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Epilogue: Dean Livermore, a Pasco County public defender who handled hard cases and advocated against the death penalty

Dean Nelson Livermore, a longtime public defender who represented the accused in some of Pasco County's highest-profile criminal cases, died Nov. 28. He leaves behind a legacy of fighting against the death penalty and earning the respect of lawyers from around the region. [Courtesy Faith Livermore]
Published Dec. 12, 2018

The stakes were lower than usual, but his effort no less urgent, when Dean Livermore called Paul Firmani one morning a few years ago.

There's a miniature pig in our driveway, the assistant public defender told Firmani, his former supervisor and now a Pasco County judge.

Would you help find someone to take care of it? the attorney asked.

"You even save little pigs," the judge remembers telling his friend, who fought for years defending the lives of accused killers and who stood tall against the death penalty.

Mr. Livermore died on Nov. 28 from a heart condition. He was 66 and two days from retirement after serving Pasco County for 30 years in the Sixth Judicial Circuit Public Defender's Office.

"By showing compassion and tolerance, he was a great example of how you should live," Firmani said. "He left this world a better place by being who he was."

The attorney made his name in capital cases over the past decade, defending clients charged with gut-churning crimes — like Adam Matos, convicted of murdering four people in Hudson in 2014.

Mr. Livermore did so out of duty.

"He defended the Constitution," said Firmani, who worked with him as a public defender for 12 years.

"He felt that even people charged with some pretty heinous crimes ... they more than anybody needed someone to defend them," Firmani said.

And the death penalty made no sense to Mr. Livermore. How could the state say that killing is bad, he reasoned, when the state itself put people to death?

Mr. Livermore's idealism earned him the respect of other public defenders. So did his wealth of knowledge — and his willingness to share it.

"Never once did he tell me to come back later," said Phil Cohen, an assistant public defender who worked with Mr. Livermore for almost 25 years.

"It didn't matter if you had been at the office for 25 years or 25 seconds," Cohen said.

And because of his manner in court — gentle with traumatized witnesses, forceful but respectful in arguments — even his opponents liked him.

"I think if you took a survey of all the lawyers, nobody would say a bad thing about Dean Livermore," said Michael Halkitis, a retired prosecutor who tried dozens of cases while opposing him. "If you talked to people about him, they'd say he was the type of lawyer they'd want to represent them."

Dean Nelson Livermore was born on Dec. 11, 1951, in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, to Nelson and Jacqueline Livermore.

He graduated from Lycoming College in 1974 and married Katherine Elwood the next year. In 1977, he graduated from Cumberland Law School.

The couple lived in Pennsylvania before moving to Pasco County in 1988, when Mr. Livermore joined the Public Defender's Office. He worked first in the Dade City bureau and, in 1994, transferred to the New Port Richey location.

Firmani was his supervisor in that office until 2006. They formed a friendship as they tag-teamed cases, going to each other's homes and getting to know each other's families. That included the Livermores' two children, Douglas and Faith.

"He just liked to make people smile," Faith Livermore said. "He was always willing to be embarrassingly goofy."

Mr. Livermore loved to kayak, raft and camp, his daughter said. He helped form a local Boy Scout troop and refereed high school sports.

This summer, he built a wooden boat at a class in Maine, hauled it back to Florida and was applying the final layers of sealant to it at the Land O' Lakes home he shared with his wife.

The couple planned to move to The Villages when he retired. He and his wife, who had a career as a tutor, were counting the days until Nov. 30.

But first, Mr. Livermore traveled to Georgia with his wife and daughter to spend Thanksgiving with a widowed friend.

On the Sunday after the holiday, as the couple got ready to travel back, he collapsed. He died three days later. The Nov. 30 office retirement party for him was cancelled, and so was the Dec. 1 party his wife had planned for a year.

Instead, everyone attended his memorial on Friday.

"He was just a very compassionate man. He had a kind word for everyone," said Firmani. "That's why it was such a loss."

News researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Justin Trombly at jtrombly@tampabay.com. Follow @JustinTrombly.

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