
have offered me a plea of convenience. What this means is that I am not
allowed to say anything during the proceeding. Also, I have to allow them
to read an adjudication of guilt of a lesser degree into the record to
prevent me from being able to sue for false imprisonment later. In effect,
I am to sit there in silence while they cover their arses. It's all about
money and not taking responsibility. I will end up as a convicted felon
with a charge of second degree still on the books. But I will be a free
woman. Clean break. Free to go. I could be with my children again. I could
be with my granddaughter. I would be free.

I am thinking about it. I am 45 years old. I am a grandmother. I am tired
of fighting.

We enter the courtroom and this time I really am set free! I am led to the
front of the courtroom, feeling like a helium balloon, grinning my face

Freedom is right on the other side of the glass doors in front of me. I
step out.

(source: The Guardian----Sunny Jacobs, 2007. This is an edited extract
from Stolen Time: One Woman's Inspiring Story As An Innocent Condemned To
Death, by Sunny Jacobs, to be published next week in hardback by Doubleday
at 14.99. To order a copy for 13.99, including UK mainland p&p, go to or call 0870 836 0875.

Evidence test results due in '06 turnpike killings

Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers

April 28, 2007

The case against two West Palm Beach men accused of killing a family of four on Florida's Turnpike in October of 2006 might heat up next month as the federal government finishes testing evidence and could announce whether it will seek the death penalty.

Ricardo Sanchez, 23, and Daniel Troya, 24, were indicted in the deaths last week and were in federal court in West Palm Beach on Friday. They pleaded not guilty to charges including armed carjacking resulting in death and using a firearm in a crime of violence.

St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara said Sanchez and Troya killed their leader, Jose Luis Escobedo, 28, and his family -- Yessica, 25, and sons Jose Damien, 4, and Luis Julian, 3 -- in October. Escobedo and his brother ran one of the biggest cocaine rings in the eastern United States, Mascara said. Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Carlton said his office was preparing a memo for the U.S. attorney general, who will decide on seeking the death penalty.

Fresh Off Death Row, a Man Fights For a Cause

By Adam Casella
Hoya Staff Writer
Friday, April 27, 2007

A former death-row inmate who was exonerated after almost 18 years in prison described his experience and called for the abolition of the death penalty in a speech yesterday in White Gravenor.

Juan Melendez spent 17 years, eight months and one day on death row in Florida after being convicted of the 1983 murder of Delbert Baker. There was no physical evidence linking Melendez to the crime and another prisoner, Vernon James, had admitted to murdering Baker a month before the trial began. James invoked the Fifth Amendment to avoid testifying at the trial, and his taped confession was ruled to be hearsay evidence and not shown to the jury.

Melendez was released on Jan. 3, 2002, after a transcript of James’ confession was discovered and a new trial ordered.

In the speech, sponsored by Georgetown’s Prison Outreach, Melendez said that his time spent languishing in prison was the darkest period of his life.

"Imagine yourself arrested and charged with murder, for a crime you didn’t commit," he said. "I am no killer. My momma didn’t raise no killer."

Melendez said he often dreamed of his native Puerto Rico during his nearly 20 years on death row, and relied on support from his family and from God. He said that some days, when confined to a 54-square-foot cell infested with rats and roaches, suicide seemed like the best option.

"If you kill yourself, you are dead but free," he said. "A condemned man needs something more powerful than the system to sustain him."

Upon his release, all Melendez owned was $100 and the clothes on his back.

"I kissed the ground," he said. "I wanted to see the moon and the stars, walk on grass and dirt, hold a baby in my arms, talk to a beautiful woman."

Melendez now works for the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, an organization formed in 1976 that advocates for the elimination of capital punishment. He hopes that the death penalty, which he described as a "cruel, expensive and racist practice, which pains families," will be banned during his lifetime.

"I am a dreamer," he said. "Always have been."

Melendez said he believes education is the key to abolishing the death penalty.

"We can always make progress," Melendez said. "I had to get on death row before I became active with this cause, but it doesn’t have to be that way."

State opts to keep list of private attorneys

By Dara Kam

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Saturday, April 28, 2007

TALLAHASSEE — State lawmakers decided to keep a registry of private attorneys who represent inmates sentenced to death in North Florida despite Florida Supreme Court justices' request to scrap the pilot program initiated by Gov. Jeb Bush four years ago.

The Senate originally agreed with Supreme Court Chief Justice R. Fred Lewis, who asked Senate Criminal Justice Appropriations Committee Chairman Victor Crist to restore the northern Capital Collateral Regional Counsel, the office of state-employed lawyers and investigators who represent inmates on Death Row.

The Court unanimously believes that the state offices are "far superior to the private attorney registry approach," Lewis wrote last month.

More than two years ago, Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero, a Bush appointee, told the Commission on Capital Cases the work of the private attorneys handling the final appeals for Death Row convicts was "some of the worst lawyering I've seen."

The Florida House refused to recreate the northern regional office, and on Friday, Senate Budget Chairwoman Lisa Carlton agreed to maintain the status quo.

"I don't know the details of the issue, to be honest with you," said Carlton, R-Osprey. "It was an important issue to the House that they maintain their policy on that, and I agreed with them."

Gov. Charlie Crist questioned the lawmakers' decision, saying he preferred the regional counsels.

"I think they do that job very well. I'd love to hear the arguments as to why we would want to hire private lawyers to perform that function," Crist said.

Bush created the privatization pilot program to save money and expedite the lengthy Death Row appeals process.

Instead, the project had the opposite effect, Cantero told the commission.

Registry attorneys' sloppiness and ineptitude bogged down the court and "creates a lot of inefficiencies and makes us spend a lot of time on these cases that we could spend on other cases," he testified.

Rep. Dan Gelber, a former prosecutor who supports the death penalty, objected to the registry when it was established in 2002.

The shoddy representation could cause longer stays on Death Row and worse, said Gelber, who sits on the commission.

"The reason you want (lawyers) to have a certain level of competence is so they can efficiently move through the system. This may have the exact opposite effect," said Gelber, a Miami Beach Democrat.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Juvenile crimes: Cold justice may carry high cost

George Diaz
April 27, 2007

Two 10-year-olds are accused of beating a homeless man in Volusia County. A 14-year-old boy is charged with capital murder in the shooting of an Orlando electrician. A 17-year-old plunges a knife into a student at a school bus loop and kills him.

Recent news about kids and crime is enough to make anyone scream at the chaos and demand justice. It's understandable. Society needs to be protected from criminals, even if their portraits include a mix of yearbook pictures and police mug shots.The frustration echoes all the way to the State Attorney's Office, which is looking to lower the threshold in which juveniles will be tried as adults.

May as well rub some dirt on a wound with arterial bleeding.That approach works if the intent is to breed career criminals. We'll backtrack briefly to make a greater point:The problem starts with the unconscionable failure of parents. I'll assume most of us reading this are fortunate sons or daughters. Now imagine your "prospects" if you were born into the dysfunctional abyss of parents with lengthy criminal records, a crack-addicted mother, and no safety net within the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice system to give you a decent shot at rehabilitation.

Those are some of the particulars in the case of Corey Steplight, the14-year-old who police say shot an electrician to steal fancy rims from the man's Grand Prix.

But unless we wade into dangerous Orwellian territory here and demand birth control by government-imposed methods, the challenges of dealing with a generation of lost children will not go away.

The best coping/preventive mechanism is to save as many of those souls as possible."The research is overwhelming when you compare kids treated as juveniles as opposed to adults," said Barry Krisberg, president of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. "Those charged as juveniles have lower recidivism rates. And there is not one study where I find that to be different."

Example: Research compiled by Donna M. Bishop, a professor of criminal justice at Northeastern University in Boston, compared the recidivism rates among more than 5,000 teenagers in Florida.Half were treated as juveniles, and the other half were treated as adults for similar crimes. About 19 percent of those treated as juveniles went on to commit other crimes, compared with 31 percent of those tried as adults.The problem with Florida, as one official said, is that "prevention is the redheaded stepchild" of the Department of Juvenile Justice.

Fortunately, that may change. Walter A. McNeil, the department's new secretary, is getting favorable nods from prosecutors and child advocates. He is part of a group that will establish legislative suggestions to improve the system. A philosophical change from the Bush to Crist administration is expected to result in a more preventative agenda.

A national model for juvenile-justice reform can be found in Missouri, which stresses rehabilitation over warehousing. Detention centers include carpeted floors, showers divided by bright curtains, and beds covered with colorful quilts. Troubled teens discuss issues in peer-group meetings called "circles."

You might scoff and argue that cold justice is better than a warm hug. But you also might want to consider that the recidivism rate for juveniles in Missouri is only 8 percent.

As always, money comes into play with extreme makeovers. Florida can choose to pay now or pay later.

But the interest penalty incurred -- check those headlines again -- will include punitive damages.

George Diaz can be reached at 407-420-5533 or

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Former Regional Director of Florida Prison System Gets 2 Year in Prison

JACKSONVILLE, FL (AP) -- A former regional director of Florida's prison system was sentenced Wednesday to two years and seven months in prison for his role in accepting $130,000 in kickbacks from a contractor.

Allen Clark, 41, could have received 10 years in prison, but prosecutors argued for a lenient sentence.

Acting U.S. Attorney Jim Klindt said Clark worked undercover to help agents build a case against his friend and mentor, former Department of Corrections Secretary James Crosby.

After the hearing, however, Klindt said, "31 months is an appropriate punishment."

Clark and Crosby, 54, pleaded guilty in July to a single charge of accepting kickbacks from American Institutional Services, a company that sold snacks and drinks to prison visitors on weekends.

Crosby was sentenced Tuesday to eight years in prison after U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Hernandez Covington said he bore the most responsibility because he was head of the massive Department of Corrections.

Clark's lawyer, Stephen S. Dobson III of Tallahassee, asked for a sentence of 15 to 20 months.

"The judge considered everything in her sentence," Dobson said after the hearing.

As with Crosby's sentencing Tuesday, the judge remained tough on the public corruption aspect of the case.

"I can't get around the breaking of the public trust," she told Clark, a high-school dropout and former Marine.

Clark spoke briefly, telling the judge, "I am sorry. I could go into it, but that's the bottom line."

Clark's older brother, James Clark of Live Oak, spoke for him, pointing out that Clark has three children and asked the judge to be lenient.

"He told me what he had done and what he was going to do to make it right," James Clark said.

"He was going to do whatever the government asked of him. I am proud of him. He has learned is lesson."

Both Crosby and Clark have each been ordered to pay back $130,000, the total amount received illegally.

Prosecutors said Clark would accept kickbacks and deliver part of those payments to Crosby.

The kickbacks totaled as much as $12,000 a month. Clark made $94,300 a year at his job, and Crosby earned about $124,000.

Klindt told the judge that Clark began cooperating after he and agents confronted him at a meeting in Gainesville in February 2006.

"But for Mr. Clark, we may have not gotten to Mr. Crosby. But for Mr. Crosby, there never would have been this case," the prosecutor said.
Associated Press

Lawyer: Jail inmate died after being left alone, covered in feces


MIAMI -- A diabetic jail inmate who lost control over his lower body died after being left alone covered in his own feces for a week, and officials failed to get him medical treatment despite knowing of his condition, his attorney said Thursday.

Attorney David Kubiliun said Rodolfo Ramos, 41, was left in a solitary cell in Miami-Dade County jail even though a correctional officer there wrote that "I have made several attempts to (contact) medical staff to try and resolve this situation but to no avail."Inmate Ramos should not be housed in general population, he needs to be in a medical housing unit," the lawyer quoted the report as saying. "This situation needs to be addressed immediately in order to prevent a tragic, unforeseen incident."

Ramos died April 14 at a hospital, and pictures displayed at a news conference showed his body was covered with some type of bites. He was brought to the hospital March 25 from his solitary cell, where he had been kept for several days.

A telephone message left with the county's police department was not immediately returned.

The corrections department released a statement standing by its medical care and saying it was investigating Ramos' death as it would any other death at a corrections facility.

"While incarcerated, Mr. Ramos was regularly seen by doctors and medical staff, and hospitalized as needed. While Mr. Ramos's medical history is quite extensive and complex, there is no indication of a lack of medical care or attention in his case," the statement read.

Ramos' family members said Thursday, however, they were shocked and upset with his care at the jail, where he was awaiting trial on kidnapping charges.

One niece, Yeisleny Nodarse, said Ramos told her in telephone conversations that he was not receiving medication he took for diabetes. She said she repeatedly talked with nurses at the jail to see if he could get the drugs."

He used to call me back and say, 'Keep calling. They haven't given me the medicine,'" Nodarse said.

Another niece, Yamilka Cortina, who spoke with Ramos over the telephone said he told her he was not well."He was very desperate and in pain also," Cortina said.

Kubiliun called for an investigation into the death and the medical system at county jails.

"Rodolfo Ramos is not the first person whose medical needs have been ignored. We are calling for him to be the last," Kubiliun said.

Another attorney for the family, Lynn Overmann, said they would wait for autopsy results and for the conclusion of a homicide investigation to see if they would file a lawsuit.

Last modified: April 26. 2007 3:59PM

Families Of Murder Victims Oppose Death Penalty

Thursday, Apr 26, 2007 - 03:38 PM

RALEIGH, N.C. -- With executions on hold, some family members of murder victims are speaking out against the death penalty in an effort to get it abolished in North Carolina.

A judge put several executions on hold after the state medical board threatened to punish doctors who participate in the procedure.

And legislation is being discussed in the General Assembly to grant doctors immunity from discipline.

"As long as we support executions in our state, we're using the same tactics that the murderers are using," said Charisse Coleman, whose brother was murdered.

All of these family members lost loved ones to murder or execution yet they oppose the death penalty. They're part of the national organization "Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation."

"All of that closure you thought you were gonna feel when the person was killed, when the person was put to death, isn't there," said Georgi Fisher, whose sister was murdered in 1996. "You still have to experience the emotions. You still have to process the grief."

The Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation says the death penalty actually dishonors their loved ones who were killed and that's why they want to get rid of it.

And they believe they can with a de facto death penalty moratorium in effect. But over the years other victims' families have strongly disagreed. Vivian Holliday's son was murdered nearly seven years ago.

"He should face the ultimate penalty for the situation and I don't feel anything for him just like he didn't feel anything for my son as well," Holliday said.

Wayne Uber's brother was murdered in Florida back in 1995. The suspect is in prison but not on death row.

"I have no guarantee the man who murdered my brother won't hurt another human being while he's incarcerated," Uber said.

There are currently 166 offenders on North Carolina's death row.

The organization says it is focusing on getting rid of the death penalty in four states: North Carolina, Maryland, New Jersey and California..

Death penalty sometimes goes dead wrong


Mike Thomas

April 26, 2007

It feels good to kill some people.

It felt good to kill Ted Bundy. It will feel good to kill John Couey for what he did to Jessica Lunsford.

But since we are a civilized people, we must follow rules in this tricky business of executions.

And so we have gone from lynch mobs to prosecutors, public defenders, juries, judges, appellate courts and so on.

We also must be humane.

That is why Florida switched from hanging to Old Sparky in 1924, figuring a massive jolt of juice was quicker than dangling and gagging when the noose did not snap the neck.

But then Old Sparky began acting up in the 1990s. Flames erupted around the heads of two prisoners. Blood poured from the nose of a third.

In a 1999 Florida Supreme Court ruling, Chief Justice Major Harding suggested lethal injection, noting that "each time an execution is carried out, the courts wait in dread anticipation of some 'unforeseeable accident' that will set in motion a frenzy of inmate petitions and other filings."

Lawmakers quickly turned to lethal injection lest Old Sparky ever be deemed cruel and unusual.

That settled the matter until last December. While sprawled on a gurney, inmate Angel Nieves Diaz did not close his eyes and die on cue. He stubbornly clung to life. He grimaced. He gasped "like a fish out of water," said one witness. It took another round of chemicals and 34 minutes before he was pronounced dead.

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said she thought he felt no pain.

In fact, the needles were shoved through Diaz's veins and the drugs were forced into the arm tissue, causing extensive chemical burns. It's also quite possible he was paralyzed and conscious as his lungs slowly lost the ability to breathe.

Jeb Bush halted executions and formed a panel to check into it. The panel recently recommended new protocols and better training. It also mentioned that someone might want to check into using better chemicals.

Yes, the chemicals are a problem. A group of medical experts, many from the University of Miami, reported this week that Diaz might not be an isolated case. The drug meant to put people under before the other drugs do their damage might not keep them under. But since one of the drugs is a paralyzing agent, that disturbing possibility may be masked.The Florida Supreme Court must be waiting "in dread anticipation" for that frenzy of death-row appeals that will result from this.

We also have another glitch in the system. The Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit group that tracks capital cases, lists 123 death-row inmates who were pardoned, had their conviction overturned, were acquitted at retrial or had all charges dropped, dating back to 1973. Twenty-two were from Florida.

It raises the question of how many innocent people have been executed. Given Southern justice and defendants of color, rest assured the answer is more than none.

The Chicago Tribune reported on one probable mistake in Texas. It appears likely that Carlos DeLuna was executed in 1989 for the crime of looking like another Hispanic man who really committed the murder.

The main witness told the Tribune, "I wasn't all that sure, but him being Hispanic and all . . . I said, 'Yeah, I think it is him.'

"It feels so good to kill a John Couey or Ted Bundy that we accept the probability of repeating what happened to Carlos DeLuna and Angel Nieves Diaz.

Given that Florida has executed 64 inmates since 1979, I don't anticipate the state will second-guess that tradeoff anytime soon.

Mike Thomas can be reached at 407-420-5525 or

His blog is

Ex-prisons chief gets 8 years

Sun staff writer

JACKSONVILLE - Former Department of Corrections Secretary James Crosby was sentenced to eight years in federal prison Tuesday for taking kickbacks.

Crosby's former protege is scheduled to be sentenced today in connection with the same financial scheme.

Crosby, 54, and his former best friend, Allen Clark, 41, pleaded guilty in July to accepting at least $130,000 from American Institutional Services. During a meeting with the company in November 2004, Crosby and Clark agreed to allow the firm to operate the canteens in the prison visiting parks on weekends, with the expectation that the two prison officials could realize up to $12,000 a month in return - about 40 percent of the anticipated profits, according to court records. At the time Crosby and Clark cut their deal with the company, Crosby was being paid about $124,000 by the state and Clark about $94,500.

James Klindt: James McDonough:
Acting U.S. Attorney James Klindt said Crosby told federal officials his motive for getting involved in the scheme was not financial reasons but as a means to be involved socially with the other people participating in the scheme.

Klindt, however, told U.S. District Judge Virginia M. Hernandez Covington he saw Crosby's participation as being "all about the money."Under oath, Crosby apologized for his actions Tuesday but did not explain them.''I am truly sorry for what I did,'' Crosby said when he took the witness stand. ''I failed a lot of people. I failed the people who worked for me.'' Crosby apologized to current prison Secretary James McDonough "for the job I left for him to do."

McDonough was the prosecution's only witness during the 45-minute sentencing. McDonough recalled for Judge Covington what it was like to report to the prison system headquarters his first day on the job.

"My office was a crime scene," McDonough testified, referring to the crime scene tape across the secretary's office door. The tape was put there by federal and state agents who searched the office minutes after Crosby's firing. McDonough said he agreed to testify at the sentencing because under Crosby, "The senior leadership of the department did great damage to the department."Crosby was a 31-year veteran of the prison system when he was fired.

After being raised in Bradford County and graduating from the University of Florida with a degree in journalism, Crosby was hired as a classification officer for the prison system. He continued to live in and around Bradford County for many years and served as mayor of Starke.

Crosby's prison career included stints as warden at Cross City, Lancaster and Tomoka Correctional Institutions before being named warden at Florida State Prison at Raiford, the state's flagship prison and home to most male Death Row inmates.

During Crosby's tenure as secretary of the state's largest agency, the department of 27,000 employees was rocked with scandals, including officers convicted of steroid abuse, money disappearing from employee clubs, misuse of inmate labor and a reputation for heavy drinking and raucous parties, especially after sporting events between department teams.Before pronouncing the sentence, Covington chastised Crosby because he was in a leadership position involving public trust."The public trust was violated," Covington said.

"As the head of the department, you have to suffer the consequences."

While Covington was handing down the sentence, Crosby sat tilted back in his chair, slumped slightly to the right and occasionally wiped the palm of his hand across his face. Covington said that because of his position as head of the prison system, he would likely create security concerns if taken into custody immediately and taken to a county jail. Instead, Covington gave Crosby until May 24 to report to federal prison.

Crosby left the courtroom declining to comment. Crosby's ex-wife, however, had something to say to McDonough.

Leslie Crosby divorced Jim Crosby three days after he pleaded guilty and he handed over $200,000 of his retirement fund to her. Shortly afterward, she bought the modest home in Starke where the couple now live.

Leslie Crosby confronted McDonough at the end of the sentencing and in a choked voice asked, "How can you live with yourself?"

She was pulled away by Kenneth Lampp, a former warden who was fired by McDonough.

Lampp put his arms around Leslie Crosby and steered her toward the door saying, "Leslie, come on, don't do this."In the hallway outside the courtroom, Jim Crosby paused long enough to accept a hug from Len Register, the former 8th Judicial Circuit state attorney who is now an assistant U.S. attorney in the Panhandle.

"I am here as a private citizen," Register told The Sun. "We grew up together and have known each other all our lives, and I am here to support him."Tuesday's sentencing may not be Crosby's last appearance in court.

Crosby has not yet paid the $30,000 he agreed to pay as his part of the restitution he accepted responsibility for in his plea deal. Covington had no sympathy for Crosby when his attorney, David Moye, said Crosby has probably lost $1 million in retirement money as a result of his legal problems.

''The public's trust was violated,'' Covington said. ''Government officials are held to a higher standard.''

Retirement money can be withheld when someone is convicted of committing a crime as a part of their state employment. Florida is now suing Crosby to recoup the retirement money that he paid to Leslie when they were divorced.

Another reason why Crosby may be asked to return to court is if he is needed as a witness in future proceedings against others. Prosecutor Klindt said Crosby has been cooperating with an ongoing investigation. Outside the courthouse, Klindt would not say how far the investigation might extend or who may be involved. Klindt mentioned he would likely ask a judge to reconsider Crosby's sentence at some future point based on the cooperation.The sentence also includes three years of probation and calls for Crosby to be evaluated for alcohol abuse. Federal prison officials have said that inmates who participate in substance abuse programs have had as much as a year taken off their prison sentences.

McDonough, who has harshly criticized Crosby for various circumstances uncovered around the department after Crosby's firing, said he was satisfied with the sentence Crosby received.

"I think justice has been done," McDonough said.

James Crosby at a glance

The Associated Press

NAME: James Vernon Crosby Jr.

BORN: Aug. 15, 1952.

EDUCATION: Bachelor's Degree, journalism, University of Florida, 1973.

CAREER: Crosby joined the Department of Corrections at North Florida Reception Center in Lake Butler as an inmate classification specialist.

In January 1990, Crosby was named superintendent at Cross City Correctional Institution, and later served as superintendent at New River Correctional Institution and Tomoka Correctional Institution.

In 1996, he was promoted to a job as director of security and institutional management for several prisons in the system and then later that year named warden at Florida State Prison.

He was then promoted to regional director for several prisons, and in January 2003, Gov. Jeb Bush named him corrections secretary.

Crosby has also been active politically. In 1980, he was elected as a city commissioner in Starke, and later served as mayor from 1983-1984. In 2000, he attended the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia.

Crosby was asked to resign in February 2006 by Bush.

In July 2006, Crosby and his former friend and protege, Allen Cark, pleaded guilty to accepting $130,000 in kickbacks from a prison canteen contractor.

On April 24, 2007, Crosby was sentenced to eight years in federal prison.

Life from the other side of the bars

The Florida Times-Union
April 26, 2007

By MATT GALNOR, The Times-Union

Allen Clark went undercover to help federal prosecutors build their corruption case against his close friend and mentor, former state Department of Corrections Secretary James Crosby.

More crime and public safety coverage
Homicide 360: A Times-Union special report

In return, Clark will serve about a third of the time in prison that Crosby will.

U.S. District Judge Virginia Hernandez Covington sentenced Clark to 31 months in prison Wednesday, a day after she ordered Crosby to serve eight years. Both faced a maximum of 10 years.

Clark, 41, and Crosby, 54, pleaded guilty in July to taking kickbacks from American Institutional Services, a Gainesville-based business they helped get a deal to sell snacks to weekend prison visitors. As part of the deal, Clark and Crosby would split 40 percent of the profits and took about $130,000 between them.

No one from AIS has been charged. Clark and Crosby are continuing to cooperate in ongoing investigations.

"There is much more to come in this case," said Stephen Dobson, one of Clark's attorneys.

And much of it will stem from what Clark helped the government learn.

Various criminal charges within the department - from a steroid ring among softball players to embezzling from a recycling center - led investigators up the Corrections Department ladder.

During winter 2005, investigators taped conversations between a confidential informant and Clark, who by then had resigned his job overseeing more than a dozen Panhandle prisons. Those recordings shed light on the kickback scheme, though investigators had their sights trained on Clark, thinking he was the main defendant.

Investigators approached Clark in February 2006 - the day after Crosby was forced to resign by Gov. Jeb Bush.

After lengthy, intense negotiations in a Gainesville hotel, a deal was struck, according to court testimony. Clark would talk - and he'd lead the authorities to Crosby, and potentially others who have yet to be charged.

Clark started telling what he knew and the meeting lasted into early Sunday morning. That day, Clark went undercover, wearing a wire during a conversation with Crosby - the man who guided his rapid ascent through the department to a $94,500-a-year job.

Clark met with Crosby and others a total of 15 times mostly face-to-face encounters where Clark wore a wire. Clark picked up $15,000 as part of the scheme - further solidifying the case.

"Everything he's been asked to do, he's done," acting U.S. Attorney Jim Klindt said.

Klindt and Dobson both asked for a lighter sentence than Clark ended up with. Covington said she understood the lengths Clark went to in helping the government and believes that he is remorseful, but could not go lower.

"Mr. Clark, I can't get around the breach of public trust," Covington said.

As with Crosby, Clark was given 30 days to report to prison because prosecutors feared for his safety if placed in a county jail waiting to be assigned to a federal facility., (904) 359-4550

Timeline of recent problems in state prison system

April 1, 2005: A brawl breaks out at a Department of Corrections softball banquet in Tallahassee. Three employees, including Regional Director Allen Clark, are arrested.

June 8, 2005: Two DOC employees charged in federal court with conspiring to steal recyclable materials and money from the DOC's recycling program.

Aug. 30, 2005: Clark resigns amid reports that his name had come up in an investigation by the FBI and the FDLE into activities by Department of Corrections employees.

Oct. 2005: Mark Guerra arrested and charged with grand theft after FDLE investigators alleged he failed to perform work at Apalachee Corrections Institution. Investigators said Guerra, a former minor league baseball player, was hired to play softball in a DOC tournament in Jacksonville.

Oct. 3, 2005: New River Corrections Capt. Keith Davison fired for conduct unbecoming an officer after a party at the Florida State Prison's Bachelors Officer Quarters where a woman was sexually assaulted. Davison later died from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Oct. 11, 2005: Vehicles and utility trailers belonging to six prison administrators and guards are seized by state law-enforcement officers in an investigation into allegations that prison employees misused labor and state equipment.

November 2005: Four off duty corrections officers arrested after being involved in fight at a bar in Starke.

Jan. 24, 2006: Four Department of Corrections officers charged with misdemeanor counts of possession of steroids from alleged incidents in August 2002, February 2003 and August 2003.

Jan 31, 2006: Bryan Griffis, who managed a center that recycles prison trash, pleaded guilty to embezzling from the center. He had also pleaded guilty in December 2004 for his role in an anabolic steroid ring in which he sold the drugs to fellow officers and others.

Feb. 10, 2006: Gov. Bush asks Crosby to resign.

July 5, 2006: Crosby and Clark agree to plead guilty in federal court to taking kickbacks from a contractor. Seven other prison employees are charged in state court with theft and another with accepting unauthorized compensations.

April 24, 2007: Crosby is sentenced to eight years in federal prison for his part in kickback scheme.

April 25, 2007: Clark is sentenced to two years and seven months in prison.