Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Edward Covington, who killed his girlfriend and her two children, sentenced to death

TAMPA — Seven years after a triple homicide that Hillsborough County's sheriff called the grisliest he had ever seen, a judge on Friday sentenced Edward Covington to death for the murder of his girlfriend and her two children.

In a rejection of defense attorneys' arguments that Covington is mentally ill and should be spared the death penalty, the judge found that death was the appropriate punishment for one of the goriest homicide cases in Hillsborough's history. Covington, 42, absorbed the sentence impassively, surrounded by stone-faced lawyers.

Outside the courtroom, Barbara Freiberg, the victims' mother and grandmother, said she approved of the judge's ruling, though she acknowledged it would likely entail years, if not decades, of appeals.

"There's a relief knowing that he's going to get what he gave my children," she said.

On May 12, 2008, Freiberg opened the door to her daughter Lisa's mobile home in Lutz and encountered a blood-soaked crime scene. Lisa Freiberg, 26, and her two children, Zachary Freiberg, 7, and Heather Savannah Freiberg, 2, had been beaten, choked and stabbed. Authorities said Covington had attacked the family with a hammer and knife. After killing the children, he dismembered their bodies.

Sheriff's deputies found Covington, a former prison guard, cowering in a closet, wearing nothing but underwear and covered in scratches and traces of blood.

Charged with three counts of first-degree murder, three counts of abuse of a dead body and one count of animal abuse for killing the family's dog, Covington sat in prison for years, waiting for his day in court. But when his trial began last fall, he stunned everyone, including the public defenders representing him, by abruptly firing them and announcing that he would plead guilty.

"I expect you to sentence me to death," he told Hillsborough Circuit Judge William Fuente, adding that this was the sentence he would choose for himself. "I feel it's warranted. The Freibergs feel it's warranted. The state feels it's warranted. I have no problem with this."

Covington's decision to forgo a jury trial left his fate entirely with the judge and prompted Fuente to issue a stern warning. He had encountered a similar situation only once before in his career, he told Covington, and he sentenced that defendant to death.

On Friday, after more than six months of reviewing court transcripts and medical records, Fuente said the horrifying manner in which the three victims were killed outweighed the defense argument that Covington was driven by mental illness.

From the outset of the case, Covington's lawyers portrayed him as a deeply disturbed man who, at the time of the murders, was not taking prescribed medications to control his bipolar disorder.

Medical records showed that by age 15, he was taking the mood stabilizer lithium. His mother testified that throughout his teenage years and into adulthood, he swung wildly between periods of high energy and deep depression, was repeatedly hospitalized and tried to commit suicide multiple times. By the time his case went to trial, he was taking four different medications — Depakote, Seroquel, Zoloft and Klonopin.

The defense also highlighted Covington's erratic behavior in court and some of his bizarre statements, including one moment last year when he told the court that after he killed his girlfriend, he tried to talk to her corpse.

"I remember having a conversation with Lisa about feeding the dog," he said. "I don't know how long this conversation lasted, but she was already dead."

Prosecutors maintained that Covington was not propelled by mental illness, but was operating under the influence of alcohol and crack cocaine, which he consumed hours before the killings.

In their final argument to the judge, prosecutors asked Fuente to weigh heavily Covington's excessive cruelty — the medical examiner deemed it "overkill."

"In one episode of unparalleled violence, Edward Covington destroyed one small, tightly knit family," they wrote.

Contact Anna M. Phillips at [email protected] or (813) 226-3354. Follow @annamphillips.

Edward Covington, who killed his girlfriend and her two children, sentenced to death 05/29/15 [Last modified: Friday, May 29, 2015 9:29pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Amateur photographer spotlight: Ryan McGibbeny, St. Petersburg, FL.

    Human Interest

    Here is another in an occasional series of posts shining a spotlight on local amateur photographers.

  2. Deputies: Wimauma teacher's aide sexually molested teen, 13


    A Wimauma teacher's aide faces charges lewd or lascivious molestation after Hillborough County deputies say he inappropriatly touched a 13-year-old girl.

    Sonny Juarez, 29, a teacher's aide in Wimauma, faces charges lewd or lascivious molestation after Hillborough County deputies say he inappropriatly touched a 13-year-old girl on several occasions while working at the RCMA Wimauma Academy, 18236 U.S. 301 S, between November 2016 and March 2017. [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]

  3. Tampa Bay deputies head to UF to assist with Richard Spencer's speech

    Public Safety

    Local deputies are heading up to Alachua County in preparation of white nationalist Richard Spencer's speech in Gainesville on Thursday.

    Law enforcement is stepped up in Gainesville on Oct. 18, 2017, ahead of Richard Spencer's appearance. [WILL VRAGOVIC | Times]
  4. Gymnast McKayla Maroney alleges sexual abuse by team doctor


    Two-time Olympic medalist McKayla Maroney says she was molested for years by a former USA Gymnastics team doctor, abuse she said started in her early teens and continued for the rest of her competitive career.

    U.S. gymnast McKayla Maroney poses after completing her routine on the vault during the Artistic Gymnastic women's qualifications at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Maroney posted a statement on Twitter Oct. 18, 2017, in which she said she was molested for years by former Team USA doctor Larry Nassar. [Associated Press]
  5. Top 5 at Noon: Facts on Richard Spencer's Florida visit; Column: Jameis, don't be a hero; Locale Market changes again


    Here are the latest headlines and updates on

    White nationalist Richard Spencer (C) and his supporters clash with Virginia State Police in Emancipation Park after the "Unite the Right" rally was declared an unlawful gathering August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. Spencer is set to speak at the University of Florida. [Getty]