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Witness intimidation dogs St. Petersburg murder case

ST. PETERSBURG — Prosecutors accused Tyree Jamal Gland and members of his family of threatening and intimidating witnesses during his murder trial in August.

Gland even sported a jailhouse tattoo that authorities said put a bounty on the head of the lead detective: "Wanted,'' it read, "Detective Gibson, $100,000."

A jury convicted Tyree Gland in the drive-by shooting that killed 15-year-old bystander Deandre "Squirrel" Brown more than two years ago.

On Monday, one of his brothers was arrested on a felony charge of intimidating a witness during the trial.

That brother, 21-year-old Taiwan James Gland, is being held in the Pinellas County Jail in lieu of $100,000 bail. Like his brother, he could get life in prison if convicted.

But prosecuting him will be problematic for the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office. Witness intimidation is notoriously difficult to prove. Prosecutors will need the threatened witness to testify.

On top of that, they will need that witness to testify again against Tyree Gland. That's because his conviction has since been overturned. This month, he was granted a new murder trial after the state discovered evidence damaging the credibility of another witness.

The murder and witness-tampering cases also show just how hard it is for authorities to investigate and prosecute crimes linked to the unending feuds of St. Petersburg's neighborhood gangs.

In many cases, police have had trouble solving crimes because witnesses have been too scared to talk. St. Petersburg police have installed programs to try to coax people to come forward, including a tip line that accepts text messages and allows people to stay anonymous.

"That's absolutely been an issue in certain areas of crime, particularly involving alleged gang activity," said Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett. "There's an intimidation factor involved."

• • •

Brown was shot outside his home on March 27, 2007, killed in retaliation for a brawl that his family said he had no part in.

Police accused two teens in his murder. They said Tyree Gland, then 17, was the shooter and his cousin, Raymond Adams, then 18, was the driver.

Two years later, Tyree Gland was put on trial for second-degree murder. The scene was tense at the Pinellas County Criminal Justice Center as witnesses and prosecutors alike were subjected to stares and other attempts at intimidation.

According to Taiwan Gland's arrest warrant, the mother of the witness said both brothers kept their eyes on them in the hallways. When she walked out of a bathroom, the brothers were speaking to her son.

As the brothers walked away, she said, one said her son "would be too scared to say anything."

The warrant doesn't say which brother said it. But the son told deputies both brothers made "intimidating statements."

After Tyree Gland was found guilty on Aug. 27, one of his brothers had to be removed from the courtroom.

The other brother has not been charged. Authorities on Tuesday could not say why.

The severity of the tampering charge against Taiwan Gland depends upon the charge in the case he's accused of trying to influence. In this case, it's second-degree murder, for which Tyree Gland could get 25 years to life in prison if he is again convicted.

Both cases need the testimony of a witness who prosecutors say has already been threatened, though he did fine the first time.

"We made it through that hurdle," Bartlett said. "But, yeah, he has to testify again."

• • •

Adams, now 21, is set to go on trial for second-degree murder on Feb. 8. The retrial of Tyree Gland, now 19, is set for March 30.

In the first trial, the state presented evidence that Tyree Gland wrote threatening letters to the judge in his case. A jailhouse informant vouched for the letters, which seemed to imply the defendant's guilt in the murder.

But Assistant State Attorney Richard Ripplinger said that after the trial he learned the same informant had fabricated evidence in a Hillsborough case. That obviously damaged the informant's credibility. Ripplinger said he was ethically obligated to inform Tyree Gland's attorney what he had learned.

That led defense attorney Charles E. Lykes Jr. to ask for, and receive, a new trial.

Lykes hopes to keep the next jury from seeing the tattoo that offers a reward for the Detective' Gary Gibson's death. The jury was allowed to see it during his first trial.

"My client is entitled to a fair trial," Lykes said, "and we're going to make that happen."

Witness intimidation dogs St. Petersburg murder case 12/22/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 22, 2009 10:36pm]
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