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A Cry in the Night, Part 5: Survivors

[Originally published June 19, 1988]

One night in May, not long before the trial was to begin, Sgt. Larry Tosi ran into Joe Ciarciaglino, one of the lawyers defending George Lewis. Tosi was at the Hilton on St. Petersburg Beach, attending a panel discussion on the criminal justice system, and Ciarciaglino happened to be on the panel. Tosi was sitting in the audience, surrounded by about 30 other law enforcement officers, when a woman asked Ciarciaglino a question. She wanted to know how he could defend accused criminals. How did he sleep at night?

Ciarciaglino grinned and gave the members of the audience the answer he knew they wanted. He lifted his arms, shook them a little so the sleeves of his suit jacket dropped, then stuck out his hands.

Wrapped around his left wrist was a gold watch, studded with tiny diamonds that marked the hours of the day. Wrapped around the right one was a gold bracelet, studded with diamonds that formed the scales of justice.

He went on to give a long and serious answer about how he was part of a 200-year tradition of Anglo-Saxon law and how defense attorneys protected the state from unjustly accusing the little guy and how it was easy to think defense attorneys were snakes — easy that is, until you're the one on trial and you need a good lawyer.

But it was the joke that got the big response. When Ciarciaglino flashed the gold and diamonds, the audience burst out laughing.

Not Tosi. He liked Joe and respected him. Joe had even represented Larry in a wage-dispute case. But soon the two of them would be together in court in Bartow. Soon, Ciarciaglino would try to prove that Tosi and the Gulfport police had bungled the most intensive investigation in the department's history and had arrested an innocent man. Now, Tosi had stumbled across new evidence that convinced him more than ever that he'd arrested the right man. Purely by chance, he had found Tonja Dishong and the white teddy that Lewis had given her when they were dating in the summer of 1984, not long after the murder.

Tonja had described the teddy for Tosi. She'd sat in his office on May 6 and answered his questions.

To Tonja, George Lewis had always seemed like a nice guy.

She doesn't remember the date they started seeing each other. But she thinks it was within a week or two of Karen Gregory's murder. The day they met, Tonja was on her front lawn in a bathing suit, throwing a Frisbee to her dog, Critter. Lewis was driving by in his white pickup truck when he saw her. He took a good look at her, she says, and waved.

When she waved back, he hit the brakes and backed up the truck. He told her his name was George.

"Really?" she said. She didn't think anybody had a name like that anymore.

"Yeah," he said. "George."

He told her he was a volunteer firefighter for Gulfport and worked at the station, across the street from Tonja's house. He asked her if she wanted to go dancing.

"I don't dance," Tonja said.

George said he'd teach her.

"How old are you?" he asked.

"How old do you think I am?"

"23 or 24."

"You're close."

Tonja was fibbing. She was only 16 — six years younger than George.

But she didn't want to scare him away.

"Are you married?" she said.

George looked at her. "What makes you ask that?"

"You look like you may be married."

"I'm not."

He was telling the truth. Glenda Harness, his girlfriend, had been living with him for a couple of years. The two of them were not yet married. In fact, they weren't getting along at that point. Shortly after the murder, Glenda moved out. It's unclear whether she was still living with George when he met Tonja. But Tonja noticed that in their early days together George wouldn't give her his home phone number. He told her not to worry. He said he'd stop by and see her sometime.

George came by the day after they met, and the two of them went out. They saw each other regularly. They went camping and swimming and hung out together. They had a good time. Tonja thought George was funny. He could bark just like a dog — he drove a neighbor's dog crazy with it — and he did a great imitation of Yogi Bear. George also liked to drive around in his truck. It had four-wheel drive, and sometimes he and Tonja would head out to Frontage Road, off Gandy Boulevard in central Pinellas County, and go careening through the bush. George had a tape deck in the truck and enjoyed listening to music as he drove. He loved Huey Lewis and the News and had a tape of Sports, one of their albums. One song was called Walking on a Thin Line, and it was George's favorite.

Sometimes in my bed at night I curse the dark and I pray for the light / And sometimes the light's no consolation / Blinded by a memory / Afraid of what it might do to me / And the tears and the sweat / Only mock my desperation

When the song came on, George would play it loud. If Tonja was talking, he'd raise a finger to his lips so she'd be quiet.

Don't you know me I'm the boy next door / The one you find so easy to ignore

One night George and Tonja were talking in his driveway, sitting on the tailgate of the truck, when the subject of Karen Gregory's murder came up. Murders were rare in Gulfport, and this one was big news at the time. Tonja was afraid, knowing the killer had not been caught. She asked George where the murder had happened. He pointed across the street to the white house with the oak tree on the lawn. Karen's boyfriend, he told her, had been out of town that night.

"It was his fault for leaving her like that," George said. "Because he knew what kind of neighborhood it was."

Tonja didn't think the neighborhood was such a bad place. It was quiet and filled with retirees. Other than the murder, there didn't seem to be that much crime. And if it was so dangerous, why would George be living there? They talked about what kind of person the murderer must have been. Tonja said the man would have to be pretty sick. George said that if they ever caught the guy, they should tie a rope around his genitals and hang him from a tree. The murder came up frequently in their conversations. George liked to kid her about it.

"Don't forget to lock your doors," he'd say when he took her home. "There's a killer on the loose."

George and Tonja were comfortable with each other — comfortable enough that they opened up and talked about all sorts of things. Tonja eventually confessed that she wasn't 23, and George began dropping references to someone named "Glenda." Tonja asked who she was. George said she was just someone he went dancing with. He was more open when it came to stories out of the past. Sometimes Tonja wasn't sure whether to believe him. George told her that he had once had an affair with a woman who was a teacher. He said he liked older women. They knew all the tricks, he said.

Not that their conversations were always so wild. George talked about how much he loved kids and how he hated to see the way some parents treated them. He talked about his father, who was then dying of cancer, and how much it hurt to see him suffering. Frequently, he talked about being a firefighter. He said he'd wanted to become one so he could help people. But he'd had to wait a long time before he was accepted into the St. Petersburg Fire Department. The department, he said, kept hiring "niggers" first, even though he was just as qualified. George made other racial comments as well. One day at St. Petersburg Beach, he and Tonja saw an interracial couple walking hand in hand. Tonja said she thought it was gross, and George agreed.

To Tonja, it seemed that George didn't like the color black, period. She found that out one time when he saw her in a black nightie.

"You shouldn't wear that," he said. "Nice girls don't wear black."

"Why not?" said Tonja. "I'm a nice girl, and I wear black."

"It's just" George struggled for words. "You know."

George had no problem with the color white, though. That was the color of the teddy he gave Tonja for her 17th birthday. The two of them were going camping, and George put it inside a bag with some supplies for their trip. He pulled it out and held it up for her by the shoulder straps. It was a small.

"Happy birthday," he said.

Tonja kidded George about how foolish he must have felt going into a store to buy the teddy. George teased her right back, saying how cute the sales clerk had been and how he'd thought of asking her to model it. George loved it when Tonja wore the teddy. She didn't mind wearing it, knowing it made him happy. She and George got along well. He was never violent with her, and he never forced himself on her. Tonja thought he was sweet.

That September, Tonja fell in love with someone else. She and George remained friends and kept in touch. Glenda moved back into the house on Upton Street, and then she and George were married and their daughter, Tiffany, was born. One day when the baby was about eight months old, George brought her over. Tonja could tell that George was crazy about Tiffany. It was obvious from the way he held her and kissed her.

Tonja looked at her former boyfriend, showing off his little girl. "I bet you're a very good daddy," she told him.

"I plan to be," he said. "The only thing that could take me away from her is the Man Upstairs."

While Tonja talked, Sgt. Tosi took notes. He wrote on a single piece of paper, veering all over the page in a tiny, cursive scrawl. He'd scribble a few words at the top, then a few more at an angle in one of the corners, then a few more down the side.

gave white nightie

didn't like black

was boyfriend's fault cause he left her in what he knew was bad neighborhood

Don't you know me, I'm the boy next door

Tosi wanted to know as much as possible about the white teddy.

Tonja told him that when George gave it to her, it appeared to be new.

He had taken it out of the bag with the supplies for their camping trip. There was a receipt in the bag; she wasn't sure what the receipt was for, but she'd noticed that it listed several items. She thought there had been a tag on the teddy itself.

Tonja asked why Tosi wanted to know so much about this.

"I can't really explain that right now," he said.

She brought the teddy to the station five days later, on May 11.

She and Tosi talked some more. This time, Tonja said she wasn't certain there had been a tag on the teddy.

Tonja had given the police something that threatened to shatter the defense of George Lewis.

In his final statement to the detectives, Lewis had finally admitted that he'd gone inside Karen's house on the night of the murder. But he said he had done so because he had heard Karen scream and thought she needed help. Now, Tonja had stepped forward with the teddy. If Tosi's suspicions were correct, this teddy was the one missing from Karen's house. If that was true, Lewis had stolen a piece of Karen's lingerie from the murder scene — a piece of lingerie Karen had bought herself for her birthday — and given it to Tonja for her birthday.

The question was: Could Tosi prove it?

He called David Mackey, Karen's boyfriend. He said he had a piece of clothing he wanted David to see. David asked where it had come from.

Tosi said he couldn't tell him that right now.

They met in Tampa. Tosi held up the teddy for David. It looked, David said, just like the one Karen had bought for her birthday.

"Larry," he said, "that is exactly the way I recall the teddy.

The lace on it and everything is exactly as I remember."

Then Tosi went to Karen's sister, Kim, who lived in Dunedin. Kim remembered Karen talking about how she'd bought a white teddy, but Kim had never seen it. Kim did know one thing, though. She knew what Karen liked — they often traded clothes — and she said that the teddy looked like something Karen would buy.

"This is her," Kim said.

Tosi asked what size Karen would have worn. A small, Kim said.

***

It was the spring of 1987. Karen had been dead for three years.

Since then, the criminal justice system had lumbered forward on a path designed to reveal the truth of what had happened that night. Whether anyone was any closer to the truth, after all this time, was a matter of opinion. By now, the file in The State of Florida vs. George Lewis had grown so large it was kept in a cart that was wheeled in and out of court. A growing line of judges had presided over at least 20 hearings.

More than 35 written motions had been filed. Close to 100 witnesses had been questioned under oath in depositions. And after four days of attempted jury selection, Circuit Judge William Walker had ordered a change of venue. For the first time in years, a judge had ordered a case moved out of Pinellas County because of pretrial publicity.

But when the trial began in Bartow on June 1, Judge Walker would not be there. There had been a choice to make. Walker could have gone with the Lewis case to Polk County, leaving it to someone else to preside in his absence over the other cases on his docket. Or he could have stayed in Pinellas, handling his regular caseload while another judge — maybe a retired one with time to spare — presided over the Lewis trial. It seemed easier for everyone if Walker handled the many cases and let his replacement handle the one. Someone else would have to be found to go to Bartow.

Now, after watching the criminal courts system closely for more than a year, Karen's family and friends were disillusioned. In court, it seemed to them, the facts didn't matter much. What seemed to matter were cleverness and intimidation and the art of massaging the rules.

They were tired of the delays and the diversions and the hearings, where the prosecution and the defense maneuvered for strategic advantage as though they were playing an elaborate chess game. They were sickened by how Karen and her death seemed secondary amid all the squabbling and the performing. They were disgusted that the defense had tried to dig up private details of Karen's life. And it frustrated them that the system so often seemed to treat those who cared about Karen — "the victim" — as an irrelevant nuisance.

It was obvious to David Mackey and the others that the system was geared almost exclusively toward the accused. It was obvious, as David put it, that every door was held open for George Lewis but closed to those who cared about Karen. If her friends wanted in, if they wanted to be heard and be taken into account, David said they had to keep pounding on the doors.

Those close to Karen were contending with other problems as well.

Ever since the murder, they had felt as though they were lost in a strange and unsettling new world.

David no longer lived in the house he'd shared with Karen. After her death, he had not been able to bring himself to spend another night there. He had packed his things and moved out. But the pain had not gone away. He kept imagining he saw her. He'd be out driving, and he'd see a white VW Rabbit, just like Karen had driven, and behind the wheel would be a woman with long brown hair. He'd see the back of her head, and he'd speed up so he could pull alongside and see her face. He was always disappointed. On many mornings, he'd wake up and have to decide whether he wanted to go on living that day. He thought of killing himself in a car accident, taking an overdose, poisoning himself with carbon monoxide. It seemed easier.

Mark, Karen's brother, was afraid. If his wife made an angry gesture at a bad driver on the road, Mark would yell at her. How did she know the guy wouldn't get out of his car and come after her? How did she know the guy wasn't going to pull out a knife? Karen's murder had changed the way Mark looked at everything around him. He had never noticed before how much violence there was in the world. He had never really cared. Now he did. It seemed he was constantly reading about some nut putting cyanide into food or some guy pulling out a gun in a bar and opening fire. It seemed that people were out there slaughtering each other every day. He tried going to a counselor. But the counselor didn't seem to take him seriously. He seemed to believe that Mark was inventing this elaborate story about the murder of his sister.

"Relax," the man said.

Roy, Karen's other brother, would go to a movie at night and be terrified to leave and walk out in the dark. He'd open the newspaper, read through the obituaries and be shocked at the number of people who were dying. One day, there was an article about a man who had killed his wife and two sons. It overwhelmed Roy to realize that these were not just names in the paper, but had once been real people.

Memories of Karen haunted Roy. One day he took her pictures off his apartment's walls. It was too hard to look at her. But that wasn't enough. Roy kept moving from one apartment to the other, selling his furniture every time so he could make a clean start. He was trying to hide. He didn't want to talk to his friends. He didn't even want to talk to his mother or his brother, both of whom lived not far away. He did not want to acknowledge that he was part of a family touched by murder. In the morning, he'd wake up and tell himself that today he was going to try to be a human being again. At night he'd drink in front of the TV. The phone would ring, and he wouldn't answer it. He was sure someone was calling with more bad news. Things got so bad that, like David, Roy considered suicide. He thought about driving off the Howard Frankland Bridge. He knew the Tampa Bay area, knew what the bridge was like. He imagined driving onto it late at night, reaching the crest, turning the wheel of his car toward the rail and plunging into the black water.

Sophia, Karen's mother, broke into tears at the mention of her daughter's name. Sophia, who now lived in Dunedin during the winter months, could not bring herself to talk about Karen, even with other members of the family. She remembered what Karen had once said about rape. Karen had said that if a man ever tried to rape her, she'd try not to struggle so that her attacker would not get angry and hurt her any worse. She said it wasn't worth getting killed for. Now Sophia could not stop thinking about such things. She still wondered, after all this time, why Karen had not managed to escape that night. Karen was strong, Sophia told herself. She could have made it. All she had to do was fight back. Some days, Sophia was so depressed she didn't have the energy to put on her clothes. She'd sit around in her bathrobe, hoping that it had all been a mistake and that any time now the phone was going to ring and Karen would be on the other end of the line. At night, Sophia imagined that someone was climbing into her bedroom to attack her. The possibility so unnerved her that she insisted that bars be placed over her windows.

It was the same with Karen's sister, Kim. After Karen's death, Kim waited to be murdered next. For months she carried a can of Mace in her purse for protection. Kim found that she wanted to talk about what had happened to her sister. But when she brought it up, many people would get quiet and look away. It was as though they thought it distasteful of her to mention such a thing.

People tried to give her advice. "Get on with things," they told her. "Put it behind you."

Kim couldn't. She tried going to a counselor, just as Mark did. It only made her feel worse. The counselor was a nice enough woman, but when she heard what Kim was going through, she had no idea what to say.

Kim hadn't even told her the worst of it. She hadn't told her about the nightmares or how she was plagued with the memory of what Karen had said after they saw Looking for Mr. Goodbar together.

I never want to die like that.

Kim didn't think the counselor could handle it. The woman couldn't even handle the sanitized version. She sat there listening to Kim with tears in her eyes and her mouth wide open.

"Oh my God," the woman said. "Oh my God."

***

Kim did find help. She found it through Lula Redmond, a Pinellas County family therapist who specialized in grief therapy. In the fall of 1986, Redmond began conducting something unusual — therapy groups for "homicide survivors," people who have lost a loved one in a murder.

Redmond, who had counseled many homicide survivors over the years, knew that what Kim and the others were going through was all too common. Every year, about 20,000 people are murdered in this country.

In each of those cases, friends and family members are left to drift through what has been described as "a realm of unresolved grief."

Though victim advocates have pushed for years for better treatment of crime victims, the plight of homicide survivors has only recently been recognized. Too often, they struggle alone, isolated from those around them, unable to find anyone who can relate to what they are feeling.

Redmond wanted to end the isolation. She wanted to bring homicide survivors together so they could see that they were not alone and so they could find ways to deal with their loss.

In December 1986, not long after the four-day series of stories on Karen's case, the Times published an article about homicide survivors and the therapy groups Redmond was organizing to help them. Sophia and Kim decided to call Redmond. Sophia resisted initially, but Kim pushed her to do it.

"Mother," she said, "you've got to do something."

Redmond was also talking to David Mackey and Anita Kilpatrick, another friend of Karen's who was struggling with the aftermath of the murder. Sophia, who was nervous about opening up in front of the others, agreed to work with Redmond in private sessions. It was not going to be an easy experience for any of them. Anita, for one, did not think the group would work. She had felt lost for so long that she doubted she would ever feel better. She wondered, as she put it, if she would ever find a way back to herself. The idea of walking into a room full of other homicide survivors overwhelmed her. She did not know if she could face the fact that there was so much real horror in the world.

Redmond made it clear that the group would not be any picnic. For 12 weeks, all of them would be traveling through difficult terrain.

They would be forcing one another to confront painful memories and emotions. But if they didn't confront this pain, Redmond said, they would never put it behind them.

"It's a wound, and you've got to clean it out before it can be healed," she told them.

Their group began in February 1987. The members met every Tuesday night in an office building in mid-Pinellas County. Redmond was there, along with two other therapists who were learning to work with people who had lost someone in a murder. The rest of the group was made up of eight homicide survivors — David, Kim, Anita and five others. The first night, they introduced themselves. There was a man whose 24-year-old son had been stabbed through the heart in a bar. The son had not been carrying any ID at the time, so his body had lain unidentified in the morgue for days. There was a woman whose 19-year-old son had also been stabbed to death. There was another woman whose 17-year-old son had been shot through the neck.

Oh my God, Kim thought. These people are just like me.

Together, the members of the group described their nightmares, both real and imagined. They talked about the moments and days immediately after the murders, when they felt the ground disappear beneath them, when they shuffled numbly through police stations, funeral homes and cemeteries. They talked about the long years that followed, when their friends grew tired of hearing about it, when they retreated into their homes and hid, when they woke screaming in their beds. They remembered all the things they wished they'd had a chance to tell the person who had been murdered, all the unfinished business between them that had been left hanging. They carried on imaginary conversations with the people who were gone, berating them for not realizing how dangerous the world was, telling them how much they wished they could hear their voices and their footsteps in the hall again. They traded stories of wandering through a court system where defendants seemed to have all the rights. And they talked about their anger. They made a list of all the people and things that had made them angry. Anita wrote hers so violently that the pen almost ripped the page. Her list included:

-- The neighbors who had heard Karen scream and not called the police.

-- The police officers who had left it up to Anita — along with a friend of hers — to try to clean Karen's blood from the walls of the house.

-- Judge Walker.

-- The St. Petersburg Times.

-- George Lewis.

-- Lewis' lawyers.

One night, the members of the group talked about their fantasies of revenge. They described what they'd do if they had free rein over the person who'd killed their loved one. David, Kim and Anita listened to one group member talk about cutting up the person into little pieces.

They heard another member talk about burying the person alive in an anthill. It was frightening for the people in the group to admit that they had even fantasized about such things. But almost all of what they talked about was frightening. One night, Anita broke down outside the building where the group met. The building was beside a crematorium, and as Anita pulled up in her car, she noticed black smoke pouring from the crematorium's chimney. She was already dreading that night's session, and when she saw the smoke, she was instantly reminded that Karen's body had been cremated. In her car, Anita wept.

Slowly, though, Anita and the others realized that the sessions were helping. They knew now that there were ways to accept the loss and to move forward. There were ways to regain control. One of those ways was to not allow the court system to shut them out. David and Anita already understood this. From the start of the case, they had insisted on attending as many hearings and court dates as they could — even when it meant standing in the hall outside the courtroom. But Karen's sister and mother weren't sure they had the strength to sit in court and hear the testimony and look at Lewis. Redmond urged Kim and Sophia to go to the trial and find out. She said that if they did not go, they would always ask themselves if their presence could have made a difference.

They needed to face their fear, she said. They needed to hear all the facts - no matter how painful — rather than spend the rest of their lives wondering what had really happened that night in the dark. It was better, Redmond said, to know the truth.

As the weeks went by, Kim and Sophia decided Redmond was right. Kim said she wanted to be Karen's eyes and ears and voice. Every time Lewis stepped into the courtroom, she wanted him to see her face and remember what had happened to her sister. Once she had been too terrified of the man to even look at him in court. Now she was determined to not be afraid any longer. She said she was going to court to take back her life.

***

It was late May. Only a couple of weeks remained before the trial.

But someone new would be joining the prosecution team in Bartow. Along with Beverly Andrews and William Loughery, there would now be a third assistant state attorney handling this case. His name was Richard Mensh.

It would have been hard to find a more experienced prosecutor in Pinellas County than Dick Mensh. He'd been with the state attorney's office for 25 years, and for the last 18 he'd been the state attorney's chief assistant. Mensh liked to call himself "an old workhorse." It wasn't a bad description, except he wasn't so old — only 53. Around the courthouse, Mensh was not a man known for backing down. Once, he'd refused to drop out of a trial even though he was struggling with what was later diagnosed as pneumonia. He'd waited for the jury to return with its verdict, then gone to a hospital.

As chief assistant, Mensh had also worked with his share of young prosecutors. One of them was Joe Ciarciaglino, Lewis' lawyer. Joe and Dick were old friends. Before he became a defense attorney, Ciarciaglino had made a name for himself in the state attorney's office. He'd learned a great deal from Mensh. Dick, he said, was his mentor. It showed, too. Echoes of the old workhorse's style surfaced in Ciarciaglino's. Both knew how to claim territory in a courtroom. And both knew how to talk to a jury. Mensh had a soft Florida accent — he was from Indian River County — and he portrayed himself as an unassuming cracker in search of simple fairness from honest citizens.

Ciarciaglino was born in New York state and sounded like it. But in front of a jury, his northern accent tended to disappear, only to be replaced by a country twang and an overwhelming tendency to refer to people as "folks."

There was one thing different about the two lawyers: Mensh didn't handle that many criminal trials anymore. But here he was, about to return to court to battle with his former student in the Lewis case.

Nobody proclaimed that Mensh was joining the prosecution's trial team expressly for that purpose. But Karen's friends and family assumed that one reason he was there was that he had taught Ciarciaglino and therefore understood how he worked — and how he could be beaten — better than almost anyone else. With Mensh around, it would be hard for Ciarciaglino to take control of the courtroom.

As Beverly Andrews would later put it: "You need a good ole boy to counteract a good ole boy."

There had been another personnel change as well. B.J. Driver, a retired judge who'd left the bench only two years before, had been appointed as the sixth judge on the case.

Driver was a straight-talking barrel of a man, a former Marine who had fought starvation and the Japanese at Guadalcanal in World War II.

At 64, he still carried himself like a soldier. He had piercing eyes and an aura of quiet determination. During more than two decades on the bench in Pinellas County, he had gained a reputation as a tough, no-nonsense judge. He was known for running his courtroom firmly, efficiently and without a trace of tolerance for lawyers who stepped out of line.

Not long after Driver agreed to take the case, the defense moved to get rid of him. Ciarciaglino filed a motion, stating that Driver was prejudiced against him and might treat his client unfairly. To support this argument, Ciarciaglino cited several instances in which he and Driver allegedly had clashed. One time, Ciarciaglino said, the judge had become visibly upset and "stormed" off the bench after the defense lawyer had accidentally shown up late for a court appearance.

Now, given this personal history, Ciarciaglino said Driver should disqualify himself from this case.

The judge considered the issue at a hearing in Clearwater on May 20. Mensh urged that the defense's request be denied. It appeared, he said, that the defense's biggest complaint with Driver was how tightly he ran his court. If Driver said a case was to begin at 8:30 a.m., Mensh pointed out, that did not mean 8:31. There was no valid reason, he said, for the judge to disqualify himself.

Ciarciaglino was sitting quietly a few feet away. Robert Paver, his partner, argued the defense's side. Judge Driver, Paver said, had little choice but to grant the motion. Paver pointed out that one of Florida's rules of criminal procedure — Rule 3.230 — virtually requires judges to disqualify themselves when the prosecution or the defense accuses them of such prejudice. It does not matter whether the judge believes the accusation is true, so long as the accusation complies with the rule. Furthermore, the courts have upheld this rule, especially in capital cases, where defendants' lives are at stake. If Driver denied the motion and stayed with the case, Paver said, any conviction might well be reversed on appeal.

Finally, Driver spoke. The rule, he said, was a bad one because it allowed lawyers to shop around for judges — something, he hastened to add, which may or may not have been happening in this case. Still, the rule was the rule, and he was bound to follow it.

"It's an anomaly that the touchstone of the law is to seek the truth," he said. "But in this case, the Supreme Court tells us that truth is immaterial and irrelevant, and we shall not even consider the truth."

Driver granted the motion. He was disqualifying himself so that another judge — one more to Ciarciaglino's liking, he said — could take over the case. Then he turned to Ciarciaglino.

"Over the years I've observed you, I never dreamed you were so sensitive," said Driver, a hint of a smile playing at the corners of his mouth. "I always had the impression that what would embarrass you would cause blisters on a washbucket."

***

The search for a new judge — Judge Number Seven, now — did not take long. On May 20, the same day Driver stepped down, Circuit Judge Crockett Farnell was appointed to replace him. Despite the short notice, Farnell said he could begin with the trial on June 2, one day later than planned.

At 47, Farnell was among the most respected members of Pinellas County's judiciary. He was known as a judge who did what he thought was right, even if it meant taking some heat. He understood what it was like to be a criminal lawyer, slugging it out in what some called "the pit." Before he'd become a judge, five years earlier, he'd practiced law for 15 years — first prosecuting people as an assistant state attorney, then representing them as a defense attorney.

Farnell came from a family that had lived in Florida since the 1800s. He was also a pilot, the owner of two cattle ranches, an avid jogger who logged six miles a day, and a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. Farnell was proud of being a Marine. He drove a pickup truck, and on the back was a bumper sticker that proclaimed, "Semper Fi" — abbreviated Latin for "Always Faithful," the Marine motto.

Every year on Nov. 10, the birthday of the corps, the same motto found its way onto a cake served at a party in the judge's office. He'd invite lawyers and clerks and other judges to celebrate, cutting the cake with his Marine sword and playing The Marines' Hymn on a portable cassette deck.

That was Farnell. He had a dry but persistent sense of humor — persistent enough that it survived even when the lawyers in front of him were trying to extract a pound of flesh from each other.

"Are you going to live through this trial?" he'd say. "I'm worried."

He could get tough if he had to. But he did so quietly, calmly and without a hint of desperation. He rarely raised his voice, and he never pounded a gavel. He had a gavel — the Clearwater Bar Association had given it to him when he was sworn in — but he never brought it to court. Unneeded, it stayed in his office.

Having stepped into the Lewis case at the last moment, Farnell was not familiar with the complexities of the facts and their emotional undercurrents. He did not realize, for instance, that Lewis and Tosi had been friends before the arrest. Nor was the judge aware of what was happening with the investigation, even as he came onto the case. He did not know about Tonja Dishong and the white teddy.

Lewis' lawyers were in the dark about that subject, too.

Ciarciaglino and Paver were making last-minute preparations to defend their client against a possible sentence of death in the electric chair. But no one had told them what Sgt. Tosi had uncovered. No one had told them, because the prosecutors did not think there was much to tell. Tosi had explained to them about finding Tonja and the teddy.

He'd explained that this piece of clothing might be the one missing from Karen's belongings. But he'd said he wasn't sure. He wanted to find the store where the teddy had come from. Maybe there would be a receipt that could tell them whether it was Karen or Lewis who had bought it. So far, though, Tosi hadn't found such proof.

Then, on Tuesday, May 26, David Mackey called the prosecutors. He wanted to know if they were going to try to use the teddy at the trial.

They said no. It was their understanding from Sgt. Tosi, they said, that David could only testify that this teddy looked similar to the one Karen had bought. That wasn't solid enough, they said. David couldn't believe it. Somehow there had been a breakdown in communication. He didn't think this teddy looked similar to Karen's, he told the prosecutors. It looked, he said, exactly like Karen's. He said he thought it was the same one.

The prosecutors were stunned. Now that they finally understood how sure David was, they moved quickly. They called the defense attorneys to notify them that the state had something new and intended to use it.

To make it official, they sent a messenger on that Wednesday to hand-deliver two pieces of paper to Ciarciaglino's and Paver's office in downtown St. Petersburg. One of the papers said that the state was hereby acknowledging the existence of an additional witness, namely Tonja Dishong. The other said that the state was hereby acknowledging the existence of an additional piece of tangible evidence, namely a woman's white undergarment, c/o Detective Tosi.

The trial was only six days away.

A Cry in the Night, Part 5: Survivors 04/10/08 [Last modified: Friday, April 11, 2008 1:33pm]

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