Tuesday, July 17, 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
MLB commissioner confident Rays owner is ‘going to get’ stadium deal done

MLB commissioner confident Rays owner is ‘going to get’ stadium deal done

WASHINGTON – Acknowledging both the challenges and urgency to work out a public-private financing plan, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred on Tuesday expressed extreme confidence in Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg to make a de...
Updated: 6 minutes ago
He walked 20 miles to work after his car broke down. His boss bought him a new one.

He walked 20 miles to work after his car broke down. His boss bought him a new one.

PELHAM, Ala. — An Alabama college student whose car broke down just before his first day of work made the 20-mile (32-kilometer) journey on foot, a feat that earned him fame — and a new car. News outlets report that hours before his first day working...
Updated: 10 minutes ago
SEC media days: Dan Mullen on quarterbacks battle and transfers

SEC media days: Dan Mullen on quarterbacks battle and transfers

ATLANTA — The Florida Gators are up this afternoon at SEC media days. A few highlights from an early session with coach Dan Mullen and offensive lineman Martez Ivey, defensive lineman Cece Jefferson and linebacker David Reese:Mullen had no...
Updated: 10 minutes ago
Hard Rock announces new hotel in Ireland in 2020

Hard Rock announces new hotel in Ireland in 2020

Hard Rock International is expanding across the pond. The Seminole Tribe-owned casino and hotel chain announced Tuesday that it will open a Hard Rock Hotel Dublin in 2020, its first hotel in Ireland. It will partner with Irish hotel company Tifco Lim...
Updated: 18 minutes ago
Louisiana shipbuilder hopes to bring 1,000 jobs to Tampa shipyard through Coast Guard icebreaker program

Louisiana shipbuilder hopes to bring 1,000 jobs to Tampa shipyard through Coast Guard icebreaker program

TAMPA — Tampa could welcome the arrival of more than 1,000 new shipbuilding jobs if Louisiana-based Bollinger Shipyards wins a major contract to build up to six Coast Guard polar icebreakers.The contract would mean filling Bollinger’s production faci...
Updated: 1 hour ago
SWAT team, K-9’s and bomb squad drill at Strawberry Crest High to prevent next mass shooting

SWAT team, K-9’s and bomb squad drill at Strawberry Crest High to prevent next mass shooting

DOVER — Carlos Gonzalez, the head of custodians at Strawberry Crest High School, sat in his golf cart Tuesday morning as the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s aerial unit circled in a helicopter above, casting long, jagged shadows on the football field b...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Golfing with the guys is nothing new for Brittany Lincicome

Golfing with the guys is nothing new for Brittany Lincicome

GULFPORT — Brittany Lincicome is a bit uncomfortable. It's not the scorching heat on this particular morning at Pasadena Country Club. And it's not the humidity.It's the pants.They arrived in the mail a few days earlier and she's giving them a ...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Watch this bicyclist ignore barriers, fall into gap on Wisconsin draw bridge

MENASHA, Wis. — Police say a bicyclist who weaved past the gates blocking access to a bridge over a river in eastern Wisconsin escaped serious injury after falling into the gap that was created when the bridge started to rise. Wisconsin Department of...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Police: Clearwater man crashes stolen car, flees while friend is in back seat

Police: Clearwater man crashes stolen car, flees while friend is in back seat

CLEARWATER — A Clearwater man was arrested after he was accused of stealing a car Monday night, running a red light and crashing into a car.After the crash, police say Rico Hayes, 21, ran from the scene holding a bottle of liquor, leaving an injured ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Trains crashes into car in Dade City, injuring one

Trains crashes into car in Dade City, injuring one

DADE CITY — One person was seriously injured Tuesday when a train struck a car near the 37900 block of Vitality Way, according to Pasco County Fire Rescue.The person, who has not been identified, was pulled from an SUV and flown from the scene by med...
Updated: 2 hours ago