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. Audio of 911 call released in fourth fatal wrong-way crash in Tampa


    TAMPA — Crashes involving wrong-way driving, like the one that left three people dead Sunday, are occurring in the Tampa Bay area at twice the national rate.

    Though Sunday morning's crash may have seemed a horrifying aberration, it is the fourth such accident this year on the same stretch of Interstate 275. Federal and state experts say they are at a loss to explain the spate of wrong-way driving crashes, which fits into a broader and disconcerting picture of the region's traffic problems....

    Sunday’s crash on Interstate 275 killed two sisters and a male passenger when their car went the wrong way and hit a truck.
  2. Florida's legal aid services for the poor imperiled by budget cuts


    Florida's legal aid societies, where the poor seek help fighting eviction, collecting government benefits and battling foreclosure, are in crisis, according to advocates who say the state's last line of civil legal defense is crumbling.

    Years of funding cuts from local governments, the state and the Florida Bar Foundation have diminished legal aid groups to the point where some may soon be forced to close their doors. Others are laying off staffers, furloughing lawyers and eliminating entire segments of their practice. Since 2010, Florida has lost 100 legal aid lawyers, and grim financial forecasts suggest it is poised to lose 100 more of the 386 who remain....

    A Gulf Coast Legal Services attorney talks with clients during a meeting in 2010. Since 2010, a reduction in funding has resulted in the loss of about 100 legal aid attorneys across the state. And agencies expect to lose 100 of the 386 that remain.
  3. Battle of biblical ideals emerges in Hillsborough murder case


    TAMPA — In the beginning, there were three grisly murders of Old Testament proportions.

    A day after Mother's Day in 2008, Hillsborough sheriff deputies found Lisa Freiberg's mutilated corpse and the bodies of her children, 7-year-old Zachary and Savannah, 2. Her boyfriend, Edward Covington, was found in his underwear, in a closet.

    A month before Covington is set to go on trial on three charges of first-degree murder, prosecutors have asked a judge to bar defense attorneys from getting biblical with jurors....

    Assistant Public Defender Mike Peacock, an ordained minister, did not make any religious statements during the trial of Richard McTear Jr., who was found guilty on July 31 of killing his girlfriend’s 3-month-old son. But during the penalty phase, Assistant Public Defender Theda James asked jurors to spare McTear’s life. “We should leave vengeance to the Lord. It doesn’t belong in this courtroom,” she said. Prosecutors objected.
  4. Secrecy in Hillsborough child murder case could point to a conspirator


    TAMPA — Granville Ritchie, the man accused of murdering a 9-year-old girl and dumping her body in Tampa Bay, was arraigned Wednesday on charges of first-degree murder, sexual battery and aggravated child abuse.

    Ritchie, 35, who appeared in court briefly, pleaded not guilty to the charges. His arraignment set in motion a case that has been months in the making.

    On May 17, a couple fishing from the Courtney Campbell Causeway spotted a child's body in the water. It was Felecia Williams, a 9-year-old girl who went missing from a Temple Terrace apartment a day earlier. Months of investigation followed, as Temple Terrace investigators worked to sort out the conflicting testimony offered by Eboni Wiley, one of the last people to see Felecia alive, and Ritchie, the main suspect....

    Granville Ritchie  was arraigned on Wednesday on charges of first degree murder, sexual battery and child abuse. [SKIP O'ROURKE  |   Times]
  5. Hillsborough County Judge Chris Nash cruises to re-election


    TAMPA — Voters Tuesday decided to keep Chris Nash on the bench in Hillsborough's only race for a county court judge seat.

    Nash topped his opponent, Norman Cannella Jr., the son of a prominent Tampa defense attorney, by a margin of 65 to 35 percent.

    Nash, 43, was appointed to a judgeship last year by Gov. Rick Scott and was on the job only a few weeks when he learned of his high-profile challenger, who entered the race with considerably more name recognition. Cannella Jr., 46, is a former prosecutor who has been in private practice since 2001, but it is his father, Norman Cannella Sr., whose name carries great weight in the legal community....

  6. Hillsborough voters elect two circuit judges


    TAMPA — Voters elected two new Hillsborough County circuit court judges Tuesday, but two more races are headed for a final decision in November after none of the candidates in them secured more than half the vote.

    Circuit court judges are elected to six-year terms.

    Group 8: In a three-way race, the two top vote getters, Barbara Twine Thomas and Carl C. Hinson, will face each other in the Nov. 4 general election. Thomas, who has twice been nominated for a judicial appointment but never chosen, lead with more than two-fifths of the vote. Hinson won abut a third and the third-place candidate, John Dingfelder, received about a quarter of the vote....

  7. Blind Tampa man says he has 'no remorse' for shooting great-nephew in self-defense


    TAMPA — A legally blind Tampa man shot and wounded an intruder Sunday night, discovering afterward that it was his 15-year-old great-nephew.

    Melchisedec Williams, 50, was in his home near Chipco and N 30th streets around 10:30 p.m. when, according to Tampa police, his great-nephew cut the wires bringing power to Williams' house and broke in through a bedroom window. Inside the house, he made his way to the kitchen and grabbed two of his great-uncle's steak knives....

    “That’s what made me stop shooting,” Melchisedec Williams said, about hearing his great-nephew’s groans. “I was in the dark, and I was ready to unload that gun until I heard his voice.”
  8. Hillsborough Circuit Judge, Group 8


    Circuit Court | Group 8

    The three candidates for Hillsborough circuit judge in Group 8 all maintain solo law practices focusing primarily on civil claims, but that is where the similarities end. John Dingfelder is a former public school teacher and Tampa City Council member, Carl C. Hinson has devoted his career to personal injury law and Barbara Twine Thomas has twice been nominated for a judicial appointment but has not been chosen by the governor. This is a nonpartisan race. Anna M. Phillips, Times staff writer...

    Carl C. Hinson
  9. Hillsborough Circuit Judge, Group 34


    Circuit Court | Group 34

    This race for a rare open seat has drawn three candidates, two of whom run solo legal practices focused on personal injury claims and a third who specializes in construction and business law. One of the candidates, Constance Daniels, has run for a judicial seat before. Robert Bauman and Melissa "Missy" Polo are new names on the ballot. Anna M. Phillips, Times staff writer...

    Robert Bauman
  10. Hillsborough Circuit Judge, Group 20


    Circuit Court | Group 20

    The two candidates for this open seat have no experience in politics, but they have names that may resonate with voters in the legal community. Karen Stanley has years of experience practicing criminal law with the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office, and Laura Ward, the daughter of a retired Hillsborough Circuit Court judge, has a background in civil law. This is a nonpartisan election. Anna M. Phillips, Times staff writer...

    Karen Stanley
  11. Hillsborough Circuit Judge, Group 19


    Circuit Court | Group 19

    This race pits former law school classmates Michael John Brannigan and Michael Scionti. Both men grew up in Hillsborough County, graduated from the South Texas College of Law and returned to Florida. Anna M. Phillips, Times staff writer


    Michael John Brannigan, 45



    Michael Scionti
  12. Miami, Orlando immigration courts fast track juvenile deportation proceeding


    Acting on orders from the Obama administration, immigration courts in Orlando and Miami have created accelerated dockets for unaccompanied minors and families, prioritizing their cases as part of a national effort to stem the flood of Central Americans crossing into the United States illegally.

    Under the new procedures, immigration courts have set up "rocket dockets," speeding up the time it takes to review migrants' cases and determine whether they should be deported. Whereas it typically takes two or three years to resolve deportation proceedings, the new process could take months....

    U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents work at a processing facility in Brownsville,Texas. Immigration courts in Miami and Orlando are speeding up hearings for the children and families who have been sent to Florida after entering the country illegally.
  13. Richard McTear Jr. sentenced to life in prison for killing Hillsborough baby


    TAMPA — A jury rejected the death penalty Tuesday for Richard McTear Jr., who was convicted of murdering a 3-month-old boy by throwing him onto the side of an interstate.

    Following jurors' recommendation, Hillsborough Circuit Judge William Fuente sentenced McTear to spend the rest of his life in prison. He imposed a second life sentence for the charge of burglary with assault and a 30-year sentence for kidnapping....

    Jackline Patton, the mother of Richard McTear, testifies during the trial of Richard McTear at the George E. Edgecomb Courthouse in Tampa on Tuesday, August 5, 2014.
  14. Defense asks jury to spare Richard McTear Jr.'s life in baby-killing case


    TAMPA — Attorneys for Richard McTear Jr., who was convicted last week of murdering his former girlfriend's son by throwing him onto the side of Interstate 275, pleaded with a jury Monday to show mercy for him and reject the death penalty.

    Five years after he killed 3-month-old Emanuel Murray Jr., McTear's future rests in the hands of the same jury that found him guilty of first-degree murder and a series of lesser charges. After hearing testimony from victims and members of McTear's family, jurors will vote later this week on whether to recommend that he pay for the baby's murder with his life or spend the rest of his years in prison. In Florida, a death penalty recommendation requires a simple majority — only seven votes are needed....

    McTear’s father, Richard McTear Sr., testifies in court on Monday.
  15. McTear guilty of throwing baby to his death on I-275


    TAMPA — A jury convicted Richard McTear Jr. on Thursday of savagely beating his ex-girlfriend and throwing her baby to its death on the side of Interstate 275 five years ago.

    Outside the courtroom, surrounded by a phalanx of friends and relatives, the baby's mother and father held each other in a long embrace. Jasmine Bedwell, 22, a foster child when her baby was conceived, wept on the shoulder of Emanuel Murray Sr., who was in prison on gun charges when his son died. Though neither parent would speak to reporters, the baby's great-uncle, Ike Thompson, offered jurors his thanks and gave them a piece of advice. ...

    Richard McTear Jr., 26, shows no expression as the verdict is read Thursday. He was found guilty on all charges in the death of his ex-girlfriend’s baby son during a rampage.