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For Karen Cox, there is life after death

Sometime this summer, Karen Cox, the head of the homicide division at the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office, will leave the only job of her career.

She will trade the furious gallop of notable murder trials for a position at the U.S. Attorney's Office, where the quotient of gore and grief is significantly lower and the pace is more of a canter.

"I've loved every minute of it," Cox said. "It just seems like a good career move."

Cox, 33, has taken some 40 murder cases to trial during a career that began in 1985 on the first day of the Bill James administration. She has earned convictions in all but two cases and over time has earned a reputation for the passion she brings to her trial work.

It was that passion, however, that ultimately prompted her to contemplate a change. In the summer of 1995, Cox successfully prosecuted Charles Trice, the state trooper who shot his young wife. A month later she did the same for Mark Johnson, who killed his lover, well-known Tampa lawyer Frank Vaccaro.

"They were very similar cases: senseless crimes, destroyed families," Cox said. And they both took a personal toll on Cox.

"When all is said and done, when the jury convicts someone, there is no sense of joy because you still have a grieving family," Cox said. "You haven't really done anything good for anybody. The bottom line is we're all here because someone is dead."

At the U.S. Attorney's Office there will be no murder trials, and that's okay with Cox. "I'm willing to take some time and step back and not have cases that are so all-absorbing," she said, adding that she will be a regular "foot-soldier" at first.

Cox could leave sooner, but she will not leave before she finishes some pending business: the Glen Rogers murder trial.

NOW YOU DON'T SEE THEM: The danger, whatever it might have been, apparently has passed.

You'll recall from a report in this space a year ago that the solemn black-and-white portrait photographs of Hillsborough's county and circuit judges disappeared one day from the south wall of the lobby of the main courthouse. More than half the judges who had attended a judges' meeting had voted to have them taken down, primarily for security reasons.

There were sound arguments against this.

Isn't it a good idea for the public to know who its judges are, and for judges, who must run for re-election, to get their faces out in front of the voters?

And as for the security issue, if a person is mad at a judge, isn't it a safe bet that he already knows very well what that judge looks like?

Apparently, these arguments have won over the doubtful. New and improved color portraits are expected to be mounted on that same wall soon.

IT AIN'T OVER TILL . . .: The state Attorney General's Office plans to appeal a decision by the 2nd District Court of Appeal last week striking down the third-degree murder charge against a teenage car thief who got into a crash and killed another motorist.

The DCA said Dale Allen wasn't committing third-degree murder, a death during the commission of a grand theft, because there had been a break in the chain of circumstances between the original crime and the crash. The high court drew a distinction between Allen's case, in which he was cruising down S Dale Mabry when Charles Hand III turned in front of him, and that of a thief escaping in a high-speed chase with police.

Allen later was convicted of the murder charge.

The state plans to ask the appeals court for a rehearing, or to certify this as a question of great public importance to the Florida Supreme Court.

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