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Curtis Krueger, Times Staff Writer

Curtis Krueger

Curtis Krueger is the Pinellas courts reporter for the Tampa Bay Times, and has written for the Times since 1987. He also covers a variety of other issues, including space and science.

Phone: (727) 893-8232


Twitter: @CKruegerTimes

  1. Prosecutors will not pursue molestation accusation against Dunedin lawyer


    TAMPA — Nine months after prominent Dunedin lawyer Robert Tankel was arrested and accused of lewd and lascivious molestation of a child, the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office has decided not to pursue the allegation.

    Tankel, 58, thanked God, his family and his defense at a news conference Thursday in Tampa.

    "Lesser people would have seen what was in the paper and drawn conclusions that were inappropriate," he told reporters. "I'm just thankful that, unlike a lot of people falsely accused by law enforcement, I had the ability to defend myself." ...

    Prosecutors have decided not to pursue claims of child molestation against Robert Tankel.
  2. Clearwater woman says negligence led to four amputations


    CLEARWATER — A Clearwater woman says in a lawsuit that a medical clinic's negligence is the reason both her arms and both her legs were partially amputated.

    "The bottom line is this is somebody who was walking around living a normal life and now has no arms below the elbows and legs below the knees," said the woman's attorney, Will Lazenby.

    Kim A. Aldrich went in January 2014 to the MedExpress Urgent Care clinic at 26813 U.S. 19 with a fever, a persistent cough and other symptoms, according to the lawsuit. She was told she had acute bronchitis....

  3. He prosecuted the wrong man for 1986 Pinellas murder, then the right one


    LARGO — The prosecutor who once tried to send the wrong man to prison walked out of a courtroom Thursday. And the wrong man walked up to greet him.

    "Thank you Mr. Ripplinger, for all your help," said Tom Franklin Sawyer, in a surprisingly cordial tone to a man who had wanted to convict him of murder. "And no hard feelings."

    Just as politely, Assistant State Attorney Richard Ripplinger said, "I'm sorry for what you went through."...

    Prosecutor Richard Ripplinger says he’s glad the legal system worked.
  4. For burning girlfriend alive, Pinellas man sentenced to life in prison


    LARGO — For burning his girlfriend alive, a man has been convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

    A jury on Friday found Jeffrey Robert Grant guilty of first-degree murder in the October 2010 death of his girlfriend, Jennifer Guthrie.

    Prosecutors said he had doused her with gasoline and set her on fire. The killing took place behind a bank branch at 14147 Walsingham Road, Largo, near where the couple had been sleeping periodically. They were homeless at the time....

  5. One man pleads guilty to 1986 murder; another feels vindication


    Tom Sawyer breathed easy on Thursday for the first time in nearly 30 years.

    He was in the front row of a Pinellas County courtroom when an Alabama man pleaded guilty to the 1986 murder of Janet Staschak, a woman whom Sawyer was once erroneously accused of killing.

    Sawyer silently pumped his fists, chest high, after Stephen Manning Lamont, 58, admitted to murdering Staschak and was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for at least 25 years....

    Tom Franklin Sawyer expresses relief on Thursday in a Pinellas courtroom after hearing another man plead guilty to the murder of Janet Staschak in 1986.
  6. Tom Sawyer, once wrongfully accused of murder, hopes to see a killer's guilty plea


    Tom Franklin Sawyer was wrongfully accused of a Clearwater murder nearly 30 years ago, and even confessed during an intense 16-hour interrogation that was later thrown out by the courts.

    Now Sawyer is so eager to walk into a Pinellas courtroom that on Tuesday he flew from Illinois to Tampa just to do so. The reason: He has heard the real killer may plead guilty.

    He said if that happens as scheduled on Thursday, "I'll just be elated, I'll just be happy. I'll just be free."...

    Police say Stephen Manning Lamont of Alabama has confessed to killing Staschak.
  7. Trial begins for man accused of burning, killing girlfriend in Largo


    LARGO — What do you do when you love somebody, but you want to kill them?

    That's the disturbing question Assistant State Attorney Christopher Ballard put to a jury Tuesday morning, but it's not as if he was expecting an answer. He said he was quoting Jeffrey Robert Grant, who made the comment one day before Grant's girlfriend, Jennifer Guthrie, was doused with gasoline behind a Largo bank and set on fire....

    Jeffrey Robert Grant is accused of setting fire to his girlfriend, killing her, in October 2010 in Largo.
  8. Clearwater man gets life in prison for killing mother


    A Clearwater man pleaded guilty to murdering his mother and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

    The guilty plea means Matthew Lohoski avoids a possible death sentence, which prosecutors had announced they were seeking after he killed his mother, Deborah, 59. He entered the plea last month.

    Lohoski, now 35, killed her in February 2014 in the family's back yard at 1709 El Trinidad Drive E off State Road 590, east of U.S. 19....

  9. Teenager Mychal King sentenced to life in prison for random killing


    LARGO — A teenager was sentenced to life in prison on Tuesday for randomly stabbing and killing a stranger passing by on a bicycle

    Mychal King hung his head and shook it when the judge asked if he wanted to say anything in the crowded courtroom. His mother made an attempt to stand up for her son, saying he was "not a bad kid," but had gone through a rough time of near-homelessness. "We all do stupid things," she added....

    Mychal King, 17,  is fingerprinted after being sentenced to life in prison for the murder of 22-year-old Jason Paul. [CURTIS KRUEGER | Times]
  10. Outgoing chief judge: Spate of recent murders shows need for better mental health care


    The chief judge for Pinellas and Pasco counties says he can't remember a stretch with so many brutal murders.

    "It's incredible, it really is," said Judge Thomas McGrady. "I've never seen it like this. I mean, statistically crime is down. I think statistically murders are down, but you wouldn't know it in the last few months."

    In recent months, Pasco has seen a double-murder and a triple-murder, a Tarpon Springs officer was shot and killed, an Oldsmar woman was decapitated and a 5-year-old girl was thrown off a bridge to her death near the Sunshine Skyway bridge....

    “I’ve never seen it like this. I mean, statistically crime is down. I think statistically murders are down, but you wouldn’t know it in the last few months.” Thomas McGrady, the current chief judge of Pinellas and Pasco counties, will not run for a third term as chief judge.
  11. Pinellas man gets 30 years in crash that killed two of his friends


    LARGO — Diego Cavalieri admitted he is the one to blame for driving so recklessly around a curve on Indian Rocks Road in 2011 that he killed two of his friends and seriously injured two other people.

    Appearing in court Friday to hear his sentence, he said he is in a "living hell" because he knows "I was the one who was behind that wheel and took the lives of two great men."

    His attorney John Trevena asked for a 10-year sentence. His victims' family members asked for life in prison....

    Diego Cavalieri in court, Friday, February 27, 2015 at the Pinellas County Justice Center. Cavalieri, who was intoxicated when he drove a car recklessly and crashed on Christmas night 2011, killing two friends in his car and seriously injuring another friend, plus the driver of another car. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
  12. Judge seeks more information in case of Clearwater man who wants death penalty


    A four-day hearing concluded Friday for Craig Wall, a Clearwater man who previously pleaded guilty to murdering his girlfriend and no contest to murdering their infant child.

    But more legal work needs to be done before a judge decides whether to sentence Wall, 39, to death. Wall has said he wants to be executed.

    In most death penalty cases, a jury recommends whether to impose the death penalty and a judge decides later whether to order an execution. But in Wall's case, he entered his pleas, meaning he is legally guilty of killing his girlfriend Laura Taft and their infant son Craig Wall Jr. This week's hearing concerning the death penalty was conducted before Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Philip Federico, with Wall acting as his own attorney....

  13. Former Pinellas Park paramedic gets six months on drug charges


    A former Pinellas Park firefighter and paramedic pleaded guilty Thursday to multiple drug offenses and was sentenced to six months in jail and 18 months of drug offender probation.

    James A. Comer originally was charged with 17 felonies, including trafficking in hydrocodone.

    In his plea agreement, the trafficking charge was reduced to possession of hydrocodone, and he pleaded guilty to nine felony counts on various drug charges involving prescription medications. Comer also surrendered his paramedic license and must complete a drug treatment program, under the agreement....

  14. Pasco grand jury issues murder indictments in deaths of five people


    A grand jury in Pasco County returned indictments Thursday against an uncle accused of killing his mother and niece. The panel also indicted two people in an unrelated triple murder in Moon Lake.

    Jason Rios, 24, was indicted on two first-degree murder charges in the deaths of Angelo Rios, 55, and Jenica Randazzo, 9. He is accused of attacking them with a blunt weapon earlier this month in the family home in New Port Richey, and then barricading himself in a neighboring home. He also was indicted on one count of attempted murder....

  15. Jonchuck mentally incompetent to stand trial in death of daughter Phoebe off bridge


    LARGO — In a surprisingly brief hearing on Thursday, a judge found John Jonchuck mentally incompetent to stand trial in connection with the murder of his 5-year-old daughter, who was dropped from a 62-foot-high bridge into Tampa Bay on Jan. 8.

    The ruling means Jonchuck will be sent to a prison mental facility to receive treatment until he becomes capable of understanding the first-degree murder charge against him....

    Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Chris Helinger on Thursday found John Jonchuck mentally incompetent to stand trial in connection with the death of his 5-year-old daughter, who was dropped from a 62-foot-high bridge into Tampa Bay on Jan. 8.