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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. Pasco mother's guilty plea to child abuse reopened amid competency questions


    TAMPA — On Nov. 19, Violet Hinrichs shuffled into a Tampa courtroom, raised her right hand and pleaded guilty to charges that would put her in prison for five years.

    She was a week shy of her 20th birthday and as she stood before the judge, her oversized jail-issued jacket hung from her 5-foot-2 frame. Did she understand the consequences of pleading guilty? the judge asked. "Yes sir," she said softly, giving the answer she is accustomed to giving. Tears rolled down her cheeks....

    Violet Hinrichs is accused of choking her 7-month-old son, Danny, as he lay in a hospital bed. A video camera at St. Joseph's Hospital captured footage that showed Hinrichs holding her son so tightly that his skin began to turn blue and his heart rate and brain waves slowed, triggering alarms. [Family photo]
  2. Trial in Pasco County movie theater killing gets postponed


    DADE CITY — The murder trial of Curtis Reeves, a retired Tampa police captain accused of shooting a man after an argument over texting at a Pasco County movie theater, was postponed on Wednesday after a judge found both sides unready to proceed.

    The case involves some 100 witnesses, including Reeves, whose attorney has said he will testify in his own defense. But only a third of those witnesses have been formally questioned and the process of interviewing the remainder, as well as assembling experts for trial, will likely take months, defense attorneys said....

  3. Young Pasco mother sentenced to five years in prison for child abuse


    TAMPA — A 19-year-old Pasco County woman who was accused of trying to kill her infant son by strangling him pleaded guilty to child abuse charges on Wednesday and was sentenced to five years in prison.

    In April, acting on concern that her 7-month-old son was having seizures, Violet Hinrichs brought him to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, where a video camera captured footage that surprised Hinrichs' family and law enforcement. Five times, the camera showed Hinrichs holding her son so tightly that his skin began to turn blue and his heart rate and brain waves slowed, triggering alarms. When doctors found bruises on the infant's neck, police arrested Hinrichs and accused her of choking her son....

  4. Tampa lawyers can be questioned about DUI setup claims


    CLEARWATER — Three Tampa lawyers accused of setting up a DUI sting to ensnare a rival will have to submit to questioning, a judge ordered on Monday.

    But that does not mean the lawyers from the firm of Adams & Diaco will offer any answers.

    Accused in January 2013 of engineering the arrest of an opposing lawyer during a high-profile trial, Robert Adams, Stephen Diaco and Adam Filthaut have so far refused to answer questions about the allegations against them. All three face charges from the Florida Bar of misconduct, unfairness to opposing counsel and disrupting court....

  5. Hillsborough cases delayed over evidence sharing dispute


    TAMPA — Caught in a 2012 drug sting along with 21 others, Juan Londono has been waiting since then for his case to go to trial.

    But that's unlikely to happen anytime soon. Despite a judge's order, prosecutors have resisted answering questions about the only witnesses in the case — the confidential informers who allegedly bought heroin from Londono. And although the state revealed one informer's name, it hasn't divulged anything about the men's history of working with law enforcement or confirmed a defense attorney's suspicion that one of them died three years ago....

  6. Pasco report raises questions about texting in Reeves case


    In the hours after they saw a man shot and killed in a movie theater in Pasco, multiple witnesses told investigators how the fight began.

    Though their accounts varied slightly, many of them said they heard an older man confront another moviegoer who was sending text messages during the previews. The younger man, Chad Oulson, exclaimed loudly that he was texting his daughter. Minutes later, Curtis Reeves, a retired Tampa police captain, shot Oulson dead....

    Evidence photographs are released in the case against Curtis Reeves, accused in the Wesley Chapel movie theater shooting.
  7. Edward Covington is psychopath but not mentally ill, doctor testifies


    TAMPA — Edward Covington, the Lutz man who murdered his girlfriend and her two children on Mother's Day 2008, is not mentally ill, a doctor hired by the state testified on Friday. He's a psychopath.

    Retained by prosecutors to review Covington's lengthy medical history, psychiatrist Dr. Wade Myers said that although previous doctors had repeatedly diagnosed the defendant with bipolar disorder, that was incorrect....

    Edward Covington has previously been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
  8. Mental state now focus in Covington murder case


    TAMPA — The day before he murdered and mutilated the corpses of his girlfriend and her two young children, Edward Covington assured his mother he would never harm the woman he loved.

    "I couldn't hurt her, I love her," he told his mother. Then he leaned over and kissed Lisa Freiberg, the woman he lived with and whose life he would take in the next 24 hours.

    On the witness stand Thursday, Ann Covington recalled how her son's behavior that Saturday in May 2008 struck her as odd. Diagnosed at age 15 with bipolar disorder, he lived in constant turmoil, swinging between periods of high energy and deep depression. He was repeatedly hospitalized, tried to commit suicide multiple times, and was prescribed a regimen of psychotropic drugs, including lithium....

    Covington began treatment at 15 for bipolar disorder. 
  9. Sami Osmakac gets 40 years in prison for plotting terrorist attacks in Tampa


    TAMPA — Sami Osmakac, the Kosovo-born man who threatened to stage a series of terrorist attacks in Tampa, was sentenced Wednesday to 40 years in prison.

    Convicted in June of possessing an unregistered AK-47 and attempting to use weapons of mass destruction — a reference to the car bomb, six grenades and suicide vest he planned to use — Osmakac faced the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison. But federal prosecutors did not aim for the harshest sentence. Rather, they asked for and received from Judge Mary S. Scriven a lengthy prison term, followed by a lifetime of probation. Under this sentence, Osmakac, a 27-year-old Pinellas Park resident, will not emerge from a prison cell until he's in his 60s....

  10. Barbara Twine Thomas, Richard Bauman within reach of circuit bench


    TAMPA — Hillsborough County voters appeared poised Tuesday night to send Barbara Twine Thomas and Robert Bauman to circuit court judgeships.

    Twine, 62, who raised just over $98,000 for her campaign, roughly half of which came from personal loans, won the most votes in the August primary to replace retiring Circuit Judge James D. Arnold in Group 8.

    On Tuesday, with most of the vote counted she held a slim lead over Carl C. Hinson, 54, despite his significant fundraising lead. Hinson, who has a solo practice primarily focused on personal injury law, raised $259,000 for his campaign, including $50,000 of his own money....

    Twine Thomas
  11. Grandmother recalls family's joyful life before Lutz triple murders


    TAMPA — Six years after she opened the door to her daughter's Lutz home and discovered a chaotic and blood-soaked crime scene, Barbara Freiberg took the stand Tuesday and recalled her life before Edward Covington came into it.

    There had been joy-filled Christmases, Thanksgivings, and birthdays with her children and grandchildren around her. Her grandchildren called her "Mimi," and left giddy messages on her home answering machine. Those recordings and some family photos are all she has left of the time before Covington murdered her daughter and two grandchildren, she testified through tears....

    Barbara Freiberg took the stand on Tuesday and recalled her life before Edward Covington came into it. [Pool photo]
  12. Covington pleads guilty of triple murder after reinstating attorneys


    TAMPA — Calling his decision to fire his attorneys on the second day of his trial "impulsive behavior," a Lutz man accused of murdering three people reinstated his attorneys and pleaded guilty Friday to all of the charges against him.

    In graphic detail, former prison guard Edward Covington admitted to stabbing to death his girlfriend Lisa Freiberg, 26, and her children, 7-year-old Zachary and Heather Savannah, 2, on Mother's Day in 2008. Claiming to be fully aware that his life is at stake, Covington, 42, waived his right to a jury in the second phase of his trial and placed his fate in the hands of Hillsborough Circuit Court Judge William Fuente....

    Edward Covington listens in the courtroom during his trial at the George E. Edgecomb Courthouse in Tampa on Friday, October 24, 2014. Covington, 42, was found in May 2008 standing in a bedroom closet in his girlfriend's mobile home in Lutz, wearing nothing but underwear and covered in scratches and blood. Nearby were the mutilated bodies of his girlfriend, Lisa Freiberg, and her two young children.
  13. Covington fires lawyers, plans to plead guilty in Lutz triple-murder case



    In an astonishing moment on Thursday, a Lutz man on trial for murdering his girlfriend and her two children on Mother's Day dismissed his attorneys and abruptly announced his intention to plead guilty.

    Prosecutors and defense attorneys looked stunned as Edward Covington declared that after more than six years of legal wrangling and a week of jury selection, he wanted to end his trial and place his life in the judge's hands....

    Edward Covington gestures during his murder trial Thursday in the deaths of his girlfriend and her two children. “My plea of guilty is the right thing to do,” he said. But the judge would not accept the plea until at least two mental health experts evaluated him for competency and reported their findings.
  14. Lutz triple-murder trial opens with insanity defense, gory details


    TAMPA — In the hours after he killed his girlfriend and her two children, Edward Covington stabbed them repeatedly, mutilated their bodies and covered their modest mobile home in Lutz with their blood. Wearing nothing but underwear, he hid in a closet, burying himself under a mountain of children's toys and clothing so that only the top of his head was visible.

    That was as far as his effort to evade capture went, prosecutors said. Days later, when questioned by detectives, he confessed to everything....

Edward Covington is escorted into the courtroom for his murder trial before Judge William Fuente. He is accused of killing his girlfriend and her two children in 2008.
  15. Hillsborough Circuit Court: Group 8


    Circuit Court | Group 8

    As the winners of the primary election, Carl C. Hinson and Barbara Twine Thomas will face each other in the general. Hinson has devoted his career to personal injury law and Thomas, who also maintains a solo practice, has twice been nominated for a judicial appointment but has not been chosen by the governor. By Anna M. Phillips, Times staff writer