Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Largo puppeteer rejects plea deal, opts for trial

TAMPA — A professional puppeteer accused by federal agents of plotting to kidnap and cannibalize a child rejected a plea deal on lesser charges Wednesday, setting the stage for a protracted and exceptionally lurid criminal trial.

At a hearing before Magistrate Judge Mark Pizzo in U.S. District Court in Tampa, the lawyer for Ronald William Brown, 57, said Brown decided not to accept a tentative plea agreement he signed last week and wanted his case to go before a jury.

Sporting mussed white hair and blue prison garb, Brown sat at the defense table, blinking through thick eyeglasses, expressionless. He did not address the judge during the brief hearing.

The Largo resident's decision makes it likely that federal prosecutors will pursue more severe charges against him than the child pornography counts to which he would have pleaded guilty in exchange for a relatively short prison sentence.

It also opens the door to a scenario Brown's defense attorney and prosecutor had both tried to avoid: a sensational trial. Brown's case is rich in tabloid-ready details involving sex, religion, cannibalism and — yes — puppets.

"Obviously, we spent several months negotiating a plea, taking him from what would be tantamount to a life sentence to as little as six years," said Brown's attorney, Eric Kuske Leanza of Tampa, who appeared surprised by his client's last-minute decision Wednesday. He said Brown decided the plea deal would bring "too much time" in prison.

At the time of his arrest in July, authorities said that Brown — who performed his puppet shows for years on a Christian Television Network show called Joy Junction — told a Kansas man during Internet chat sessions that he wanted to abduct and eat a boy in his congregation at Gulf Coast Church in Largo.

A search of his house and computer files at Whispering Pines mobile home park yielded hundreds of images of dead children and pornographic shots of boys being tortured, according to court documents.

Under the terms of his negotiated agreement, Brown would have pleaded guilty to charges of possessing and receiving child pornography. He probably would have served between five and 10 years in federal prison, Leanza said.

Now, all bets are off.

Leanza said federal prosecutors told him that if Brown turned down the agreement, they would seek additional charges beyond the scope of those in the plea — including, perhaps, a charge of conspiring to kidnap a child that was lodged against Brown at the time of his arrest. That offense carries a life sentence.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda C. Kaiser declined to comment after Brown's hearing.

Clearwater criminal lawyer Chuck de Vlaming said Brown could be hard to defend, since prosecutors often marshal strong forensic evidence in child pornography cases. But the decision to go to trial isn't always dictated by sound strategy, he said.

"There are people who just want to roll the dice," de Vlaming said. "They know it is an uphill battle, but they just can't face the punishment they know they're going to get … and so they want their day in court. And they're entitled to it."

Staff writer John Cox contributed to this report.

Largo puppeteer rejects plea deal, opts for trial 11/07/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 7, 2012 10:48pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Passing motorists pull three from burning home in Tampa

    News

    TAMPA — Two men in a passing car rescued two children and a woman from a burning home late Sunday morning.

  2. Bucs-Bills: Social media reactions to the Bucs' 30-27 loss

    Bucs

    Here's a sampling of reactions from the media and fans to the Bucs' 30-27 loss Sunday at Buffalo:

    Buffalo Bills kicker Stephen Hauschka (4) is mobbed by teammates after kicking the game-winning field goal late in the fourth quarter. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  3. Buccaneers-Bills: A by-the-numbers look at Tampa Bay's 30-27 loss

    Bucs

    Here's a by-the-numbers look at the Bucs' 30-27 loss at Buffalo on Sunday:

    173

    Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy (25) screams in jubilation after running for a first down late in the fourth quarter. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  4. Bucs-Bills roundtable: Deonte Thompson's late catch spelled 'instant disaster' for Bucs

    Bucs

    ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Adam Humphries' fumble led to the Bills' game-winning field goal in Tampa Bay's 30-27 loss Sunday at Buffalo. But the Bills' first play after the Bucs finally took the lead was almost as deadly.

    The Buffalo Bills' Deonte Thompson (10) catches a pass in front of Bucs cornerback Brent Grimes (24) during the first half. [AP photo]
  5. Bucs-Bills: Instant analysis from the Bucs' 30-27 loss

    Bucs

    ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Here's the Tampa Bay Times' Bucs coverage team's instant analysis from the Bucs' 30-27 loss at Buffalo:

    YOU CAN'T MAKE THIS STUFF UP

    Buffalo Bills outside linebacker Matt Milano (58) intercepts a Jameis Winston (3) pass intended for tight end Cameron Brate (84) during the first half. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]