Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Church youth leader's murder trial begins

Ron Tomlinson hugs his daughter, Cherie Tomlinson, 16, as they listen to testimony during the Joshua Rosa murder trial, which began on Tuesday. 


Ron Tomlinson hugs his daughter, Cherie Tomlinson, 16, as they listen to testimony during the Joshua Rosa murder trial, which began on Tuesday. 

TAMPA — Ron Tomlinson waited 2 1/2 years to see the man accused of killing his 13-year-old son stand trial.

Testimony began Tuesday, bringing relief but also fresh pain. Tomlinson listened as jurors heard about Joshua Rosa, 22, who attended community college and volunteered as a church youth leader before being charged with first-degree murder in the death of his young neighbor.

Ron Tomlinson and his family knew the gruesome details, how Stephen Tomlinson had been strangled at dusk in a park in Carrollwood's Logan Gate Village and was found lying on his back with his jeans pulled down around his ankles.

But when prosecutors flashed Exhibit 15A on a screen — a close-up photo of Stephen's bloody face — the brutality proved too much for one of Tomlinson's sons.

"Stay calm, stay calm," a friend whispered, but Ronnie Tomlinson Jr., 18, rose from the back of the courtroom and cursed in a low voice at Rosa. A bailiff shepherded him out. His father hurried after him, banging the door.

The testimony barely paused.

It was like Dec. 8, 2005, all over again as witnesses recounted their memories from that day.

Kevin Whiteley and two other young men had driven to the park to party with beer and marijuana. They headed to "the cut," a secluded spot of the park with no lights or police.

They saw a flashlight coming out of the woods, Whiteley said, and thought it was the cops. Instead, it was Rosa, begging for a cell phone.

"There's a kid back there, possibly dead or hurt," Rosa said, according to Whiteley.

"Do you have any idea who it is?" Whiteley asked.

"No," Rosa said.

Someone called 911 at a home nearby. Whiteley went into the woods and saw a bike. It belonged to Stephen, whose family he knew well. Stephen's body lay not far from the bike.

Whiteley wiped tears from his eyes as he recalled lifting Stephen a couple of feet in the air as he looked and listened for signs of life. He put the teen back down, felt for a pulse in his neck. Nothing.

He remembered seeing Rosa holding the white gloves that investigators later had tested.

Lab tests found Stephen's blood on the gloves and matched his DNA to fingernail clippers found in Rosa's jogging pants. Blood on Rosa's shoes, pants and hands matched Tomlinson, too, Assistant State Attorney Christopher Moody said during his opening statement.

Prosecutors said there were signs of a struggle. DNA evidence taken from Stephen's fingernails suggested a possible link to Rosa, who had scratches on his arm.

But defense attorney Brian Gonzalez said authorities arrested the wrong man. He said prosecutors had only circumstantial evidence. No confession or eyewitnesses linked Rosa to the death of the young man with whom he had once played video games and attended church services.

"He tried to save Stephen Tomlinson" after finding him in the woods, Gonzalez said.

On Tuesday, Ron Tomlinson searched for emotion in Rosa's face and saw none. Since Stephen died, the father successfully petitioned the county for upgraded fencing and lighting at the park, then filed a negligence lawsuit to punctuate his point.

He has been a fixture at Rosa's pretrial hearings, often accompanied by his twin brother, Donald. The men share tired eyes, weathered faces, quick tempers. The outburst in court Tuesday spilled into the hallway, where the men and Stephen's older brother made threats against Rosa and bailiffs. Hillsborough Circuit Judge William Fuente warned them to behave or risk getting banned from the courtroom.

Ron Tomlinson apologized. During a smoke break a short while later, he pushed up an arm of his gray suit jacket to reveal a blue ink tattoo of his dead son's face. Yes, Tomlinson said, he was glad that the trial had finally come.

"I've been waiting too long," he said.

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at or (813) 226-3337.

Church youth leader's murder trial begins 07/15/08 [Last modified: Monday, July 21, 2008 5:24pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Target Corp. reaches $18.5 million settlement with 47 states over data breach


    NEW YORK — Target Corp. has reached an $18.5 million settlement over a massive data breach that occurred before Christmas in 2013.

    Forty-seven states and the District of Columbia have reached an $18.5 million settlement with Target Corp. to resolve the states' probe into the discounter's massive pre-Christmas data breach in 2013. 
[Associated Press]
  2. Adam Putnam: Too much of education bill was done €'behind closed doors'


    Republican candidate for governor Adam Putnam joined the chorus of critics of the Florida Legislature’s massive K-12 education bill that heavily favors charter schools over traditional public schools.

    2018 Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam and Gov. Rick Scott talk on the first day of the Legislature's annual session in March.
  3. John Morgan 'prepared to invest $100M' in medical marijuana

    State Roundup

    John Morgan spent nearly $7 million pushing two statewide ballot initiatives to expand medical marijuana throughout the state of Florida.

    Personal injury lawyer John Morgan says he's ready to invest $100 million in medical marijuana. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]
  4. Avalos gets life in prison for killing Bradenton neighbor, pastor


    BRADENTON — A Florida man has been sentenced to life in prison for killing a neighbor and a local pastor.

    Andres "Andy" Avalos has been sentenced to life in prison for killing a neighbor and a local pastor. 

[File photo from Manatee County Sheriff's Office]
  5. Manchester police hunt for accomplices; Islamic State group claims responsibility for blast

    Public Safety

    MANCHESTER, England — Investigators hunted Tuesday for possible accomplices of the suicide bomber who attacked an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, killing 22 people and sparking a stampede of young concertgoers, some still wearing the American pop star's trademark kitten ears and holding pink balloons.

    Emergency services work at Manchester Arena after reports of an explosion at the venue during an Ariana Grande gig in Manchester, England Monday, May 22, 2017. Several people have died following reports of an explosion Monday night at an Ariana Grande concert in northern England, police said. A representative said the singer was not injured.  [Peter Byrne | PA via AP]