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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. 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
  2. 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.
  3. Detectives coerced confession from man accused in Pinellas Trail death, documents say

    Criminal

    The confession of a Clearwater man whose first-degree murder charge was dropped last week was coerced by detectives during an interview that lasted more than nine hours, according to court records obtained by the Tampa Bay Times on Monday.

    His assistant public defender argued in court records that Clearwater detectives used "inappropriate psychological questioning techniques" to coerce the confession from Dewayne Jones. They also did not read him his Miranda rights at the start of the interrogation and violated his right to due process....

  4. Driver who killed St. Petersburg couple gets 40 years in prison

    Courts

    LARGO — Anthony Apollo Neeley, found guilty in June of driving while impaired and fatally striking a St. Petersburg couple as they headed home after Thanksgiving dinner in 2014, was sentenced Friday to 40 years in prison.

    "I cannot imagine a driving case, a case involving alcohol, driving and deaths, that could be much more aggravating than the facts of this case," Pinellas Circuit Judge Philip Federico said before imposing the sentence. "If there is, I haven't heard it yet."...

    Anthony Neeley was driving over 100 mph when he hit Doug and Christina Simpson’s car.
  5. Pinellas County Judge | Group 8, Dora Komninos v. Curtis "CK" Korsko

    Kyc

    Pinellas County Judge | Group 8

    Tampa lawyer Curtis Korsko and assistant state attorney Dora Komninos will face off for this county judge seat. Korsko comes from a civil litigation background, and also served 11 years as a Pinellas traffic hearing officer. Komninos has worked at the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office for 14 years.

    About the job: This judge seat encompasses Pinellas County and presides over civil matters with damages of up to $15,000, as well as traffic and misdemeanor criminal cases where the maximum penalty is a year at the county jail. The annual salary is $138,020 and the term of office is six years....

  6. Pinellas sheriff's reports detail chaos in weeks before baby's death

    Crime

    Days before authorities say a 6-year-old boy fatally beat his newborn sister in a locked minivan, child protection investigators received a report saying the youngster should not be left alone with his siblings, Pinellas County Sheriff's Office records show.

    The report, received through Florida's child abuse hotline Aug. 2, said the boy was physically abusive to his younger brother and to animals. The caller also said he had likely started a fire that damaged the family's home, noting he had been caught playing with matches before....

    Kathleen Steele, 62, faces a charge of aggravated manslaughter.
  7. Pain of communist Cuba still vivid for Tampa woman

    Human Interest

    TAMPA — Isela Perez sleeps in on most days, when her only tasks are to clean the house, watch Fox News and keep up with her telenovelas.

    But on Saturday, the 85-year-old wakes up early.

    Her little house is quiet as she makes a cup of instant coffee; the strong Cuban stuff no longer agrees with her.

    In the kitchen, she keeps plantains. In a bedroom, newsletters about the homeland she left half a century ago, by a local activist group that publishes scathing political cartoons. One, referencing President Barack Obama's move to normalize relations with Cuba, shows the president propping up "tyranny," embodied by a teetering Fidel Castro. "Got your back," the president says....

    On Saturdays, Isela Perez, 85, of Tampa meets with others who lived through Fidel Castro’s takeover — and share her anger.
  8. Woman charged in her baby's death will be sent to mental health center

    Crime

    The baby, just 13 days old, was blue and cold by the time paramedics arrived Monday.

    A neighbor frantically performed CPR, but it was too late. Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said the girl had fractures in her skull like "cracks in the sidewalk."

    When deputies arrived at the home, Gualtieri said, they grew suspicious of the mother, 62-year-old Kathleen Steele.

    A widow who gave birth to the first of her three children at age 55, Steele seemed detached, the sheriff said. She was putting away groceries as her newborn lay lifeless....

    In 2009 during her first pregnancy, Kathleen Steele appeared on the Discovery Life show "I'm Pregnant And ... 55 Years Old." The show featured Steele and her husband, Philip, as they strolled along the beach outside their waterfront home. Steele, according to the show, had a "successful career at a financial services firm." [Photo from video]
  9. In 2009 show, mother of 6-year-old boy who killed infant sister talks about her first pregnancy at age 55

    Crime

    In 2009 during her first pregnancy, Kathleen Steele appeared on the show I'm Pregnant And... 55 Years Old. At 30 weeks, she was already showing.

    "I don't think it's up to anyone to judge us for what we choose to do with our lives," she told the cameras.

    The show, on Discovery Life, featured Steele and her husband, Philip, as they strolled along the beach outside their waterfront home. Steele, according to the show, had a "successful career at a financial services firm."...

    In 2009 during her first pregnancy, Kathleen Steele appeared on the Discovery Life show "I'm Pregnant And ... 55 Years Old." The show featured Steele and her husband, Philip, as they strolled along the beach outside their waterfront home. Steele, according to the show, had a "successful career at a financial services firm." [Photo from video]
  10. Clearwater officer who shot at car resigns amid two investigations

    Public Safety

    CLEARWATER — A police officer who shot at a moving car in June resigned Aug. 3 while under investigation for the incident, Clearwater police said on Thursday.

    The officer, Adam Wall, also was under investigation for posting several threatening Facebook comments about a police protester in Georgia, the agency disclosed Thursday.

    On June 26 at about 11 p.m., police were responding to reports of a reckless car on S Gulfview Boulevard on Clearwater Beach when Wall noticed a Mitsubishi pull into the Shephard's Beach Resort parking lot. He approached the driver....

  11. St. Petersburg joins Pinellas sheriff's ambitious criminal justice reform program

    Public Safety

    ST. PETERSBURG — Pinellas County will soon launch one of the most ambitious criminal justice reforms in Tampa Bay.

    Under the new Adult Pre-Arrest Diversion program, offenders who commit minor crimes such as underage possession of alcohol, petty theft and possession of marijuana will have 48 hours to report to the program and will complete community service hours instead of getting arrested....

    Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, seen here at a 2014 news conference, met with the St. Petersburg City Council on Thursday. They agreed to support the sheriff's new countywide adult diversion program that would steer low-level offenders away from a criminal record. St. Petersburg was the last municipality in Pinellas County to join the program. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD] 
.
  12. Macaw heist from St. Petersburg mobile home ends in arrest

    Crime

    ST. PETERSBURG

    A 39-year-old man was arrested Aug. 3 on charges that he stole a macaw named Kirby, according to an arrest report.

    Kirby was at home with his owner, James Clark, at 3237 53rd Ter. N when Danny Ray Teer broke into the mobile home and took him, the report says. Clark told Pinellas sheriff's deputies he knew who stole his bird, worth about $2,500.

    When they visited Teer, deputies found Kirby in good condition and took him home....

  13. Despite the odds, USF student hurt in Cuba crash last year will graduate Saturday

    Human Interest

    The only memory Barbara Jimenez can recall from Aug. 3 of last year is landing at Havana's airport. The plane burst into applause, a tradition among Cuban immigrants who return to their country safely.

    The next few days are a haze.

    Jimenez, 23, doesn't remember getting into a 1952 Chevrolet, nor the truck that slammed into the car.

    She suffered extensive head trauma during the wreck. But after taking a couple of semesters off from the University of South Florida, she returned to class this summer to complete the final 12 credits toward her bachelor's degree....

    U.S. Rep. David Jolly, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate is expected to run for re-election instead. [Miami Herald]
  14. Pinellas sheriff leads effort for second chance program for low-level offenders

    Public Safety

    Law enforcement agencies in Pinellas County have partnered to launch one of the largest criminal justice reforms in Tampa Bay's recent history.

    Led by Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, the initiative will help adults who commit low-level crimes avoid a criminal record that could make it difficult to later find a job or housing. Instead of going to jail, they'll be required to complete community service, plus counseling or drug treatment. No fines or court costs are involved....

  15. Pinellas judge in foreclosure case sues homeowner for 'false, fictitious, and fraudulent' filings

    Civil

    A Pinellas circuit judge presiding over a foreclosure action is suing the homeowner in that case, claiming she filed "false, fictitious and fraudulent" documents against the judge in his own court.

    The lawsuit stems from the 2013 foreclosure of a Clearwater home at 3155 Hyde Park Drive in the Countryside area near McMullen-Booth Road. Homeowners Leslie and Martin Armstrong stopped making mortgage payments in October 2011, according to court records....

    Pinellas Circuit Judge Thomas Minkoff filed the lawsuit.