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Judge warns prosecutors, law enforcement in Lutz case

TAMPA — Hillsborough Sheriff David Gee told reporters it was the most horrific crime scene he had ever seen, with victims mutilated, dismembered and, in one case, decapitated.

His second-in-command said the suspect told how he did it.

The statements describe what officers said Edward Covington did to a mother, her son and a daughter on Mother's Day in Lutz. Covington's lawyer thinks such comments could ruin his client's chances for a fair trial.

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Manuel Lopez agreed, ruling in the defense's favor on Friday, strongly reminding prosecutors and law enforcement to refrain from making such statements. He also gave the defense first crack at screening investigative materials before the public and news media can see them.

The ruling is rare but happens in high-profile cases. A judge took similar action in the case of David Onstott, accused of killing 13-year-old Sarah Lunde of Ruskin.

It also happened in the Valessa Robinson case, in which she and her boyfriend were convicted of killing Robinson's mother in 1998.

In Covington's case, Lopez gave public defender Charles Traina 30 days to screen evidence and reports so he can object to anything that could be released publicly.

Such material is generally known as "discovery," which a prosecutor is required to turn over to the defense and public.

In this case, the judge can rule on objections and keep items from public and media view until a jury has been picked. Anything else will be released immediately.

Reached afterward, St. Petersburg Times attorney Alison Steele didn't object to Lopez's ruling, saying he acted in an appropriate manner because the records aren't being withheld.

Justin George can be reached at jgeorge@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3368.

Judge warns prosecutors, law enforcement in Lutz case 06/20/08 [Last modified: Saturday, June 21, 2008 12:00am]
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