Court decorum turns to chaos

Published July 28, 1994|Updated Oct. 7, 2005

When a judge sentenced him Wednesday morning to life in prison for murder,Gregory Flounory didn't flinch.

But when his mother and sister began fighting with his ex-girlfriend in the doorway of the courtroom, Flounory, 31, bolted toward the door.

"Stay off my mama!" he shouted.

In an instant, courtroom decorum dissolved into Pandemonium.

Prosecutor Diane Bailey, who had been trying to keep the women from tangling, yelled: "Bailiff, get over here!"

Flounory's mother and sister _ Dolly Irving, 61, and Debra Wells, 35, both of St. Petersburg _ confronted his ex-girlfriend, Natoshia Mitchell, 20, also of St. Petersburg, as she tried to leave the courtroom. Miss Mitchell was the mother of the toddler Flounory murdered, 2-year-old Antonio Brazel, and had testified against Flounory during his trial two months ago.

"Are you happy now?" one of the women demanded as the fight moved out the door and into the hallway.

A group of students touring the Pinellas County courts complex to see how the legal system works witnessed a bit of the fray before being hustled around a corner.

Miss Mitchell's new boyfriend, 33-year-old O'dell Sermon, tried to help her but got punched, sheriff's reports said

Sermon intercepted Flounory before he reached the door, and the men grappled briefly before bailiffs pulled them apart.

"What's wrong with you, man? What's wrong with you?" cried Flounory.

As bailiffs dragged the struggling Flounory backward, they tripped over a television cameraman's tripod and sprawled on the floor.

Circuit Judge Frank Quesada, who had left the courtroom after sentencing Flounory, came back to see what the commotion was about. He pressed an emergency button to call for more bailiffs and retreated to his chambers.

Dr. Georgia Brandstadter-Palmer, a forensic psychologist whose office is near Quesada's courtroom, heard the noise in the hall and hit her emergency button, too.

The squad of bailiffs subdued the women and then summoned paramedics to look after Miss Mitchell, who is eight weeks pregnant. Taken by ambulance to Bayfront Medical Center, she was treated and released.

Ms. Wells and Mrs. Irving were arrested. The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office has recommended that State Attorney Bernie McCabe charge Ms. Wells with battery and Mrs. Irving with battery and aggravated battery, sheriff's spokeswoman Marianne Pasha said.

As bailiffs took Mrs. Irving by elevator to a holding cell, she dropped to the floor, whimpering. Despite being coaxed to act "like an adult," she refused for several minutes to get up and step out of the elevator.

Finally she emerged, clutching her chest, and called out to her son's attorney, Frank T. Johnson, "They're going to put me in jail!"

Instead, because she complained of chest pains, she was sent to Humana Northside Hospital. Pasha said Mrs. Irving remained there for observation Thursday evening, but a nursing supervisor said she could find no record of such a patient.

Pasha said Wednesday's courtroom fracas is a rare occurrence. She could not recall a similar incident.

But there have been similar episodes of violence throughout the relationship between Flounory and Miss Mitchell. She repeatedly complained to police that he beat her up, but she always dropped the charges. During his murder trial, she testified that she failed to follow through because Flounory always threatened to kill her.

The current of violence ran both ways. Her brothers once shot and wounded Flounory and served time in prison for the crime.

Yet the couple remained together until June 9, 1993, the day before Miss Mitchell was to graduate from Dixie Hollins High School. As she departed for school, leaving Antonio in Flounory's care, Miss Mitchell kissed her son goodbye and told him she loved him.

"I love you too, Mommy," the boy said.

Hours later, Flounory climbed the stairs to the couple's Jordan Park apartment carrying the boy's lifeless body. He told police he had slammed on the brakes of his 1989 Ford Bronco and the boy hit his head on the dashboard, then groaned and died.

But Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner Joan Wood testified that the boy's head injuries actually resulted from several blows with a blunt instrument.

Still, Flounory insisted Wednesday that he never harmed Antonio and contended that Miss Mitchell was lying about past abuse. Although Antonio was not his son, he told Judge Quesada before being sentenced, the boy's death "deeply hurt" him. "I never abused that kid," he said. "I loved that kid."

Flounory, a former employee of the Times' printing plant, must serve 25 years in prison before he will be eligible for parole.

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