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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

Email: ckrueger@tampabay.com

Twitter: @CKruegerTimes

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  1. Jury will consider death penalty after finding Largo man guilty of murdering 2-year-old

    Criminal

    LARGO — A jury on Thursday convicted a Largo man of first-degree murder in the death of his girlfriend's 2-year-old child.

    Next week Joel Adrian Cruz will begin a second phase of his trial, as a jury considers whether to recommend the death penalty.

    The girl, Ananhie Fernandez, was beaten repeatedly in Largo in May 2013. When her mother discovered the girl's condition, she asked Cruz to rush her to the hospital. But Cruz balked, making excuses, and finally asking if she was going to "snitch" on him, the girl's mother said during the trial....

  2. Pinellas man facing death penalty in killing of 2-year-old girl

    Criminal

    LARGO — When Karina Mora saw that her 2-year-old daughter had somehow gotten seriously injured, she knew she had to act fast. She asked her boyfriend to drive her to All Children's Hospital.

    But for some reason, Joel Adrian Cruz did not show the same urgency, Mora said in court on Wednesday. Cruz didn't want to drive to the hospital. Then he got in his van with Mora and the girl, but turned toward a different hospital. Then he stopped at a gas station, because he said the engine was overheating....

    Joel Adrian Cruz is accused of beating his girlfriend’s daughter to death in May 2013.
  3. What's up with Charlie Crist? Jury duty

    Blog

    Former Gov. Charlie Crist showed up at the Pinellas County Justice Center on Wednesday morning for an official purpose: jury duty.

    He was in a jury assembly room with dozens of other prospective jurors. It was too early to know if he would be selected to hear a case.

    There were no especially high-profile trials on schedule for Wednesday at the 49th Street courthouse where criminal trials are held. The murder trial of Joel Adrian Cruz was underway, but that jury had been selected the day before....

  4. Charlie Crist at Pinellas courthouse for jury duty

    Politics

    LARGO — Former Gov. Charlie Crist showed up at the Pinellas County Justice Center on Wednesday morning for an official purpose: jury duty.

    He was in a jury assembly room with dozens of other prospective jurors. It was too early to know if he would be selected to hear a case.

    There were no especially high-profile trials on schedule for Wednesday at the 49th Street courthouse where criminal trials are held. The murder trial of Joel Adrian Cruz was underway, but that jury had been selected the day before....

  5. Teenager pleads guilty to random murder of passerby in Clearwater

    Criminal

    LARGO — In a surprise move, a teenager pleaded guilty on Tuesday to brutally and inexplicably killing a young man passing by on a bicycle.

    Mychal King, who is 17 years old now and was 15 at the time of the crime, admitted in court that he killed Jason Paul, 22, stabbing him repeatedly in January 2013.

    "I was shocked," said Paul's mother Renee Langfritz, who attended the Tuesday morning court hearing but had no idea King intended to plead guilty....

  6. Violent offender unit arrests 30 in Pinellas

    Public Safety

    30 felony arrests in south Pinellas

    Pinellas Sheriff's deputies and other law enforcement agencies arrested 30 people in southern Pinellas county on Thursday, in an effort to get violent suspects off the streets.

    "Operation Street Sweep" went for 12 hours, targeting 401 people with outstanding felony warrants.

    The people who were arrested had warrants for crimes that included aggravated battery, drug trafficking, drug possession, lewd and lascivious conduct, armed burglary and domestic battery by strangulation....

  7. USF St. Pete, Rowdies partner to upgrade campus recreational field

    College

    ST. PETERSBURG — The University of South Florida St. Petersburg and the Tampa Bay Rowdies are collaborating to transform a recreational soccer field on the downtown campus into a professional-grade playing space.

    The half-block field is on Third Street, between Fifth and Sixth avenues S, across the street from the university bookstore. For years, it has served as a casual green space where students play intramural soccer, flag football and pick-up Frisbee....

    An intramural sports field at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg is getting an upgrade to become the Tampa Bay Rowdies’ practice field. It’s a collaboration between the university and the soccer team that will transform the rec field into a professional-grade playing space. The grassy space is located at Third Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues S, across the street from the university bookstore.
  8. Prosecutors get indictment, will seek death penalty in Tarpon Springs officer murder

    Criminal

    Officer's killer now charged with murder

    Marco Antonio Parilla Jr. was indicted by a grand jury on Friday in the killing of Tarpon Springs police Officer Charles Kondek last month.

    The indictment means Parilla is formally charged with first-degree murder. Pinellas-Pasco Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett said it was an important step forward in prosecuting a crime that never should have happened....

    Parilla
  9. Eckerd College students found girl, 5, who was dropped off bridge by father

    Crime

    ST. PETERSBURG — From the moment that four Eckerd College students and a staff member piloted a 26-foot boat into Tampa Bay early Thursday, the team had one focus: Rescue the girl.

    Shortly after midnight, the call came from Pinellas County 911 dispatch that help was needed for a water rescue. The trained student volunteers were contacted, so they could meet at a dock in the middle of the night....

    This is the Dick Misener Bridge, from the west side looking at southbound traffic as it approaches the Sunshine Skyway. Police say John Jonchuck 

dropped his 5-year-old daughter Phoebe off the bridge early Thursday. Her body was later recovered by the Eckerd College search and rescue team.  [JOHN PENDYGRAFT  |  Times]
  10. Police: Girl, 5, dead after father drops her from Sunshine Skyway approach

    Crime

    ST. PETERSBURG — John Jonchuck Jr. cradled his 5-year-old daughter, pressing her face to his chest, and walked to the edge of the bridge.

    He leaned over the railing, Tampa Bay looming 62 feet below early on a cold and windy Thursday morning.

    A police officer, gun drawn, yelled at him to stop.

    But Jonchuck let go, authorities said.

    The officer heard a scream and then a splash, the girl's body quickly disappearing into the dark moonlit waters....

    Memorial for 5-year-old Phoebe Jonchuck.
  11. Same-sex weddings continue Wednesday, but at a slower pace

    Human Interest

    County clerks continued issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples Wednesday, but without quite as many jubilant newlyweds as the historic day before.

    In Pinellas County clerk's offices, officials issued 33 marriage licenses to same-sex couples and performed 14 ceremonies Wednesday, compared with 67 licenses and 24 ceremonies the day before.

    They also were feeling pleased that things had gone so smoothly Tuesday, the first day same-sex marriages were allowed statewide....

    Erin Bell and her partner, Andrea DeFelippo, both of St. Petersburg, were the first gay couple to be married in Pinellas County on Tuesday at the Pinellas County Courthouse in St. Petersburg. Both exchanged rings and kisses after the ceremony. 
  12. Same-sex couples around Tampa Bay line up to get married and make history

    Courts

    TAMPA — Before she presided over a mass wedding ceremony Tuesday, Hillsborough Clerk of Court Pat Frank asked the dozens of gay couples how many years they had waited for the moment.

    "Ten!'

    "Twenty-six!''

    "Forty-three!''

    "Forty three!" said Frank. "Well, you have waited a long time."

    No longer. At that park in Tampa and across Florida, wedding bells rang for same-sex couples, the result of a successful court challenge to the state's 2008 ban on gay marriages....

    After 9 years together, Kelly Melton-Levine, left, places a ring on Rachel Melton’s hand as they are married by a friend outside the Pasco County Clerk and Comptroller’s Office at the New Port Richey Government Center on Tuesday.
  13. 75 years for man who shot toward St. Petersburg officers, mother and child

    Criminal

    ST. PETERSBURG — For firing a gun toward police officers and a woman in her car with her 6-year-old daughter, a 30-year-old man was sentenced on Tuesday to 75 years in prison.

    A jury found Jeffrey Casteel guilty of three counts of aggravated assault, one count of shooting into an occupied vehicle and one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm. He originally was charged with two counts of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, but those charges were reduced....

    Jeffrey Casteel [Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]
  14. Man accused of shooting at St. Petersburg officers goes on trial

    Criminal

    LARGO — Police and gunfire dominated the national news for much of 2014, but long before all that, two St. Petersburg officers arrived for a routine call at a St. Petersburg gas station .

    Within seconds, six gunshots rang out.

    The officers ducked in their cruisers for cover, and were not hurt.

    But the chilling story told in court on Monday was a reminder of the dangers police officers face every day, all across the country. ...

    Jeffrey Casteel is accused of firing six shots at two officers responding to a 911 call.
  15. Judge throws out evidence in which officer claims to smell marijuana

    Criminal

    LARGO — A judge has thrown out the evidence in a drug possession case, saying there was insufficient proof a Largo police officer actually smelled the odor of marijuana he said was coming from a car.

    It's the second time in a year that a judge has questioned a search in a drug case handled by Officer Michael Vegenski, and both cases involved the purported odor of marijuana.

    In the newest case, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Timothy Peters granted a motion filed by Jordan Tawil, attorney for defendant John Craig Wallace, 24. The motion essentially asked Peters to throw out the evidence....