04/14/14 Human Interest
The Tampa Bay Times won a Pulitzer Prize for local reporting Monday, earning national recognition for stories that exposed a government agency's inhumane treatment of Hillsborough County's homeless population.
The award was given to Times staff writers Will Hobson, 29, and Michael LaForgia, 30, whose reporting on the county's Homeless Recovery program revealed that the agency — created in 1989 to provide transitional housing for the poor — funneled millions of public dollars to slumlords and placed families in unsafe living conditions....
TAMPA — Not much looks awry in lawyer Barry Cohen's downtown Tampa office lobby.
A coquettish statue of Lady Justice still bares her thigh at the front door to visitors, like a blindfolded starlet unexpectedly handed a sword and scale. On the walls hang framed front pages chronicling four decades of clients' not-guilty verdicts and multimillion-dollar settlements.
The decorations aptly reflect the achievements and style of Cohen, a silver-haired, silver-tongued 74-year-old known throughout Florida for his seeming inability to lose a big case. But recently disclosed legal and financial records suggest that some significant money problems lie beneath his well-buffed public image....
TAMPA — A federal appeals court has upheld the bribery conviction and prison sentence of former Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida announced Monday.
White, 49, was convicted by a jury of federal bribery and corruption charges in 2011. In 2012, U.S. District Court Judge James Whittemore sentenced him to three years in prison, telling White that his crimes "overshadowed all the good you have done for your constituents."...
TAMPA — Convicted of the brutal beating and rape of a 21-year-old Tampa woman, Raymond Marston did everything he could to avoid justice — including faking a heart attack to escape from jail for four days.
But it was the questionable behavior of a high-ranking Hillsborough County prosecutor that has given him a new shot at freedom, more than four years after he was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison....
TAMPA — A jury on Thursday convicted the operators of a lucrative Tampa pain clinic of drug trafficking and racketeering charges, vindicating years of effort by police to prove the clinic illegally sold millions of prescriptions for painkillers to customers who came from as far as Ohio and Kentucky.
After a 41/2-month trial and five days of jury deliberation, First Medical Group owners Jorge Gonzalez-Betancourt, 53, and Michele Gonzalez, 37, were found guilty of dozens of charges, including trafficking in oxycodone, conspiring to traffic in oxycodone and racketeering. ...
TAMPA — A jury on Thursday convicted the operators of a lucrative Tampa pain clinic of drug trafficking and racketeering charges, vindicating years of effort by police to prove the clinic illegally sold millions of prescriptions for painkillers to customers who came from as far away as Ohio and Kentucky.
After a 41/2-month trial and five days of jury deliberation, First Medical Group owners Jorge Gonzalez-Betancourt, 53, and Michele Gonzalez, 37, were found guilty of dozens of charges including trafficking in oxycodone, conspiring to traffic in oxycodone and racketeering. ...
TAMPA — A Tampa man accused of the gruesome killing of a homeless man in a church parking lot was found not guilty by reason of insanity Wednesday.
Michael Marston, 35, was charged with first-degree murder, burglary, violently obstructing a police officer and littering — the outline of what authorities said was a bizarre series of crimes in the predawn hours of Aug. 16, 2012.
Police said Marston stole $250,000 worth of building materials, which were found strewn across the parking lot of Christ the King Catholic Church at 621 S Dale Mabry Highway. Also in the church parking lot was the body of Rolando Rivera-Arroyo, a 73-year-old transient....
TAMPA — Questions mounted Monday about the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office's handling of a defendant in a triple-murder case in the days after his arrest, as doctors and nurses who treated the man described to a judge how lawyers were barred from visiting him at the hospital.
Defense attorneys for Edward Covington, a former state prison guard, are asking a judge to suppress his confession to the murders of 26-year-old Lisa Freiberg and her two children, 7-year-old Zachary and 2-year-old Savannah. Covington was found hiding in a Lutz mobile home amid the family's mutilated bodies the day after Mother's Day in 2008....
TAMPA — There are criminals who hardly had a chance, men and women habituated to violence by emotional disorders, low intelligence or abusive parents who broke their gauges of right and wrong.
Dontae Morris, convicted of the murders of two Tampa police officers, is not one of them, according to courtroom testimony Friday.
At a hearing, the last scheduled before Hillsborough Circuit Judge William Fuente rules on whether or not Morris will be executed, Dr. Emily Lazarou of Tampa said she could find little in Morris' behavior to suggest — as a defense expert had testified a day earlier — that his judgment was crippled by below-average intelligence....
TAMPA — Cindy Warren wasn't sure she had anything to say in public about the murder of her son, Tampa police Officer David Curtis.
But after sitting through the trial of his killer, Dontae Morris, Warren decided she wanted to seize her chance to speak to Morris' judge.
"When he was watching and listening to the murders he committed that fateful night, he showed nothing. Nothing. Absolutely nothing," Warren said at a hearing Thursday in Hillsborough Circuit Court. ...
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....