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

Email: aphillips@tampabay.com

Twitter: @annamphillips

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  1. Jurors in Hillsborough baby-killing case view McTear's arrest video

    Civil

    TAMPA — Jurors were shown video Friday of murder suspect Richard McTear Jr. telling news reporters, "It's a dirty game," as he was walked from a patrol car into the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office shortly after his arrest.

    Defense attorneys argued vigorously for the video to be excluded, claiming reporters' questions to McTear amounted to "blatant hearsay testimony." In the May 2009 video, reporters can be heard asking McTear if he threw his ex-girlfriend's baby onto the side of Interstate 275 South, as law enforcement officials had alleged....

  2. Key witness takes stand in McTear murder trial

    Criminal

    TAMPA — A year after she caused a mistrial, Jasmine Bedwell came to court again, appearing nervous and eager not to make another mistake.

    On Wednesday, the second day of the state's murder trial of Richard McTear Jr., his defense attorneys took Bedwell, the defendant's former girlfriend, back to the predawn hours of May 5, 2009, the day her infant son was found dead on the side of the interstate. She was supposed to deliver a straight-forward story, one that would leave jurors with no doubt about who was responsible for her son's death....

    Jasmine Bedwell demonstrates how Richard McTear Jr. threw her baby during testimony in his murder trial.
  3. Defense seeks to undermine key witness in Hillsborough baby killing case

    Criminal

    TAMPA — "It's a dirty game" was Richard McTear Jr.'s motto. He had the phrase tattooed on his forearm, and he repeated it to reporters after his arrest five years ago on charges that he murdered his ex-girlfriend's baby and threw the infant onto the side of the interstate.

    On Tuesday, the opening day of his trial, McTear's defense attorney Mike Peacock took those words and pointed them at the jury....

    Richard McTear, in court Tuesday, is accused of killing a baby found on Interstate 275 in Tampa in 2009.
  4. In Hillsborough judge's race, legendary lawyer's son squares off against appointed incumbent

    Elections

    TAMPA — Known in Hillsborough County courtrooms for the fear he instilled in veteran lawyers, Norman Cannella Sr. became a legend in Tampa without ever holding elected office.

    But Norman Cannella Jr. has other plans. The 46-year-old son of one of Tampa's most prominent criminal defense attorneys is running for a Hillsborough County judgeship, challenging a little-known incumbent who's been on the bench for less than a year....

    Norman S. Cannella Jr. is a criminal defense attorney.
  5. Tampa attorney seeks to depose prominent Hillsborough judge about involvement in case

    Courts

    TAMPA — In a highly unorthodox move, a Tampa defense attorney in an attempted murder case is trying to depose a Hillsborough Circuit judge whose actions after the defendant's arrest have raised questions about whether he violated established procedure.

    On Thursday, a Hillsborough judge heard from attorney Mark J. O'Brien, who is representing Matthew Buendia, a former Marine who shot a Hillsborough sheriff's deputy in the fall of 2011. Nearly three years after Buendia's arrest, O'Brien contends that Circuit Judge Chet A. Tharpe and officials with the Hillsborough state attorney's and sheriff's offices worked together to improperly revoke Buendia's bail. If successful, O'Brien's actions could force the spectacle of a veteran jurist made to give out-of-court testimony about his role in the case....

    Hillsborough Circuit Judge Chet A. Tharpe’s role is being questioned.
  6. Jury pool narrowed to 135 as trial begins for man accused of tossing baby from car

    Criminal

    TAMPA — If anyone thought the passage of another year would dim the public's memory of a dead infant on the side of Interstate 275, they were wrong.

    Jury selection began on Monday in the state's second attempt to convict Richard McTear Jr. of killing his girlfriend's 3-month-old son, who was tossed from a car window onto the highway. But from the outset, it was clear that the process of finding impartial jurors with little exposure to the facts of the case could be a marathon event....

    Emanuel Wesley Murray Jr. was 3 months old when he was found dead along the side of Interstate 275 in 2009.
  7. Jury selection starts in murder trial of accused baby killer

    Criminal

    TAMPA — Jury selection will begin Monday in the state's second attempt to convict Richard McTear Jr. of killing his girlfriend's 3-month-old son and tossing him from a car window onto the highway.

    McTear's first murder trial in 2013 ended abruptly days after it began when the baby's mother, Jasmine Bedwell, testified about threats McTear allegedly made toward her infant son. The alleged threats were related to earlier charges of which McTear had been acquitted and were not supposed to be discussed at trial. Bedwell's unexpected comments led the judge to declare a mistrial....

    Richard McTear is led into a Tampa courtroom for the first day of jury selection in McTear's murder case Monday, July 14, 2014 in Tampa. Monday marked the first day of jury selection for the man accused of murdering a baby by throwing him out of a car window in 2009. McTear's first trial ended in a mistrial in last August after testimony from the baby's mother, Jasmine Bedwell.
  8. Tampa father found competent for trial in Cuba kidnapping case

    Criminal

    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.
  9. Subject of 'The Unwinding,' homeless family lives in a car

    Human Interest

    TAMPA

    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....

    Brent Hartzell, 18, and his sister, Danielle, 14, play around while standing next to the family’s car.
  10. SOCom leader McRaven, credited with planning Osama bin Laden raid, retiring

    Macdill

    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.
  11. Police killer Dontae Morris denied new trial

    Criminal

    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....

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

    Criminal

    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....

    Temple Terrace Police Chief Ken Albano holds a photo of Granville A. Ritchie, suspected of killing 9-year-old Felecia Williams, at a May 22 news conference. From left are family spokesman Ariel Garcia and Felecia Demerson, the girl's mother. [JAMES BORCHUCK   |   Times]
  13. Fleeing one family, eight Tampa children discover a new one

    Human Interest

    TAMPA

    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....

    The Gossard family of Utah plans to welcome eight Tampa children for a visit 17 years after three half siblings were adopted. 
  14. FBI 'brainwashed' Pinellas man in terrorism case, brother says

    Criminal

    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....

    Sami Osmakac plotted to use weapons of mass destruction.
  15. Jury finds Sami Osmakac guilty of terrorism

    Criminal

    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....

    In an FBI video, Sami Osmakac checks out an AK-47 while wearing a suicide vest. He didn’t know how to use most of the arsenal he bought.