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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. Tampa Bay judges reach consensus on seeking the death penalty: for now, Florida can't


    TAMPA — Trial courts in the Tampa Bay area have reached a consensus: Florida has no death penalty and won't until lawmakers rewrite the state's statute.

    A day after Hillsborough prosecutors announced they would seek the death penalty for a 30-year-old woman accused of murdering both her parents-in-law, a trial court judge's ruling in another capital case has foreclosed that possibility, at least for the time being....

  2. Hillsborough prosecutors continue to seek death penalty amid statewide confusion


    TAMPA — In the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down Florida's death penalty sentencing statute, Hillsborough County prosecutors are proceeding as if nothing has changed.

    On Monday, prosecutors announced their intention to seek the death penalty against a 30-year-old woman accused of murdering her parents-in-law in their Riverview home last November. Marisol Best, who has pleaded not guilty to two counts of first-degree murder, is the latest to join the list of defendants who could face the death penalty in Hillsborough....

    Hillsborough prosecutors said Monday that they will seek the death penalty for Marisol Best.
  3. Jury convicts Valrico man of murdering former girlfriend


    TAMPA — A jury convicted the boyfriend of a Brandon mother of three of her murder Friday, guaranteeing he will spend the rest of his life in prison.

    It took jurors three hours to reach a verdict in the case, which centered on the March 2014 disappearance of Christina Mahzamani, 32, and whose death jurors ultimately pinned on her former boyfriend, Michael J. Fields, 33. Although sentencing was delayed, there is only one possible sentence for a first-degree murder conviction such as this — life in prison without the possibility of parole. Prosecutors did not seek the death penalty....

    Michael J. Fields was convicted of first-degree murder. He’ll spend the rest of his life in prison. [Photo courtesy of Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office]
  4. In Hillsborough trial for toddler's murder, father turns state's witness


    TAMPA — Dressed in jail-issued orange, Justin Garwacki took the witness stand on Wednesday, a more muscular version of the man he had been in 2010, when Hillsborough prosecutors charged him with the murder of his toddler son.

    Asked why he had agreed to help the state prosecute his former girlfriend, Kara O'Connell, 26, for the same crime, he replied: "I felt it was the right thing to do for my son."...

  5. Warren's campaign for Hillsborough State Attorney says he raised $50,000 in first month


    TAMPA — Andrew H. Warren, a Democrat running for Hillsborough County State Attorney, jumped into the race last month to a lot of skepticism about his chances against long-time incumbent Mark Ober.

    On Tuesday, Warren's campaign announced he has raised nearly $52,000 since the beginning of January from more than 150 contributors. He still has a way to go before catching up to his opponent. Ober, who began accepting campaign donations in October, has raised just over $120,000 so far....

  6. Warren's campaign says he raised $50,000 in first month


    TAMPA — Andrew H. Warren, a Democrat running for Hillsborough County State Attorney, jumped into the race last month to a wealth a skepticism about his chances against long-time incumbent Mark Ober.

    On Tuesday, Warren's campaign announced he has raised nearly $52,000 since the beginning of January from more than 150 contributors. He still has a ways to go before catching up to his opponent. Ober, who began accepting campaign donations in October, has raised just over $120,000 so far....

  7. Detention center suspends 4 employees as hunt for escaped teens continues

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — A day after two teenage boys escaped from a juvenile detention facility through a hole in a chain-link fence, the private company that oversees security has suspended four of its employees without pay.

    In a statement released Monday, a spokeswoman for G4S Youth Services, which manages the facility, said the company had suspended three youth care workers and one shift supervisor after an internal investigation. All worked at the Tampa Residential Facility, a center for "high-risk" male offenders between the ages of 14 and 18 who are committed to the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice....

  8. Only in Florida: How the nation's lowest bar for the death penalty has shaped death row


    Florida has more than 170 people on death row today who may not have been condemned to die in any other state — the result of its one-of-a-kind law that allows a jury to recommend capital punishment by a simple majority vote, a Tampa Bay Times analysis has found.

    Unburdened by the need to reach a unanimous decision, Florida juries typically don't. Two-thirds of the people Florida has executed since 1995 were condemned to die on the recommendation of fewer than 12 jurors, the Times analysis found....

  9. After months of delay, judge orders mentally disabled Violet Hinrichs released


    TAMPA — A Hillsborough judge has ordered a Pasco woman accused of attempting to suffocate her infant son released from jail, more than a year after prosecutors and defense attorneys were first alerted to serious concerns about her mental acuity.

    Circuit Judge Lisa Campbell's findings were based on reports from two court-appointed psychologists, both of whom said Violet Hinrichs, 21, was intellectually impaired and incompetent to stand trial. The judge ordered the jail to release her to the custody of a group home in St. Petersburg that had been preapproved by the psychologists and the Agency for Persons with Disabilities....

    Violet Hinrichs, pictured in court in 2014. [Times files]
  10. Disabled Florida prisoners sue Department of Corrections alleging repeated abuses


    Prompted by complaints that the needs of inmates who are deaf, blind or need wheelchairs are being routinely ignored, lawyers for a group of prisoners filed suit against the Florida Department of Corrections on Tuesday, claiming a litany of abuses.

    The lawsuit, filed by the Florida Justice Institute on behalf of Disability Rights Florida, includes accounts from 32 prisoners of being denied hearing aids, wheelchairs or other devices in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal laws....

  11. Supreme Court suspends attorneys in DUI setup case


    The Florida Supreme Court has suspended the law licenses of three Tampa attorneys who arranged the arrest of a rival lawyer during a high-profile trial in 2013.

    Friday's decision is a temporary step taken in advance of the justices hearing the lawyers' arguments for reconsidering a trial judge's recommendation that Stephen Diaco, Robert Adams and Adam Filthaut — all employees of the Adams & Diaco firm — be permanently disbarred....

  12. Supreme Court decision likely to lead to fewer death penalty verdicts, experts say


    Home to the second-largest death row in the nation, Florida may be on a path to executing fewer prisoners as a result of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling Tuesday that requires juries, not judges, to impose the death penalty, experts said.

    "Whatever the Legislature does" in response to the court's ruling, "there are bound to be some cases where a jury doesn't reach the same decision that a judge would have," said Ronald J. Tabak, chairman of the Death Penalty Committee of the American Bar Association. "And most likely, there will be fewer death sentences."...

  13. U.S. Supreme Court rules Florida's death penalty system is unconstitutional


    The U.S. Supreme Court struck down Florida's unique capital sentencing system on Tuesday in a ruling that found the state gives too much power to judges, and not enough to juries, to impose the death penalty.

    In an 8-1 opinion, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing for the majority, said that the state's sentencing procedure is unconstitutional because juries play an advisory role in recommending life or death. State law requires judges to make the final decision, after giving "great weight" to jurors' recommendations....

  14. Former federal prosecutor Andrew Warren will run for Hillsborough state attorney as a Democrat


    TAMPA — Andrew H. Warren, a former federal fraud prosecutor for the U.S. Department of Justice, announced his candidacy Monday for Hillsborough state attorney, becoming the first Democrat to challenge Republican State Attorney Mark Ober in more than a decade.

    Warren's entrance into the race sets the stage for a contest between a high-profile incumbent and a political newcomer on whose shoulders rests the Democratic Party's hopes of winning a coveted seat....

  15. Prominent Tampa developer and political donor sued by ammunitions company


    TAMPA — A local ammunition importer has filed a lawsuit against developer and prominent Republican donor Charles "Bing" Kearney, alleging that he committed fraud and cost the supplier hundreds of thousands of dollars.

    In its lawsuit, Bulova Technologies Europe says Kearney tricked the company into selling him discounted, bulk rifle ammunition that he would then sell through Shooters World, his gun shop and range on Fletcher Avenue in Tampa. To sweeten the deal, Bulova agreed to host an all-expenses-paid pheasant hunting trip for potential buyers of the ammunition, only to discover that instead of buyers, the trip was actually for Kearney, his two sons and nearly a dozen of his employees, according to the lawsuit....