NEW PORT RICHEY — A civil jury decided Monday that an apartment complex where a young woman was murdered in 2004 is not liable for her death.
The jury returned something of a compromise verdict. It found that Carlton Arms of Magnolia Valley was negligent, but also that Kim Delancey was more than 50 percent responsible because she was intoxicated at the time of the murder.
That means her mother, Sandra Delancey, who was represented by high-powered Tampa attorney Barry Cohen, will receive no monetary award.
Cohen said immediately after the verdict that he will appeal.
"There's absolutely no evidence to support that verdict," he said. "She was drinking, but she didn't do anything negligent."
Kim Delancey, 27, moved to the New Port Richey apartment complex in 2002. Adam Calcote stayed next door with his girlfriend, living under an assumed name while wanted in Massachusetts on an arson warrant.
One evening when his girlfriend was out of town, Calcote struck up a conversation on the balcony with Delancey, a special-education teacher who lived alone. They talked and drank beer and wine for several hours. When they went inside, authorities said, he raped her and then smothered her with a pillow.
She grew up in Hudson and attended River Ridge High School and the University of Florida. In her job at Anclote Elementary, she was known as the "Sticker Fairy" for her habit of putting stickers on children's faces during nap time.
Calcote, now 39, was convicted of first-degree murder in 2005 and is serving life in prison.
In her lawsuit, Sandra Delancey argued that Carlton Arms failed to detect Calcote, who was not listed on his girlfriend's lease but lived off and on between the complex and his mother's house for more than six months.
Cohen told the jury that such "piggybackers" are a problem at apartment complexes nationwide, but that Carlton Arms had no policy in place to protect its residents from such people.
"They're not worried about people being on the premises that they don't know who they are," Cohen told the six-member jury Monday. "Their concern is only that they be able to pay the rent."
He said Carlton Arms presented a safe, secure environment to potential tenants: an entrance with a guard house, fencing around the perimeter and a "bluebook" explaining security policies.
The complex, Cohen said, encouraged residents to "get to know your neighbors."
"How can they tell people to get to know their neighbors when they don't get to know the unauthorized occupants?" Cohen argued.
Brandon Scheele, who represented the apartment company, told jurors that Carlton Arms never had any violent crime committed at the complex, and Calcote's actions that night were not foreseeable.
"You can dissect a tragedy after it happens … but, folks, there are unforeseeable tragedies in the world. Just because a tragedy happens doesn't mean someone was negligent," Scheele told the jury.
A security expert hired by Cohen suggested the company should train its maintenance workers to "have their antenna up" when they go inside apartments to fix toilets or replace carpet so that they notice people hanging around who shouldn't be there.
"Wouldn't it be reasonable?" Cohen asked.
Scheele countered that for maintenance workers to do such would amount to spying on tenants. "You can't go in and violate the civil rights of your tenants to fix a problem that doesn't exist," he said.
In a similar case, Cohen won a multimillion-dollar award several years ago for a college student who was kidnapped and shot in the head by three men who sneaked through the gate of her Tampa apartment complex behind a resident.
He said he's confident he'll prevail in the appeal of the Delancey case.
Molly Moorhead can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6245.