Tuesday, November 13, 2018
News Roundup

Holiday man serving 20-year sentence wins new trial

NEW PORT RICHEY — One night 10 years ago, J.J. Daiak stood in his dark living room with a hurricane howling outside and a .357-caliber magnum in his hand. Hearing voices and thinking looters were about to break in, he fired two shots, hitting a sofa and a wall.

But the voices outside his front door weren't looters. They were Pasco County deputies. Daiak was arrested and charged with aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer. He got 20 years.

After relentlessly campaigning from prison, Daiak, 62, was granted a new trial last month. It could happen as soon as September.

What's different now: His first trial, in 2006, was before Florida's notorious "stand your ground" law fundamentally altered how the public views self-defense cases. It was before we became captivated — and polarized — by people like George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin and Marissa Alexander, a Jacksonville woman sentenced to 20 years for firing her gun during a fight with her estranged husband.

"The climate is very much in favor of people defending themselves," Tampa defense attorney John Fitzgibbons said.

Daiak was once an economist and a lawyer. For a time he ran a craft and frame shop in downtown New Port Richey. Before Labor Day 2004, he'd never been in trouble with the law.

That night, the chaos of Hurricane Frances had him on edge. At his home in Holiday, he took his revolver out of his safe and set it on the bed. He had argued with his girlfriend, Donna Vaillancourt, earlier in the day, and someone called 911. She told deputies who showed up at the house that everything was fine, but when she went to get Daiak, she saw him with the gun.

She backed out of the room and told authorities he had it to his head.

Later, the sounds of men's voices woke him up. His heart raced. He couldn't hear them clearly over the wind and rain. The deputies pounded the door so hard it rattled the frame. He fired because he didn't know it was the law on his lawn.

Had he known, he testified in the trial, "I would have gone outside and talked to them; say, 'Hi, guys, what's up?' "

He was represented in the trial by the attorney who'd handled Vaillancourt's divorce.

"The price was right," Daiak's mother, Fay, said later.

After he lost the case and a subsequent appeal, he hired new lawyers. He filed a motion for ineffective assistance of counsel, and was granted a hearing and ultimately a new trial. There's a possibility he will be released on bail in the meantime.

"He's worked so hard to get to this point," Vaillancourt said after a hearing Thursday. "He wants to show that he is not guilty of this crime. He wants to clear his name."

Granted by Circuit Court Judge William Webb, the ruling is based on key mistakes by Daiak's attorney, including arguing the wrong case law.

"What he's going to have to prove is the justifiable use of force," Stetson law professor Susan Rozelle said. "The defendant is entitled to use force if he reasonably believed that his home was being invaded by burglars."

Prosecutors, meanwhile, will try to convict him on the same charge that won over the first jury, and net the same sentence.

"The court's ruling regarding the ineffective assistance doesn't change the theory of the state's case," Assistant State Attorney Eva Vergos said Thursday. "It doesn't change anything regarding the facts or the evidence."

But it is a changed climate.

"It seems that there is in Florida the entire 'stand your ground' movement that is very favorable to people defending themselves," Fitzgibbons said, "and that's a significant change in the last 20 years, in my opinion. They have rights to shoot under certain circumstances and no duty to retreat."

Contact Jon Silman at [email protected] or (727) 869-6229.

Comments
Check out the facial tattoos of the man called the ‘Miami joker.’

Check out the facial tattoos of the man called the ‘Miami joker.’

Lawrence Patrick Sullivan’s 2017 arrest and tattoo-filled mug shot earned him infamy. So why is he in the Pinellas County jail?
Updated: 18 minutes ago
Joggers, cyclists now wait to see where future of Upper Tampa Bay Trail leads

Joggers, cyclists now wait to see where future of Upper Tampa Bay Trail leads

Hillsborough commissioners are not recommending a realignment of the Upper Tampa Bay Trail to make room for a 300-unit apartment block. But whether trail users can claim victory is unsure.
Updated: 1 hour ago
Rays’ Kevin Cash third in AL Manager of the Year voting

Rays’ Kevin Cash third in AL Manager of the Year voting

ST. PETERSBURG – Kevin Cash led the Rays to 90 wins this season, but he lost out on the AL Manager of the Year award, finishing third behind Oakland's Bob Melvin and Boston's Alex Cora.Cash received five first-place votes, six for second and 14...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Victim in fatal wrong-way crash was a veteran who died on Veteran’s Day

Victim in fatal wrong-way crash was a veteran who died on Veteran’s Day

He was fatally injured Monday while loading his bike onto the front of a bus on Gulf Boulevard. The wrong-way driver was impaired, deputies say.
Updated: 1 hour ago
Bucs linebacker Lavonte David has MCL sprain, could miss this week’s game at Giants

Bucs linebacker Lavonte David has MCL sprain, could miss this week’s game at Giants

TAMPA — Bucs outside linebacker Lavonte David could miss Sunday's road game against the New York Giants with an MCL sprain in his knee.David hasn't yet been ruled out for this week's game, but his absence would be another major hit for a lineba...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Sexual battery charge against Tampa cop dropped

Sexual battery charge against Tampa cop dropped

The State Attorney's office says it has dropped its case against Adam York, the Tampa cop accused of sexually battering a woman he pulled over after Gasparilla in 2016.
Updated: 2 hours ago
The Bucs are starting a journeyman over Jameis Winston. Here’s what that means

The Bucs are starting a journeyman over Jameis Winston. Here’s what that means

Bucs coach Dirk Koetter didn't take long to figure out who his starting quarterback will be this week. Less than 24 hours, to be exact.Fairly soon after the Bucs limped off the field following Sunday's embarrassingly futile 16-3 loss to Washington, K...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Argument over dog led Tarpon Springs man to shoot and kill his father, police say

Argument over dog led Tarpon Springs man to shoot and kill his father, police say

The 25-year-old faces a first-degree murder charge for fatally shooting his 68-year-old father, according to Tarpon Springs police.
Updated: 2 hours ago

Planning commission recommends denial of expanded commercial fish processing in Hernando Beach

Community and company collide.
Updated: 2 hours ago
Why Blake Snell should win the AL Cy Young award

Why Blake Snell should win the AL Cy Young award

ST. PETERSBURG — Blake Snell deserves to win the American League Cy Young award.Really, it's as simple as that.Look at what Snell did this season for the Rays, leading the AL with a 1.89 ERA, 21 wins (vs. five losses), .178 opponents average an...
Updated: 3 hours ago