Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tip might heat up cold homicide case in Tampa

TAMPA — Attorney Ralph Fernandez accused Tampa police Tuesday of sitting for three years on a tip he claims would solve a 13-year-old murder case.

He even named the suspect in a court document. A judge quickly sealed that information, and police officials said the tip wasn't enough to support an arrest. Two cases hang in the balance.

One is the unsolved killing of 28-year-old Sara Rodriguez, a convenience store clerk shot in the head during the Aug. 18, 1995, robbery of the Farm Stores on W Hillsborough Avenue.

The other involves Ronald Tozzi, who pleaded guilty in 2005 to carjacking and aggravated assault on two law enforcement officers. He is serving a 25-year prison term but figures he could get time shaved off his sentence if police arrest the man he identified as Rodriguez's shooter.

Because of a 911 dispatch error, police weren't sent to the crime scene until 13 minutes after someone triggered the store's panic alarm. Blurry security camera images indicated only that the suspect was a man between 5-foot-10 and 6 feet in height.

Fernandez said his client is the only link to the murder suspect, and he's missing out on credit for substantial assistance because of police inaction.

"This is not a cold case," he said. "This is a frozen case."

Prosecutors and police officials dispute that contention.

Assistant State Attorney Kristen Over said Tozzi, 39, kept the alleged killer's identity quiet for 10 years, revealing it only when he faced prison time for hijacking a limousine and ramming it into police cruisers in July 2004.

Tampa Police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said Tozzi provided sketchy but useful information that opened up new leads for investigators. They do not have enough evidence to make an arrest, she said, but they are working on it.

"We actually have something at the lab right now being tested in this case," she said. "It's very much active."

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Daniel Sleet ordered the lead detective in Rodriguez's case to court May 13 to update him on the status of the investigation and the usefulness of Tozzi's assistance.

How much that will help Tozzi's efforts for a reduced sentence remains to be seen.

Three years ago, Detective Henry Duran told Hillsborough Circuit Judge Daniel Perry that Tozzi had provided valuable and reliable information.

Perry still sentenced Tozzi to 25 years in prison.

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at cjenkins@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3337.

Tip might heat up cold homicide case in Tampa 04/15/08 [Last modified: Sunday, April 20, 2008 11:45am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. St. Pete City Council tightens building rules in historic areas

    Local Government

    ST. PETERSBURG — There's a battle being waged over the soul of the city's historic neighborhoods.

    A new larger home sits next to a smaller one in the Kenwood neighborhood in St. Petersburg on Tuesday.
  2. Ole Miss football coach Hugh Freeze resigns over "inappropriate conduct"

    College

    OXFORD, Miss. — Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze was at Jackson Country Club on Wednesday night, giving his yearly rah-rah speech about the Rebels' overcoming adversity and getting ready for the college football season.

    If Hugh Freeze hadn’t resigned, Ole Miss says it would have fired him for violating his contract’s moral turpitude clause.
  3. Fennelly: With playoff chase in high gear, it's time for Rays to make a move

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG

    Thursday was an off-day for the Rays, who are coming off a solid western swing. I assume there was no rest for the tag-team Rays baseball brain trust of Matt Silverman, Erik Neander and Chaim Bloom, whose job it is to improve this team in advance of the trade deadline. They've done a good job …

    Evan Longoria is glad to see the Rangers coming to town: He’s batting .296 against them with 15 homers and 56 RBIs in 69 career games.
  4. World's plastic waste could bury Manhattan 2 miles deep

    Environment

    WASHINGTON — Industry has made more than 9.1 billion tons of plastic since 1950 and there's enough left over to bury Manhattan under more than 2 miles of trash, according to a new cradle-to-grave global study.

    Plastic trash is compacted into bales ready for further processing at the waste processing dump on the outskirts of Minsk, Belarus.
  5. Sen. John McCain's type of cancer did not slow Tampa woman

    Health

    TAMPA — When 35-year-old Beth Caldwell heard about Sen. John McCain's brain tumor this week, she hoped he would stay positive.

    That's what helped her, she said.

    Throughout her battle with brain cancer, Beth Caldwell, 35, keeps her sons Gavin, 10, and Triston, 7, on her mind.