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Laura C. Morel, Times Staff Writer

Laura C. Morel

Laura covers law enforcement and courts in Pinellas County. She joined the Tampa Bay Times in May 2012.

Born and raised in Miami, she speaks Spanish and holds degrees from Miami Dade College and Emerson College in Boston.

Phone: (727) 893-8232

Email: lmorel@tampabay.com

Twitter: @LauraCMorel

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  1. Prosecutors decline charges in two recent Pinellas road rage confrontations

    Crime

    Prosecutors declined to pursue charges in two recent road rage confrontations, one of which ended in a fatal shooting.

    In both cases, the defendants were protected under the "stand your ground" law, said Pinellas-Pasco Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett. The state law allows citizens to defend themselves without retreating if they are in fear for their lives.

    But the father of Scott Franklin, a 41-year-old man shot dead in April by a passenger in another car, said his family has hired a lawyer and a private investigator to review the state attorney's investigation....

    DiPina
  2. Police blotter: Man accused of driving to Largo City Hall in stolen truck

    Crime

    LARGO — Arendale Cullin walked into Largo City Hall on Sept. 16 and approached the front desk. A receptionist pointed out that he couldn't park his truck near the entrance.

    "Well, go ahead and call the police," Cullin told the receptionist, according to an arrest report.

    Officers determined the 2016 Dodge Ram was listed as stolen out of Tampa International Airport. Cullin, 36, appeared intoxicated and gave police a fake name, his arrest report says....

  3. Police officer describes filth and smell as trial for animal rescuers charged with cruelty begins

    Criminal

    One by one, Assistant State Attorney Scott Kalish displayed the photos in the courtroom.

    Some showed dogs, their ribs protruding, sitting in cramped and dirty cages. Others showed cats sleeping in litter boxes, their crates covered in feces.

    "Squalor and neglect," he told the jury. "Those two words sum up this case."

    The trial of two women accused of keeping dozens of animals, from dogs to raccoons, in fetid conditions inside a St. Petersburg bungalow as part of the animal rescue nonprofit All Creatures Great and Small Wildlife began Wednesday....

    Veronica Faulseit
  4. Convicted murderer confesses to 1987 Polk County stabbing, says Leo Schofield is innocent

    Criminal

    On the day of his sentencing in 1989, Leo Schofield pleaded with jurors for mercy. He didn't kill his wife, he told them. "I'm telling you, you're making a mistake. I can prove it to you," he said.

    Schofield was sentenced to life in prison.

    But nearly 28 years later, another man has now confessed to stabbing Michelle Saum Schofield, according to a motion filed Monday in Polk Circuit Court....

    Jeremy Lynn Scott, whose fingerprints were found in Michelle Schofield’s car, says he killed her.
  5. Florida leads the nation in the number of prisoners released by Obama

    Criminal

    Fulton Washington was doing pullups in the recreation yard of California's Lompoc federal prison when the loudspeaker blared: "Inmate 08204-112, report to the guard shack."

    Washington, 61, reluctantly let go of the metal bar. The last time he was called to the shack, his mother had died. Did something happen to one of his kids?

    He walked into the room of correctional officers, where a speakerphone sat on the table. The call was for Washington....

    Tampa law partners Katherine Yanes, left, and James Felman are part of the Clemency Project.
  6. Driver who fatally struck skateboarder last year sentenced to 10 years in prison

    Criminal

    A 23-year-old man who pleaded guilty to fatally striking a skateboarder last year in Madeira Beach was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Friday.

    On May 8, 2015, Sterling Hubbard was driving a Dodge Ram when he left his job at Papa John's about 9:30 p.m. He went to a Taco Bell and later to a bar, where he had two beers and a shot, said Assistant State Attorney Benjamin Kanoski.

    After leaving the bar, Hubbard headed north on Gulf Boulevard, near 129th Avenue, at 1:42 a.m. when he struck Emma Keown, who was skateboarding north on the road. Hubbard kept driving....

    Hubbard
  7. Tampa Bay's poor begin to share in economic recovery, survey shows

    News

    Two years ago, Lorraine Major was making about $9,000 a year as a school cafeteria worker.

    Determined to raise her family's standard of living, the single mother of three got counseling and a small stipend to search for a new job. After a year as a co-teacher, she landed a job as a site director for the YMCA of St. Petersburg. Now she earns $32,000 a year, well above the poverty line.

    "Things are going really well," said Major, 36. "I think me and a couple of other young ladies influenced some people. They saw that we were African-American women, single mothers, and if we could do it, they could, too."...

  8. Lawyer accused of bringing gun to Pinellas courthouse brought a marijuana pipe to a Pasco courthouse in 2002

    Crime

    James Franklin Lowy, a lawyer accused of bringing a loaded gun to the Pinellas County justice center, told deputies he forgot to leave the weapon in his car.

    "He was asked if he had any intention to hurt anybody or hurt himself and he denied that," Pinellas Sheriff's Office spokesman Sgt. Spencer Gross said Friday. "He said it was an accident."

    Lowy, 49, arrived at the justice center at 14250 49th St. N about 9 a.m. Thursday for a Florida Bar hearing. He had been suspended indefinitely last September for misappropriation of funds....

    Lowy
  9. Honest panhandling sign in St. Petersburg lands man in jail

    News

    ST. PETERSBURG

    Honest panhandling sign lands man in jail

    Randy Lee Holcomb stood at the intersection of 53rd Avenue N and Fourth Street, according to an arrest report, holding a piece of cardboard that read: "Need $ for Weed."

    But as police officers arrived, Holcomb, 34, tried to conceal his sign. Identified as transient in his arrest report, he told police he didn't have a vending permit....

  10. Kathleen Steele, charged in baby's death, allowed to remove ankle monitor

    Criminal

    Kathleen Steele, the mother of a 6-year-old boy who authorities say fatally beat his newborn sister in a locked minivan, will have her ankle monitor removed but is still not allowed to see her two sons.

    After her Aug. 11 arrest on a charge of aggravated manslaughter of a child, Steele, 62, was ordered to wear a GPS monitor upon her release from the Pinellas County Jail on $100,000 bail.

    In a court hearing Friday, her attorney, Kym Rivellini, told Pinellas Circuit Judge Michael Andrews that the monitor is excessive, considering that Steele has been a Florida resident since 1972. At a recent trip to Sam's Club, the monitor started beeping for no apparent reason, she added, and the device is also causing Steele skin irritation....

    Steele
  11. Pinellas Sheriff's Office investigating death of Oldsmar man under protective custody

    Public Safety

    OLDSMAR — Pinellas sheriff's detectives are investigating the death of an Oldsmar man who was under protective custody when he became unresponsive as deputies Tasered and handcuffed him.

    On Wednesday about 5:15 a.m., deputies were called to 1739 Split Fork Drive after Julie Degraw reported that her husband, Donald Degraw, was in bed "screaming and grunting for no apparent reason," the Sheriff's Office said....

    Donald De?graw of Oldsmar was 
taking medi?cation for 
post-trau?matic stress disorder.
  12. Drunken driver who killed 3 in 2014 Christmas Eve crash gets 23 years

    Criminal

    LARGO — Matthew Martins wishes he could only remember the happy moments of Christmas Eve 2014: the family dinner, the kisses and hugs as they said goodbye, his mother and grandparents getting into a car.

    But those memories are overshadowed by images of the mangled Hyundai Sonata, the deployed airbags, the smell of burned metal, the blood as Martins opened a car door to reach his dying family....

    Arminda Martins, 82, and her husband, Joao, 84, died in the crash on Christmas Eve 2104. They had been married 63 years.
  13. Voters poised to elect Komninos to the Pinellas bench, second judicial race unclear

    Elections

    One of the races for Pinellas County judge on Tuesday was a blowout; the other was a squeaker.

    In the Group 8 race, Dora Komninos easily won her race for Pinellas County judge, out distancing civil litigation lawyer Curtis Korsko by more than 40 percentage points.

    In Group 9, Myriam Irizarry beat State Rep. Dwight Dudley by less than 1 percentage point, according to unofficial vote counts when the Tampa Bay Times went to press Tuesday night....

    Dora Komninos
  14. New trial denied, murder resentencing hearing in Clearwater stabbing continues

    Criminal

    LARGO — For the second time, Renee Langfritz sat through the sentencing of the troubled teenager convicted of randomly stabbing her only child to death.

    Jason Paul, 22, wanted to be a veterinary technician, his mother told the court Tuesday. But on the night of Jan. 5, 2013, after his work shift at an electronics store, Paul was stabbed 25 times by a 15-year-old he had never met.

    "The day we found out Jason had been killed was pretty much a death sentence for our family," Langfritz told the court....

    Mychal King
  15. New sentencing for teen convicted in Clearwater man's fatal stabbing may turn into plea change

    Criminal

    Mychal King was 15 when authorities say he fatally stabbed a Clearwater bicyclist in 2013. Sentenced to life in prison, he is scheduled to be resentenced today under new state sentencing guidelines for juveniles convicted of murder that could lower his sentence to 40 years.

    But his assistant public defender wants the court to withdraw King's guilty plea. She argued in motions filed Thursday and Friday that audio recordings and transcripts of King's three interviews with police were not released to prosecutors or King's previous defense attorney....

    Mychal King received a life sentence for a fatal stabbing in Clearwater committed when he was 15.