Saturday, August 18, 2018
News Roundup

Former Pasco teacher accused of sex with student found guilty in Pinellas court

LARGO — In an effort to save himself from a conviction on multiple sex crimes, former Pasco elementary school teacher Michael Lander not only testified in his own defense on Friday, he also appeared before the jury in his boxer shorts.

Nonetheless, jurors found him guilty of two counts of sexual battery and two counts of lewd or lascivious behavior for manipulating one of his students into sex acts when she was 12 and 13.

The victim, now 18, testified during the trial that Lander started favoring her with nice notes, romantic looks and kisses. Eventually he persuaded her mother to sign a custody agreement allowing her to move in with his family, ostensibly so he could tutor her. Eventually, she said, he told her he loved her and wanted to have a baby with her. He also repeatedly asked for oral sex and had intercourse with her on her 13th birthday.

The jury reached a verdict after 90 minutes of deliberations. Lander's wife, the victim and the victim's mother cried in court as the verdict was read.

Lander, 40, said nothing and showed no emotion. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Tuesday and faces up to life in prison.

Apparently the spectacle of seeing Lander stand in the courtroom in his boxer shorts — along with dress shirt, tie and stocking feet — did little to convince the all-female jury that Lander was innocent. The point of the exercise was to display burn scars on Lander's legs, which the victim did not mention during testimony.

Lander's decision to testify presented him with a problem. Prosecutors had a recorded phone call between Lander and his wife in which he discussed the sex allegations and appeared to admit wrongdoing.

So when Lander testified on Friday, he had to explain why he seemed to admit guilt during the phone call to his wife.

For example, she said in the recorded call: "I want to know right now, yes or no. And that's all you have to say."

Lander responded: "Yes. Once."

Friday's explanation: Lander testified that he did not mean he had sex with the girl. He just meant there was one time in which something happened between them that made him uncomfortable. That was the time the girl reached down and rubbed his belly and, he explained, "I didn't feel it was appropriate at all."

Lander's attorney, Andres Sanchez, also asked him what he had meant in the call when he acknowledged being "extremely unfair to her."

"To who?" Lander said, posing a question about his own words. He later said he didn't remember the statement.

Also, Sanchez said, Lander had previously told his stepdaughter he loved the girl he was later accused of molesting.

Friday's explanation: "I loved all my students."

These answers were not enough for Assistant State Attorney Jennifer Menendez-Kotch, who said Lander's version of events would even boggle the minds of conspiracy theorists.

She pointed out that during the phone call in which his wife graphically accused him of having intercourse with an adolescent girl, he never protested that it wasn't what he meant.

Lander met the girl when she joined his fifth-grade class at Schrader Elementary. He and his wife lived in Pinellas County.

There was an unusual moment Friday when Sanchez approached Judge Keith Meyer for a conversation that could not be heard in the courtroom. Afterward Meyer said: "So, summing it up, you want your client to take his pants off?"

Sanchez explained the burn scars and said Lander had boxers under his pants.

"The court is well acquainted with boxer shorts," Meyer said, but instructed Sanchez to guard against any "garment malfunction" with the underwear.

When Meyer asked prosecutors for input, Menendez-Kotch said, "I don't think we have a legal basis to object."

Comments
Levy County man, 53, killed trying to pass truck north of Inverness

Levy County man, 53, killed trying to pass truck north of Inverness

INVERNESS — A 53-year-old Levy County man died when he collided with a Mack truck while trying to pass it north of Inverness, the Florida Highway Patrol said.Claude Pepper Blount Jr. was headed south on U.S. 41 near Overdrive Circle about 1:50 p.m. F...
Updated: 19 minutes ago
Police: Motorcyclist hospitalized after crash at Sheffield Lake Park in St. Petersburg

Police: Motorcyclist hospitalized after crash at Sheffield Lake Park in St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — A motorcycle driver suffered serious injuries early Saturday when he lost control and crashed at Sheffield Lake Park, according to the St. Petersburg Police Department.Robert Douglas Blume, 47, was driving north along 49th Street N o...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Preseason football: Hillsborough 29, East Lake 23

Preseason football: Hillsborough 29, East Lake 23

TAMPA — When moving on to your third football program in four seasons, it helps to have a familiar face on the scene to help make things click faster.For Hillsborough quarterback Charlie Dean, fresh from playing for Tampa Catholic last fall, that per...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Romano: A fresh start for Florida to protect abused children

Romano: A fresh start for Florida to protect abused children

The worst job in Florida is available, once again.Mike Carroll has announced his pending resignation as secretary of the Department of Children and Families, giving someone else the privilege to be an underfunded, second-guessed punching bag. For no ...
Published: 08/18/18
In Clearwater, this woman is crafting a unique baseball career

In Clearwater, this woman is crafting a unique baseball career

CLEARWATER — The voice of the Clearwater Threshers grew up a couple hours down the coast, listening to Dewayne Staats and making annual family trips to the Trop.The giveaway to what Kirsten Karbach would become, however, should have been her baseball...
Updated: 24 minutes ago
Putting a face to the name: Picture of Marine killed in Vietnam one of the missing

Putting a face to the name: Picture of Marine killed in Vietnam one of the missing

Private Ruben Bell Jr. has a name, a rank, a hometown, five service medals and several living family members. For 50 years, though, he has remained a ghost.Bell enlisted in the Marine Corps in July 1967, when he was 19, and arrived in Vietnam that De...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Jameis Winston vs. Marcus Mariota: The stats that matter

Jameis Winston vs. Marcus Mariota: The stats that matter

Yeah, but …Every Jameis Winston-Marcus Mariota debate is full of them.Winston has completed more passes (939), gained more passing yards (11,636) and thrown more passing touchdowns (69) before his age 24 season than any quarterback in NFL histo...
Updated: 9 hours ago
It’s David Price time, from Rays ‘openers’ to rise of Blake Snell

It’s David Price time, from Rays ‘openers’ to rise of Blake Snell

BOSTON — David Price heard about the recent reunion of the Rays' 2008 American League championship club that he played a big role on as a small part of, and he had a few questions.What players were there? How did it go? Did second baseman Akino...
Updated: 11 hours ago

Rays journal: A 3-0 first-inning lead turns into a loss to powerful Red Sox

BOSTON — Scoring three runs in the top of the first inning is typically a good start toward a victory.But not so much at cozy Fenway Park.And definitely not against these red-hot Red Sox.Facing their AL East rivals for the first time since late...
Updated: 11 hours ago
From Hawaii to the honky-tonk: Nashville’s in love with Marcus Mariota

From Hawaii to the honky-tonk: Nashville’s in love with Marcus Mariota

NASHVILLE — Ten thousand blue leis were distributed to Titans fans for the NFL draft on the day their team picked Marcus Mariota.The 2014 Heisman Trophy winner wasn't even at Nissan Stadium for the party, which drew a crowd of 20,000. But the w...
Updated: 11 hours ago