A Pinellas-Pasco assistant state attorney has been assigned to new duties because of the way he handled a bail hearing for Craig Wall, who is now accused of stabbing his girlfriend to death.
Wall had his first court appearance Monday, by video from the medical wing of the Pinellas County Jail. He told a judge he could not afford to hire his own attorney because "she took everything," presumably referring to the girlfriend he is accused of killing, Laura Taft. But he did not explain the comment further.
Also on Monday, new court documents indicated Wall admitted to his mother that he stabbed Taft.
Wall's case has generated controversy because only two days after he posted $1,000 bail, on a charge of violating a domestic violence injunction, he was arrested and accused of killing the woman who was seeking protection from him.
State Attorney Bernie McCabe has said he was dumbfounded by how the bail hearing was handled on the injunction case. He said his assistant failed to let a judge know Wall had spent 14 years in prison and also was considered a suspect in the recent death of his and Taft's 5-week-old son. McCabe said his prosecutor also should not have offered to settle the case during the initial court hearing.
The assistant state attorney, James Flynn, had previously been assigned to a division of the courts that specializes in domestic violence cases. He has been transferred to a division that handles general misdemeanor cases, said Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett.
Flynn was removed Friday from the domestic violence court so he would not be "in the position where he would be exposed to those type of cases." If he had continued in that area, it might have "eroded public confidence," Bartlett said.
Bartlett did not want to discuss the personnel action in detail, but said he spoke directly to Flynn and "Mr. Flynn knows exactly what he did wrong." He also said Flynn acknowledged he erred, "and is genuinely remorseful."
Flynn could not be reached for comment.
Although McCabe and Bartlett have criticized the actions of the junior prosecutor, it's not clear if doing things properly would have saved Taft's life. They said Flynn should not have offered to settle the charge of violating the injunction at the initial hearing — but Wall turned down the offer anyway, asserting, "I didn't do anything wrong."
Because Wall turned down the offer, the discussion during the hearing turned to his bail. Although Flynn failed to mention the pending homicide investigation and Wall's prison record, attorneys say it's unlikely the courts would have set an exceptionally high bail anyway, because at that time Wall was charged with a misdemeanor that often generates bail of $500 or less.
As it was, Flynn asked for bail of $2,500, and an assistant public defender suggested $500. Circuit Judge George Jirotka set it at $1,000. Wall posted bail through a bonding agency that night.
The new court records say a Clearwater detective spoke to Wall's mother the day Taft was killed. "He admitted to stabbing Laura Taft" during a conversation she had with her son earlier that day.
The documents also quote a neighbor of Wall's who said he had heard a disturbance in Taft's apartment early that morning. When he went to see what happened, he found Taft "unresponsive" in the doorway.
The neighbor checked for a pulse and couldn't find one. And then "he observed Craig Wall walking quickly from underneath the balcony," and saw Wall get into his car and drive away, the records state.
Neighbors called 911, and emergency workers discovered Taft had been stabbed in the shoulder and chest. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
Wall was transferred this weekend to the Pinellas County Jail after being arrested in Sumter County, where deputies found him passed out in a car on the side of a road. He was placed on a suicide watch Sunday.
A MySpace page in the name of Craig Wall says: "my son died at 5wks. old. i am dying.i lost everythig."
Times staff writer Drew Harwell contributed to this report.