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Sheriff: Boyfriend confesses to killing Lutz family

TAMPA — Edward Allen Covington spent Mother's Day holed up in a mobile home with cocaine in his bloodstream, engaged in crimes so grisly there was no way to be in the home and avoid contact with blood, deputies say.

Wednesday, the 6-foot-2 former corrections officer walked mutely to a sheriff's cruiser, shoeless in red hospital socks, a patient's gown and handcuffs.

Covington, 35, is charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of his live-in girlfriend Lisa Freiberg, 26, and her two young children, Zachary, 7, and Heather Savannah, 2.

In interviews with detectives, Covington confessed to "choking, beating, stabbing, dismembering and mutilating" the family and their dog, according to an arrest report.

On Wednesday, Chief Deputy Jose Docobo said detectives believe Covington killed the Freibergs on Sunday morning, then spent the night at the home until detectives found him Monday hiding in a closet.

"He's provided extreme detail as to the manner, the order and the means he used to commit the crimes," Docobo said, declining to repeat the particulars.

Detectives still aren't clear on the initial cause of death for the family of three, "given the damage and the condition of the bodies and the multiple apparent means by which the bodies were mutilated," Docobo said.

A medical examiner's report should help investigators establish a time line for the crimes. Besides three counts of murder, the charges include three counts of abuse to a dead human body, cruelty to an animal and violating probation.

Detectives believe he committed the acts impulsively, Docobo said, without any plan.

Covington tested positive for cocaine on Monday, his arrest report says, and told deputies he had traded his motorcycle the week before for crack cocaine. But the Sheriff's Office awaits further test results to know more about what else may have been in his system.

Covington's arrest came after he was medically cleared from University Community Hospital, where he was taken on Monday.

Covington is the son of a Hillsborough sheriff's detention deputy and was employed as a state prison corrections officer for a decade until 2006. At the time of the killings, he was on probation for drunken driving and possession of a controlled substance. In 2005, he was hospitalized under the state Baker Act after police found three dead and mutilated cats in his home.

But answers to questions about how Freiberg, a quiet, young mother, ended up the victim of such horror remain elusive. Covington told his probation officer he had met her online.

Eleven years ago this August, Lisa Freiberg was 15 years old and an aspiring veterinarian.

Her mother, Barbara Freiberg, told the Tampa Tribune in 1997 that the girl, who had nine hermit crabs, two dogs and a rabbit, wanted to be a veterinarian.

But when Lisa Freiberg died, her last known place of employment was at Wal-Mart on N Dale Mabry Highway. Before that, she was a Publix bakery clerk who earned $640 a month.

How did the ambitious girl from a close-knit family end up running with deadbeat, violent boyfriends?

In court files, which include statements from her parents, her kids' teachers and neighbors, two Lisa Freibergs emerge.

Folks who knew her describe a doting mother who packed her kids' lunches and snacks, who ensured they received the best education, and dressed them impeccably.

At Learning Gate Community School, where Zachary was a first-grader, parents are required to spend up to 40 hours on campus. Freiberg volunteered in the lunchroom and organic garden.

"She was a very dedicated mom," said principal Patti Girard. "She knew how important education was."

She also participated in a schoolwide weekend campout and visited her son's class often.

"They were good people," said Lisa Arias, Zachary's teacher.

The files, however, describe Lisa Freiberg this way:

"Emotionally and financially" incapable of caring for Zachary, then 14 months, 20-year-old Freiberg granted her parents temporary custody on March 5, 2002. She wasn't sure who his father was, according to the final custody order.

The next month, she returned to court seeking protection from an abusive, alcoholic boyfriend. He bit her, bruised and cut her legs, and otherwise battered her, she wrote in her petition for an injunction. "In past, took a chain and hit my face, knot on head, kicked me on my head and ribs."

Then in August 2005, more trouble. Someone went to the Department of Children and Families and accused Freiberg of selling her food stamps to support another boyfriend's crack habit. That accuser also told officials Freiberg left her children home alone to look for the boyfriend.

But protective investigator Tanikee Wright interviewed the family, neighbors and local educators, and said none of them corroborated the accuser's story.

The couple consented to and passed drug tests, and Wright concluded on Sept. 12, 2005, that "there is no concern for the children's safety."

Times staff writer Bill Coats contributed to this report. Rodney Thrash can be reached at rthrash@sptimes.com or (813) 269-5303.

Sheriff: Boyfriend confesses to killing Lutz family 05/14/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 20, 2008 4:19pm]
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