Tuesday, January 23, 2018
News Roundup

Facing 40 years, Brooksville man acquitted in retrial on home invasion charges

BROOKSVILLE — Last year, a jury decided that Kirk Bleich Jr. was one of two armed men who broke into a Spring Hill woman's home one morning in 2010 and robbed her. A judge sentenced him to 40 years in prison.

Now he is a free man.

Another jury, hearing the case after Bleich's first conviction was overturned on appeal, took 90 minutes Wednesday to acquit him of home invasion robbery. The 50-year-old Brooksville resident faced the possibility of life in prison if convicted.

When the clerk read the verdict, Bleich nodded his head, smiled and looked back at his mother. Then he took off his glasses and wiped tears from his eyes before bailiffs led him away to be officially discharged.

Over two days, jurors heard the same evidence presented in the first trial except for one crucial statement — from Bleich's brother, implicating him in the crime.

Just before dawn on 2010, according to testimony, two men wearing ski masks and brandishing handguns barged into the bedroom of Tracy Paulk Blake, a disabled 47-year-old woman with a plethora of prescribed medications. Claiming to be police officers on a raid, they demanded drugs and money.

Barak Bleich, Kirk's brother, later told detectives that he and Kirk committed the robbery. Barak pleaded guilty and was sentenced to seven years in prison. Kirk, a felon who had served time for burglary, battery, and drug and weapons possession, opted to go to trial.

Barak later told prosecutors he would not testify against his brother. He claimed that he couldn't remember whether Kirk had participated in the robbery. Assistant State Attorney Rob Lewis called Barak Bleich as a witness in his brother's first trial and, when he claimed he couldn't remember, played a video recording of his interview with detectives.

The appellate court ruled that Lewis impeached Barak as a witness by calling him for the sole purpose of introducing an inconsistent, "extremely prejudicial" statement that otherwise would have been inadmissible.

That left Lewis, when Bleich's second trial started Tuesday, with a case built on circumstantial evidence. Jurors were told that Barak Bleich pleaded guilty to the crime, but not about his prior testimony. He was not called to testify.

Blake testified that she met Kirk Bleich through a woman named Sheri Schoonover, who cleaned Blake's house in exchange for some of her OxyContin pills. Blake said Schoonover brought Kirk Bleich a couple of times to help clean.

Blake said she was in her bed when the men barged in about 5 a.m. on June 19, 2010. They took pill bottles, her iPhone and some ammunition, among other items.

Something about the man who did the talking seemed familiar, Blake said. Later that day, she told Schoonover she suspected it was Kirk Bleich. Schoonover got Kirk on the phone so she could hear his voice.

"That's the son of a b- - - - that was in my bedroom this morning," Blake recalled telling Schoonover, who also testified and corroborated the account.

According to testimony, the Kirk brothers stayed with their parents in Brooksville — Barak in the house, Kirk in a travel trailer on the property. In the house, detectives found Blake's cellphone, some of her medication bottles and a ski mask with Kirk Bleich's DNA on it. In the travel trailer, investigators found one of Blake's OxyContin bottles and Kirk Bleich's work ID card.

"The only reasonable conclusion is that Kirk Bleich was the other person," Lewis told jurors during closing arguments.

Defense attorney Peyton Hy­slop told the jury there was plenty of reasonable doubt. Blake said the robber she thought was Kirk Bleich had green or hazel eyes. Kirk's are brown. Kirk grew up in his parents' house, so finding a ski mask there that he had worn wasn't unusual. And finding Blake's stolen goods anywhere on property frequented by the man who already pleaded guilty to the crime doesn't prove Kirk's guilt, Hyslop said. If anything, he said, Kirk is guilty of telling his brother that Blake had pills she was willing to sell or trade.

"Everything here that ties Kirk Jr. to this is either circumstantial or suspect," Hyslop said.

Melanie Fielder served as jury forewoman.

"The evidence we had to work with is what we based our decision on," Fielder said.

Does that mean she thought Bleich was guilty?

She declined to say.

Comments
Lightning beats Predators in overtime

Lightning beats Predators in overtime

NASHVILLE — Steven Stamkos’ celebration said it all.The Lightning captain delivered an emphatic fist pump after his rocket one-timer clanked in off the crossbar, tying the score with just over two minutes left at Bridgestone Arena on Tuesday night. S...
Updated: 28 minutes ago

High school scoreboard for Jan. 23

Tuesday’s scoreboardBoys basketballBoca Ciega 55, Canterbury 53Girls basketballBoca Ciega 65, Largo 19
Updated: 1 hour ago

Hernando sheriff: Shooter injures three; in standoff with SWAT

BROOKSVILLE — A shooter was on the loose Tuesday night after injuring three victims, according to Hernando Sheriff Al Nienhuis.The sheriff would not say if there were any fatalities.The Sheriff’s Office received a report about the at about 9 p.m. Dep...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Updated: 1 hour ago
Sheriff: Pasco man planned, then carried out neighbor’s execution

Sheriff: Pasco man planned, then carried out neighbor’s execution

HOLIDAY — A neighborhood dispute ended in gunfire when one neighbor executed another on Tuesday, deputies said, as the victim kneeled in his own front yard begging for his life.The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office said the execution, which took place ju...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Career Q&A: Sharpen interview skills to overcome impression of shyness

Career Q&A: Sharpen interview skills to overcome impression of shyness

Q: At the end of a recent interview, the manager told me that I would not be getting the job. He said I wasn’t a good fit for the position because I was shy. As a naturally introverted person, I found this very discouraging. How can I avoid similar p...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Lawmakers call for additional investigations into Tampa Bay’s two CareerSource boards

Lawmakers call for additional investigations into Tampa Bay’s two CareerSource boards

Federal and state lawmakers are calling on Congress and the Florida House of Representatives to investigate whether two regional workforce centers inflated the number of people they helped find jobs. U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D–St. Petersburg, and sta...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Undersea quake causes fear of tsunami in Alaska; Kentucky teen kills 2 classmates in shooting; ex-gymnast tells Nassar: ‘You didn’t heal me. You only hurt me’; more in U.S. news

Undersea quake causes fear of tsunami in Alaska; Kentucky teen kills 2 classmates in shooting; ex-gymnast tells Nassar: ‘You didn’t heal me. You only hurt me’; more in U.S. news

AlaskaUndersea quake causes panicA powerful undersea earthquake sent Alaskans fumbling for suitcases and racing to evacuation centers in the middle of the night after a cellphone alert warned a tsunami could hit communities along the state’s southern...
Updated: 4 hours ago
MacDill crews shift from Islamic State battle to join winter fight against Taliban

MacDill crews shift from Islamic State battle to join winter fight against Taliban

Now that the fight against the largely defeated Islamic State is winding down, the U.S. Air Force is turning its efforts toward the Taliban and moving aircraft and crews to Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan.Crews and a KC-135 Stratotanker aerial refue...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Deputies identify 11-month-old who drowned, no other details released

Deputies identify 11-month-old who drowned, no other details released

BRANDON — The 11-month-old girl who drowned in an apartment complex pond on Monday was identified as Deleah Morgan by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office Tuesday.Deputies released no other details about the incident or the ongoing investigation....
Updated: 4 hours ago