Pam Bondi left the Hillsborough County prosecutor's office to become attorney general, but she and her former boss have some unfinished business that both say is a matter of life and death — for them.
Bondi and Hillsborough State Attorney Mark Ober are lobbying against the release of a Florida inmate that Ober helped lock away more than three decades ago.
Both officials say they fear he would come after them if he gets out.
That's ridiculous, says the inmate's lawyer, who accuses Ober of carrying a 30-year "personal vendetta" against Charles Norman.
What's undeniably true is Norman has antagonized two people whose words have great weight at a parole hearing.
A former Tampa police officer, Norman was convicted of first-degree murder in 1980 in the shooting death of a young security guard during the 1975 robbery of a Pantry Pride grocery on Gandy Boulevard. He was sentenced to life with a 25-year minimum, and because he was sentenced before 1983, he's eligible for parole.
When Norman's latest petition for release came before the Florida Parole Commission a few weeks ago, Bondi and Ober argued forcefully against it. The panel promptly reset Norman's next parole hearing for 2017.
Soon after, the Department of Corrections transferred Norman, 62, from the faith-based prison in Wakulla County to Okaloosa C.I. in the western Panhandle.
"I request that this political dirty trick be rescinded," Norman's lawyer, William Sheppard, told prison officials.
"The department has exercised its statutory authority," a state lawyer wrote back.
Behind bars, Norman became an award-winning writer, skilled sculptor and active participant in prison ministries.
Allies continue to fight for his release on freecharlienow.com, claiming he was convicted by tainted testimony, and some powerful people have taken up his cause, including a former state senator and a nun at Jesuit High.
The syndicated columnist James Kilpatrick went to his grave convinced that Norman was framed, calling his trial a "travesty."
Bondi, who has previously joined Ober in opposing parole for Norman, has another view.
"He's the most chilling and manipulative inmate I've ever dealt with," she testified at Norman's March 21 hearing. "I am convinced if he is released, he will attempt to murder me."
Ober said a onetime cell mate of Norman's, habitual offender Gregg Quilling, told state law enforcement agents that Norman "hates Ober with a passion" and would "take Ober out" if he were free.
But Norman's attorney produced an affidavit signed by Quilling in November in which he said: "These allegations that Charlie made such comments to me about harming persons, especially a prosecutor, are totally false."
Ober noted that Quilling's allegations are on videotape and under oath, and he has monitored phone calls between Norman and a girlfriend, where the names Bondi and Ober came up often.
"He has a never-ending hatred and vendetta against both of us," said Ober, who prosecuted Norman. "He is consumed by both of us."
Steve Bousquet can be reached at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.