Tampa police have some explaining to do in the aftermath of a plea deal that gave a Tampa man an uncommonly lenient sentence in the drunken driving deaths of two pedestrians. An outline of weaknesses in the case prepared by Matthew Moye's attorney raises serious questions about the quality of the police work. If a case of such notoriety can fall to shoddy policing, that suggests far larger problems in the department. It is an injustice when neither the prosecution nor defense can prepare for trial with a dependable set of facts.
Moye, 37, pleaded guilty last week to DUI manslaughter in the Oct. 30, 2010, deaths of Douglas Kozar, 23, and Kate Kohlier, 24. The pair were killed instantly when Moye's Cadillac struck them on the Harbour Island bridge. Moye, investigators said, had a blood-alcohol level of 0.13 percent — above the 0.08 percent at which Florida law assumes a driver to be impaired. Under a plea deal with prosecutors, Moye received 12 years in prison, well on the low end of the 10- to 25-year range for recent DUI manslaughter cases in the Tampa Bay area.
Prosecutors accepted the deal after defense attorney Steve Romine submitted an outline poking 140 holes in the state's case. Using police depositions, Romine showed inconsistencies in the state's case, an apparent interest by a police commander to rush the investigation at the accident scene, and either weak or no attempts by investigators to locate critical evidence and witnesses.
According to Romine, Tampa police Detective Roderick Glyder said he was undermanned and not given the help he had asked for, and warned a sergeant who was hurrying the investigation along that "things are gonna be missed." The original police reconstruction of the accident scene was wrong. One defense expert estimated that Moye's car was traveling at half the speed that authorities claimed. Police did not obtain footage from a second surveillance camera at a nearby hotel that could have shown the run-up to the crash. And a taxi driver who could have contributed to the crash fled the scene and was never found.
It's the job of defense attorneys to challenge the state's case, so in that respect, Romine's criticism of the investigation is in keeping with his duty to his client. But it says volumes when prosecutors back away from going to trial in a high-profile case that involves the deaths of two people. Tampa police say they are conducting a "full review" of the investigation. Chief Jane Castor needs to be sure it includes a thorough review of troubling charges contained in Romine's memo, which points to staffing and culture problems in addition to poor policing. The public deserves to know the department's findings and what the police department intends to do to keep the next criminal case from being similarly affected.