ST. PETERSBURG — Both prosecutors and defense attorneys scrambled Wednesday to figure out how the arrest of homicide Detective Anthony Foster might affect recent St. Petersburg murder cases.
Foster, arrested by the FBI on shakedown allegations, helped investigate several high-profile cases. Depending on how crucial his role might be as a witness, that could spell trouble for prosecutors and provide an unexpected break for the defense.
His court credibility is now in shambles.
"I anticipate he will be unavailable for testimony, period,'' said Executive Assistant State Attorney Beverly Andringa.
The effect on cases will depend on "what witnesses he talked to, what defendants' statements he took, whether they were taped, whether there were other officers in the room,'' or whether he picked up physical evidence no one else can testify to, she said.
"This could be significant.''
All senior prosecutors were told to pull the files of any cases Foster worked on, Andringa said, "and do an analysis of whether he is material in a case, or just a witness."
Foster, 39, would not comment Wednesday as he left the Tampa federal courthouse after his first appearance on charges of wire fraud and interference with commerce by threats.
Court records indicate he has been either the investigating officer or a witness in 38 felony arrests and two misdemeanor arrests since 2008. They include:
• Bradley Bolden, 20, accused last month of shooting 26-year-old security officer Mathew F. Little to death at a St. Petersburg apartment complex.
• Ronnie Betts Jr., 21, accused of killing Ebony Stewart, a young mother of two, during the March home invasion robbery of 16 people who were playing cards.
• Thomas Lafoe, 59, accused of the 2010 killing of his neighbor, popular local actor and theater teacher Jeffrey Norton.
• Larry Reed, 19, accused of killing his pregnant girlfriend, Anastasia Boyd, in 2010.
• Khadafy Mullens, 27, accused in the cold-blooded 2008 shooting of convenience store owner Mohammad Uddin and customer Ronald Hayworth.
Public Defender Bob Dillinger's office and the Office of Regional Conflict Counsel, which are defending these and other suspects, are reviewing files to see how Foster's arrest might alter outcomes.
"In one case, he may have just been a standby officer. In one case, he may have been a lead detective," Dillinger said.
If Foster turned out to be a key officer in building a case, public defenders might try to negotiate a favorable plea deal, Dillinger said. Or they might demand a speedy trial.
The loss of an investigating officer doesn't necessarily kill a case, said Brian Pingor, who runs the conflict counsel office, which defends poor people if the public defender has a conflict.
"The witnesses are still the witnesses," Pingor said, no matter which detective interviewed them.
This is not a new issue for defense attorneys, Dillinger said. When police officers get suspended, it's routine for his office to check on cases those officers worked on, just in case the outcome might be affected.
St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster, who is a lawyer, said he is not surprised that defense attorneys are reviewing cases handled by Detective Foster, who is no relation to the mayor.
"I'm sure Dillinger would look at everything. That's his job," the mayor said. "The public trust is our biggest protector, our biggest asset. You breach that, you've got trouble."
Times staff writer Michael Van Sickler contributed to this report