Anna M. Phillips, Times Staff Writer

Anna M. Phillips

Anna M. Phillips writes about legal affairs and criminal justice in Tampa and Hillsborough County. Before joining the Times in 2012, she covered the New York City public schools for the New York Times and for the education news website Chalkbeat New York (formerly GothamSchools).

Phone: (813) 226-3354


Twitter: @annamphillips

  1. Tampa father found competent for trial in Cuba kidnapping case


    TAMPA — Joshua Hakken, the Tampa engineer who, along with his wife, is accused of kidnapping their children and fleeing to Cuba, is competent to stand trial, defense attorneys and prosecutors agreed on Thursday.

    That conclusion comes after more than a year of debate about Hakken's mental state. Arrested in April 2013, Hakken told his attorneys that after a court terminated his and his wife's parental rights, he decided that the U.S. government had put their two young sons in danger. Operating on antigovernment paranoia, the couple took their 2- and 4-year-old boys and the family dog on a voyage of more than 300 miles to Cuba to seek asylum....

    A recent psychiatric evaluation of Joshua Hakken had a different result than a year ago.
  2. Subject of 'The Unwinding,' homeless family lives in a car

    Human Interest


    It's dark by the time Danny Hartzell pulls his aging Chevy Cavalier into the Walmart parking lot where his family often spends the night.

    On this evening in late June, he parks the car and kills the engine, signaling bedtime. No one sleeps much on these tropical nights, but they arrange themselves as if they might, the Hartzells' two teenage children leaning on pillows they've piled between them. From the passenger seat, their mother watches for police cruisers and Walmart employees and anyone else on her growing list of likely saboteurs....

    “You need to brush them so you don’t end up like me,” Ronale Hartzell says after looking at Danielle’s teeth. Ronale, who has no teeth, was fitted for dentures, but she says they don’t fit and refuses to wear them.
  3. SOCom leader McRaven, credited with planning Osama bin Laden raid, retiring


    TAMPA — Adm. William H. McRaven, widely credited with planning and launching the mission that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011 shortly before ascending to oversee all special operation forces from Tampa, will retire from the military, a spokesman for the U.S. Special Operations Command said Monday.

    For nearly three years, McRaven has led SOCom, the elite organization that oversees special operations around the world from its headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base. But his retirement has been expected....

    Adm. William McRaven was named head of SOCom after the bin Laden raid.
  4. Police killer Dontae Morris denied new trial


    TAMPA — Convicted of killing two Tampa police officers and sentenced to death, Dontae Morris will not get a new trial, a Hillsborough County circuit judge ruled Tuesday.

    In a six-page decision, Judge William Fuente said the evidence against Morris was too great to merit another trial.

    "After reviewing and reweighing the evidence presented during trial, the Court finds there was overwhelming evidence, including a dash-cam video of the shootings, to support the guilty verdicts," Fuente wrote....

  5. Suspect in death of 9-year-old Felecia Williams remains in jail


    TAMPA — Granville A. Ritchie, the main suspect in the death of a 9-year-old girl found floating in Tampa Bay last month, will remain in jail at least for now, a judge decided Friday.

    Ritchie, 35, has not been formally accused of killing Felecia Williams, and Temple Terrace police, who are investigating her death, have not said why they named him as a suspect.

    But Hillsborough County prosecutors are going to great lengths — including reaching into Ritchie's previous criminal cases — to keep him in jail while the investigation into the girl's death continues....

    An affidavit puts Granville A. Ritchie and the girl at his apartment, but it doesn’t say how she died.
  6. Fleeing one family, eight Tampa children discover a new one

    Human Interest


    For five years, the children planned to escape from their mother.

    The day they ran away, two of the boys set off for the nearby railroad tracks, leaving the other six behind. Anyone who saw the pair go might have thought they were adventurers, a couple of modern-day Boxcar Children who would be home for dinner. But more than a dozen miles later, when they reached the county line between Hillsborough and Pasco, they met a woman who knew that something was not right and called the police....

    Jamie Hicks of Tampa is charged with child neglect and abuse nearly two decades after losing custody of three children.
  7. FBI 'brainwashed' Pinellas man in terrorism case, brother says


    ST. PETERSBURG — For two weeks, as his brother stood trial on terrorism-related charges, Avni Osmakac watched in silence. But days after the jury delivered a guilty verdict that could put his brother in prison for life, Osmakac is speaking out about what he says are the FBI's unfair tactics.

    From his family's small bakery and grocery store in St. Petersburg, Osmakac said Thursday that his younger brother Sami was "brainwashed" by undercover FBI agents and an informer who received money from the government for his role. Before he met an odd cast of characters and became estranged from his family, Sami Osmakac was a lost and isolated young man who had only a vague interest in Islam, his brother said. By the time of Sami's arrest in 2012, he was spouting extremist rhetoric and purchasing weapons from an undercover agent....

    “Everything my brother said on these videotapes, that’s not my brother, that’s a creature made by the government.” Avni Osmakac, 
of Pinellas Park, about undercover FBI tapes
  8. Jury finds Sami Osmakac guilty of terrorism


    TAMPA — Sami Osmakac, the Kosovo-born man who threatened to stage a "second 9/11" attack here, was convicted Tuesday of both terrorism-related charges brought against him.

    Federal prosecutors had accused Osmakac, a 27-year-old radicalized Muslim American, of plotting to kill hundreds of people by targeting several densely populated areas in Tampa. His plans, which never came to fruition, included bombing a South Tampa pub and then traveling to another location where he would detonate a suicide vest packed with explosives. He was certain he would wake up to a martyr's breakfast in heaven....

    Sami Osmakac checks out an AK-47 while wearing an ammunition vest over an explosive vest in a video used as evidence in his trial. Federal prosecutors allege he planned an attack in the Tampa Bay area to avenge what he felt were wrongs against Muslims. [Times files]
  9. Sami Osmakac terrorism case to be left in Tampa jurors' hands


    TAMPA — Did Sami Osmakac know what he was doing as he placed a car bomb in the trunk of his sedan in early 2012, or was he being manipulated by the FBI?

    That question is expected to go before jurors today, when they are set to begin deliberations in the terrorism trial of a Kosovo-born U.S. citizen who plotted to attack various locations in Tampa. Caught in a sting set up by the FBI, Osmakac, 27, is accused of possessing an unregistered machine gun and attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction. He faces life in prison if convicted....

    Sami Osmakac is accused of a plot to attack  several popular locations in Tampa.
  10. Defense expert says Sami Osmakac suffers from mental disorder


    TAMPA — Anyone who has ever flown in an airplane has experienced turbulence, but most people forget about it once they are safely on the ground. Not Sami Osmakac, the Kosovo-born American citizen on trial in federal court for plotting a terrorist attack in Tampa.

    In an unusual defense, a psychologist retained by Osmakac's attorneys testified on Thursday that the 27-year-old began to suffer symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder after a turbulent airplane ride in 2009. As the plane shook, Osmakac, a practicing Muslim, feared for his life and prayed he would be saved. The incident led to a "psychotic break" in which Osmakac became depressed and convinced that he had fallen out of favor with God, said Tampa psychologist Valerie McClain....

    Sami Osmakac faces life in prison if he’s convicted of charges involving terrorism.
  11. Terrorism trial in Tampa coming to a close


    TAMPA — Prosecutors began wrapping up their case in the terrorism trial of Sami Osmakac on Wednesday, after two weeks of playing recordings the FBI secretly made of him plotting to blow up a car bomb and take hostages in Tampa.

    Osmakac, 27, who prosecutors have portrayed as a dangerous radical bent on killing any non-Muslims who crossed his path, had been under surveillance by the FBI for months before his arrest in January of 2012. He ultimately was caught in a sting operation, in which the agency arranged for an undercover FBI agent to sell him an array of weapons and videotaped him planning his would-be attacks....

    Charges against Sami Osmakac includes planning to use a weapon of mass destruction.
  12. Jurors in Tampa terrorism trial see videos of Sami Osmakac checking out weapons


    TAMPA — Jurors in the terrorism trial of Sami Osmakac were shown videos Friday of him trying on a suicide vest and slinging an AK-47 over his shoulders.

    He was practicing for the attacks he thought he was about to unleash on South Tampa and Ybor City in January 2012, but he was hours away from being arrested by the FBI.

    The videos show Osmakac checking himself out in the mirror of a Tampa Days Inn hotel room, and smiling as he surveyed the array of weapons laid out on the bed before him. ...

    Sami Osmakac checks out an AK-47 while wearing a suicide vest in a video shown to jurors on Friday at his terrorism trial in Tampa.
  13. Terrorism suspect had bigger plans, recordings suggest


    TAMPA — The man accused of plotting to bomb a bar and a casino in Tampa told an undercover FBI agent that he had plans for a larger-scale attack, one that would bring the Tampa Bay area's economy to a halt and one that never came to fruition.

    In a recorded conversation that took place in January 2012, days before his arrest, Sami Osmakac told the undercover agent who was posing as a weapons dealer that he had originally hoped to enlist a group of men to blow up five bridges in the area. He named the Gandy Bridge, the Courtney Campbell Causeway and the Howard Frankland Bridge, all major arteries connecting Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, in the recording played for jurors in Osmakac's terrorism trial Thursday....

    Sami Osmakac lamented a lack of help in carrying out his plan to blow up bridges.
  14. Defense portrays Sami Osmakac as being entrapped in terrorism case


    TAMPA — Seated cross-legged on the floor of a Days Inn in Tampa, Sami Osmakac waved a pistol in one hand and wore a belt designed to hold explosives around his waist.

    "This is payback," he said into a video camera, vowing to avenge the deaths of Osama bin Laden and Muslims in the Middle East and the Balkans.

    "We're coming for your blood, and we're coming for your women's blood and we're coming for your children's blood," he said, an AK-47 propped against the wall behind him....

    Sami Osmakac, 27, is charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction.
  15. Sami Osmakac, accused of terrorism, continues refusal to stand for judge


    TAMPA — The trial of Sami Osmakac, the Kosovo-born U.S. citizen accused of scheming to plant bombs across Tampa, began Tuesday with jury selection.

    Security was heightened both outside the courthouse, where officials from the Department of Homeland Security patrolled, and inside, where anyone entering the courtroom had to pass through an additional metal detector.

    In the back of the courtroom, screens were set up in preparation for witnesses who will testify anonymously. The first witness in the trial is expected to take the stand today and to testify for four days, his face obscured by the screens and his identity hidden behind a pseudonym....

    Sami Osmakac, 27, faces life in prison if convicted in the scheme.