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These violent criminals were sent to work release centers

Most work release inmates are serving time for nonviolent offenses such as drug crimes or theft, but more than 600 violent criminals also are currently living at such centers in Florida. Here are some examples:

Thrita Griffith

Griffith once worked as a dispatcher for a frozen food company but eventually quit and became embroiled in the Lakeland drug scene.

One night Griffith, then 42, confronted a man in a bar. He spit at her and cussed her out. Griffith got a .22-caliber handgun, and according to a police report, said "no m----------- is going to do that to me and live to tell about it." She later approached the man on the porch of a vacant house and shot him twice in the head. A jury convicted her in 1988 of first-degree murder.

Circuit Judge J, Tim Strickland told Griffith that "but for the fine-tuning we make in our society," she could be facing the death penalty instead of a mandatory life sentence, the Lakeland Ledger reported.

Griffith, now 67, is still serving that life sentence at the Bradenton Transition Center. She is not currently employed.

Travis Barrientos

In 2003, a car salesman named Travis "Pinky" Barrientos wanted to get into Latinos Night Club in Lakeland. When he wasn't allowed inside, he fired back — literally.

Barrientos, then 20, got a handgun out of a car and "fired four shots into a crowd of people" outside the club, according to a police report.

One bullet hit a man in the back. The others struck the nightclub. Because of a previous felony conviction, Barrientos was not supposed to have a firearm in the first place.

He pleaded guilty to attempted murder and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He is scheduled to be released in November from the Largo Residential Re-Entry Center.

Michael E. Chaney

Chaney shot a friend in the chest during an argument in Tampa in 2001. He then shot into the victim's home, which had several people inside, according to a police report. Afterward, he threw his gun into the Hillsborough River.

His friend survived, and Chaney pleaded guilty to attempted murder and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. He was housed at the Largo work release center but recently was sent back to a state prison.

Derrick Joseph Johnson

Cabdriver Jeffrey Songer radioed for help one night in 1983. But when St. Petersburg police arrived, Songer was dead, shot in the back.

Two men were arrested. The person identified as the triggerman was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. He remains on death row.

His accomplice, Derrick Joseph Johnson, who was 22, ultimately ended up at a work release center.

Johnson pleaded guilty in 1983 to second-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison. Under Florida law at the time, Johnson was eligible for parole. He was released from prison in 1991.

He stayed free for nearly two decades, but according to Parole Commission records, his parole was revoked in 2009 because he tested positive for marijuana and violated additional rules. He returned to prison and was sent in June 2012 to the St. Petersburg Work Release Center, where he got a job cleaning the stadium after Tampa Bay Rays games.

The staff of the Parole Commission recommended that Johnson be released last December, but the full commission denied his release. That decision was based partly on a letter from Pinellas-Pasco Chief Judge Thomas McGrady.

Not long after, Johnson violated the rules of the work release center by getting caught with a cellphone — which is considered contraband. Last month Johnson, 51, was sent to a prison in Polk County.

Carlos Ulloa

In 2007, the Lee County Sheriff's Office was called to a Lehigh Acres neighborhood after a resident reported hearing gunshots.

Deputies responded and were quickly drawn into a gunfight with Carlos Ulloa.

Ulloa, police said, began shooting at them for "no apparent reason," according to a police report. They took cover behind their cruisers. They were not injured.

Ulloa, 49, was convicted of attempted murder. He now lives at the St. Petersburg Work Release Center and has a job at a power-coating and sandblasting shop in Largo.

Angelina Brewton

In 2009, Brewton went to pick up a friend who was being questioned by police about a traffic accident.

As the officer tried to question the man, Miami-Dade police said Brewton sped off. The officer's arm got stuck in her car's window and he was dragged eight blocks.

Witnesses said Brewton, then 18, was driving as fast as 80 mph and swerving widely to dislodge the officer. She even tried to sideswipe him against another vehicle.

The officer walked away with minor injuries.

Brewton was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty to attempted murder in 2011. She is scheduled to be released from an Orlando work release center in October.

Aretha Johnson

Johnson had a long history of shoplifting when she and a friend were caught taking items from a Target in Orlando in 1992.

Johnson, then 24, wasn't giving up. As a guard restrained her friend, police said, Johnson pulled out a revolver and shot the man in the neck.

He survived.

Johnson later told police she was trying to help her friend escape.

She was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Now 45 and living at an Orlando work release center, she is scheduled to be freed next month.

These violent criminals were sent to work release centers 02/23/13 [Last modified: Sunday, February 24, 2013 2:28pm]
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