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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. Defendant takes stand in I-4 mistaken identity murder case


    TAMPA —Accused of killing a man in a drive-by shooting on Interstate 4, Jerome Hayes took the stand on Thursday, the only witness to testify in his defense.

    Hayes, 51, a small, tense man who mumbled his testimony, said that on July 29, 2013, he was driving 80 mph on one of Florida's busiest highways when he pointed his handgun at another car and fired three rounds. But, contrary to prosecutors' arguments, Hayes said he had no intention of killing anyone....

    Jerome Hayes, 51, describes firing a 9mm Glock pistol at a green Mustang while driving on I-4 from the witness stand in his own defense in Hillsborough County Court Thursday morning. He is accused of fatally shooting Fred Turner Jr., a 47-year-old Orlando man who was found dead on June 29, 2013, behind the wheel on the side of Interstate 4. Authorities said Hayes' intended target was a man he had fought outside of the Tampa Gold Club, a strip club on Adamo Drive. [WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times]
  2. Hillsborough sheriff's deputy testifies about being shot


    TAMPA — A Hillsborough County sheriff's deputy who was shot three times in 2011 while responding to a domestic violence call took the witness stand Tuesday to describe the attack by a former Marine suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

    Four years after the shooting, Deputy Lyonelle De Veaux recounted how she had arrived at a Carrollwood apartment complex on Sept. 30, 2011, to find a frightened woman waiting for her in the parking lot. After placing the woman in the backseat of her patrol car, she turned and saw a young man walking toward her. It was dark, but De Veaux said she could tell something was off....

    Matthew Buendia, 28, is accused of trying to kill a Hillsborough sheriff’s deputy in 2011. [JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Times] 
  3. Ex-Marine rejects plea deal, elects to risk life at trial


    TAMPA — On the morning of his trial for attempted murder of a law enforcement officer, Matthew Buendia holed up with his attorneys and debated an eleventh-hour offer from the state.

    The former Marine was facing a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole. He had rejected Hillsborough prosecutors' previous offer of 25 years, but they were making a second attempt to avoid a trial and had come back with a better deal: 15 years prison time. With credit for time served and good behavior, he could be out in 10....

  4. Woman accused of attempting to kill her daughter takes 2-year deal


    TAMPA — A woman accused of attempting to kill her 12-year-old daughter accepted a plea deal Monday that will put her in prison for two years, followed by five years of probation.

    In May of 2013, neighbors noticed smoke pouring out of a Citrus Park home and rushed in to find Nancy Lowe, her daughter, and suicide notes left for others to find.

    Investigators initially believed the pair's story that, desperate to get away from Lowe's abusive ex-husband and the girl's father, they had made a suicide pact and set their garage on fire....

    In May 2013, neighbors noticed smoke pouring out of a Citrus Park home and rushed in to find Nancy Lowe, her daughter, and suicide notes left for others to find. [Times files (2013)] 
  5. Killer at 17, hope at 38: Court ruling lets juvenile offenders be resentenced


    TAMPA — By the time she was 17, Lolita Barthel was living a double life: schoolgirl on weekdays, armed robber whenever she and her friends needed cash.

    Now 38, Barthel admits she was a cocky teenager with a history of emotional problems, a mother addicted to crack cocaine and an absent father. She was also in love, or thought she was, and felt compelled to hold on to her girlfriend's affections by buying her the most fashionable clothes and the latest Air Jordans....

    Now 38, Lolita Barthel says she has reckoned with the emotional problems that led her and two friends to rob a man’s home and kill him in 1996. She was 17.
  6. Man claims self-defense in stabbing of USF football player


    TAMPA — A lawyer for the man accused of fatally stabbing a former University of South Florida football player argued Wednesday for his client's release from jail, saying he had been trying to defend himself.

    Hillsborough prosecutors have charged Randolph Graham, 23, with the murder of Elkino Watson, 23, who was stabbed early Sept. 6 in Ybor City outside of the Orpheum nightclub and died shortly after. Graham also is facing an attempted murder charge for stabbing another USF student and friend of Watson's, Desmond Horne. Both men were at the club for a post-game celebration after the USF-Florida A&M University football game....

    Randolph Graham was defending himself when he stabbed Elkino Watson, his lawyer says.
  7. Program pitches rehabilitation of juvenile offenders through sailing

    Human Interest

    DUNEDIN — It's an idea worthy of a summer blockbuster: seven juvenile delinquents racing across the Atlantic Ocean in one sailboat.

    But for Tyler Howell, an 18-year-old from Dunedin who has spent the past several years bouncing from one juvenile justice program to another, it's about to become reality.

    Howell — and six other "high-risk" juvenile offenders from across the country — have been chosen to take part in a five-month sailing boot camp that pitches itself as an alternative to incarceration. Founded by a college student from Sarasota, the organization called SailFuture plans to train the crew of teenagers for several weeks in Baltimore before entering them in a 2,700-mile international race called the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers....

    Tyler Howell, 18, of Dunedin was recommended for the rigorous program by a public defender.
  8. Scientists sentenced in fraud case


    TAMPA — In the days before she was sentenced, the former scientist packed up her Belleair Beach house and made arrangements for her teenage son to live with a neighbor.

    "I beg you, just give me more time to spend with him," Anastasia Bogomolova pleaded with a federal judge Thursday. If she could only postpone her imprisonment until next June, she could see her 13-year-old graduate from middle school. ...

    Anastasia Bogomolova
  9. Bondi pledges to clear Florida's 'thousands' of untested rape kits

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — Years after other states began clearing their backlogs of untested rape kits, thousands of exams are still sitting on evidence room shelves across Florida, potentially holding answers to some of the state's most violent crimes.

    On Wednesday, Attorney General Pam Bondi said she intends to make clearing the state's backlog a top priority in the coming year. But she also acknowledged how little state officials know about the accumulation of rape kits. She could not say how many there are in Florida or how long it might take to complete their testing....

    Rep. Janet Adkins, left, and Attorney General Pam Bondi, right, speak at a news conference Wednesday about the rape kits.
  10. Life sentence for Julian Ospina-Florez, Avila murderer


    TAMPA — A jury Friday voted to spare the life of a 35-year-old man convicted of a double murder, recommending that he serve life in prison for gunning down his wealthy employer and her husband in 2012.

    Although he had struggled to contain his emotions throughout the three-week trial, Julian Ospina-Florez barely registered the jury's recommendation.

    In the gallery behind him, his mother clung to her youngest son and wept. Family members of the victims walked out quietly, later releasing a statement asking for privacy and saying they were "relieved that this chapter of our family tragedy has concluded and justice has been served."...

    Julian Ospina-Florez, center, was sentenced to life in prison for the murders of Debra Rivera and her husband, Dr. Hector Rivera.
  11. Avila murderer to jury: You convicted an innocent man


    TAMPA — Jurors had barely taken their seats Thursday when the man they had convicted of a double murder earlier in the week sprang from his seat and announced they were mistaken.

    Claiming to be "an innocent man," Julian Ospina-Florez, 35, opened the second phase of his trial with an impromptu speech on the justice system's failings. As jurors were ushered out of the courtroom, he complained that while those found to be criminally insane were allowed "go home," the innocent were sent to prison....

    Julian Os?pina-Florez was convicted this week of killing Debra and Hector Rivera in 2012.
  12. Jury convicts driver in murders of wealthy Tampa couple


    TAMPA — More than three years after he fatally shot his employer and her husband at their mansion in a gated enclave of Tampa, Julian Ospina-Florez was found guilty on two counts of first-degree murder Tuesday.

    Ospina-Florez, 35, faces a minimum sentence of life in prison without parole. But prosecutors intend to seek the death penalty during the second phase of the trial, which is expected to begin later this week....

    After jurors left the courtroom, defense attorney Charles Traina wipes tears from the eyes of Julian Ospina-Florez, who was convicted Tuesday of two counts of murder.
  13. Jurors hear closing arguments in Avila murder trial


    TAMPA — Julian Ospina-Florez was not a criminal mastermind, prosecutors said in closing arguments Monday at the trial of the driver accused of murdering his wealthy employer and her husband. But it doesn't take much to be an effective killer.

    "It wasn't a good plan. It wasn't well-executed," Assistant State Attorney Jay Pruner said of the killings of Debra Rivera and her husband, Dr. Hector Rivera, who were found shot to death at their sprawling Avila mansion on Jan. 9, 2012. "But it was a plan."...

    Julian Ospina-Florez leaves court during a break Monday. He is accused of killing Dr. Hector Rivera and Debra Rivera in 2012.
  14. Judge recommends disbarment for Bubba attorneys in DUI setup case


    A judge on Thursday recommended that three Tampa lawyers be permanently barred from practicing law for their involvement in a conspiracy to have an opposing attorney arrested during a high-profile trial in 2013.

    Rejecting the defense's arguments that the lawyers were merely helping local police get a drunken driver off of city streets, Pinellas Senior Judge W. Douglas Baird found the men's actions "inexplicably egregious, spiteful, and malicious."...

    A judge has recommended that three Tampa lawyers, Stephen Diaco, left, Adam Filthaut, center, and Robert Adams, be permanently barred from practicing law for their involvement in a conspiracy to have an opposing attorney  arrested during a high-profile trial in 2013. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]
  15. With gay marriage decided, Florida will add gender-neutral language to forms


    Almost a year after a federal judge in Tallahassee declared Florida's gay marriage ban unconstitutional, the state is finally getting around to updating its marriage and death certificates.

    By mid September, the state plans to have removed gender-specific language from these forms, which still refer to a "husband" and "wife," according to the gay rights organization Equality Florida.

    Since same-sex marriage became legal in January, gay couples who have tied the knot have had to make the odd choice of whose name to write in which space. Once the change goes into effect, the forms will provide a place for the name of each "spouse."...