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. Covington pleads guilty of triple murder after reinstating attorneys

    Criminal

    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 is brought into the courtroom 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.
  2. Covington fires lawyers, plans to plead guilty in Lutz triple-murder case

    Criminal

    TAMPA

    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....

    Keith and Barbara Freiberg, the parents of victim Lisa Freiberg, listen as Covington asks the court to let him represent himself. During Barbara’s testimony Thursday, Covington called her a liar and referred to her using an expletive.
  3. Lutz triple-murder trial opens with insanity defense, gory details

    Criminal

    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 audibly makes remarks heard in the courtroom while Barbara Freiberg, Lisa Freiberg's mother, was on the stand. He is talking in the direction of his attorney Michael Peacock.
  4. Hillsborough Circuit Court: Group 8

    Kyc

    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

    ...

    Thomas
  5. Hillsborough Circuit Court: Group 34

    Kyc

    Circuit Court | Group 34

    As the top two vote-getters in the primary, Robert Bauman and Melissa "Missy" Polo will face each other in this race for a rare open seat. Neither of them has ever run for office before. By Anna M. Phillips, Times staff writer

    Robert Bauman, 54Melissa "Missy" Polo, 45
    Experience Early in his career, Bauman spent three years as a public defender in Hillsborough County. Since 1991, he has worked for a private law firm specializing in civil litigation, particularly construction, real estate, foreclosure and bankruptcy law. He is also a certified mediator for the Florida Supreme Court. The local judicial nominating commission has previously nominated him to fill vacant judicial seats, most recently in January. After law school, Polo worked for four years as a prosecutor with the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office. She left her position in the felony drug division to join a private firm specializing in personal injury law, following that with a stint working in medical malpractice law at another firm. In 2009, she opened her own practice, focusing on personal injury claims and medical malpractice, as well as criminal and foreclosure defense.
    EducationHe earned an undergraduate degree from the University of South Florida and a law degree from the University of Dayton.She earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Florida and a law degree from Loyola University.
    Why are you seeking judicial office?"To give back to the community. Since fifth grade, I have wanted to be a judge. When I was recruited by USF for soccer, I fell in love with the Tampa Bay area and made it a mission to give back. I want to continue my mission of giving back to the community and public service at the next level as a circuit court judge in Hillsborough County.""I believe we have the greatest justice system in the world. However, I know it can be better and I believe I can help build a stronger court system through my background, experience, ability and character. I am passionate about the law and my hometown along with being committed to public service and the administration of law."
    Describe your community service work"I provide free legal services to family members when needed. I'm a speaker for Lorman Educational Services, National Business Institute and Hillsborough County Bar Association — all stipends earned are paid directly to Bay Area Legal Services.""I provide an average of 40 hours a year in pro bono legal services. I have participated in the Teen Court Program, Great American Teach-In and tutored underprivileged youth. I have mentored law students through the Hillsborough Association for Women Lawyers."
    How has your legal career prepared you for this job?"I have trial and litigation experience in numerous areas of law at various levels (appellate — federal and state; federal — all three Florida district courts and bankruptcy courts; state courts — county and circuit: criminal, civil, complex business litigation).""Advocating for justice has been my full-time focus for the past 18-plus years. My life's work has been in the courthouse working with judges, prosecutors, public defenders, peers, clerks, bailiffs and victims. My legal acumen coupled with my courthouse relationships and community involvement will enable me to run an organized, efficient, respectful and fair courtroom."
    Financial disclosureAssets: home, car, rental property, bonds. Liabilities: mortgage, car loan, personal loan.Assets: home, retirement savings....

    Polo
  6. Florida Supreme Court rules in favor of Debra Lafave

    Criminal

    TAMPA — Debra Lafave, a former Greco Middle School teacher who made national headlines for having sex with a 14-year-old male student in 2004, has won her appeal to end her probation early.

    In a decision handed down on Thursday, the Florida Supreme Court overturned an appellate court ruling from last year that reinstated Lafave's sex offender probation. Without taking up the question of whether Lafave deserved to remain on probation, the justices concluded that the 2nd District Court of Appeal lacked jurisdiction to review the case, and reversed its order....

    Debra Lafave appears in a Tampa courtroom for a December hearing on her motion to terminate her probation. [DANIEL WALLACE   |   Times (2013)]
  7. Sharyn Hakken recalls husband's threats that she says led to kidnapping

    Criminal

    TAMPA — A day after she was sentenced to prison for helping kidnap her children and sailing to Cuba, Sharyn Hakken said she went along with her husband's scheme for fear he would kill her parents as he had repeatedly threatened.

    She was to stab her father while he was tinkering with his record collection in the garage, she said her husband, Joshua Hakken, instructed her. He would take care of her mother....

    A state security officer instructs journalists to stop taking pictures of Joshua Hakken’s sailboat, Salty, docked at the Hemingway Marina in Havana in April 2013. Hakken decided not to murder his wife Sharyn’s parents after she agreed to sail with him to Cuba, she said. She believes his paranoia has influenced her own thinking.
  8. Joshua Hakken gets maximum 15-year sentence after bizarre rant; wife gets seven years (w/video)

    Criminal

    TAMPA — A South Tampa man whose antigovernment paranoia led him and his wife to kidnap their two sons and sail to Cuba told a judge Thursday that he is a prophet, sent to unite people of all faiths and warn them of the coming end of days.

    It seemed Joshua Hakken, 36, had been waiting all his life for the right audience. Before a judge sentenced him to 15 years in prison, the maximum under a plea agreement, Hakken stood and delivered a 30-minute speech drawing on Greek mythology, the Abrahamic religions and the latest headlines....

    Joshua and Sharyn Hakken, both 36, admitted kidnapping their sons, then ages 2 and 4, and taking them and the family dog to Cuba in 2013.
  9. Judge: Lutz triple murder defendant did not have rights violated

    Criminal

    TAMPA — Jurors in the upcoming trial of former prison guard Edward Covington will be allowed to hear his confession to murdering his girlfriend and her two children in 2008, Hillsborough Circuit Court Judge William Fuente ruled on Wednesday.

    Despite the protests of Covington's attorneys, who said he was denied access to a lawyer for two full days after he was taken into custody, Fuente found that sheriff's deputies had not violated Covington's rights. Rather, the judge wrote, there was no evidence that Covington, or any of his family members, had ever asked for a lawyer. And although lawyers from the Hillsborough County Public Defender's Office tried to visit him in the hospital, the sheriff's deputies guarding his room had no legal obligation to let them in....

    Edward Covington is accused of a 2008 triple murder.
  10. Advocates: Court ruling makes Florida same-sex marriage inevitable

    Courts

    The U.S. Supreme Court's unexpected decision Monday to step aside and permit same-sex marriage in five states may not have an immediate impact on Florida, advocates said, but could hasten the state's path to sanctioning gay unions.

    The word on many advocates' lips was "inevitable."

    "We said that marriage equality is coming to Florida. After today's message from the nation's highest court, we know that it is coming even sooner," said Daniel Tilley, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida....

    From left, Kody Partridge and her wife, Laurie Wood; and Derek Kitchen and his partner Moudi Sbeity, four of the six people who brought the lawsuit against Utah's gay marriage ban, embrace during a news conference Monday in Salt Lake City. [AP photo]
  11. Claims of bias in child porn cases arise for Hillsborough Judge Chet Tharpe

    Courts

    TAMPA — One day in September 2012, lawyer Michael Maddux walked out of a Hillsborough courtroom in shock. He couldn't believe what had just happened to his client, a middle-aged man with no criminal record who, prosecutors said, obsessively downloaded and categorized more child pornography than anyone else they had ever come across.

    Peter Barnhill, 44, had more than 400,000 ghastly images on his hard drive. But there was no evidence he had ever touched a child, and he had passed a polygraph exam attesting to that. A psychologist who specializes in examining sex offenders pronounced him "low risk." Maddux thought his client might get, at most, five years in prison. Hillsborough Circuit Court Judge Chet A. Tharpe gave him 22....

    "Even to the most casual observer, it could not be believed that (Peter) Barnhill received a hearing in a dispassionate environment before a fair and impartial judge," Florida's 2nd District Court of Appeal wrote.
  12. Sharyn, Joshua Hakken take plea deals for kidnapping their children, fleeing to Cuba

    Criminal

    TAMPA — A husband and wife who sailed to Cuba last year in a desperate quest for political asylum pleaded guilty on Tuesday to charges that could send them to prison for a decade or more.

    After weeks of negotiation, Sharyn and Joshua Hakken accepted plea deals that will spare them federal charges. In exchange, they admitted kidnapping their young sons, then ages two and four, and taking them and the family dog on a 300-mile voyage from Madeira Beach to Havana. The couple set sail not long after losing custody of their children following a drug arrest in Louisiana....

    Sharyn Hakken was a pawn in her husband’s plan to abscond to Cuba, her attorney says.
  13. Attorney appeals Hillsborough judge's order protecting a fellow jurist from questioning

    Criminal

    TAMPA — For more than two decades, Hillsborough Circuit Court Judge Chet Tharpe has listened to testimony from some of the area's most hardened criminals. But a recent effort to require him to answer questions under oath about his role in an attempted murder case is not going as smoothly as his daily courtroom proceedings.

    On Friday, a month after a judge rejected his demand to question Tharpe, Tampa lawyer Mark O'Brien said he has petitioned Florida's 2nd District Court of Appeal to reverse the decision. If he is successful, Tharpe could be forced to reveal the details of his out-of-court communications regarding the case....

    Hillsborough Circuit Judge Chet Tharpe revoked a suspect’s bail.
  14. Defendant's foggy memory of Lutz triple murder complicates possible plea

    Criminal

    TAMPA — Edward Covington, the Lutz man charged with a triple murder that law enforcement officials said was among the most horrifying crimes they had ever seen, says he wants to "take responsibility" and plead guilty to the killings.

    Naturally, his attorneys have advised against that.

    But regardless of whether he admits guilt, Covington's recent pronouncements, recorded last month in a phone conversation with his mother from jail, could complicate his already messy case. Prosecutors are hoping to use the recording against him in his upcoming trial, which is scheduled to begin next month, arguing that it constitutes an admission of guilt. Meanwhile, attorneys for Covington are trying to get their client's words excluded on the grounds that plea negotiations are not admissible....

    Edward Covington, 41, is charged with murdering and dismembering his girlfriend and her two young children in 2008.
  15. Kidnapping suspect Sharyn Hakken may take plea deal

    Criminal

    TAMPA — Sharyn Hakken's remarkable journey from college-educated engineer to misguided asylum seeker to accused kidnapper could end in a plea deal, her attorney said Thursday.

    Hakken and her husband, Joshua, made headlines around the world last year when they fled from Madeira Beach to Cuba on a small sailboat with their two young sons and the family dog. Roughly 300 miles from home, they were caught by U.S. authorities outside Havana and brought back to Florida, where they were charged with kidnapping and other offenses. Their sons were returned to the custody of their grandparents in North Tampa....

    Sharyn Hakken and her husband are accused of kidnapping their sons and fleeing to Cuba.