Thursday, January 18, 2018
News Roundup

Court considers new testimony in case of Pinellas man set for execution

LARGO — Thirty-two years after the fact, a witness appeared in court on Tuesday and contradicted the official account of what Robert Waterhouse did on the night Deborah Kammerer was murdered.

But it's not clear if Tuesday's testimony will make a difference for Waterhouse, who is scheduled to be executed next month.

Leglio Sotolongo came forward to tell what he recalled about that 1980 night, saying he felt it was his responsibility to set the record straight.

But the condemned man chose not to listen in on the hearing that could help decide how long he lives. Waterhouse is in prison, but he spoke briefly by telephone with Senior Circuit Judge Robert Beach and said he did not wish to participate.

Sotolongo, now 55, was a doorman at the ABC Lounge on Fourth Street in St. Petersburg in 1980 and knew Waterhouse as a regular patron. He saw Waterhouse on the night of the murder and says he told a detective that Waterhouse left the bar with two men that night.

That's significant because at trial, a bartender testified she saw Waterhouse leave the bar with the victim — a more incriminating version. Kammerer was raped and beaten to death and found in St. Petersburg's Lassing Park.

Now, based partly on Sotolongo's testimony, defense attorney Robert Norgard is seeking to throw out the death penalty and win a new trial for Waterhouse. A decision from Beach is expected later this week.

Sotolongo said that after he saw a recent Tampa Bay Times story recounting the case, he felt it was important to come forward and say Waterhouse left the bar that night with two men, not with the woman who was killed. He says he spoke to a friend who told him, " 'It's a serious issue.' I agreed.''

But the next person on the stand was Gary Hitchcox, the former detective who took Sotolongo's statement 32 years ago. He flatly denied Sotolongo ever told him that Waterhouse left with two men, instead of with the victim.

"I say it's false," Hitchcox said Tuesday, speaking of Sotolongo's account. He said if Sotolongo had told him about Waterhouse leaving with two men, he not only would have made notes and written it up in his police report, he would have considered it an exciting new wrinkle in the investigation.

"If that had been told to me, it would have been in the report," said Hitchcox, now an investigator with the Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender's Office.

There also was testimony on Tuesday about an incident that purportedly happened months after the time Hitchcox interviewed Sotolongo.

Sotolongo said he and a friend were at a different bar one night when Hitchcox approached the two of them and criticized them both for trying to help a murderer with their comments.

Sotolongo said he was so upset he later filed an internal affairs complaint against Hitchcox. But Hitchcox later responded from the witness stand: "Never happened." He said there was no such confrontation, and no such investigation.

Norgard said that although Sotolongo has been a known witness for decades, it was only discovered recently that his version of events contradicts others.

But Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett said he considered Sotolongo's account a "fabrication." He also said there would have been enough evidence to charge Waterhouse with the murder even without testimony about who left the bar with whom.

Also on Tuesday, Beach denied the defense's motion to overturn Waterhouse's death sentence because evidence in the case was destroyed after the trial. If that evidence still existed, such as blood samples, modern DNA testing methods might have exonerated Waterhouse, his attorney said.

Times staff writer Curtis Krueger can be reached at [email protected] or (727)893-8232.

Comments

High school scoreboard for Jan. 17

Wednesday’s scoreboardBoys basketballBoca Ciega 62, Clearwater 52Boys soccerPalm Harbor U. 3, Dunedin 0Girls soccerPalm Harbor U. 5, Dunedin 0
Updated: 5 hours ago
‘All I see is fire’: 911 calls released from Florida casino boat fire

‘All I see is fire’: 911 calls released from Florida casino boat fire

PORT RICHEY — The first call came into emergency dispatch at 4 p.m. on Sunday from shore, reporting a ‘giant’ boat on fire in the Pithlachascotee River."It’s urgent," the caller said.Others followed quickly, one woman crying as she described from her...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Shelters offer escape from the cold for those who need it

Shelters offer escape from the cold for those who need it

On warmer nights, Jerry Hardison can sleep for a few hours at the recycling center. He works 11-hour shifts there. He gets off at 2:30 a.m., then waits until the buses start running again.But not Wednesday."Getting out that time of the morning in the...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Apple to build second campus, hire 20,000 in $350B pledge

Apple to build second campus, hire 20,000 in $350B pledge

Associated PressSAN FRANCISCO — Apple is planning to build another corporate campus and hire 20,000 workers during the next five years as part of a $350 billion commitment to the United States that will be partially financed by an upcoming windfall f...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Michigan father deported after three decades in community; AIDS crusader Mathlide Kim dies; more in U.S. news

Michigan father deported after three decades in community; AIDS crusader Mathlide Kim dies; more in U.S. news

Michigan This was his home for 30 years, then ICE forced dad from familyWith two immigration agents hovering nearby, Jorge Garcia pulled his wife and their 15-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son close for a final hug at the Detroit airport. Soon af...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Gibsonton man faces 50 counts of child porn

Gibsonton man faces 50 counts of child porn

GIBSONTON — A 46-year-old man was arrested Wednesday by Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents on 50 counts of possession of child pornography and one count of promoting a sexual performance by a child.Authorities said they received several tip...
Updated: 9 hours ago

He still has nightmares: Deckhand recalls prior casino boat fire

Cory Byrd said he still has nightmares about the smoke. In them, he is back in the cabin of the Express Shuttle II, scrambling to reach the white rectangle of an open door. The smoke was so thick, he said, you could barely see an outstretched hand. ...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Wallaby bounds down Sydney Harbour Bridge; North, South Korea to march as one in Olympics; more in world news

Wallaby bounds down Sydney Harbour Bridge; North, South Korea to march as one in Olympics; more in world news

AustraliaWallaby infiltrates Sydney bridgeA wayward wallaby disrupted downtown traffic by bounding across the Sydney Harbor Bridge on Tuesday with police in pursuit. The adult male was captured without any apparent serious injury and is expected to b...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Pinellas sheriff, feds announce changes to controversial immigrant detention policy

Pinellas sheriff, feds announce changes to controversial immigrant detention policy

LARGO — For years, county sheriffs in the United States have faced a quandary when asked by federal officials to hold undocumented immigrants in their local jails. They could continue to hold them for up to two days past the time they were legally fr...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Water Street Tampa developers seek artist and design for $600,000 outdoor art near USF med school

Water Street Tampa developers seek artist and design for $600,000 outdoor art near USF med school

TAMPA — Water Street Tampa called Wednesday for artists to send in their ideas for a big piece of public art for the outdoor plaza between one of the $3 billion project’s office buildings and the new University of South Florida Morsani College of Med...
Updated: 10 hours ago