Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Jury acquits Spring Hill man of cocaine charges

BROOKSVILLE — A flawed Hernando County Sheriff's Office investigation led a jury Tuesday to acquit a Spring Hill man of drug charges.

Two jurors who listened to the sale and possession of cocaine case against Willie Lee Waddy Jr. told prosecutors afterward that they believed he was guilty.

But discrepancies and gaps in the evidence prompted them to issue a not guilty verdict after 40 minutes of deliberation.

"The evidence just wasn't there," said Jean Velsor, a 30-year-old from Spring Hill who weighed the case during the two-day trial. "You never saw him with the drugs in his hands … or money exchanging hands."

"He was guilty as hell and we knew it," another juror, who declined to give his name, told a prosecutor moments after the decision.

Waddy's attorney, former Hernando County Judge Peyton Hyslop, highlighted a litany of problems with the investigation in his closing argument. He even suggested that the case against his client was fabricated, though at least two of the six jurors didn't believe that was true.

Assistant State Attorney Tim Barrett relied heavily on the testimony of a confidential informant, who was previously arrested for drug possession but agreed to participate in the drug sting and testify if his charges were dropped.

Barrett acknowledged a few holes in the investigation, but told jurors in his closing statement that he felt confident the testimony of a confidential informant and deputies was enough for a conviction.

"Obviously, we were disappointed with the verdict," Barrett said outside the courtroom, where a number of local attorneys gathered to watch the trial and verdict. "You don't always have a perfect case, but you do with what you have."

Sheriff's deputies arrested Waddy in October 2007 after an extensive undercover operation. An arrest report, contested by his attorney, states he sold a $50 piece of crack cocaine, about 0.5 grams, to a confidential information in the parking lot of Hungry Howie's Pizza on Spring Hill Drive.

The Sheriff's Office had staked out the location, positioning a plainclothes deputy inside the restaurant and another across the street taking pictures. But both failed to see Waddy make the hand-to-hand exchange with the confidential informant. Deputies never made an arrest that day, even though they followed the vehicle Waddy was riding in.

Hyslop told the three men and three women on the jury that investigators had "no real evidence." He even noted that the deputies began writing the arrest report days before the arrest. "They already decided what was going to happen that day," Hyslop said.

Waddy initially faced two additional drug charges, sale of cocaine and possession of cocaine within 1,000 feet of a child care center, but Circuit Judge Stephen Rushing dismissed them Tuesday after prosecutors made a mistake and failed to adequately establish that the day care center met the statutory requirements.

Waddy, who has a criminal record, served three years in prison on six drug charges until he was released in April 2006.

With his history as a habitual felony offender, all four charges could have put Waddy in prison for life. Even on the remaining two drug charges, he faced a maximum of 45 years behind bars.

Jury acquits Spring Hill man of cocaine charges 09/23/08 [Last modified: Friday, September 26, 2008 2:20pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Behind the Lens: To capture an exhilarating moment, it's better to be lucky AND good


    Editor's note: Boyzell Hosey, our Assistant Managing Editor - Photography/Multimedia, shot this image while on a family vacation in Alaska. Below is his description of the shot.

  2. Council candidate James Scott sees a green future for St. Petersburg

    Local Government

    Times Staff Writer

    ST. PETERSBURG — James Scott's central tenet is sustainability.

    St. Petersburg City Council District 6 candidate James Scott. [JOHN PENDYGRAFT   |   TIMES]
  3. O.J. Simpson drawing world attention during plea for freedom


    LOVELOCK, Nev. — Former football star and convicted felon O.J. Simpson will command the world's attention once again Thursday when he pleads for his freedom on live TV.

    In this June 21, 1995 file photo, O.J. Simpson holds up his hands before the jury after putting on a new pair of gloves similar to the infamous bloody gloves during his double-murder trial in Los Angeles. During Simpson's trial, a prosecutor famously asks him to put on a pair of gloves allegedly worn by the killer. The gloves appeared to be too tight, reinforcing the immortal words of defense attorney Johnnie Cochran: "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit." [AP Photo/Vince Bucci, Pool]
  4. Florida education news: lawsuits, trans rights, recess and more


    ANOTHER ONE: Palm Beach County may be the next School Board to pick a legal fight with the state over the controversial HB 7069, but they may do it alone. Board members Wednesday seemed conflicted about whether to participate with other school boards, like Broward and St. Lucie counties, in a joint lawsuit or sue on …

    Ya'riah Ellison, 6, of Tampa, works on a pop art self portrait at the Glazer Children's Museum in Tampa on Friday, July 14, 2017. On Thursday, July 20th, a new pop art exhibition will open in which children will be able to create self portraits in a variety of ways including screen printing, pointillism and pop art methods
  5. Looking Back: The Ybor City Streetcar gets a new life (December 27, 1991)


    Before World War II Tampa's public transportation needs were covered by a network of Birney streetcars, with a peak of 24 million passengers in 1926. When a local streetcar enthusiast came across a 1920's model, she contacted the Tampa Trolley Society with an eye towards restoration. That streetcar would become the part …