Monday, April 23, 2018
News Roundup

After murder trial delay, Hillsborough judge threatens to jail lawyers

TAMPA — A circuit judge erupted Wednesday when he discovered a trial for the first-degree murder of a toddler two years ago faced an indefinite delay after a top lawyer for the Public Defender's Office resigned, got fired and is getting married all at the same time.

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Chet Tharpe said the case was among his top priorities this year and he has laid awake at night concerned about its complexities. It involves Justin Garwacki, 28, and his girlfriend, Kara O'Connell, 23, both charged with first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse.

Prosecutors say Garwacki fatally beat his son, John Taylor Baxley, in August 2010 as punishment for not eating properly. The state says John's death followed weeks of abuse at the hands of Garwacki and O'Connell, including pouring water over the toddler's head in the bathtub to teach him how to hold his breath and lifting him off the ground by his throat.

The couple was to stand trial on Monday, Jan. 7. But at a pretrial hearing Wednesday, Judge Tharpe learned that Garwacki had lost his public defender. In addition, the public defender had not filed all his motions and was missing a witness.

At the center is Greg Hill, one of the Public Defender's Office's top lawyers. Tharpe learned that Hill is no longer with the Public Defender's Office and is about to move to Arizona.

The judge had Hill summoned to court immediately. He said he hoped to ask Hill to stay on the case so the trial could be held on time. Hill showed up minutes later in a T-shirt and jeans, interrupted from packing.

Hill told Tharpe he had expected to be ready for trial, but learned in late December that a key witness would be unavailable. Not notifying the court, Hill said, "was an oversight on my part."

At the same time, Hill said, he had been offered a post with the law school at Arizona State University. He said he gave notice of his resignation to Public Defender Julianne Holt on Dec. 26, hoping to remain a couple of weeks to help with the reassignment of his cases.

But he said Holt terminated him on the spot.

"My computer access and emails were blocked. I was effectively shut down."

On top of all that, Hill said, he was about to do the "unthinkable." He is leaving for China in a few days to get married.

It left Tharpe in the awkward spot of congratulating Hill for his upcoming wedding while chastising him for his lack of "common courtesy."

The judge set a Jan. 10 hearing date to try to figure out when Garwacki and O'Connell will finally go to trial. Hill apologized. Public Defender Holt did not return a call for comment.

Tharpe vowed to severely punish the next attorney who causes a delay in the case.

"Because the stakes are so high in this division, I don't baby lawyers," the judge said.

"The next time, I'm going to contact the Florida Bar and, if I think the violation was intentional, I'm going to put a lawyer in jail."

John Barry can be reached at (813)226-3383 or [email protected]

Comments
Polly want a sacker: Bucs’ 4th-round draft pick to be delivered by parrot

Polly want a sacker: Bucs’ 4th-round draft pick to be delivered by parrot

Late-round NFL draft picks are often made on a wing and a prayer.The Bucs' fourth-round pick Saturday will be no different. The team announced Monday that as part of the NFL draft TV broadcast, the team's fourth-round pick will be delivered to an ann...
Updated: 7 minutes ago
Police: Infant in stolen St. Petersburg car left in parking lot; driver on loose

Police: Infant in stolen St. Petersburg car left in parking lot; driver on loose

ST. PETERSBURG — A person stole a car with an 8-month-old boy inside on Monday afternoon, then ditched the child in an apartment parking lot before driving off, police said.The boy was found safe in the parking lot of an apartment complex at 800 71st...
Updated: 9 minutes ago
Shaquem Griffin on TODAY show: ‘I’m not limited to nothing’

Shaquem Griffin on TODAY show: ‘I’m not limited to nothing’

Shaquem Griffin's ability to play football without a left hand has made him the talk of the NFL draft. But the former Lakewood High and UCF star is determined to silence such talk with his play."It gets tiring," Griffin said today...
Updated: 13 minutes ago
US veteran who survived blast receives penis transplant

US veteran who survived blast receives penis transplant

WASHINGTON — A Baltimore hospital says a wounded U.S. veteran has received the world’s most extensive penis transplant. Doctors at Johns Hopkins University say the transplant included the scrotum and part of the abdominal wall. They say the patient h...
Updated: 16 minutes ago
Sears’ biggest shareholder offers to buy Kenmore brand

Sears’ biggest shareholder offers to buy Kenmore brand

Associated PressNEW YORK — Sears’ biggest shareholder appears to be pushing for a breakup of the 125-year-old company that has survived two world wars and the Great Depression. Chairman and CEO Edward Lampert — whose hedge fund has forwarded millions...
Updated: 20 minutes ago
Lucky’s Market hosting job fairs in St. Petersburg ahead of June opening

Lucky’s Market hosting job fairs in St. Petersburg ahead of June opening

ST. PETERSBURG — Job fairs to fill more than 100 jobs open at Tampa Bay’s first Lucky’s Market start this week, the organic grocer announced on Monday. The grocery store, located at 6765 22nd Ave. N, is hosting hiring fairs Monday through Friday unti...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Alex Cobb and Logan Morrison have ex-Ray vision. Here’s what they see.

Alex Cobb and Logan Morrison have ex-Ray vision. Here’s what they see.

ST. PETERSBURG — Absolutely, Alex Cobb was saying over the phone, it's going to be weird pitching Tuesday against the Rays.The organization that he owes so much for rearing him since high school, standing by him through assorted injuries, enabl...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Did you see who hit panhandler near Selmon and drove away?

Did you see who hit panhandler near Selmon and drove away?

TAMPA — A man with a history of arrests for roadside soliciting has been found dead at the side of a road. Jess Paez, 51, was identified by Tampa police Monday as the victim of an apparent hit-and-run crash over the weekend. His body was found about ...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Leonhardt: A time for big economic ideas

The headlines may talk about growth, but we are living in a dark economic era. For most families, income and wealth have stagnated in recent decades, barely keeping pace with inflation. Nearly all the bounty of the economy’s growth has flowed to the ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Projecting where USF’s prospects will get drafted

Projecting where USF’s prospects will get drafted

For all the analyses and hypotheses, all the Mels and McShays, all the pro days and private workouts, the NFL draft remains a crap shoot at its core.But just for kicks, we're rolling the dice anyway.As a prelude to what could — could — be...
Updated: 1 hour ago