Monday, March 31, 2008

Jail psychiatrist resigns

Staff Writer

DAYTONA BEACH -- The jail psychiatrist for Volusia County is resigning as the county evaluates whether to renew Prison Health Services contract amid concerns from community leaders over the treatment of inmates with mental illnesses.

Dr. David Hager has told Prison Health Services he's resigning from the national for-profit company contracted by the county to provide health care at the Volusia County Branch Jail since 2005. Officials Thursday didn't know when he will leave.

Hager could not be reached for comment. Prison Health Services' officials said he's been advised by his lawyers not to comment with lawsuits pending against Prison Health Services, Hager and Volusia County about the treatment of inmates.

Martha Harbin, a spokeswoman for Prison Health Services, said Hager is taking a job with another company out of state.

She said a new psychiatrist, who has experience in a correctional setting, has been identified and Hager agreed to work through a transition until that doctor is hired.

Hager and Prison Health Services have been criticized about inmates with mental illnesses not receiving the proper medication or no medication at all.

The Volusia County Council in February postponed a decision on whether to renew Prison Health Services contract that ends in September.

County officials have said the company has been providing "excellent service," but County Chairman Frank Bruno said he's still open to the idea of working with Act Corp. or another company providing the mental health portion of the contract. .

"I think (Hager resigning) presents an opportunity to explore a different approach in the delivery of services," said Deanna Schaeffer, chairwoman of the Flagler/Volusia Behavioral Health Consortium

Local mental health officials have been concerned with Hager evaluating some inmates for a period of time before deciding to give them psychotropic medication, regardless of their history. Harbin said Prison Health Services doesn't dictate to its doctors how to practice medicine, but Hager was operating within psychiatric guidelines, though she added "a different psychiatrist may have a different approach." She also said that Prison Health "revisited our policy" recently and if an inmate has a valid prescription they will continue it.

Dr. Stephen Young, forensic psychiatrist who evaluates inmates for the 7th Judicial Circuit, supports Hager reviewing inmates who come in positive with cocaine and other drugs since those drugs can cause psychosis. He said Hager is articulate, intelligent and "very passionate."

With a shortage of psychiatrists in the community, Young said "here we have a guy who is really smart and we are going to railroad him out of town."

But attorneys at the Public Defender's Office said they still have cases where clients, with documented mental illnesses, are not receiving their medication, which impacts how well attorneys can communicate with and defend their clients.

"We will wait and see if this turns a new page in mental health services at the jail," Public Defender James Purdy said about Hager's resignation.

Inmates could serve time in other states

State inmates could find themselves serving their Florida stint in other states under a new idea lawmakers will consider this week.

A proposal would allow the state’s Department of Corrections to “enter into contractual agreements with another state, a political subdivision of another state, or a vendor in another state to transfer and confine Florida inmates …”

DOC spokeswoman Jo Ellyn Rackleff said Monday there were no plans to ship any inmates out of state.

“We do not want to do this. We would build tents even before we would do this. Correctional officers don’t want us to do it and certainly the inmates’ families don’t want to do this,” she said.

Still, Rackleff said the bill would give “extra insurance so we won’t have to release dangerous inmates” if the state’s prison population triggers a mandatory release due to overcrowding.

And the plan could have favor among lawmakers who see short-term cost-cutting in sending inmates to other states instead of building new prisons in Florida.

While most states have their own overcrowding issue, prisons run by private for-profit companies have accepted other states’ inmates for years. Florida has never transferred inmates to other states for cost or crowding reasons.

Shifting inmates to other states has been a controversial plan. The mixture of different sets of prisoners accustomed to different sets of rules has led to riots in a number of prisons. And the transfer of inmates away from their families and existing educational programs makes it more difficult for prisoners to prepare for life after their release.

“It’s a horrible idea,” said Ken Kopczynski, a lobbyist for the state’s largest correctional officers union, the Florida Police Benevolent Association. “It compromises safety.”

The state’s prison system is facing a stunning budget cut of $160 million or more as lawmakers struggle to deal with a multi-billion budget hole for all state operations. The DOC could lose 1,400 current employees or more.

-- Joe Follick

Baby Snatcher's Criminal Record May Halt Release

Bob Hazen 03/31/2008 12:09:11

It's a ruling that surprised nearly everyone...a judge has ordered that 39-year-old Jennifer Latham be allowed to leave her Seminole County jail cell as long as she wears a GPS monitor on her ankle. Latham was arrested Friday afternoon on I-4 near Lake Mary after Sanford police say she kidnapped a one-day-old baby from Central Florida Regional Hospital.

"The child was in good shape," says Sanford Police Chief Bryan Tooley. "I want to emphasize, the hospital security did an excellent job in trying to apprehend this woman. She managed to get out the door."

Officials say Latham dressed as a nurse and convinced the newborn's mother that he had to be taken for an eye test. Once Latham had the baby in her arms, she fled the hospital.

The judge based his desicion to let Latham out at least partially on her clean criminal record, but new reports are indicating that her record isn't clean after all. She was apparently arrested for felony theft in Indiana in 2002 under her married name, and was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

It's unclear at this time if the judge is aware of Latham's previous arrest, or whether it could keep her from being released.

Felons' Voting Requests Pile Up

Florida's Process
To Restore Suffrage
Illustrates Haze

March 31, 2008; Page A4

MIAMI -- Republican Gov. Charlie Crist went against his party a year ago and made it easier for felons to regain their voting rights. The process has been slow, however -- stirring controversy in a state expected to be closely fought in this fall's elections.

Florida's clemency board has restored voting rights to nearly 75,000 residents. But nearly 96,000 requests are pending, according to information through March 20. Activists say there might be an additional 400,000 people who have been rejected without explanation, making it impossible for them to be reinstated.

The fate of these votes is especially sensitive in Florida, where George W. Bush claimed the presidency by a mere 537 votes in 2000. But similar tensions are playing out across the country, with 5.3 million U.S. citizens unable to vote because of felony convictions -- including four million people who are no longer in prison, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law.

Maine and Vermont are the only states that allow felons to vote while incarcerated. Thirteen others and the District of Columbia allow inmates to regain the right to vote after their release, according to the Sentencing Project, a Washington advocacy group. Other states limit voting based on factors including the severity of a crime, the completion of probation and the payment of fines.

Restoring the rights of all five million felons who can't vote is complicated by this patchwork system, said University of Florida political scientist Richard Scher, who noted, "There is no uniformity."

The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit in Tennessee contending that the state's rules amount to a poll tax, a reference to the illegal restrictions imposed during the 1960s. The state requires felons to pay outstanding fines and child support before restoring their votes, something the two advocacy groups say penalizes the poor.

Richard Gooden of Alabama lost his right to vote in 2000 after a drunken-driving conviction. The secretary of state said Mr. Gooden had to appeal through the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles because the felony was considered a crime of "moral turpitude." The board refused his application, saying his crime didn't disqualify him from voting. The stalemate between the two agencies left him unable to register.

The 66-year-old was turned away from the polls in the 1960s when he couldn't recite the Alabama State Constitution by heart, part of a test designed to keep African-Americans from voting. This time, the state's Supreme Court restored his vote.

"You can be in a place where you're eligible to vote but not know you're eligible because of the complexities and disinformation," said Mr. Gooden's lawyer, Ryan Haygood, of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

In Florida, churches are hosting rights-restoration sessions. The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, a group of 40 organizations, is planning a daylong rally for April 1 in Tallahassee. The state's clemency board is trying to reach out to as many people as possible to tell them of the changes. It held 17 hearings across the state and is preparing a leafleting campaign in convenience stores, churches and other well-traveled areas.

Inside the fellowship hall of the Greater Bethel AME Church in the Overtown area of Miami, more than 100 residents with criminal records listened to representatives from the state attorney and public defender offices explain how felons can register.

Those with more-serious crimes worked their way to the table staffed by the ACLU and University of Miami School of Law students. Ricky McGowan, 41 years old, spoke animatedly to one of the students while others lined up, waiting for a free chair. Mr. McGowan, a landscaper, has never voted. He lost his voting rights before he registered because at 18 he was convicted of conspiracy to commit armed robbery. He asked about the process and explained that he is worried an arrest for littering a year ago will further complicate his application.

"I done things I'm not proud of, and I'm different now; I'm a man," he said outside the hall. "But I can't go back and change what I did." Mr. McGowan said he doubts his rights will be restored in time. If he can, he will vote for Sen. Barack Obama. "I like Hillary; Hillary is all right, but Barack, Barack is something different," he said.

The change in Florida was controversial from the start. Mr. Crist's initial proposal was opposed by two Republicans who were members of the executive clemency board, Attorney General Bill McCollum and Secretary of Agriculture Charles Bronson. Mr. Crist revamped the idea, limiting the scope to nonviolent offenders, and Mr. Bronson signed on. To qualify, those felons must have completed their prison term, probation and parole, if applicable, and made any payments the court orders, including child support.

Mr. McCollum, with the backing of law-enforcement organizations, continued to oppose the measure, noting that authorities already had the power to restore voting rights on a case-by-case basis.

A spokeswoman for the attorney general said he has accepted the changes and now is focusing on better preparing inmates for their release.

The new process is simpler than the old method, but some want it to be faster still. It is "unnecessarily complicated, unnecessarily bureaucratic and unnecessarily slow," said Muslima Lewis, director of ACLU Florida's Racial Justice Project.

Roger Clegg, president and general counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a conservative legal advocacy group, said the old system could have been improved, but the new system goes too far. Each case should be reviewed, he said. "To assume someone has turned over a new leaf because they've walked out of prison doesn't make sense."

Write to Gary Fields at gary.fields@wsj.com1

URL for this article:

Hyperlinks in this Article:

Pariente now a Women’s Hall of Famer

Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente was inducted into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame at a March 11 Tallahassee ceremony.

Pariente was one of three women added to the hall at the event, and joins Justice Peggy Quince and former justice and current 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Rosemary Barkett.

Pariente was praised by Gov. Charlie Crist at the ceremony for her dedication to helping women and children, especially those involved in the courts, and Pariente used her acceptance talk to further push that goal.

“Having been on the Florida Supreme Court for Bush v. Gore, Terry Schiavo, school vouchers, abortion, and the death penalty, I am convinced that some of the most challenging and complex cases in which we can make a difference are those involving children and families,” Pariente told a crowd of a couple hundred seated in the Capitol courtyard under a giant tent on a cool and sometimes drizzly evening.

“I subscribe to the notion that 100 years from now it will not make a difference what our bank account was or how many awards or honors we received, but that the world can only be better if we make a difference now in the lives of children.”

She also said while she has received many awards over the years, “for me this is the Academy Award of awards.”

Crist noted Pariente’s advocacy of unified family courts, adding, “Your work will leave our judicial system a fairer and more compassionate place for women and children for generations to come.”

Inducted along with Pariente were Dr. Pallavi Patel, a board-certified pediatrician who was born in India and has done extensive medical philanthropy in both India and Zambia and supported the performing arts in Tampa, and U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a former state representative and senator who was instrumental in creating the state’s prepaid college tuition program and who plays a major role in U.S. foreign policy as the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The new inductees bring to 74 the number admitted to the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame. The hall is run under the auspices of the Florida Commission on the Status of Women.

— Courtesy Florida Bar News

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Vendor, lawmakers suggest cutting $11 million from prison food deals


Palm Beach Post Capital Bureau

Saturday, March 29, 2008

TALLAHASSEE — Mushy bland broccoli stems accompanied by a greasy mystery meat endowed with undercooked rice is as good as it gets for inmates behind bars.

But, according to the vendor who provides the food and some lawmakers, that's still too good.

They want to cut as much as $11 million from prison food contracts as part of an effort to pare about $3 billion from next year's state budget.

Prison officials fear that cutting the food budget will lower the quality of meals that are already bland and cause unrest among inmates.

Anger about meals is the No. 1 reason for inmate uprisings, according to corrections officials, and menu changes imperil safety for prison guards, inmates and the public in general.

"We think any reduction to (the current menu) that is not a change for health reasons poses a risk to public safety," said Department of Corrections Chief of Staff Richard Prudhom. "It may sound overly dramatic, but we strongly believe that."

The state pays nearly $79 million per year to two food service vendors - Philadelphia-based Aramark and Oldsmar-based Trinity Services Group Inc. - for the bulk of the food that is purchased for Florida's more than 92,000 inmates.

The state now pays $2.67 for three meals a day for each inmate. Lawmakers in the House want to reduce that cost to $2.30 a day.

Aramark representatives have convinced some lawmakers that the state can save millions by reducing calories fed to inmates. The company wants to go back to a menu it once served that prison officials say was unacceptable.

While the current menu is better then the old one, some inmates still complain about the food.

"I don't eat it. I just come here to give it away," Calvin Mayes, an inmate at Jefferson Correctional Institution in Monticello, said after a lunch of Spanish rice and broccoli. Instead, he spends about $150 a month at the prison canteen to buy food.

"The quality of the food is substandard," said a relative of an inmate at Marion Correctional Institution in Lowell, who asked not to be named because she feared retaliation against the prisoner. "The preparation is haphazard. They're supposed to wear hairnets and gloves. You find hair in your food and you find a Band-Aid in your food. Things are so overcooked it's mush, or it's not cooked at all."

Sen. Tony Hill recently asked the legislature's Joint Auditing Committee to conduct an investigation into the Aramark contract, and Aramark spokeswoman Sarah Jarvis confirmed that the state auditor general is also looking into it.

"When you've got people boycotting the food altogether, that's a problem," said Hill, D-Jacksonville.

Some inmates, like Donald Jones, say the food is the best it has ever been.

But food quality is less important to some lawmakers than saving money for taxpayers. The Senate has proposed slicing $6 million from the current prison food budget, while the House wants to cut $11 million.

"We're talking about substantial savings," Jarvis said. "They way the savings come about is by making better use of the ingredients served. For instance, replace French toast with pancakes."

Jarvis said that Aramark's spending for food has tripled since the initial contract was established in 2001.

Aramark wants to do more than change the menu. The company also is proposing cutting back on the number of workers it provides prisons, shifting the responsibility to corrections officials.

Guards would have to fill in, posing a problem for an already understaffed corrections system that could lose 1,800 guards under the Senate proposal, according to corrections officials.

Since signing a contract with the state seven years ago, Aramark has received mixed reviews. There have been questions about food quality, quantity and potential health violations. At times, the company has been fined by the state for failure to meet the specifications of its contract.

Critics suggest the proposed new contract is really an attempt by Aramark to make more money by paying less for food. The company is paid not by the number of meals consumed but by the number of inmates. If fewer inmates eat the food, Aramark can save money by providing less food.

In February, Aramark-served institutions had an 85 percent participation rate of inmates eating the company's meals. Trinity, which serves food to about one quarter of the state's inmates, had a 97 percent participation rate.

A state audit of the Aramark contract last year found that the participation rates equated to a "windfall for the vendor" and that Aramark substituted low-cost foods, such as turkey instead of beef, without passing the savings on to the state.

Aramark representatives and corrections officials both say those problems have been resolved.

Trinity this month canceled its contract with the state, giving it until August to renegotiate because, the company claims, it is losing money on the deal.

Corrections officials said they will meet with Trinity and Aramark next week to discuss their contracts.

Inside the mind of a ruthless killer

Gary Michael Hilton is an enigma because his profile breaks the mold of a typical serial killer

By Christian Boone and Rhonda Cook
Sunday, Mar 30, 2008, Page 18

Guilty of one murder, charged with another and linked to two more slayings, Gary Michael Hilton appears poised for infamy.

While he doesn't yet qualify as a "serial killer," the Atlanta-born transient captured the attention of FBI profilers within a week of his arrest for the decapitation of Buford, Georgia, hiker Meredith Emerson. They traveled from headquarters in Quantico, Virginia, to observe Hilton during questioning and again when he pleaded guilty Jan. 31 to the murder of Emerson, whom he abducted from Blood Mountain in North Georgia on New Year's Day.

If the evidence against Hilton - he was charged Thursday in the decapitation of Crawfordville, Florida, nurse Cheryl Dunlap - leads to more convictions, their research has only just begun.

In anonymity, Hilton, 61, existed on the margins, drifting through a series of failed relationships, odd jobs and shiftless scams. The Army veteran never adapted to civilian life, often retreating to his van in the woods.

No longer anonymous, Hilton remains an enigma. His advanced age breaks the profiler mold, as serial murderers typically begin killing between 25 and 35 years of age, experts agree.

"This guy didn't just fall off the turnip truck and start doing this," said retired FBI profiler Clint van Zandt.

Criminologist Eric Hickey, director of forensic studies at Alliant International University in Fresno, California, said he expects Hilton's predatory behavior began well before October, 2007, when the erstwhile subcontractor is alleged to have abducted and murdered avid hikers John and Irene Bryant. Transylvania (North Carolina) County Sheriff David Mahoney said there is "no question" Hilton was responsible for the elderly couple's deaths.

"It's almost unprecedented to see someone go from zero to what he did," Hickey said. "I'd suspect he could be linked to several other crimes."

Officials in Pickens County, South Carolina, are waiting until North Carolina completes its investigation of Hilton before pursuing him as a possible suspect in the abduction of Clemson University student Jason Knapp, last seen on Easter 10 years ago. Investigators said Knapp's fingerprints were on a ticket admitting him to Table Rock State Park.

Noel Talley, spokeswoman for the North Carolina Department of Justice, confirmed Hilton is a suspect in Rossana Miliani's disappearance but declined to offer more details. Miliani was last seen Dec. 7, 2005, near Bryson City, North Carolina Some said she was with a white man in his 60s, and the young woman appeared nervous.

Beyond his age, Hilton fits many of the characteristics shared by serial killers. Renowned criminologist Steven Egger's criteria include no relationship to the victim and a minimum of two murders, though some experts say three killings are a better indicator.

The slayings typically occur at different locales - Hilton is linked to crimes in three states so far - though the victims often share characteristics such as gender or age. The motivation is not financial, Egger said, though Hilton told the GBI that's why he killed Emerson.

"Money was a secondary issue," Hickey said. "This was about power. When you consider his comfort in the woods, that is where he felt most powerful, and that's why he killed them where he did."

Why he killed is the greater mystery.

At about the same time the Bryants were murdered, Hilton's life was changing dramatically. In September 2007, his longtime employer, John Tabor, succumbed to Hilton's demands for US$2,500.

Hilton's behavior had become increasingly erratic, Tabor said, and he paid him off in hopes of severing their already fractured relationship.

"This is systemic behavior with most of these guys," Hickey said. "He feels like the world is against him. There's issues of rejection, abandonment. Killing becomes his focus."

But Hilton got sloppy, especially in disposing of clues linking him to Emerson's death. He was arrested at a Chamblee gas station and convenience store near a busy intersection after being spotted dumping loads of sleeping bags, backpacks, bedrolls and blankets into a Dumpster.

"Narcissism is not uncommon for such antisocial personality disorders," said Joe Davis, a veteran profiler and forensic psychologist based out of San Diego. "He likes the attention he's getting."

While all four of the bodies Hilton could be connected with were left in dense forests, they were still somewhat conspicuous.

Hilton led authorities to Emerson's body on the condition they not seek the death penalty. Hunters in Florida and North Carolina, respectively, discovered Dunlap's and Bryant's corpses mere meters from unpaved hunting trails.

"I suspect he wanted them to be found," Hickey said. "He wants to be heard. He wants to frighten people. He wants to show his power. To him, it's really about having a voice."

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Man convicted in decade-old murder

DAYTONA BEACH — The man accused in a 1997 murder was found guilty this afternoon by jurors who only took about an hour to make a decision.

Gregory Earl Murphy, 45, now faces the death penalty after being found guilty of a count of first-degree murder. The penalty phase begins Wednesday.

DNA evidence linked Murphy to the April 13, 1997, stabbing, strangling and hammer-blow slaying of Erleen Albright, 39, in her Pleasant Street apartment. Murphy's arrest in 2006 marked the first since Daytona Beach police created a cold case unit.

Murphy took the stand on Thursday and claimed self-defense, saying Albright was high on cocaine and came at him with a knife.

In the penalty phase, the jury will recommend life or death to Circuit Judge J. David Walsh, who will determine Murphy’s fate. Judges rarely go against jury recommendations in such sentences.

Albright’s body was found in 1997 by her then-17-year-old son Tony Bobbit, a Mainland High School basketball star and current pro player overseas.

Ruling: Bush can't order hearing for condemned Mexican

The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday against President Bush in a far-reaching legal dispute with his home state, concluding that the president can't order Texas courts to conduct a new hearing for a Mexican national who's on Death Row.
In a 6-3 decision, the court sided with the state of Texas in denying an appeal for José Ernesto Medellín, who's on Texas' Death Row for the gang rape and murder of two teenage girls in Houston 15 years ago.

The case had broad international reach and threatened to strain relations further between the United States and Mexico. The Mexican Embassy in Washington expressed disappointment with the ruling.

Bush was cast in an unlikely legal alliance with Medellín by insisting that Texas abide by an international treaty that requires those arrested abroad to have access to their country's consular officials. Medellín asserts that he was denied access to Mexican representatives.

In the majority opinion, written by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, the justices upheld a 2006 ruling by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which held that Bush overstepped his constitutional authority through ''an intrusive exercise of power'' over the Texas court system.

Roberts said that the president's authority, ''as with the exercise of any governmental power,'' stemmed from an act of Congress or the Constitution. Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter dissented.

The ruling marked a victory for Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, whose office argued that Medellín waited too long to invoke his treaty claim and was grasping at the issue to avoid execution in a brutal crime that rocked Houston in 1993.

''Now, 15 years after two innocent teenage girls were brutally gang-raped and murdered, their grieving families are a step closer to justice,'' Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz said.

New York attorney Donald Frances Donovan, who represented Medellín at the request of the Mexican government, was traveling out of the country and unavailable to discuss his next legal step. But in a statement through his office, Donovan said the ruling constituted a ``departure from the original intent of the Constitution and over 200 years of enforcement of treaties by U.S. courts.''

Medellín, 33, remains at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas, one of 368 Death Row inmates, including nine women, who are awaiting execution in the state.

Texas, like other states, has a de facto moratorium on executions until the Supreme Court rules on a case from two Kentucky Death Row inmates challenging the constitutionality of lethal injections. Roe Wilson, a prosecutor in the Harris County district attorney's office, said the office wouldn't proceed with seeking an execution date for Medellín until after a ruling in the lethal-injection case.

Florida Legislature makes formal apology for slavery

By Josh Hafenbrack and John Kennedy

2:36 PM EDT, March 26, 2008


In a watershed moment in Florida's race relations, a solemn state Legislature on Wednesday apologized for the Florida's long history of slavery, expressing "profound regret for the shameful chapter in this state's history."

Described as a bid for "reconciliation and healing," the House this afternoon passed a resolution apologizing for state slavery laws dating back to 1822 – decades became Florida even became a state – that "perpetuated African slavery in one of its most brutal and dehumanizing forms."

Earlier, the Senate passed the same resolution with Gov. Charlie Crist looking on.

Legislators in both chambers sat in silence as historian John Phelps, a former House clerk, read a summary of state laws from the 19th Century that denied even basic freedoms to slaves.

Slaves could be subject to 39 lashes of a whip, administered to a bare back, for raising a hand or addressing a white person with language deemed to be abusive or offensive. For crimes as common as robbery, slaves could have their ears nailed to wooden posts for an hour or even be sentenced to death.

By 1860, at the onset of the Civil War and more than 50 years after slavery was outlawed in federal law, some 44 percent of Florida's 140,000 residents were slaves.

Florida becomes the sixth state to apologize for slavery, following Maryland and other Confederacy states Alabama, North Carolina and Virginia. In January, New Jersey became the first northern state to apologize for its role in slavery.

At the Capitol, Crist initially said that while the apology was important, the state should consider offering financial reparations to descendants of slaves. But he quickly backed away from that stance.

"Certainly it's something you'd like to be able to do," Crist said. "Obviously, in a difficult budgetary time, it's a challenging thing. But I just want to focus on the good thing that has happened today...It's a significant step."

Crist added that he was especially moved by descriptions of the cruelty of slave times.

"I don't think you could listen to some of the punishents that were meted out in the past...without being moved by it," Crist said. "The cruel nature and the unimaginable penalties that were described."

In Florida, the move was promoted by Sen. Tony Hill, a black Jacksonville Democrat, who worked with ruling Republicans in the House and Senate to craft the resolution. Similar measures have stirred some controversy in other states, notably Virginia where a white lawmaker said "black citizens should get over" slavery.

But in the Florida Senate, Phelps' reading was met by respectful silence. Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, wiped away a tear as Phelps spoke.

"I hope that it begins a dialogue, and we can talk more about what happened. We need more discussion about race," Joyner said. "And I think this lays the groundwork for further discussion."

The resolution pointed out that although slave-era laws are gone, they shouldn't be forgotten.

"Even though the laws permitting such injustice have been repealed," the resolution concluded, "it is important the Legislature expresses profound regret for the shameful chapter in this state's history and, in so doing, promote healing and reconciliation among all Floridians."

From the House and Senate floors, Phelps read an 1861 letter from Florida Gov. Richard Keith Call describing a black man as "an animal in the form of a man, possessing the greatest physical power, and the greatest capacity for labor and endurance ... a wild barbarian, to be tamed and civilized by the discipline of slavery."

Former Gov. LeRoy Collins is largely credited as the politician who fought segregation and promoted more opportunity for blacks in Florida in the late 1950s. Collins was among the first New South politicians who fought for racial justice, but was never again elected to political office after serving his final term as governor.

After the Civil War, Florida's Constitution of 1868 guaranteed blacks the right to vote and abolished slavery in the state. But Florida's unequal treatment of blacks continued with Jim Crow laws in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Georgia man convicted in 1997 Daytona Beach killing

Associated Press - March 25, 2008 6:04 AM ET

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) - A Florida jury has found a Georgia man guilty of first degree murder in the brutal death of a Daytona Beach woman inside her home in 1997.

Authorities say Gregory Earl Murphy choked and stabbed Erlene Albright, then struck her in the head with a hammer and sexually battered her.

The murder went unsolved for years, but DNA evidence linked Murphy to the crime in 2003.

Defense attorneys say Murphy killed the woman in self-defense because she had attacked him with a knife after the two hit it off at a club earlier that night.

The jury will decide tomorrow whether Murphy gets life in prison or the death penalty.

Information from: Orlando Sentinel,

Infection Kills Fla. Jail Inmate

Inmate Dorothy Dian Palinchik was diagnosed with a MRSA infection and pneumonia.

Feb 29, 08 3:14 PM CST AP Online

A woman arrested for allegedly stealing a $9 sandwich from a grocery store appeared in good health when she was booked into the Pinellas County Jail. She was dead two weeks later after aggressive infection ravaged her body.

Dorothy Dian Palinchik, 42, died Thursday. Doctors determined she was suffering from pneumonia and the notorious drug-resistant staph known as MRSA.

While her family suspects she got the illness in jail, officials declined to comment on specifics of her care. They said only that she didn't show symptoms when she was booked and an investigation and autopsy were ordered.

Before her arrest, Palinchik worked as a waitress, did odd jobs and seemed in good health, said her mother, Dorothy Helen Palinchik.

"It was terrible," she said. The family is considering a lawsuit.

Palinchik was arrested Feb. 13 after authorities alleged she stole a $9 Philly cheesesteak sandwich. Her boyfriend, Michael Mullican, offered to pay her $250 bail, but she declined, saying she'd rather serve her time.

She had a fever within days of entering the jail, Mullican said. He said Palinchik could barely lift her head when he visited her Feb. 21. Palinchik was taken by ambulance to Largo Medical Center, where she died after being placed in a medically induced coma, her hands and feet blackened by disease.

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, can appear in cramped quarters, including jails, hospitals, schools and nursing homes. Studies estimate that while staph inhabits 20 to 30 percent of the population, only about 1 percent carry the antibiotic-resistant MRSA strain.

Paralyzed Man Gets New Attorney

By MIKE WELLS, The Tampa Tribune

Published: March 8, 2008

Brian Sterner, the paralyzed man who was dumped out of a wheelchair by a Hillsborough County jail deputy, has retained a new attorney to represent him, according to the sheriff's office.

Tampa lawyer Michael Maddux notified the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office on Friday he would be replacing Largo lawyer John Trevena as the former inmate's attorney, sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter said.

When contacted by The Tampa Tribune, Trevena said he remains Sterner's attorney of record and declined further comment.

Outside his home Friday evening, Sterner also declined to comment.

Maddux said he was hired by Sterner on Thursday.

"The conditions of me getting hired I'm not getting into," he said. He said the details are confidential.

Sterner, 32, is paralyzed from the chest down. On Jan. 29, he was arrested on a traffic-related warrant and brought to Orient Road Jail. He was searched by then-Detention Deputy Charlette Marshall-Jones. A surveillance camera recorded her grabbing the back of the wheelchair and dumping Sterner to the floor before he was searched.

The video spread across the Internet, prompting an outcry from the public and the formation of an independent jail review board. Marshall-Jones was charged with felony adult abuse and resigned.

Reporter Josh Poltilove and News Channel 8 reporter Samara Sodos contributed to this report. Reporter Mike Wells can be reached at (813) 259-7839 or mwells

Woman Who Fell Ill At Jail Dies In Hospital, Boyfriend Says

By STEPHEN THOMPSON of The Tampa Tribune

Published: February 28, 2008

LARGO -- Dorothy Palinchik, the 42-year-old waitress whose family alleges she did not receive adequate health care at Pinellas County Jail, died today at Largo Medical Center, according to her live-in boyfriend.

Her diagnosis was a combination of pneumonia and a type of staph infection that is resistant to antibiotics, family members said. Her time of death was 4:14 p.m., according to the hospital and family members.

The day before Valentine's Day, Palinchik was booked into Pinellas County Jail on charges she had stolen a $9.20 Philly steak sandwich from a Publix supermarket, said Palinchik's mother, whose name is also Dorothy.

Nine days later, she left the jail in an ambulance.

Palinchik's family and boyfriend think she got sick at the jail and that the staff there is responsible for her condition.

"They didn't give her proper medical care," said her mother. "I just don't think they wanted to deal with it."

The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, which oversees the jail, has a detention investigative unit that has started looking into the matter, said sheriff's spokeswoman Marianne Pasha. Such probes are launched whenever someone leaves the jail in a deteriorating health condition, Pasha said.

Pinellas Sheriff Jim Coats said it was too early to tell whether his staff did anything inappropriate, but he defended the quality of health care at the jail and the conditions there in general. The budget for inmate health care is $21 million, with roughly $2 million for pharmaceuticals, he said.

"A lot of these inmates, they've had little or no health care maintenance in their lives," Coats said. "We don't know what ailments they may or may not have and a lot of time we have to rely on what they tell us, or don't tell us."

Palinchik was accused of ordering the sandwich at the Publix in downtown St. Petersburg at dinnertime, and of walking out without paying for it, according to an arrest affidavit. She was charged with petty theft, with bail set at $250.

Palinchik's boyfriend, Michael Mullican, said he was out of town working as a truck driver in the Miami area when she was jailed. When he visited her at the jail's video visitation center Feb. 21, eight days after she was booked, she looked terrible, he said.

"The next time I saw her was Saturday afternoon on a ventilator at Largo Medical Center," Mullican said.

Pasha, the sheriff's spokeswoman, said Palinchik was transferred from a regular wing at the jail to a medical wing Feb. 21, the same day Mullican visited her, and the next evening she was transported by ambulance to Largo Medical Center.

Roger Sanderson, an epidemiologist with the Florida Department of Health, described Palinchik's staph affliction, technically called staph MRSA, as one that can be passed on through a simple handshake. People may be carrying it for months or years in their noses and sinuses without knowing it, until it is triggered by simply rubbing one's nose then touching a small cut, he said.

MRSA can cause infections in the heart valves and in the bones, Sanderson said. An infection in the lungs causes pneumonia.

"MRSA pneumonias are well known and they can have a fairly high fatality rate," Sanderson said. "Cases like this do happen. People with signs of pneumonia need to get to their physician right away.

"This is not something unique to jails," Sanderson said. "It can happen anywhere."

Reporter Stephen Thompson can be reached at (727) 451-2336 or

Paralysed inmate claims abuse

Florida - Another paralysed inmate claims deputies tipped him out of his wheelchair onto a Tampa jailhouse floor, just weeks after video of a similar dumping at the same facility prompted a firestorm of criticism.

Attorney John Trevena said the incident involving his client, Benjamin Rayburn, 32, who is serving a 10-year prison sentence, also was captured on videotape.

"There is widespread abuse of inmates," Trevena said. "It's not limited to Hillsborough County Jail. It's just that the Hillsborough County Jail maintains very detailed video archives inside the jail."

The Hillsborough Sheriff's Office didn't respond to telephone messages left by The Associated Press on Wednesday night.

The allegations come just weeks after another deputy was charged with one count of felony abuse of a disabled person after video showed her dumping a paralysed man on the floor. Trevena also represents that inmate, Brian Sterner.

The latest incident happened October 3 2006, after Rayburn had a glass crack pipe inside the jail, and swung the pipe at a deputy, according to a sheriff's report obtained by the St Petersburg Times.

Rayburn then threw the pipe, which shattered, striking another deputy in the back of the head. Deputies then "relocated Rayburn from his wheelchair to the holding cell floor", according to the report.

After the incident, investigators charged Rayburn with aggravated assault, battery on a law enforcement officer and introducing contraband into a county detention centre, the report said.

Rayburn is paralysed from the chest down, Trevena said.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Death Penalty Sought In 2 Murder Cases

By Dan Fearson of Highlands Today

Published: March 20, 2008

SEBRING — Prosecutors announced on Tuesday that they will seek the death penalty against Edgar Michael Otero, who is facing charges of first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse.

Otero was indicted in January by a Highlands County Grand Jury in connection to the November 2006 murder of Alexa Hall, a 3-month-old girl.

Originally, investigators thought that Hall died of shaken baby syndrome, but an autopsy by the District 13

Medical Examiner's Office in Hillsborough County later showed that she died of blunt force trauma.
On the morning of Nov. 12, Brandy Hall, the baby's mother, and Otero, reportedly brought the child in to the Florida Hospital emergency room for an unknown sickness.

According to Otero's arrest report, Hall was brain dead.

Hospital officials decided the baby needed to be airlifted to St. Joseph's Hospital, where she was eventually taken off life-support.

Otero has been held in the Highlands County Jail since November without bond.

Avon Park Shooting

Prosecutors will also be seeking the death penalty against Donald Alfonso Henry, who is facing a first-degree murder charge, in connection to the shooting death of Hugh Andrew Marks Jan. 7.

Marks' body was found lying on the ground near the intersection of Garrett Road and Alabama Avenue, in Avon Park.

After a warrant was issued for Henry's arrest, he reportedly fled Highlands County, eventually turning himself in to the Orlando Police Department.

On Jan. 16, Vackara Darnell Massaline, 31, was also arrested on a charge of accessory after the fact in the murder of Marks. Investigators believe that Massaline helped Henry following Marks' murder.

Henry is currently being held in the Highlands County Jail without bond.

Jury wants death for Phillup Partin, girl's killer

Phillup Alan Partin sits in the courtroom Wednesday, listening to his attorneys Bjorn Brunvand, left, and William Bennett

By Jamal Thalji, Times staff writer

Published Wednesday, March 19, 2008 8:13 PM


NEW PORT RICHEY — Robert Ramsdell remembers that day five years ago when he first saw his stepdaughter's killer in a Pasco courtroom.

A defiant Phillup Alan Partin showed off the tattoo across his shoulders, the one he got during his year on the run from law enforcement:

"Live free or die."

Words to live by, the stepfather said.

"He's not going to live forever," Mr. Ramsdell said Wednesday. "He may as well kill himself now."

That's because a jury decided on Wednesday that the state of Florida should take Partin's life for taking 16-year-old Joshan Ashbrook's life in 2002.

It took the jury of eight men and four women three hours on Tuesday to convict Partin of first-degree murder. It took them two hours on Wednesday to vote 9-3 in favor of the death penalty instead of life in prison.

Partin, 42, reacted as he has throughout his two-week trial: with a cold, blank stare and an air of hostile indifference.

In fact, the trial revealed that the only thing Partin seems to care about in this world is his 12-year-old daughter, Patrisha.

Is Partin both a cold killer and a caring father?

"How can he love his little girl," said the victim's mother, Tara Lynn Ramsdell, "and not care what he did to mine?"

The trial, or guilt phase, took seven days. Wednesday's penalty phase was brief by comparison.

The state's lone witness was a Miami-Dade police lieutenant who testified about Partin's first murder two decades ago, when he snapped the neck of a Miami man. The lieutenant said Partin hustled at gay bars then, which is how he met that victim.

In 1987, Partin was sentenced to 17 years in prison for second-degree murder. But he was released in 1995.

Joshan (pronounced Yo-shan) also had her neck broken, a medical examiner testified, separating her head from her spine. Her throat was also cut open.

No one testified on Partin's behalf. No family members have even come to court. Instead, the defense played snippets of videotaped depositions on his behalf.

They played just a few seconds of a tape of Partin's daughter, who testified for the state that she saw the victim alive with her father.

In the tape, defense attorney Bjorn Brunvand showed the girl a hand sign that she and her father used to share.

"Is that what the two of you used to say 'I love you' to each other?" the lawyer asked.

"Yes," the girl said.

• • •

The jury's vote for the death penalty is a recommendation. State law says the judge must give it "great weight."

In the end, it will be Circuit Judge William Webb's decision alone. Partin's lawyers will try to persuade the judge to override the jury's recommendation at a May 16 hearing.

Partin doesn't appear to like the judge. He's insulted Webb in jailhouse letters and on Wednesday directed profanities at him.

The judge will sentence Partin on June 20.

• • •

The Ramsdells have eight children, 17 grandchildren and one more on the way. Those children have questions their grandparents cannot answer.

"We have grandchildren who want to know why the bad guy killed Auntie Yo-Yo," Tara Ramsdell said, "and what do you say to them? He's not going to say anything to us. I want him to tell me why."

The state said the motive for Joshan's murder is a mystery that may never be solved.

The mother of Partin's daughter said she is conflicted about the death penalty. "How's his daughter going to feel," she said, "not being able to see her father again?"

Given Partin's feelings about being living free, the mother said, she wonders if a worse punishment would be to let him live out his days behind bars.

"Sometimes I think so," Mrs. Ramsdell said. "But I'm Joshan's mother. I say kill him."

Jamal Thalji can be reached at or (727) 869-6236.

Officer faces jail for tipping paraplegic man out of chair

These video images show Deputy Charlette Marshall-Jones pushing Brian Sterner, 32, in his wheelchair before dumping him on the floor in order to search him

By Stephen Foley
Monday, 18 February 2008
The Independent, United Kingdom

A Florida prison officer who dumped a paraplegic man out of his
wheelchair in order to search him could be jailed after being charged
with abuse of a disabled person.

Surveillance video footage showing the behaviour of Charlette
Marshall-Jones, a sheriff's deputy at the Hillsborough county
detention centre in Tampa, caused national outrage when it was picked
up by the news channels and posted on YouTube.

After repeatedly having asked Brian Sterner, 32, who has been
paralysed from the waist down since a wrestling accident 13 years
ago, to stand up to be searched, Deputy Marshall-Jones is shown
tipping him on to the floor as if unloading a wheelbarrow. Other
officers look on and one walks away smiling, as Mr Sterner is
searched while still lying on the floor. Four officers, including Ms
Marshall-Jones, have been suspended while the incident is
investigated, and the deputy faces five years in jail if convicted of
abuse. She was bailed at the weekend.

Mr Sterner, who drives a car fitted with hand pedals, had been
arrested for a traffic offence. In a national television appearance,
he said: "Hopefully, that's what will come out of this, that this
negative way of dealing with life and people will change."

Dozens of children in U.S. face life in prison

By Matthew Bigg

ALABASTER, Alabama (Reuters) - Underage criminals cannot face the death penalty in the United States but dozens of offenders imprisoned for crimes committed when they were young teenagers will still die behind bars.

The U.S. Supreme Court abolished the death penalty for minors in 2005 but 19 states permit "life-means-life" sentences for those under 18, according to a study by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI).

In all, 2,225 people are sentenced to die in U.S. prisons for crimes they committed as minors and 73 of them were aged 13 and 14 at the time of the crime, according to the group, which is based in Montgomery, Alabama.

Elsewhere in the world, life sentences with no chance of parole are rare for underage offenders. Human Rights Watch estimates that only 12 people outside the United States face such sentences.

Judicial reform advocates say the U.S. provision is an example of how harsh sentences have helped cause a jump in incarceration rates since the 1970s. The United States jails a higher percentage of its population than anywhere else in the industrialized world, these advocates say.

"These kids have been swept up in this tide of carceral control that is unparalleled in American history," said Bryan Stevenson, director of the EJI. "We have become quite comfortable about throwing people away," he said.

Others defend the statute, arguing it is popular with voters and gives comfort to victims to know that perpetrators of serious crimes against them will not one day walk free.

They also use an "adult crime, adult time" argument -- minors who commit adult crimes should be punished as adults.


The case of Ashley Jones, who was 14 when she killed, illustrates the seriousness of many crimes that result in for-life sentences.

One night in August 1999, Jones and her 16-year-old boyfriend, Geramie Hart, angered by her family's disapproval of their relationship, went to her home in Birmingham, Alabama. They set her grandfather on fire with lighter fluid, stabbed him and shot him dead.

They also stabbed and shot dead Jones' aunt in her bedroom and set her grandmother on fire.

Jones' 10-year-old sister, Mary, was asleep in bed but they dragged her to the kitchen to see the attack on her family.

"I had to sit there and watch her (Ashley) torture my grandmother. I saw her in flames," said Mary Jones, recounting her ordeal in an interview in Alabaster, Alabama.

"Geramie ... picked me up by my neck and pointed a gun at me and said: 'This is how you are going to die.' Ashley said: 'No, wait. I'll do her.'"

They stabbed Mary Jones repeatedly, puncturing a lung, and drove off leaving her and her grandmother, whose injuries included burns, stab and gunshot wounds, to stagger outside.

The questions raised by criminal cases involving teenagers are difficult to answer.

Is a young teenager responsible for crimes in the same way as an adult and to what extent, if at all, should courts consider a minor's family situation and background?

"It goes against human inclinations to give up completely on a young teenager. It's impossible for a court to say that any 14-year-old never has the possibility to live in society," said Stephen Bright, director of the Southern Center for Human Rights.


The Equal Justice Initiative has filed suits in six states challenging the life-without-parole sentences and has brought a case in federal court in northern Alabama over the Jones case, arguing it represents cruel and unusual punishment.

Hart is also serving the same sentence.

The group says a disproportionate number of the minors serving the sentence are black or Hispanic and many were tried as adults with inadequate legal counsel. Also, it says up to 70 percent were given mandatory sentences.

Not all those serving life-means-life sentences for crimes committed as minors are convicted killers.

Antonio Nunez was convicted of multiple counts of attempted murder and also aggravated kidnapping and sentenced to life without parole for his role in a kidnap, police chase and shootout in April, 2001, in which nobody was injured.

Nunez, aged 14 at the time of the crime, grew up in a part of Los Angeles where gang activity was common. In 2000, he was wounded and his brother killed in a gang-related shooting.

His sister Cindy Nunez said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles the life sentence devastated her family.

"He has lost all hope .... We try to keep his spirits up by saying something will change in the law," she said.

Mary Jones, now 19, is attempting to reconstruct her life. She testified against her sister in court but has visited her in jail. She blames Hart for changing her sister from "the sweetest girl" into a murderer.

"She should have a chance to have a life. Her life shouldn't just be taken away from her like that. Sometimes I'm kind of mad and then I'm sad," she said. "I practically lost her too because she is in prison."

(Reporting by Matthew Bigg; Editing by Michael Christie and Eddie Evans)

Jail Inmate Complains Marshall-Jones Abused Her

Tammy Lynn Mojica

By JOSH POLTILOVE of The Tampa Tribune, FL
Published: February 20, 2008

TAMPA - An internal affairs investigation is looking into a
Falkenburg Road Jail inmate's complaint that Charlette Marshall-
Jones, the detention deputy who dumped a quadriplegic man from his
wheelchair in January, also abused her last month.

"She snatched me by the back of my head and slammed me into the
wall," Tammy Lynn Mojica told the Tribune during a phone call today
from jail.

On Jan. 29, a video camera recorded Marshall-Jones raising the back
of a wheelchair, spilling quadriplegic Brian Sterner onto the floor.
Sterner, 32, of Riverview, was booked at the jail on a warrant
stemming from a traffic violation.

Marshall-Jones, 44, submitted her resignation Friday. She was
arrested Saturday on a charge of abuse of a disabled person. She
posted $3,500 bail and was released.

Mojica said Marshall-Jones abused her Jan. 10, when she was booked
into Orient Road Jail. Mojica is now in Falkenburg.

"Any time we have an allegation of excessive use of force, it's going
to be investigated," said Col. David Parrish, who runs Orient Road
Jail. "There are two deputies who are involved in the incident – from
my review of the report that was written."

Parrish would not discuss specifics and said video of Mojica being
booked would not be made available since it is part of an active

Sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter said an internal affairs
investigation is ongoing, but she would not discuss the investigation
or the incident.

Marshall-Jones' mother, Alma Marshall, declined to comment. Marshall-
Jones' attorney, Norman Cannella, said he wasn't familiar with
Mojica's complaint.

"I haven't got the slightest idea of what you speak about, not the
slightest," he said. "I'm not going to bother to tell [Marshall-
Jones] anything about this since I don't have the slightest idea what
you're talking about."

The state attorney's office filed charges of cocaine possession,
possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug
paraphernalia against Mojica following her Jan. 10 arrest, state
attorney's spokeswoman Pam Bondi said.

A separate charge of introduction of contraband into a detention
facility was considered but was deemed "duplicitous and not necessary
to the prosecution of the case," Bondi said.

Separately, Mojica has the following charges pending against her:
grand theft third-degree, possession of drug paraphernalia and
driving with a suspended license, Bondi said.

Mojica, 34, of Wimauma, said she didn't want to discuss charges
against her.

She said her incident involving Marshall-Jones began about 2:30 p.m.
Jan. 10 when she initially appeared in the jail. Marshall-Jones
believed Mojica had eaten something and took her into a bathroom to
search her, Mojica said.

As soon as Mojica entered the bathroom, Marshall-Jones attacked her,
she said. "My right hand and wrist was bent backwards," Mojica
said. "My thumb was dislocated. It's still bruised."

A Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office narrative last month of the
incident says: Marshall-Jones saw a 4-inch glass pipe near Mojica,
then led Mojica to a restroom to strip search her. Mojica placed an
unknown white powdery substance in her mouth and tried swallowing it,
Marshall-Jones said.

Marshall-Jones tried extracting the substance with her bare right
hand and called for help from Deputy Richard Sergi. Marshall-Jones
removed her hand from Mojica's mouth, put on a blue rubber glove and
tried again to remove the substance. Her attempts failed, but her
hand and glove tested positive for cocaine.

During the process, Sergi stuck his thumb in Mojica's mouth "and was
exposed to a mixture of blood and saliva," Marshall-Jones said in an
incident report.

The report doesn't indicate if Mojica was injured or taken to a

Sterner's attorney, John Trevena, said he isn't surprised by Mojica's
complaint against Marshall-Jones. Trevena's office has been "crushed"
with calls from people claiming they have been abused by jail and
prison guards locally and nationally.

Mojica said she was taken to a hospital before being booked about 7
p.m. that day and later spent about a week in a jail infirmary.

"I don't know why she was so manhandling," Mojica said. "I don't know
why she abused me the way she did. I didn't get a battery on [a law
enforcement officer charge], so that proves I didn't fight her. I
shouldn't have had a busted lip. I shouldn't have been talked to like
a dog."

A separate recently released video shows a detention deputy striking
inmate Marcella Pourmoghani-Esfahani, the woman's lawyer said.
Pourmoghani-Esfahani is shown in the video being struck by a deputy
in the holding area of the jail on Nov. 11, 2006. Her attorney
released the video Monday and said he has filed a federal civil
rights lawsuit against the deputy, the sheriff and the county.

Steve Yerrid, a longtime plaintiff's lawyer in Hillsborough County,
said he is not surprised that several people are making complaints
against jail staff right now. When a negative incident, such as
Sterner's drop from the wheelchair, gets high publicity, it's not
uncommon for many similar complaints to arise.

"It's amazing to watch the publicity in terms of awareness," Yerrid
said. "The public's right to know often results in a momentum. The
momentum right now is that anyone who has ever had a problem with law
enforcement and is contemplating action is going to take action right

That does not mean that the individual complaints or lawsuits will
have a greater chance of a successful outcome.

"The bottom line is what is appropriate and what isn't appropriate
has to happen on a case-by-case basis," Yerrid said. "Just because
there is an avalanche of cases won't change the merit of each case."

By and large, Yerrid said, law enforcement acts appropriately. That
doesn't mean there aren't exceptions, he said. Similarly, people do
file frivolous lawsuits, over-blowing minor incidents, Yerrid said.
That is not to say that some lawsuits have merit and represent
significant abuses of power, he said.

In the wheelchair incident, Sheriff David Gee almost immediately
condemned the deputy's actions. Yerrid said Gee's comments are

"That's what you want to have," he said, "not absolute blanket denial
every time."

The fact that Gee admitted sheriff's office responsibility for
Sterner's complaint also gives weight to Gee's integrity when he
denies abuse in other complaints about his deputies, Yerrid said.

Reporter Thomas W. Krause contributed to this report. Reporter Josh
Poltilove can be reached at or (813) 259-

Woman 'beaten'at same police station as man dumped out of wheelchair

by ryan dded (Posted by The Last MoveMent)
OpEdNews, PA

CCTV: This is the same police station where a female police officer
dumped a man from his wheelchair. Marcella Pourmoghani claims she was
beaten by a Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office detention deputy badly
enough that she had to be taken from the jail to a hospital.

Pourmoghani has filed a federal lawsuit. After seeing what happened to
Brian Sterner, the wheelchair-bound quadriplegic, dumped from his chair
at the same jail facility, Marcella Pourmoghani is speaking out.

Polk deputies charged with delivering drugs to inmate

The Associated Press

8:02 AM EDT, March 21, 2008


Central Florida sheriff's officials say two detention deputies were arrested after an investigation found they delivered marijuana to an inmate in jail.

The Polk County Sheriff's Office says authorities believe detention deputy Michael T. Redmond, 23, delivered the drugs to inmate Freddie Street and detention deputy Jarrett R. Brice, 34, helped with the deliveries.

Investigators believe Street's girlfriend, Latifah Bilal, 25, gave the drugs to Redmond. She is also facing charges.

Both deputies resigned. Jail officials did not answer calls to determine whether the three had lawyers.

Suspect in lawyer's death denied bail

Tony Villegas is accused of strangling Melissa Lewis.


Tony Villegas was denied bail Thursday morning during his first appearance in front of a Broward judge in the murder of a Fort Lauderdale attorney earlier this month.
The 44-year-old railroad engineer only answered ''Yes, sir'' to several quick questions by Broward Circuit Court Judge Lee Jay Seidman, who wanted to make sure the suspect understood the charges against him.

Villegas appeared by closed-circuit television and was formally charged with premeditated first-degree murder in the death of 39-year-old Melissa Britt Lewis -- a crime punishable by the death penalty.


The case could go before a grand jury next week.

Police allege that on the night of March 5, Villegas strangled Lewis and dumped her body into a canal.

Lewis was a close friend of Villegas' estranged wife, Debra Villegas, who worked with Melissa at the law firm Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler.

Villegas, who formerly lived in Sunrise and Weston, was arrested early Saturday at his sister's house in North Miami-Dade.

He maintains that he was framed.

Authorities have released little information about a motive.

However, his estranged wife Debra Villegas contends that her husband was jealous of her close friendship with Lewis. The former couple, already separated, were in the midst of a bitter divorce.

Among the evidence police have linking him to the crime are records tracking Lewis' iPhone to Tony Villegas' residence in North Miami-Dade, and signs that Villegas tried to find out how to remove traces of Mace from his hands.

Authorities said Lewis was strangled inside her garage, where investigators found Mace residue and a button from her suit jacket.


She was last seen the evening of March 5 at a Plantation Publix, where she had gone shopping after work.

Her Cadillac sport utility vehicle was found abandoned in a parking lot near her home. Lewis' body was discovered March 7 in a canal near State Road 84 and Pine Island Road.

The Miami Herald has filed a motion to have the search and arrest warrants and affidavits pertaining to the case unsealed.

No date has been set for the motion to be heard.

Police asked a judge to have the documents sealed because the investigation is ongoing.

Woman Describes Night Girl Was Killed in Romeo House

ASHLEY WILSON, a witness for the prosecution, cries as she testifies Thursday during the trial of Edward Romeo, who's charged with murder in the death of Rachael Martina. Wilson described seeing the girl's body. EDWARD ROMEO, left, listens to his lawyer, Bob Norgard, during his murder trial Thursday in Circuit Judge J. Michael Hunter's courtroom in Bartow. Romeo is charged in the death of Rachael Martina.

Ashley Wilson was 13 when Rachael Martina was slain and buried in backyard.
By Shoshana Walter
Write an email to Shoshana WalterShoshana Walter
Police Reporter
Dept.: Metro Desk
(863) 802-7590

BARTOW It seemed like a normal evening for then-13-year-old Ashley Wilson.

With her mother out with her boyfriend, she knew she would be home alone for some time. So she got a ride to the Romeo household.

Aside from the two Romeo brothers, whom she knew through her older brother, there was no adult supervision at the house. Friends came and went as they pleased. Wilson hung out there often.

But that night in May 1999, Wilson said, Edward Romeo strangled a 16-year-old runaway named Rachael Martina, then joked about killing her and with help from his brother buried her in their backyard.

Police did not find out what happened until 2004, when Edward Romeo was arrested in the death of his brother Robert Romeo, and people began coming forward with information about Martina's death. Edward Romeo is serving 25 years in prison for killing his brother.

The State Attorney's Office identified Wilson in 2004 as one of the only living witnesses to the events of that night.

Romeo, 30, is on trial for Martina's death and faces the death penalty if convicted.

Referring to Edward Romeo as "Eddie," Wilson, now 22, told a jury Thursday morning the story of the night Martina was killed.

Only she, Martina and Robert and Edward Romeo were in the house that night, she said.

Earlier that evening, she said Edward Romeo had talked to her about his plan to strangle Martina with a leather rope he had slung loosely around his neck. But because Wilson thought the two were dating, she assumed he was just joking and "letting off steam."

She said she continued to think it was a joke, even after Edward Romeo came into Robert Romeo's room, where he and Wilson were playing video games, to tell them about what he had done.

He handed her Martina's necklace and led the two downstairs. It's a prank, Wilson continued to think, until she reached the last step and saw Martina's feet in the kitchen.

Then she saw the teen's lifeless body, in a white shirt and khaki pants, sprawled on the floor.

The girl had cotton in her mouth and the leather cord Edward Romeo had shown Wilson earlier tied tightly around her neck, she said.

The rope was tied in a constrictor knot, Wilson told Assistant State Attorney Paul Wallace. Edward Romeo had demonstrated it to friends before.

"At that point did you realize you were not having a joke played on you?" Wallace asked.

"Yes," Wilson replied, through tears.

Wilson continued to share her account of the night's events. When the three arrived in the kitchen, Robert and Edward Romeo rolled out a large, black body bag and zippered Martina's body inside.

They asked Wilson to help them carry the body into the backyard, she said, but she told them she felt uncomfortable doing it because her father had died.

The two brothers began to carry out the bag, but decided Martina was too heavy and put the bag in the trunk of Edward's car. Then they drove around to the backyard to bury Martina's body, Wilson recalled.

Wilson remained shocked, sitting on the ledge of the fireplace for a while. She said she could not go back home because she did not have a key and had no way to get there. She was terrified but did not want the brothers to think that she thought anything was wrong, she said.

When the two came back inside, Robert Romeo asked her to clean up the kitchen floor. Wilson took out some Windex and got to work.

After the brothers went to bed, she laid down on the couch to sleep, but couldn't, even with two knives by her side.

Despite her fears, Wilson stayed at the Romeo house until the following night. Edward Romeo drove her back home for dinner.

Until sometime before her 14th birthday in November, she kept visiting the Romeos. She said she did not want to stop going out of fear that Edward Romeo would think she had told police. She didn't tell anyone except for her best friend, nicknamed "Casper," she said.

Until investigators questioned her after Romeo was arrested, Wilson kept quiet about Martina's death. That silence was because she was terrified of Edward Romeo, Wilson said.

Her silence, defense lawyer Bob Norgard suggested, was because Wilson was covering up for Robert, a friend.

After more than an hour on the stand, Wilson finished testifying with tears, crumpled tissues and an admission of regret.

"Knowing what you know now, would you have gone to the police then?" Wallace asked.


"Are you sorry that you didn't?"

"Yes, sir."

The trial continues today in Judge J. Michael Hunter's courtroom.

[Shoshana Walter can be reached at or 863-802-7590.]

Jury Recommends Death In Pasco Girl's Murder


The Tampa Tribune

Published: March 20, 2008

NEW PORT RICHEY - The man who beat, slashed and strangled 16-year-old Joshan Ashbrook should be put to death for his crime, a jury decided Wednesday.

The same 12 jurors who on Tuesday convicted Phillup Alan Partin of first-degree murder in the 2002 slaying made their recommendation after learning that Partin had killed before.

The panel deliberated about two hours before announcing it had voted 9-3 in favor of the death penalty. Circuit Judge William R. Webb, who by law must give the jury's recommendation "great weight," scheduled sentencing for June 20.

Tara Ramsdell said she remains torn over Partin's fate.

"I'm Joshan's mother, so I say kill him," Ramsdell said after the jury made its recommendation. "I'm kind of torn. Yes, I want the death penalty. He killed my daughter, but there are other people to consider."

Specifically, Ramsdell mentioned Partin's daughter, Patrisha, who was 7 when she and her father came across Ashbrook hitchhiking along U.S. 19 on July 31, 2002.

"No matter what he did to my daughter, she Patrisha Partin still has a life and she still loves her father," Ramsdell said.

Ramsdell said she, her eight surviving children and 15 grandchildren want to know why Partin killed the teenage runaway and how he could be so loving toward his own daughter while being so cruel to someone else's.

Her eldest grandchild, who is old enough to have known Ashbrook, keeps asking, "

'Why did the bad guy kill Auntie YoYo?'

" Ramsdell said.

Words From The Past

Patrisha Partin, who spent the day of July 31, 2002, fishing and playing video games with Ashbrook, testified briefly Wednesday via a videotape made several years ago.

Patrisha Partin told defense attorney Bjorn Brunvand that a drawing of a hand that her father sent her was a sign of his love.

"Your dad wanted me to show this to you," Brunvand told the girl on the snippet of tape that prosecutor Michael Halkitis agreed could be shown as mitigation against the death penalty.

Partin refused to acknowledge questions from the judge and said through Brunvand that he did not want to testify on his own behalf during Wednesday's proceeding. Partin also objected to any evidence being gathered that might persuade Webb to spare his life.

The only other testimony the defense presented during the trial's penalty phase came in the form of a videotape of Partin's former girlfriend, who said she never would have taken up with him had she known about his past.

Previous Murder Conviction

Part of that history was revealed to jurors for the first time early Wednesday when a Miami-Dade police detective testified about Partin's second-degree murder conviction for the 1987 slaying of a man Partin met at a gay bar on Biscayne Boulevard.

Lt. Dan Barrago testified that during an interview after his arrest, Partin described how he worked as a hustler, letting gay men pick him up and take him home so he would have a place to sleep and take a shower the next morning.

He met his victim, Gary Thorne, while playing pool at a lounge, Barrago recalled Partin telling him.

When they got to Thorne's home and Thorne began making advances, Partin said, he first choked and then strangled the victim with a telephone cord, Barrago testified.

Partin, who showed no emotion when the jury's recommendation was announced, has expressed both fear of and the desire for the death penalty during his years awaiting trial.

At his first hearing after detectives tracked him down in North Carolina in 2003, Partin dropped his shirt to reveal a tattoo across his back bearing the state motto of New Hampshire, "Live free or die."

Ramsdell said she doubts Partin will be comfortable in prison should Webb decide to spare his life.

"I don't think the general population of inmates will approve of what he did to my daughter," she said.

Also Wednesday, Ramsdell provided The Tampa Tribune with a CD of a song that Ashbrook wrote with older stepsister Katrina Ramsdell.

Ashbrook was about 12 when she recorded the song, titled "Wanna," her mother said.

Reporter David Sommer can be reached at (727) 815-1087 or

Bond hearing set in slaying of Lauderdale lawyer

Mar 20, 2008 (The Miami Herald - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX)

The man accused of strangling a Fort Lauderdale attorney and dumping her body into a canal will appear before a Broward judge Thursday for a bond hearing.

Tony Villegas, 44, is charged with premeditated first-degree murder in the death of Melissa Britt Lewis of Plantation, sources close to the investigation told The Miami Herald.

If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

Villegas, of Miami Lakes, was arrested early Saturday at his sister's house in North Miami-Dade and booked into a county jail.

He was transported to the Broward County Main Jail on Wednesday morning.

Police said they are confident Villegas killed Lewis, a partner with the Las Olas Boulevard firm Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler.

His estranged wife, Debra Villegas, was Lewis' best friend.


Authorities said Lewis, 39, was strangled inside her garage, where police found traces of Mace and a button from her suit jacket.

She was last seen the night of March 5 at a nearby Publix, where she had gone shopping after work. Her Cadillac sport utility vehicle was found abandoned in a parking lot near her home.

Lewis' body was discovered March 7 in a canal near State Road 84 and Pine Island Road. Police have released little information about Lewis' slaying and a possible motive. Arrest warrants and other court documents have been sealed.


Detective Phil Toman, a Plantation police spokesman, said evidence is still being collected, but he doesn't expect any other arrests will be made.

"We pretty much have ruled everybody else out," he said Wednesday.

Soon, the prosecution will present evidence and witness testimony before a Broward County grand jury, a closed proceeding where the defense is not permitted to state its case.

If grand jurors find probable cause Villegas committed the crime, they will return an indictment.

Defense attorneys representing Villegas say he is innocent and is being framed.

Inmate tries to hang himself in Riviera Beach cell


Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Thursday, February 28, 2008

RIVIERA BEACH — A 20-year-old man tried to hang himself in a holding cell Wednesday after he was charged with aggravated battery on his pregnant girlfriend, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and child neglect.

A police officer left Kareem Conway in the cell for less than a minute and returned to find Conway's shirt wrapped around his neck and the cage. Three officers pulled him down as he screamed that the victims and witnesses are liars, according to the police report.

At Conway's first appearance in court Thursday morning, the defense attorney said Conway was evaluated by a mental health professional and cleared to be in the general population.

The judge set Conway's bail at $2,500, but he has not posted it.

The victim told police she has been dating Conway on and off for four years and is three months pregnant with his baby. She said he knocked one of her teeth out about two weeks ago and pointed a gun at her and her friends Wednesday because he wanted the car.

Another Florida Inmate Claims To Have Been Dumped From Wheelchair

Matt McKinney, Multimedia Executive Producer
WFMY News 2, NC

More trouble for a Florida Sheriffs Department. Another disabled
inmate has come forward claiming abuse at the hands of detention

Tampa, FL – There is more turmoil and trouble for the Hillsborough
County Sheriff's Office. Another disabled inmate has come forward
claiming abuse at the hands of detention deputies.

This latest wheel chair dumping incident actually took place in
October of 2006, when deputies at the Orient Road Jail went into
Benjamin Rayburn's cell, dumped him onto the floor and left him lying
there. Video shows the deputies doing nothing as he tried to get back
up and falling over.

Attorney John Trevena is representing Rayburn. He also represents
Brian Sterner, who we first told you about two weeks ago.

While Trevena admits Rayburn is no angel, he says the man didn't
deserve the treatment he got at the jail.

Trevena says this latest wheel chair dumping incident shows the first
one was not an aberration, and he adds some people at the Sheriff's
Office are in denial about the way the jail operates.

"The officers take it into their own hands and mete out justice as
they see fit," Trevena says. "They should not be handled that way."

Col. David Parish, who runs the jail, says the incident report
justifies the force by the deputies.The incident report says Rayburn,
who wanted to go to the infirmary, became extremely agitated upon
learning he would have to stay in his cell. Rayburn began to scream
profanities, and made a swiping motion with an unknown object, and
then threw it at a deputy.

"It doesn't matter if you're Hannibal Lector," Tervena says. "No one
should be beaten if they are in jail. No one should be where someone
is running off at the mouth, thrown out of a wheel chair. No one
should be subject to any form of abuse."

Source: Mike Deeson, Tampa Bay's 10 News

Sheriff Gee calls for independent jail investigation

By: Mike Deeson

Tampa, Florida — New developments regarding abuse allegations at the hands of Hillsborough Detention Deputies.

Late this morning, Sheriff David Gee announced the creation of an Independent Review Commission to examine the policies, practices and procedures in the Orient Road and Falkenburg Road jails.

The announcement comes as a result of Tampa Bay's 10 broadcasting several videos showing questionable actions by Hillsborough Detention Deputies.

"That's humiliating to treat him this way."

That's how paraplegic Benjamin Rayburn's mother, Vivian, describes this latest wheel chair dumping at the Orient Road Jail. In this incident from October of 2006, four deputies dumped Rayburn onto the floor. They let him lie there, took away his wheel chair and then did nothing as he tried to get up and fell back to the floor.

Vivian Rayburn says it's heartbreaking. She says she is outraged.

Hillsborough Chief Deputy Joe Docobo says in this particular case the circumstances that resulted in this gentleman being taken to the ground were absolutely warranted by the deputies.

Docobo, who was contrite after we discovered the first wheel chair dumping incident with Brian Sterner, said at the time it was an aberration and not the way they did business.

We asked if the sheriff's office should have shared that another person was taken to ground, but Docobo says they weren't aware.

Critics say top brass should have been aware this time because, unlike the Sterner case, there was an incident report filed about this wheel chair dumping. It says Rayburn, who wanted to go to the infirmary, became extremely agitated as he was told he would have to stay in his cell. The report says he screamed profanities, made a swiping motion with an unknown object and then threw it at the deputy.

Docobo says this is a case where the deputies deliberately took him to the ground for just cause; he presented an immediate danger to the deputy.

But Attorney John Trevena, who is handling both cases, says it is incredibly hard to believe that those who run the sheriff's office weren't aware of another wheel chair dumping and he says it is indefensible.

Trevena says the testimony of the deputies contradicts what's seen on the video.

And Rayburn's mother says she will not let the sheriff's office off the hook. She says she will be asking for justice.

But unless some other agency investigates the incident, the sheriff's office contends Rayburn got justice when he was dumped out his wheel chair onto the floor.

Jail Review Commission Swamped With Data On Hillsborough Operations

By MIKE WELLS of The Tampa Tribune

Published: March 21, 2008

Updated: 07:03 pm

At the today's meeting of the county's independent commission on jails, division leaders from the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office deluged members with information about the agency's operations.

Col. David Parrish, the jail division's chief administrator, said the staff gave the commission only what it asked for. He sees the strong interest as a good thing.

"Some of them have spent time in booking late at night to see what it's really like," he said.

After the meeting, which was held at Jefferson High School's auditorium, Commissioner Ray Velboom, a retired agent of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, said it was a lot to absorb but helpful.

"My head's still swimming," he said. "We're still trying to lay the background. It's a huge operation and we're trying to understand it."

The sheriff's staff touted the agency's tougher hiring standards, a new Web-based complaint and misconduct tracking system launched in February and how the jail changed its approach to solving inmate grievances in 2006.

None of those changes, however, would have prevented a detention deputy from dumping a paralyzed Brian Sterner from a wheelchair on Jan. 29, the incident that prompted Sheriff David Gee to create the commission in February.

Sterner, who is paralyzed from the chest down, had been arrested on a traffic-related charge.
The former deputy who was later charged with felony adult abuse, Charlette Marshall-Jones
served more than 22 years in uniform.

Gee has said previously that Marshall-Jones's action wasn't about training but human decency.
Maj. Jim Previtera, who oversees the training division, told the commission he was shocked by the surveillance video of Sterner being dumped to the floor.

"Mandatory remedial training is applicable to problem employees, but for egregious uses of force, retraining is not a replacement for discipline," he said.

When he was hired by Gee in 2005, the sheriff told him "training is the future of this agency," Previtera said.

"We've made training progress, but as you can see, we have a long way to go," Previtera said.
Tony Piskorski of Land O'Lakes told the commission the jail shouldn't be judged on one bad incident.

He had a positive experience with the jail staff when his son was arrested last year on drug charges.

"I felt very safe that [my son] would be alright because of the treatment he was receiving," Piskorski said. "Our fears were put to rest because of Col. Parrish. The county couldn't ask for a better person to run that jail."

Reporter Mike Wells can be reached at (813) 259-7839 or