TAMPA — The names of those who signed the letter read like a who's who of the local religious community, with Catholics, Jews and various Protestant denominations represented.
There was James Favorite, the pastor of Beulah Baptist International Church. There was Betsy Torop of Congregation Beth Shalom in Brandon. There was Bishop Robert Lynch of the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg....
10/14/16 State Roundup
The state Supreme Court on Friday tossed out the way death sentences are imposed in Florida, forcing the Legislature to rewrite the law to require a unanimous jury decision.
"We conclude that the Sixth Amendment right to a trial by jury mandates that under Florida's capital sentencing scheme, the jury—not the judge— must be the finder of every fact, and thus every element, necessary for the imposition of the death penalty,'' the court wrote in a 5-2 ruling, with Justices Charles Canady and Ricky Polston dissenting. ...
TAMPA — Father Paul Scalia donned the red cassock as he marched down the aisle behind the line of judges who wore their black robes. In the sanctuary, they declared allegiance to truth, and pledged fairness, integrity and civility. They received Communion. As Scalia raised the chalice, the glow from a setting sun shone through stained glass above the altar.
Scalia, a visiting priest from the Diocese of Arlington, Va., who is the son of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, was a guest of honor Thursday night as he conducted the annual Red Mass for lawyers and judges and legal professionals at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Tampa. ...
Prosecutors defend death penalty practices in wake of Harvard report that singled out Hillsborough, Pinellas10/12/16Criminal
The state attorneys in two Tampa Bay area counties disputed criticisms in a Harvard University study Wednesday that called both "outliers" in their use of the death penalty.
Hillsborough State Attorney Mark Ober issued a lengthy statement defending his record and seeking to discredit the Fair Punishment Project, the Harvard Law School group that produced the study.
"The group releasing this report opposes the death penalty, and its report is nothing more than a position paper to support its cause," Ober said. "It makes no attempt to be fair and balanced."...
Mark Ober faces his first reelection challenge in more than a decade. Ober, in office for 15 years, is a fixture of the local political and legal community. Andrew Warren, a former prosecutor with the U.S. Department of Justice, has vowed to pursue progressive reforms to criminal justice in Hillsborough.
About the job: The State Attorney for the 13th Judicial Circuit is responsible for prosecuting all felony and misdemeanor crimes in Hillsborough County. The office has a staff of 308, including 135 lawyers, and a budget of $26 million. The State Attorney serves a four-year term and is paid an annual salary of $154,140....
Hillsborough and Pinellas counties are "outliers" in their use of the death penalty, a result of overzealous prosecutors, a lack of regard for defendants with mental and intellectual problems, and racial disparities, a Harvard University study says.
A report by the school's Fair Punishment Project places the two counties among 16 in the nation where five or more defendants received death sentences between 2010 and 2015. Two other Florida counties — Duval and Miami-Dade — also made the list....
TAMPA — The man was in his 40s; the girl, in her teens. He told her to relax that night in 2010.
"I'll take care of you," he said, according to a sheriff's report, "if you take care of me."
When it was over, she reported a rape.
In the beginning, detectives had much of what they needed to send a rapist to prison. They had the victim's cooperation. They had DNA evidence secured in a rape kit. They even had the name of a possible suspect....
TAMPA — A federal jury has found a Tampa woman guilty of helping orchestrate a multimillion-dollar Medicare fraud scheme.
Pilar Garcia Lorenzo, 38, collected millions of dollars through the submission of false and fraudulent Medicare claims when she ran Gold Care Home Health Services on Busch Boulevard in Tampa. The company's stated purpose was to provide home health care services to Medicare beneficiaries....
Man formally charged in woman's death
After Alica Fussell was shot to death in July, it didn't take long for police to name a person of interest in her killing. Antwoine Noland had been accused in January of shooting Fussell. He was supposed to go on trial for that crime the day after Fussell was killed. He failed to show up and was later arrested in the company of a 17-year-old girl. He has sat in jail on charges of failure to appear and unlawful sex with a minor. On Wednesday, authorities added a murder charge. Noland, 44, is formally accused of killing Fussell, 44. He also faces charges of tampering with a witness and retaliation against a witness. Fussell was shot July 19 outside City Liquors, at 9403 N Nebraska Ave. They found him July 26 with the 17-year-old at Tampa Stadium Hotel. Noland is a documented member of the Bloods street gang, an arrest report says, and has served five stints in state prison....
TAMPA — The man known as "Moon Lake Mike" — who was found surrounded by drugs, cash, and white supremacist decor when authorities raided his home last year — was found guilty Wednesday of possessing a firearm as a convicted felon.
A federal jury convicted Michael Carroll Wilson of the crime. He faces a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison and a possible life sentence.
Several people testified at Wilson's trial that he carried a .45 caliber firearm with him while selling methamphetamine to people in the New Port Richey area, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida. A Pasco County Sheriff's SWAT team found the loaded weapon when they raided the home Dec. 11, 2015....
Andrew Warren wants Hillsborough County to charge fewer juveniles as adults.
On Tuesday, the Democratic candidate for state attorney issued a news release proposing the increased use of specialized juvenile courts, school discipline initiatives, and other programs that operate outside the criminal justice system as a way of managing juvenile crime.
The release cited studies that have found that charging juveniles as adults - a practice referred to as "juvenile direct filing" - does not reduce crime. It also points specifically to a 2014 study by Human Rights Watch, which found Hillsborough County has one of the highest rates of direct filing in Florida, and leads the state in the number of juveniles sent to adult prisons. The same study detailed racial disparities among juveniles who are charged as adults....
Cambridge Christian School files federal lawsuit against state athletic association over denial of pregame prayer09/27/16Civil
TAMPA — The team had prayed before every football game. As players took to the field in Orlando for a shot at the championship, they prayed once more, this time with opponents.
But when they spoke, few could hear them.
Days before the Dec. 4 game, the Florida High School Athletic Association had told Cambridge Christian School its athletes could not use the loudspeaker at Camping World Stadium to broadcast their prayer to fans and spectators....
WINTER HAVEN — A Tampa man who held himself to be an expert in computer forensics, and who testified in five recent Central Florida legal proceedings, has no such expertise, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said Thursday.
In fact, Judd said, the resume of Chester Kwitowski, 57, is full of fictions, from his educational background and professional certifications to military service and time spent working on sensitive government projects....
09/20/16 Public Safety
CLAIR-MEL — Late one night the year before he died, Levonia Riggins stormed into his family's Clair-Mel home in a panic.
He told his parents and two other people to turn off all the lights and lie on the floor.
"They coming to shoot up the house," he said.
The family lay in the dark for 15 minutes before Riggins' adoptive mother, Jessie Williams, phoned authorities. Minutes later, as a Hillsborough County sheriff's deputy pulled up to the quiet residential street, Riggins stepped out and hustled around the north side of the house. It was there, and in the back yard, that the deputy later found a pair of handguns....
TAMPA — Ousting an incumbent politician is never easy. They have the name recognition, and usually the money, to overwhelm most opponents.
That's certainly been the case for Hillsborough state attorney Mark Ober, who has sailed to re-election three times with little or no opposition.
But this is no ordinary election year. And Andrew Warren, a former federal prosecutor, is putting up a considerable fight in his bid to replace Ober as Hillsborough's top law enforcement official....