1. News

Edward Covington, who killed his girlfriend and her two children, sentenced to death

Edward Covington enters the courtroom Friday. In 2008, the former prison guard killed his girlfriend, Lisa Freiberg, and her two young children.
Edward Covington enters the courtroom Friday. In 2008, the former prison guard killed his girlfriend, Lisa Freiberg, and her two young children.
Published May 30, 2015

TAMPA — Seven years after a triple homicide that Hillsborough County's sheriff called the grisliest he had ever seen, a judge on Friday sentenced Edward Covington to death for the murder of his girlfriend and her two children.

In a rejection of defense attorneys' arguments that Covington is mentally ill and should be spared the death penalty, the judge found that death was the appropriate punishment for one of the goriest homicide cases in Hillsborough's history. Covington, 42, absorbed the sentence impassively, surrounded by stone-faced lawyers.

Outside the courtroom, Barbara Freiberg, the victims' mother and grandmother, said she approved of the judge's ruling, though she acknowledged it would likely entail years, if not decades, of appeals.

"There's a relief knowing that he's going to get what he gave my children," she said.

On May 12, 2008, Freiberg opened the door to her daughter Lisa's mobile home in Lutz and encountered a blood-soaked crime scene. Lisa Freiberg, 26, and her two children, Zachary Freiberg, 7, and Heather Savannah Freiberg, 2, had been beaten, choked and stabbed. Authorities said Covington had attacked the family with a hammer and knife. After killing the children, he dismembered their bodies.

Sheriff's deputies found Covington, a former prison guard, cowering in a closet, wearing nothing but underwear and covered in scratches and traces of blood.

Charged with three counts of first-degree murder, three counts of abuse of a dead body and one count of animal abuse for killing the family's dog, Covington sat in prison for years, waiting for his day in court. But when his trial began last fall, he stunned everyone, including the public defenders representing him, by abruptly firing them and announcing that he would plead guilty.

"I expect you to sentence me to death," he told Hillsborough Circuit Judge William Fuente, adding that this was the sentence he would choose for himself. "I feel it's warranted. The Freibergs feel it's warranted. The state feels it's warranted. I have no problem with this."

Covington's decision to forgo a jury trial left his fate entirely with the judge and prompted Fuente to issue a stern warning. He had encountered a similar situation only once before in his career, he told Covington, and he sentenced that defendant to death.

On Friday, after more than six months of reviewing court transcripts and medical records, Fuente said the horrifying manner in which the three victims were killed outweighed the defense argument that Covington was driven by mental illness.

From the outset of the case, Covington's lawyers portrayed him as a deeply disturbed man who, at the time of the murders, was not taking prescribed medications to control his bipolar disorder.

Medical records showed that by age 15, he was taking the mood stabilizer lithium. His mother testified that throughout his teenage years and into adulthood, he swung wildly between periods of high energy and deep depression, was repeatedly hospitalized and tried to commit suicide multiple times. By the time his case went to trial, he was taking four different medications — Depakote, Seroquel, Zoloft and Klonopin.

The defense also highlighted Covington's erratic behavior in court and some of his bizarre statements, including one moment last year when he told the court that after he killed his girlfriend, he tried to talk to her corpse.

"I remember having a conversation with Lisa about feeding the dog," he said. "I don't know how long this conversation lasted, but she was already dead."

Prosecutors maintained that Covington was not propelled by mental illness, but was operating under the influence of alcohol and crack cocaine, which he consumed hours before the killings.

In their final argument to the judge, prosecutors asked Fuente to weigh heavily Covington's excessive cruelty — the medical examiner deemed it "overkill."

"In one episode of unparalleled violence, Edward Covington destroyed one small, tightly knit family," they wrote.

Contact Anna M. Phillips at or (813) 226-3354. Follow @annamphillips.


  1. Addison Davis, the superintendent of Clay County District Schools, was chosen Tuesday as the new Hillsborough County school superintendent. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
    The School Board’s vote is unanimous for Davis, who calls himself “an accelerator.”
  2. Smoke from the Levy County controlled burn travelled across three counties in order to reach Hillsborough. []
    Commuters saw the smokey, hazy skies as they drove home. Strong southern winds are carrying the smoke from a prescribed fire in Levy County.
  3. In this Monday, Jan. 20, 2020, booking photo provided by the Orange County Sheriff's office is Mason Toney. Toney, 28, was charged with first-degree murder for the killing of his boss, William Knight, on Monday, according to an arrest affidavit from the Orange County Sheriff's Office. Co-workers told investigators that Toney and Knight were friends outside of work despite their political differences. (Orange County Sheriff's Office via AP) [AP]
    Mason Toney, 28, was charged with first-degree murder for the killing of William Knight on Monday, according to an arrest affidavit from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.
  4. Joseph Hernandez Hall is home to the University of Florida's chemistry department, where a faculty member recently resigned after officials discovered he failed to disclose his strong ties to China. While at UF, the faculty member also held positions at two Chinese universities, including vice president and dean. The faculty member was not named in a report obtained Tuesday from the Florida Legislature. [University of Florida]
    They also collected grant money from the U.S. government while never disclosing their outside work in China.
  5. Margaret Pruitt, today’s exercise model, is a real wonder woman.
  6. In this Feb. 14, 2018, file photo, students hold their hands in the air as they are evacuated by police from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., after a shooter opened fire on the campus. (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, File) [MIKE STOCKER  |  AP]
    But this year’s bill may provoke fewer fireworks than the bitter debates seen in the past two sessions.
  7. The four candidates for Clearwater mayor in 2020. Clockwise from the top left: Frank Hibbard, Morton Myers, Bill Jonson and Elizabeth "Sea Turtle" Drayer. [[Frank Hibbard (Courtesy of Hibbard); Morton Myers [Douglas R. Clifford | Times]; Bill Jonson [Douglas R. Clifford | Times]; Elizabeth "Sea Turtle" Drayer; (Courtesy of Drayer)]
    We might learn a great deal about a key election in Tampa Bay.
  8. Rep. Anthony Sabatini presents his bill to create school board term limits to the Florida House PreK-12 Innovation subcommittee on Jan. 21, 2020. [The Florida Channel]
    The idea would require a three-fifths vote in each chamber before it could appear on the ballot.
  9. Muhammad Abdur-Rahim points out the location of a former African American cemetery in the old Clearwater Heights neighborhood, where he grew up. Archaeologists have begun surveying the land using ground penetrating radar. [JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Times]
    Marked graves were moved in the 1950s, records show. But unmarked graves may have been left behind.
  10. Deputies and the sheriff of Grayson County, Va., shared photos on their official Facebook from Monday's second-amendment rally in Richmond, Va. [Grayson County Sheriff's Office]
    In a viral video on Twitter, Grayson County Sheriff Richard Vaughan calls proposed legislation ‘unconstitutional.’