Tuesday, February 20, 2018
News Roundup

For some, justice; for others, anguish

How much is a man's life worth? For William Dillon, it's $1.35 million.

That's $50,000 for each one of the 27 years Dillon spent in state prison for a murder he did not commit. Wrongly imprisoned, he was tortured by fellow inmates, and his teeth rotted away as he spent more than half his life behind bars until DNA evidence proved his innocence.

Dillon, 52, of Satellite Beach, was in tears last Friday as he watched the state House of Representatives pass a bill to compensate him for a horrific injustice. "You can either be real glum and sad and have ulcers about it, or you can just put it past you and say, 'I'm going to be positive about it,' " Dillon said.

Dillon is fortunate. Influential legislators such as Senate President Mike Haridopolos and Rep. Steve Crisafulli, both Republicans from Merritt Island, have championed Dillon's cause and kept fighting after a similar bill failed late in last year's session.

But Florida's claims bill process is arbitrary and byzantine and subject to all kinds of political influence. Some victims get justice while others languish in limbo for years.

Under a law in effect since 1970, state and local governments are largely immune from lawsuits when they commit negligence. Even after juries rule in their favor, victims must hire lawyers and in many cases lobbyists and travel to Tallahassee to seek help.

Dillon's unpaid attorney, former Florida State University president Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte, was in the Legislature when sovereign immunity was eliminated for a single year in 1969. But, he said, school boards and counties protested that they could be bankrupted by big lawsuits and got the law reinstated a year later.

A Senate committee on Monday took up more than a dozen claims bills, including two cases from Tampa Bay with tragic consequences.

Rachel Hoffman was shot to death in Tallahassee in 2008 in a botched drug sting in which she acted as a confidential informer, and two men are serving life sentences for her death. The 23-year-old FSU graduate was the only child of Marjorie Weiss and Irv Hoffman of Palm Harbor.

"Rachel was my universe. The pain of losing her is endless," Hoffman told senators, who approved a bill that would require Tallahassee to pay the family $2.4 million in compensation, in addition to $200,000 that the family has received under the limits of sovereign immunity.

In the audience was Traci Wohlgemuth of New Port Richey. Her daughter Jennifer was 21 when a Pasco sheriff's deputy — on a high-speed chase, trailing other pursuing officers and not using his siren — slammed his cruiser into the young woman's Honda Accord in 2005. She suffered irreversible brain damage and, her mother told senators, has severe short-term memory loss.

"We've waited for seven years," Traci Wohlgemuth told senators. "Living with Jennifer is like living with someone with Alzheimer's, except she's 28, not 78."

Jeremiah Hawkes, an attorney for the Sheriff's Office, objected to a judge's ruling that the Wohlgemuths receive $8.6 million from Pasco, which he said was more than 10 percent of Sheriff Chris Nocco's budget. "That's a huge whack," Hawkes testified. "It's just not a loss that the Sheriff's Office can absorb." The Senate Rules Committee approved the Wohlgemuths' claim on a 10-0 vote, as chairman John Thrasher told Hawkes it was "irresponsible" that Pasco officials have refused to try to settle the case.

Said Hawkes: "I don't have the authority to make an offer."

Comments
Girl, 12, sister of murder victim, calls relative after being reported missing

Girl, 12, sister of murder victim, calls relative after being reported missing

Seven months ago, Jalyssa Shannon’s older sister Janessa went missing, sparking a frantic search that ended with the discovery of the 13-year-old’s body in a Hillsborough County nature preserve and, later, the arrest of the girls’ father in her murde...
Updated: 2 hours ago

High school scoreboard for Feb. 19

Monday’s scoreboardSoftballSpringstead 11, Central 0
Updated: 3 hours ago

Lottery resultsNumbers drawn after 9 p.m. are no longer available by our deadlines. For results, go to tampabay.com/lottery.Pick 2, 3, 4, 5Mon., Feb. 19, midday:46 278 6907e_SRit78769Mon., Feb. 19, evening:59 597 4363e_SRit97936Fantasy 5Mon., Feb. 19...
Updated: 3 hours ago

Updated: 3 hours ago
Water Wars starting to simmer again in Tampa Bay

Water Wars starting to simmer again in Tampa Bay

CLEARWATER — A simmering feud between Tampa and the regional water authority avoided boiling over Monday, but little was resolved.At a Tampa Bay Water meeting, board members requested Tampa work with the agency on the city’s plan to convert tens of m...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Ex-workers at Russian ‘troll factory’ trust U.S. indictment

Ex-workers at Russian ‘troll factory’ trust U.S. indictment

Associated PressST. PETERSBURG, Russia — While Russian officials scoff at a U.S. indictment charging 13 Russians with meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, several people who worked at the same St. Petersburg, Russia, "troll factory" say t...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Man sought in sexual assault of woman, 71, in New Port Richey

Man sought in sexual assault of woman, 71, in New Port Richey

NEW PORT RICHEY — Deputies are searching for a man who they said broke into a home and raped a 71-year-old woman on Monday.The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office said the woman was checking on a home at 7437 Heather St. for the homeowner at about 8:15 a.m...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Trump offers support for limited effort on background checks

Trump offers support for limited effort on background checks

Associated PressWEST PALM BEACH — From the confines of his Mar-a-Lago golf club, President Donald Trump offered support Monday for a limited strengthening of federal background checks on gun purchases while staying largely mum in the past few days ab...
Updated: 4 hours ago

Puerto RicoJudge grants $300M loan for power companyA federal judge on Monday approved a $300 million loan for Puerto Rico’s power company that officials say will help keep the troubled agency operating until late March. The judge had originally reje...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Grief-filled funerals also can be cathartic

Grief-filled funerals also can be cathartic

PARKLAND — Each funeral for the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High massacre is different, yet the same: the mourning relatives, teens walking in clutches wearing black, politicians paying their respects, media cameras pointing at the entran...
Updated: 5 hours ago