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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


Twitter: @LauraCMorel

  1. Death penalty uncertainty surrounds Pinellas retrial of ex-Jabil executive in 2008 double murder


    LARGO — Twice in the past year, the Florida Supreme Court has altered the fate of Patrick Evans.

    Last November, it overturned the former Jabil executive's conviction and death sentence for the 2008 murders of his estranged wife and her friend.

    This month, the justices ruled that Florida must now have unanimous juries sentence defendants to death. They also ruled that the current law requiring a 10-2 jury vote for the death penalty cannot be applied to pending trials....

    Patrick Evans, center, a former vice president at Jabil, face a re-trial in the 2008 murder of his wife and her friend in Pinellas County. But first this week the state and defense must wrestle with how to apply the death penalty in this case, given recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court and the Florida Supreme Court. [SCOTT KEELER  |  Times]
  2. Trial of Kentucky man charged in Dunedin hatchet slaying begins today


    Jury selection began Monday morning in the first-degree murder trial of Arthur DeCarvalho, charged with hacking a Dunedin man to death with a hatchet two years ago.

    DeCarvalho, a 28-year-old from Kentucky, has been in jail awaiting trial since his arrest in June 2014, the summer that he met David Elsey online.

    According to his Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, Elsey worked as a staffing manager for the Nielsen Co. and was a former regional chapter leader for the company's Pride resource group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees. He had Pomeranians and liked to go boating....

  3. Pinellas among Florida counties with the highest arrest rates for drug possession, study finds


    Pinellas is among the top five counties with the highest arrest rates for drug possession in Florida, according to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch.

    Between 2010 and 2015, for every 100,000 residents, 547 faced a misdemeanor or felony possession charge in Pinellas, according to the report. Police nationwide make more than 1.25 million arrests for drug possession every year, surpassing totals for any other crime, according to the 200-page report released last week....

    Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri pointed to a prescription drug epidemic and a rise in synthetic marijuana use to explain the high number of arrests for drug possession. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times] 
  4. Following mass shootings nationwide, Florida Supreme Court strives to keep courtrooms safe


    LARGO — Courthouse deputies at security entrances are trained to know danger could be lurking inside every purse or pocket.

    They've confiscated swords concealed within wooden canes, knives tucked inside lipsticks and lighters, a vial of pepper spray inside a pen.

    Last month, they found a loaded gun.

    "We really have to be prepared for anything," said Pinellas sheriff's Sgt. Glenn Ward....

      Visitors at the Pinellas County Justice Center must pass through security at the main front entrance of the complex. Mirrors seen at top right and left were added to give security more views of people passing through security.
  5. Pinellas County Sheriff


    For five years, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has led the county's largest law enforcement agency. He has created a step pay plan for employees and led the effort for a pre-arrest adult diversion program. But his position is being challenged by James McLynas, an Indian Shores resident who previously filed complaints against deputies and writes on his campaign website that he is "dedicated to exposing the massive corruption of Sheriff Gualtieri." Greg Pound, a write-in candidate from Largo, is also running. ...

    NP_362969_DAMA_copcharge_1  (11/27/2012 CLEARWATER) James McLynas, 54.  -  A Clearwater Police officer has been charged in connection with allegedly sharing a private citizen's information from a state database. James McLynas, 54, and Kim Harwell, 53. Harwell says she is the woman whose information was shared. McLynas, who discovered that the info had been shared, is the ex-husband of the woman who obtained Harwell's personal info.   [Jim Damaske, Times]
  6. Florida Supreme Court rules death penalty juries must be unanimous

    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. ...

    An unidentified "death row" inmate in "Q" wing of Florida State Prison, at Starke views the photographer using a hand mirror during a rare escorted media visit. (AP Photo/Mark Foley, File, 1989)
  7. Former deputy charged in road rage incident was relying on training, defense says


    LARGO — It was Super Bowl Sunday. Brett Dowd and his fiancee, Brittany Byrne, had just arrived at the Twin Lakes apartment complex in Palm Harbor for a cookout with friends. Their 2-year-old son was in the back seat.

    But as Byrne, who was driving, pulled into a guest parking spot, a black Nissan headed toward them. Both cars came to a halt, avoiding a crash.

    Dowd and the other driver, Sheila Langlais, lowered their windows and exchanged profanity-laced words. When he insulted Langlais with another obscenity, Langlais, a Pinellas sheriff's deputy at the time, grabbed her gun and pointed it at Dowd with both her hands, said Pinellas-Pasco Assistant State Attorney Robert Bruce. She warned them: "I know how to use it."...

    Sheila Langlais, 47, resigned during the investigation and was arrested in March.
  8. More than 20 apply for Pinellas circuit judge vacancy


    More than 20 lawyers applied to replace Pinellas judge Bruce Boyer, who is scheduled to retire Nov. 29 from the civil circuit bench.

    Among the applicants are several Pinellas-Pasco prosecutors, including Gregory Groger, Christopher LaBruzzo, and Stacey Sumner. Statewide prosecutor Kelly McKnight also applied, as well as Pinellas-Pasco assistant public defender Eulogio Vizcarra.

    Another applicant is Curtis Korsko, a former traffic court magistrate in Pinellas who recently ran for a county judge seat won by assistant state attorney Dora Komninos....

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


    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....

    Scott Franklin is pictured with his mother, Ok Cha, and his sister, Crystal.
  10. Police blotter: Man accused of driving to Largo City Hall in stolen truck


    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....

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


    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
  12. Convicted murderer confesses to 1987 Polk County stabbing, says Leo Schofield is innocent


    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.
  13. Florida leads the nation in the number of prisoners released by Obama


    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.
  14. Driver who fatally struck skateboarder last year sentenced to 10 years in prison


    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....

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


    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."...