Florida may seem to be on the vanguard of "stand your ground." It's certainly been much in the news lately. But most Americans already live in states where there is no duty to retreat whether because of "stand your ground" statutes or because of case law. And that is actually nothing new.
Florida's notoriety as the "shoot first" state grows by the day. As its citizens pull guns on one another at gas stations and on basketball courts, at birthday parties and in movie theaters, the perception grows that the state's 2005 "stand your ground" law made it a safe haven for killers. • But like many caricatures of the Sunshine State, this one is too simple. The truth is that Florida did not pioneer the controversial rules of justifiable homicide it adopted nine years ago — though the rules' effects here might serve as a warning for other states. • The debate over "stand your ground" laws has never been more urgent than in the last eight months, a period in which Florida juries have twice delivered verdicts in heavily publicized murder trials that ignited the scorn of gun control and civil rights activists....
TAMPA — A state appeals court decision last week could spell trouble for prosecutors pursuing charges against Edward Covington, the former state prison guard accused of killing his girlfriend and her two children in a Lutz mobile home on Mother's Day in 2008.
The Hillsborough Public Defender's Office is arguing that it was improperly denied access to Covington for two full days after he was found hiding in the mobile home and taken into custody. The 2nd District Court of Appeal opinion, which will serve as a precedent for Hillsborough County, overturned the double-murder conviction of a Pasco County man under similar circumstances....
TAMPA — Joshua Hakken, the Tampa engineer accused of kidnapping his children and fleeing to Cuba, is faking insanity to avoid prison time, a prosecutor asserted Tuesday.
The surprise claim derailed an anticipated resolution to the case, as a judge ordered Hakken to stand trial rather than receiving psychiatric treatment. His wife and co-defendant, Sharyn Hakken, will also face a jury....
02/22/14 Public Safety
LARGO — An administrator for one of Florida's largest private prison health care companies has been ousted from a local jail for the second time in two years, after the Pinellas Sheriff's Office learned of his role in events surrounding the death of a Hillsborough County prisoner.
Lewis Hays, formerly chief administrator in Hillsborough for Armor Correctional Health Services Inc., had come under scrutiny in the summer of 2012 as Sheriff David Gee looked into inadequate treatment of the jail inmate, who suffered a stroke that eventually proved fatal....
TAMPA — On the morning of the day after Mother's Day in 2008, Hillsborough County sheriff's Deputy Juan Lazu stepped through the door of a mobile home on Mobile Villa Drive in Lutz. At his feet were the body parts of a dismembered child.
Staring at what he would later describe as the most horrifying crime scene of his career, Lazu saw two more mutilated bodies, belonging to an adult and another child. The corpses were those of Lisa Freiberg, 26, and her children, 2-year-old Savannah and 7-year-old Zachary. ...
02/14/14 Public Safety
TAMPA — The owner of the sport utility vehicle that a Tampa man drove the wrong way down Interstate 275 last weekend, killing himself and four University of South Florida fraternity brothers in a fiery crash, pleaded for the safety and privacy of his family Friday, saying he is worried about his fiancee and five children because of threats that have emerged on social media.
"We couldn't go home for a period of three or four days because of the media, because of the threats we have gotten," said Scott Enfinger, 27, of Tampa. "There's just a wide variety of threats, as far as college students wanting to retaliate. Somebody even mentioned firebombing houses and things."...
02/13/14 Public Safety
TAMPA — The emergency call was placed from a residential street off the east shore of the Hillsborough River in Seminole Heights at 2:36 a.m. Sunday.
"I was having a birthday party at my house. Something went out of control. My brother-in-law took our vehicle," said a hoarse, female voice. "We'd all had a few drinks," she continued, "and all of a sudden he took the keys and left, out of nowhere."...
02/01/14 Human Interest
PLANT CITY — Not in every town would the disgrace of a police chief caught in an extramarital affair be a sign of civic progress. In this respect, as in others, Plant City is unusual.
For years, this municipality of 36,000 has been stuck in an uncomfortable transition between agrarian past and exurban future. Some of its small-town virtues evolved into big-city vices: Mistrustful of outsiders and led by an entrenched political class, the people of Plant City have at times seemed surprisingly tolerant of government cronyism and secrecy....
TAMPA — A former prison guard accused of killing his girlfriend and dismembering her two children successfully begged a judge to let him skip most of a court hearing Monday, complaining that detectives' harrowing descriptions of the victims' remains might trouble his sleep.
"I don't want to be here at all," said Edward Covington, 41. "No, seriously. I am at a point where things in the past are no longer troubling me. I'm not having nightmares and I want to keep that as long as possible."...
TAMPA — Doctors have determined that Joshua Hakken, the Tampa engineer whose antigovernment paranoia drove him to abduct his children and flee to Cuba, is insane, making it likely he will be treated in a mental hospital rather than standing trial this month as planned.
Hillsborough Circuit Judge Chet Tharpe said in a hearing Wednesday that he plans to determine within six weeks where to send Hakken, 36, for mental health treatment. The fate of Hakken's wife and co-defendant is less clear. ...
TAMPA — A Brooksville man has filed a federal lawsuit asserting that Hernando County sheriff's deputies beat him so badly his eyeball fell out of its socket, and that the deputies then tried to cover up their misconduct.
Michael Bratt, 49, and his wife, Marjorie Youmans, 43, say that deputies trespassed on their property, used a Taser on Bratt and punched him repeatedly after he was handcuffed. As Bratt lay dazed in his front yard, one deputy used his knee to crush his eye socket, causing Bratt's right eyeball to collapse into his cheek cavity, according to the lawsuit....
TAMPA — A Massachusetts-based biotechnology company has agreed to pay $22.28 million to resolve allegations brought by whistle-blowers in Tampa and Miami that it marketed an inappropriate use for a surgery medication, U.S. government attorneys said.
Genzyme, a corporation known for its research into drugs for rare genetic diseases, is paying the settlement in a lawsuit over Seprafilm, a material it manufactures for use in the operating room. ...
12/21/13 Human Interest
PLANT CITY — With a low hiss and a high scream, the rocket — a 12-foot, forest-green projectile resembling a gigantic crayon — hovered for a second above the ground upon a plume of white smoke.
Then, as it shot straight into a cloudy sky, the young men and women anxiously watching screamed and leapt themselves, as though unconsciously mimicking their creation's triumphant upward path....
RIVERVIEW — Sheriff's deputies arrested a Riverview teenager they say tried to kidnap a blind, disabled child from his downstairs neighbor late Friday night.
Bobby McQuay II, 15, has been charged with attempted kidnapping, burglary of an occupied dwelling and violation of probation.
Deputies were called to 9415 Windermere Lake Drive about 10:15 p.m. Friday. Franyeli Martinez-Rodriguez, 23, said a male smashed a window of her apartment and tried to make off with her 5-year-old son, who suffers from multiple developmental disabilities and cannot see....