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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. Pinellas Park man gets life in prison for killing 3-month-old daughter

    Courts

    LARGO — Linda Schroll remembers the way baby Olivia cooed when she had her bottle, how her dark hair, in those last few days, looked like it was fading to auburn. She weighed 8 pounds, a bit more than a bag of sugar.

    "She had just started to look at her brother. When he came into the room, she lit up," Schroll told Pinellas Circuit Judge Michael Andrews on Tuesday morning. "She was just starting to recognize him."...

    Three-month-old Olivia Dykes was beaten to death in 2015 by her father, Steven Dykes, who pleaded guilty and received a life sentence on Tuesday.
  2. News of Castro's death spreads at Miami cemetery

    Politics

    MIAMI — Gina Fuster stepped away from the honking cars, the crowds, the Cuban flags on Miami's Eighth Street and passed through a pair of iron gates three blocks away.

    With a bouquet of purple and yellow daisies, she walked along the curving road inside Little Havana's Woodlawn Park North Cemetery and stepped gingerly around the tombstones until she found her father's name: Dr. Jose R. Rodriguez Alvarez....

    Amid chants of “Free Cuba! Down with tyranny,” hundreds of people took to the streets of Little Havana carrying the flag of Cuba Saturday to celebrate Castro’s death.
  3. Unknowns of Trump administration cause flood of clients to immigration lawyers

    Courts

    At Arturo Rios' immigration law firm, the phones have not stopped ringing in the past week. His St. Petersburg office is packed with clients whose cases vary but come to him with the same question:

    Can they stay in this country?

    After Donald Trump's promises to deport millions of undocumented immigrants and build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, panic and uncertainty has gripped the immigrant community in Tampa Bay since the presidential election....

  4. Brothers found guilty in 2014 murder of St. Petersburg man

    Criminal

    After deliberating for 11 hours, a jury on early Friday found Gregory and Shirune Green guilty in the fatal shooting of a St. Petersburg man who was protecting his vehicles from thieves in 2014.

    The brothers were each charged with first-degree murder in the death of Floyd Lassiter. But the 12-member jury found Gregory Green, 19, guilty of second-degree murder and Shirune Green, 21, guilty of manslaughter....

  5. Two versions of same event mark closing arguments of brothers charged with 2014 murder of St. Petersburg man

    Criminal

    LARGO — Prosecutors and defense attorneys in this week's trial of two brothers charged with first-degree murder agree on this: Shirune and Gregory Green tried to steal Floyd Lassiter's cars.

    Gregory, they told the jury, fatally shot Lassiter.

    But both sides presented different versions this week of what led the brothers to kill Lassiter, a 53-year-old married father who worked at Crown Eurocars in St. Petersburg....

    Gregory Green is on trial for the murder of Floyd Lassiter, a retired U.S. Army master sergeant.
  6. Defense: St. Petersburg man charged with murder in botched carjacking attempt was protecting his brother

    Criminal

    LARGO — As Patricia Lassiter watched TV in the early morning hours of May 10, 2014, she heard a gunshot outside her house.

    She opened the front door and a younger man shouted, "I've been shot!" Moments later with her daughter and son, the family stepped outside and approached the body of a man sprawled on the pavement. As Lassiter called police and answered a dispatcher's questions, her children began to scream....

    Shirune Green
  7. Florida Supreme Court upholds death row inmate's sentences in 2007 Polk County murders

    Criminal

    The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the death sentences of a man convicted of committing five murders in the span of a week in Polk County.

    The rulings come less than a month after the court ruled in Hurst vs. Florida that Florida juries must be unanimous in putting a defendant to death.

    In one ruling, the court upheld the death sentences Leon Davis Jr. received for the murders of two men. That was in part because he waived his right to have a jury in the penalty phase of that case. Instead, Davis, now 38, opted to let the judge impose the sentence....

    Leon Davis Jr. listens at his 2011 trial for the murders of Yvonne Bustamante, Juanita Luciano and her newborn son, Michael Bustamante Jr., after an attempted robbery at a Lake Wales office.
  8. Voters retain appeals judges and Florida Supreme Court justices

    State Roundup

    Three justices from the Florida Supreme Court facing merit retention this election will remain on the bench, voters decided Tuesday.

    The justices who will remain on the state's Supreme Court include Charles Canady and Ricky Polston, both appointed in 2008. Voters also chose to retain Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, the first Hispanic to head the Florida Supreme Court. He was appointed in 2009 and became chief justice in 2014....

    Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga (left) [Photo by Mark Wallheiser]
  9. Gawker and Hulk Hogan reach settlement in sex tape case

    Courts

    The four-year legal battle between New York online media company Gawker Media and former professional wrestler Terry "Hulk Hogan" Bollea reached its culmination Wednesday with a multimillion-dollar settlement.

    The settlement comes seven months after a Pinellas County jury delivered a devastating verdict against the company that led to the demise of its flagship gossip website, Gawker.com. The jury ruled that Gawker Media violated Bollea's privacy rights when it posted a sex tape of the wrestler online in 2012....

    Terry Bollea, known as “Hulk Hogan,’’ won his privacy suit against Gawker Media.
  10. Pinellas County Jail inmate accused of murder-for-hire scheme to have witness killed

    Crime

    LARGO — After a jury found her guilty of wire fraud and money laundering, authorities say, Priscilla Ellis plotted against key witnesses in her trial.

    Awaiting her sentencing at the Pinellas County Jail, she told an inmate she needed someone on the outside to do a job that "could get their hands dirty."

    The task, according to a criminal complaint filed by the FBI: killing one witness and slashing the throat of another witness' mother....

    Priscilla Ellis is accused of trying to hire someone to kill a witness.
  11. Death penalty retrial of ex-Jabil executive postponed after defense petitions state Supreme Court

    Criminal

    The retrial of Patrick Evans, a former Jabil executive accused — and previously convicted — of killing his estranged wife and her friend, will not start next week as scheduled after his defense attorneys filed an emergency petition with the Florida Supreme Court.

    The Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office is seeking the death penalty. But on Oct. 14, the state Supreme Court ruled that only unanimous juries can sentence defendants to death and that the current law requiring a 10-2 jury vote for the death penalty can't be applied to pending trials, such as Evans' case....

    Patrick Evans was previously convicted of killing his wife and her friend on 
Dec. 20, 2008.
  12. Kentucky man guilty in Dunedin hatchet slaying of boyfriend

    Criminal

    Arthur DeCarvalho said he woke up on his birthday on June 5, 2014, to find his hands tied. Next to him was David Elsey demanding that they have sex.

    So DeCarvalho decided to fight back, he told a jury during his first-degree murder trial on Thursday. He told Elsey, 50, he wouldn't resist and asked to be untied. As Elsey waited in his master bedroom, DeCarvalho walked to the garage and retrieved a hatchet....

    DeCarvalho
  13. Kentucky man charged in Dunedin hatchet slaying was protecting himself, defense says

    Criminal

    LARGO — As his boyfriend's body lay tied to a bed inside their master bedroom, Arthur DeCarvalho got a haircut, went to Hooters twice for drinks, bought camping equipment at Walmart and ate at Buffalo Wild Wings.

    His excursions came to an end June 7, 2014, when officers found DeCarvalho wandering alone and drunk on Clearwater Beach.

    They found the other man's credit cards and ID in DeCarvalho's wallet. They handcuffed him and placed him in the back of a police cruiser, the prosecution told a jury Tuesday, when DeCarvalho blurted out this admission:...

  14. Pinellas judge rules death penalty case of ex-Jabil executive can move forward

    Criminal

    LARGO — Patrick Evans, the former Jabil executive accused of killing his wife and her friend in 2008, finally learned Tuesday how his fate will be decided when his retrial starts next week.

    The jurors will be told that — if they convict him of the two murders — all 12 of them must then vote unanimously to send Evans to death row. If not, he'll end up with a sentence of life in prison....

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

    Criminal

    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....

    TP_346349_diez_EVANSTRIAL_1 (11/10/11 Largo)  After the jury recommend two death sentences (one for each count of first degree murder) Patrick A. Evans smiles to his mother and brothers as he's led from Judge Richard Luce's courtroom Thursday at the Pinellas Criminal Court Complex.  Evans, a former Jabil Circuit vice president, went to the Gulfport condo where his estranged wife, Elizabeth K. Evans, lived, and fatally shot her and her friend Jerry B. Taylor.  [Cherie Diez  | Times]