Sunday, May 31, 2009

This Missing Case Bugs Me Too

Here's another case that cannot be found on the Orange County Clerk's Site either. . . .

Eatonville official charged in battery
Orlando Sentinel, The (FL) - Monday, December 29, 2008
Author: Susan Jacobson, Sentinel Staff Writer

An Eatonville Town Council member was arrested Sunday on a charge of domestic battery after, police said, he grabbed his wife's face forcefully and left a mark under her eye. James Randolph , 67, was arrested on the misdemeanor charge and was being processed at the Eatonville police station when he complained of chest pains, Officer John Simone said. He was taken to Florida Hospital Orlando by ambulance and was still being treated in the emergency room Sunday evening. His condition was not thought to be life-threatening. Police said they don't know what caused the spat between Randolph and his wife of 27 years, Wanda. However, they say a man whom they presume to be Randolph called to report a disturbance a little before 10 a.m. When Simone responded to the couple's home on Bethune Avenue, they were out front. James Randolph was handcuffed and arrested. Wanda Randolph, 54, did not require medical attention. "He was found to be the aggressor," Simone said. There is no previous record of domestic violence between the couple, he said. A report of the incident will be forwarded to the Orange-Osceola State Attorney's Office for possible prosecution, Simone said. The arrest will not have an effect on Randolph's duties with the town, Mayor Anthony Grant said. Beyond that, "I don't know any details of it, so I don't have any comment," he said. Councilmen Bruce Mount and Eddie Cole echoed Grant's comments. Councilman Alvin Moore could not be reached. "Obviously, domestic violence is a very serious thing," Mount said. "[But] right now, I think it's too early to tell because I don't know the whole story of what happened." Randolph, a businessman, has been living in Eatonville since 1968 and was first elected to the council in 1977, according to the town Web site. He was elected again in 2003.

The Case of the Disappearing Murder Case

On New Year's Eve, Nichole Hammond plunged to her death from a balcony at the Marriott World Center. Her boyfriend, Jonathan Justin Speegle was arrested in January and was granted a $50,000 bond by Judge Tim Shea, who also ordered GPS tracking (see Orlando Sentinel articles dated 1/24/09, 5/13/09, and 5/15/09).

In working on the Watchlist this week, we discovered that neither the case number (2009CF1037), nor the defendant can be located on the Orange County Clerk's website. Sometimes we run into "missing" cases when people have had their files sealed (which can only happen after the case has been closed out and judge grants a motion to do so). But this is a brand new case, and we were able to look it up and obtain a case number after his arrest on January 23, 2009.

I hope for Nichole's family's sake that this case hasn't fallen into a black hole.

9/9/09: This case is now visible on the Clerk's site.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Media Coverage of Burke Didn't Tell the Whole Story

Since posting my thoughts about Burke's bond hearing on this forum, I've come to the conclusion that there are two things out there re-victimizing Shannon Burke's victim in this situation. The Court System and the Media.

My conjecturing about Mrs. Burke's apparent approval of the deal was based upon her presence in the courtroom. I see victims endure tremendous pressures in these situations, and they very often refuse to participate in the prosecution. Many victims attend these hearings to be a witness on behalf of their abuser. Sometimes they want the relationship to work out and are willing to give their partner another chance. Sometimes they're so intimidated that there will be future retribution that they do "cave in" to their partner's pressure. Sometimes they just want their partner to get help (psych, drug, alcohol, etc.) in the hopes that he'll get better & will be the charming, loving man they know he is capable of being. There are as many reasons why a victim doesn't vigorously work to put her batterer in jail as there are victims. It's not our place to criticize the victim's decisions. We should, instead, focus our attention upon the perpetrator's behavior.

Only WFTV aired a (too) brief comment that Mrs. Burke was not in favor of the stipulated agreement. I don't know if her attorney provided an on camera interview to any of the reporters there, but Catherine Burke's voice (either directly or through her attorney) was not heard on Wednesday - either inside or outside the courtroom. It should have been. And it should have been emphatically reported that she was opposed to her husband's release from jail.

Which brings me to the State's role in re-victimizing this woman who almost lost her life. If she was opposed to the "deal," they absolutely should not have struck it with Burke's attorney. In this era of huge budget cuts, our prosecutors are at a distinct disadvantage when dealing with private attorneys. In addition to concerns about the expense incurred in keeping someone incarcerated, they simply don't have the time/resources to always involve all the parties concerned. In this case, neither of the other women who filed injunctions against Burke immediately after this crime were notified, much less consulted, when the State was negotiating with Burke's attorney. Their lives, and those of their children, are also potentially at risk. Legally speaking, they were not victims in this case and therefore the State is not required to contact them. But an adequately funded prosecutor's office that has sufficient advocates to keep victims safe would (hopefully) be concerned about their well-being too. Because an Assistant State Attorney's pay is often not sufficient to pay student loans and keep a roof over one's head, many of our best young prosecutors and public defenders quickly move into private practice, leaving a new crop of young, usually inexperienced lawyers to keep our community safe. The defense attorneys know this and work it to their advantage.
Catherine Burke had a right to address the judge at the bond hearing. In reviewing the video footage, I did not hear the prosecutor mention that she wanted to address the Court. I did not hear Judge Alva ask if she wanted to address the Court. She was available in the courtroom. I do not know if she wanted to say something, but she should have been asked.

To reduce the charges to "Shooting Into Occupied Dwelling" from Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon (when it possibly could have been charged as Attempted 2nd Degree Murder) is an insult to Mrs. Burke and to domestic violence victims everywhere. It minimizes her husband's behavior and sends the message that what he did wasn't worthy of more vigorous prosecution. I will be surprised if Shannon Burke sees the inside of a jail cell again as a result of this incident. I fear that another, more violent one, is in his future.

Click here to see what rights the Florida Statutes afford to victims of crime.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Shannon Burke Gets Bond

It's puzzling to me that the two other women who filed injunctions against Burke after he shot his wife were not contacted by the State's Attorney, nor were they consulted about the agreement made at today's hearing in Seminole County that allows Burke to get out on bond. Even though his wife Catherine is the victim in this case, their safety (and that of their children) should not be disregarded.

In fact, the most serious charge of Aggravated Battery w/Deadly Weapon was changed to Shooting Into Occupied Dwelling. An inch or less in the wrong direction, and Mrs. Burke would be just another name on CourtWatch's DV Fatality List for 2009. It sounds to me as if the State believes Burke's story that it was an accident (even though it is alleged in his wife's petition for injunction that he replaced the magazine in his pistol after it failed to fire the first time). Or maybe they think they can't prove more than that. In any case, I'd be surprised if he gets any real jail time after this.

Perhaps his wife has caved in to pressure from Burke and isn't prepared to participate in prosecuting her husband criminally. Perhaps, as is often the case, she just wants him to get the alcohol/drug counseling/treatment that she hopes will "cure" him. I sincerely hope that the treatment that was ordered today helps. But he still needs counseling about his need to exert power and control over his partner. The State should have made a BIP (Batterer's Intervention Program) after he gets out of the the in-patient program part of the deal .

Video of Burke's appearance before Judge Marlene Alva may be viewed at

His wife's Petition for Injunction may be viewed at

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Kudos to Judge LeBlanc

Last week I saw a no contest plea in the case of State v. Eberson Florial (2009CF960) in front of Judge Bob LeBlanc. Florial was initially charged with Domestic Battery by Strangulation, but the formal charge was Felony Battery - Great Bodily Harm. Florial was sentenced to 2 days in jail with credit for time served (the Statute requires 5 days), enroll in a Batterers' Intervention Program (BIP), and 18 months probation.

I am delighted to see the State include BIP in the sentence (it's not often we see this in felony court). The kudos to Judge LeBlanc are because he asked the State if there was also to be a no contact order or, at a minimum, a "no hostile" contact provision added to the sentence. The State admitted that it wasn't part of the plea negotiations, but the judge included a "no hostile" provision in the sentence.

If the judges begin to hold the State accountable for negotiated sentences according to what Florida Statute requires, I think the judicial system will begin to hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes more effectively than it sometimes does now.

Score Another One for the Good Guys

Dennis Junior Rios (2008CF3153), about whom I twittered (or is it tweeted?) from trial last week was found guilty in the 1st Degree Murder case of his ex-girlfriend's boyfriend. Rios fled to New Hampshire after the offense, made several incriminating statements to a family member with whom he was staying, and was arrested after a week. Rios told this family member that he used a duplicate key to get into his ex's apartment, grabbed her by her hair and bit her, kicked the door of the back bedroom where the victim was hiding, shot through the door once and then opened the door and fired again. The Medical Examiner testified that there were 4 bullet wounds.

The thing that made this case so interesting was the testimony of Rios' girlfriend and mother of their 3 children who witnessed the murder. She consistently said she couldn't remember the details from that evening, even when shown transcripts of her statements immediately following the murder as well as her testimony at deposition. I was left wondering if she was traumatized so severely that she genuinely couldn't remember, or whether she didn't want to help the State convict the father of her children with whom she'd had a relationship for 16 years. In either case, I fervently hope the State helps her get counseling through the Crime Victim's Compensation Fund.

Rios was sentenced to LIFE in prison for the murder, a burglary charge, and possession of a concealed weapon by a convicted felon. The State's plea offer in this case was 32 years, to be concurrent with a 10 year sentence he's currently serving. I'm glad Rios rejected the offer and chose to go to trial.

Score One for the Good Guys

Today I had the opportunity to see the verdict in State v. Mauricio Chavez (2007CF16182), a case I saw some of the testimony in last week. Chavez was charged with 3 counts of Sexual Battery of a Child Younger than 12, Lewd/Lascivious Molestation of a Child Younger than 12, L/L Molestation of a Child 12 or older, and Battery. The jury found the defendant guilty on all counts. Assistant State Attorney Ryan Vescio requested that Judge Roger McDonald wait to sentence Chavez until the victims can make an impact statement tomorrow morning. The judge told Chavez that he will be sentencing him to LIFE in prison without the possibility of parole.

Even though the impact statements will not change Chavez' sentence because the law requires a life without parole sentence, I am glad that the law requires that a victim have the opportunity to make these statements if they so choose. I hope the girls and their mother will find the healing they need and they'll be able to move forward with their lives, knowing that this man can never hurt them again.

Dorivert Sentencing

As anticipated, Laurent Dorivert was sentenced to LIFE in prison for the murder of his wife in 2006. Unfortunately, I was not present at the hearing, but a deputy in Judge Lubet's courtroom kindly informed me of the outcome.

By the way, the deputies at the courthouse are great - they are extremely helpful to CourtWatch & members of the general public. They are consistently professional in their demeanor and won't take nonsense from anyone who tries to be disruptive.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Winter Park Teenager Missing

Julie Rivkees, the 15 year old daughter of Ellen and Peter Rivkees from Winter Park, Florida is missing. Her parents are very, very anxious to find her and have requested we send out this email. If you see Julie, or know anything, please call 321-277-5501 or 321-277-5502

Julie - Age 15
5'5" 120lbs Dark brown hair
Last seen wearing jeans & black purse
Please call 321-277-5501 or 321-277-5502

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Community Service Hours

I've seen several cases where defendants' plea agreements include community service hours. How many of you knew that a defendant can sometimes "buy out" their hours for $10 each?

The only time this ought to be permitted is when the defendant's physical health prohibits them from completing their hours. This practice, even though it generates some money for our State, doesn't allow defendants with some financial means to truly learn a lesson and think about their crime while they're picking up trash (or whatever they're supposed to do). Why are we allowing them to not be inconvenienced by paying their debt to society?

Attempted Murderer Only Gets 15 Years in Plea Agreement

The State of Florida had 4 felony cases against Raymond Lewis, Jr. for numerous crimes last year. His run ins with the law began 3/11/08 when, after arguing with his girlfriend, he hunted her down and fired at her and 6 other people. Thankfully, no one was wounded. On 5/15, he was granted bond by Judge Bob LeBlanc in the amount of $11,500 for 7 counts of Aggravated Assault w/Deadly Weapon and 1 count of Shooting from Vehicle. He posted bond on 5/21/09 and was put on Home Confinement.

On 7/30/08 he was charged with Grand Theft of equipment relating to his home confinement and could not be located. On 8/2/08 he attempted to murder his girlfriend by shooting her in the chest (she survived). A capias for his arrest was issued and he was subsequently apprehended on 8/16/08 - but not before adding charges of Robbery w/Firearm, Carjacking, Aggravated Fleeing/Attempting to Elude & Resisting Officer w/o Violence relating to a chase where he totaled the vehicle he was driving.

The Attempted Murder charge should have won a sentence of 25 years in prison for possession & discharge of a firearm. The State knocked this charge down to 15 years (amending the charges to merely possessing the firearm) in their plea agreement with Defense Counsel. A 10-yr minimum mandatory term is included in the 15 years. All the other charges to which Lewis pled were also 15 years or less and run concurrently to this Attempted Murder charge. State Attorneys Benjamin Kashi & Marlene Wells represented to the Court that all the victims were agreeable to this resolution.

Raymond Lewis, Jr. is now 24 years old. His sentencing points (a measure of his criminal record & the severity of his crimes) totaled a staggering 412.6 points. From what I've observed in other cases, it seems as though each point is worth a month. So based on points, his sentence should be approximately 34 years.

Mr. Lewis, in my opinion, got off too easy. Are our resources so strained that we can't effectively prosecute someone like this to the fullest extent of the law? Not knowing whether or not the victims were cooperative, it's hard for me to know why the State would agree to this plea. But I shudder to think of the danger he'll pose to our community when he is released in 10-15 years.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Bad Economy Means More Abuse

DALLAS (May 12, 2009) – Mary Kay Inc. today announced results from "Mary Kay’s Truth About Abuse" survey of domestic violence shelters across the country. The findings reveal an alarming trend: three out of four domestic violence shelters report an increase in women seeking assistance from abuse since September 2008, a major turning point in the U.S. economy. The survey data directly connects a major reason for the increase in domestic violence to the downturn in the economy.

"Mary Kay's Truth About Abuse" survey polled more than 600 domestic violence shelters nationwide. Representatives of the shelters surveyed report they have observed an increase in requests for assistance from domestic violence victims because of the following reasons:
4Seventy three percent attribute the rise in abuse to "financial issues."
4"Stress" and "job loss" (61 percent and 49 percent, respectively) also proved to be leading contributing factors in the reported increase in domestic violence cases involving women.

"Mary Kay’s survey confirms what we've been hearing from domestic violence programs across the country," said Sue Else, president of the National Network to End Domestic Violence. "The economic downturn is exacerbating domestic violence. The demand for domestic violence services is growing, and we must increase support for victims during this difficult time. Now more than ever, we urge corporations and other organizations to follow Mary Kay’s lead in the fight to end domestic violence."

The number of shelters reporting an increase in women seeking help as a result of domestic violence since September 2008:
4The region with the largest reported increase was the South (78 percent); followed by
4The Midwest region, which reported a 74 percent increase;
4The Northeast takes the No. 3 place with a 72 percent reported increase; and
4The West rounds out the regional list with a 71 percent reported increase in women seeking help as a result of domestic violence.

The survey also inquired about the cause(s) for the increase in domestic violence cases across regions:
4Seventy five percent of shelters in the West report "financial issues."
4Approximately 66 percent of respondents in the Midwest note "stress."
4More than half of respondents (53 percent) in the South report "job loss."
4The "loss of a home or vehicle" was reported more often in the Midwest than other regions, with 44 percent; the Northeast had the lowest with 35 percent.

Reasons more commonly associated with domestic violence, such as "substance abuse" and "relationship challenges," also contributed to the increase in domestic violence shelter assistance in each region, according to the survey.

Now, more than ever, domestic violence services are in need of financial assistance from their communities. Please consider a donation to your local shelter!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Sentinel Needs to Give Us the Rest of the Story,0,2598516.story

I've made it a rule not to comment on cases for which we didn't have a monitor in the courtroom. So my comments here are more directed at the article in the Sentinel.

In attempting to look up the complete disposition of this case online, the Seminole Clerk's website doesn't even have Merthie's name listed. I suspect it's because he was a juvenile at the time. However, his record should be available for review by the public, given the nature of the offenses involved. The safety of our children (especially those in Sanford) is at stake.

I'd like to know what the terms of Kareem Merthie's release were. The Sentinel only reported that he was being released. Was chemical castration ordered? GPS monitoring? Without looking at the court file, we don't know. There aren't enough details in this news article to know what precautions are being taken to protect the public. The Sentinel needs to follow up and give us more info - the volume of public comments on their website (300 so far) indicates that more complete reporting is needed.

10:20am update:
WFTV has more info for us:
Apparently Merthie will NOT be monitored because he was a juvenile at the time of the offenses.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

You Don't See This Every Day, Part 2

The jury came back with a verdict of Guilty on the False Report of Child Abuse/Neglect and Not Guilty on the charge of Stalking (which encompasses a course of conduct designed to harrass another person).

Judge Shea sentenced Thomson to 3 years CONSECUTIVE to the other case, ordered NO CONTACT with Ms. Latham, and ordered restitution be paid to the State for expenses incurred to prosecute the case.

Kudos to Judge Shea for making the sentence consecutive rather than concurrent to the other case (the maximum possible for the charge was 5 years). I hope that Mr. Thomson gets the message that he's in the Department of Corrections because of HIS behavior and that he'll cease blaming others for his conviction. I won't hold my breath though.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

You Don't See This Every Day

One of the more unusual cases I've monitored started in Judge Tim Shea's courtroom on Wednesday. The defendant, William Rawlings Thomson Jr., was convicted last year of Attempted 1st Degree Murder, Aggravated Battery (Great Bodily Harm), and Burglary in an incredibly brutal attack on his wife. He was convicted in February 2008 and sentenced in July by Judge Jose Rodriguez to LIFE + 30 years + 15 years (all consecutive). Assistant State Attorney Michelle Latham did an outstanding job of presenting the State's case. Defense Attorneys David Webster and James Disinger provided a vigorous defense. Judge Jose Rodriguez was extremely thorough as he presided over the case.

After the jury convicted him, Thomson began a letter writing campaign with a complaint to the Bar Association alleging that an improper relationship existed between Latham and Webster. When that complaint was investigated and determined to be unfounded, he turned to DCF to allege she was neglecting her child. Two DCF investigations were closed as unfounded - not without having traumatized her son, however. Thomson also wrote to Governor Crist to complain about Latham, his attorney, and the inadequate investigations done by the Bar & DCF. There were approximately 80 pages of letters and other documents introduced into evidence. Unfortunately for Thomson, he couldn't have picked a squeakier clean attorney to complain about that Ms. Latham.

Wednesday's witnesses included Ms. Latham, Counsel for the Florida Bar Association, DCF's Counsel, previous Counsel for the defendant (Webster & Disinger) and Judge Rodriguez. An overwhelming picture of harrassment was portrayed by State Attorney Erin DeYoung. The State rested its case at 5:00pm and the jury went home.

Mr. Thomson, whose case I monitored last year, testified this morning. He emphasized that he only filed the complaint to DCF because he had the "best interest of the children" in mind (not knowing she only had one). DeYoung effectively pointed out that his first two complaint letters mentioned nothing about the child. She systematically went through the numerous letters and demonstrated that Mr. Thomson was fixated on punishing Ms. Latham for his verdict.

As he failed to have any sort of sanctions imposed against Ms. Latham, his stories and his demands for retribution escalated until the State filed formal charges in November. In addition to the "improper relationship" and child neglect, he alleged drug usage by his attorney and Ms. Latham, and bribery of the judge and Ms. Latham. He made complaints about the quality of the investigations by the Bar and DCF to the Governor's Office. He even testified that the Bar Association should have put Ms. Latham under surveillance (so they could see that she was indeed out clubbing every night and leaving her child unsupervised). Thomson asserted that he wrote so many letters because he did not get a reply to his complaints.

In his closing argument, Defense Counsel Sean Landers claimed this was a case of vindictive prosecution by the State Attorney's Office because the alleged victim was one of their own. Ms. DeYoung admitted that the nature of an attorney's job (whether a prosecutor or defense attorney) creates a likelihood that they will have to deal with complaints. Where Mr. Thomson crossed the line, however, is in attacking Ms. Latham's family. Because DCF was called, her son (a special needs child whom she adopted from DCF and who did not have a good experience in foster care) was put in fear that he would be taken away from his mother. That is why the State wanted Mr. Thomson held accountable for his behavior.

The jury is currently deliberating. I'll let you know what they decide.

Pavao Update

Have a look at WFTV's report on the Pavao case (about which I blogged on 3/26 & 4/2). Kudos to Judge Jenifer Davis for not cutting him any slack while out on bond. And thank you to WFTV for staying with this story.

A "Non-Hostile" murder-suicide

It's stories like this one that explain why domestic violence advocates don't like to see judges award "non-hostile" contact injunctions:

The tragedy in this case is that Tonya Warren probably thought she was "safe" because other family members were present. And even more tragically, their very own child witnessed the most unspeakable act any child could witness. This case is also a reminder that the most lethal time for victims of DV is when they're trying to leave the relationship. That's when 75% of the fatalities occur.

"Non-hostile" injunctions are essentially unenforceable by the justice system. They give Petitioners a false sense of security. After all, the judge told the parties that the Respondent, at the victim's say-so, is supposed to leave the premises if the Respondent behaves in a hostile manner (for example, yelling at the victim). What's a victim going to say to the 911 operator if they want to try to enforce the order? The other person yelled at me?

Abusers often have several tactics in their arsenal that they use to convey threats to their victims - and bystanders in the same room don't even realize that a subliminal message has transpired. For example, one abuser would ritually remove his wedding band and place it on the fireplace mantel before beating his wife. When she petitioned for an injunction and they were in court for the hearing, he calmly removed his wedding band and set it on the table in front of him, making certain he generated enough sound for her to hear and to get the message.

The message? You're going to be beaten up after this is over.

Law enforcement isn't going to arrest someone because they took off their wedding band, are they?

Judges need to stop putting victims at risk by issuing "non-hostile contact" injunctions. I know they're done to permit both parents to attend school functions and the like, but maybe it's more important for the children and the victim to be safe while the perpetrator has time to (hopefully) cool down and adjust to the separation.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Summer Internships available

Two Internships (unpaid) are available this summer with CourtWatch. If you know of someone who might be interested, we can fashion a program to suit the needs of the intern and their faculty advisor for course credit. Or, if someone is interested in becoming an intern

  • to gain a greater understanding of the criminal justice system and/or the issues of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse;
  • hoping to have some "real world" exposure to the courts prior to or during law school and would like to have a letter of recommendation and the ability to include it on their resume;

then please contact me. Our last volunteer training class before the summer will be held Tuesday, June 2nd. Interested parties can register for the class at

Interns would be required to complete 15-20 hours/week of courtroom monitoring (courts are in session Mon-Fri from 8:30 to 5:00).

Saturday, May 9, 2009

No Bond for a Battered Wife

Shortly after the Michael Stalling sentencing in Judge John Adams' courtroom, I watched a bond hearing that has haunted me the past 24 hours. Michelle Wheeler (2009CF808) is charged with 2nd Degree Murder in the death of her husband, Jerry Cisco. Without recounting all the details of the 75 minute hearing, both parties have criminal histories. Cisco had been arrested several times for assaulting Wheeler, and the charges have always been dropped.

After the judge took 15 minutes to review the psychological report, the bond hearing began. Ms. Wheeler had about a dozen family members and friends in the courtroom to support her. In addition to a 17-yr old from a previous marriage, she has two children with the victim (ages 2 and 3). If released, she would live with her parents, who have owned their home in Ocoee since 1969. She has a history of always appearing in court when required to do so.

Joyce Pastorek, co-founder of No Abuse, a certified Batterers' Intervention Program (BIP) provider, and author of the psych report testified on behalf of the defense. She related that Ms. Wheeler is suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and meets the criteria for Battered Wife Syndrome. Pastorek testified that on the day of the incident, Cisco had conviced Wheeler that she would die that day. She had been repeatedly beaten and threatened with a knife that he'd used on her in the past. She was, in fact, convinced that she would die that day. Some time after midnight, she begged him to drop the knife, at which time she quickly grabbed it and stabbed him in the chest.

Wheeler's attorney, Chung-Wook Kim did an excellent job of making his case, until it was time for final argument. He carried the ball to the 5-yard line, but didn't cross into the end zone. Bond is designed for two purposes - to assure the defendant's appearance in court and to protect the victim and/or community. Mr. Kim failed to emphasize that Wheeler has strong ties to the community, and that she is not a flight risk (having lived here her entire life). He also failed to argue that she is not a danger to anyone. He asked for bond in the amount of $10k-20k with home confinement or GPS monitoring, and counseling. He indicated a curfew would be a reasonable restriction for his client, who has been in custody since January.

Assistant State Attorney Les Hess provided testimony that Ms. Wheeler committed the offense (she made an admission to law enforcement). He relied on "proof evident, presumption great" standard that she committed the offense.

The judge ordered that the defendant be held on No Bond. He indicated that if evidence were presented that she could get the counseling help she needs, and that if it was superior to the help she's currently receiving in jail with the New Beginnings program, he would reconsider if another motion were brought before him. Was the judge's decision perhaps influenced by the embarrassment of having had a different defendant (Michael Stalling) not show up when he was supposed to? We'll probably never know for certain.

True justice is tempered with mercy and each case should be considered on its own merits. I was disappointed to see that justice didn't happen in this hearing.

Attempted Murderer Gets 15 Years Prison

Michael Stalling, who pled no contest in March to attempting to murder his wife and subsequently cut off his GPS monitor and fled prior to sentencing in April, appeared before Judge John Adams yesterday. Stalling apologized to the Court for his failure to appear, citing that he was depressed and frightened about having to go to prison. He thanked the judge for permitting him to spend some time with his ailing mother after the plea in March. He expressed regret for putting his family through this whole ordeal. What was missing, however, was an apology for having committed the offense of stabbing his wife six times.

Stalling's original plea agreement called for him to serve 8 years in prison. His attorney, Evellen Jewett did an admirable job of presenting his case. But in the end, Judge Adams sentenced him to 15 years - and emphasized that the "extra" 7 years were not because he failed to appear, but because his crime was unacceptable. He concurred with the State Attorney's position that the only reason the victim was not mortally wounded was because she is a large (fleshy) woman and the knife did not hit any major organs or blood vessels.

Kudos to Judge John Adams.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Burke's Bond Revoked

Despite the fact I've spent in excess of 2000 hours watching court (mostly in Orange County), today was the first day I went to watch Initial Appearances in Seminole County. The case, of course, was that of Shannon Burke - the deejay that shot his wife & dog last week and within 24-48 hours of his release from custody, violated the terms of his release by having a friend go to his home, attempt to use a key Burke had given him to gain access - all to allegedly retrieve some of Burke's personal belongings. This qualifies as "indirect contact," which was forbidden by the Court.

We crowded into a dark, standing room only observation area that held only 15 seats. As we waited for the proceedings to commence, one member of the public, when learning that the crowd was there for the Burke case, joked that Burke was a "good shot - he got two birds with one stone." This boneheaded remark was met with nervous laughter from some of his companions. I was too stunned to speak my mind at that moment.

The speaker system in that room was barely functional (it is apparently obsolete & replacement parts are not available - no doubt that it will not be replaced anytime soon because of budget woes). It was incredibly difficult for members of the public to follow the proceedings because of the sound problems. Judge John Woodard appeared via a large screen monitor which ceased to function for a few minutes. I was amazed at one court interpreter who simultaneously translated into Spanish AND Italian for three defendants. I was also impressed with the excellent assistance provided by court personnel for the members of the media.

Most of all, I was glad to see that the judge was not swayed by Richard Hornsby's attempts to convince him that his client was not a danger to Mrs. Burke. Mike Rathel, Mrs. Burke's private counsel, appeared on her behalf to emphasize the terror she feels as a result of both the shooting and last night's visit by Burke's friend to her home. As Judge Woodard announced that he was revoking Burke's bond, Mr. Hornsby's jaw dropped open and his expression was one of a deer in the headlights.

After the hearing concluded, there was a media frenzy as Mr. Rathel was interviewed. He handled their questions with answers that indicated he has a good, working knowledge of the dynamics of domestic violence. I was amazed that nobody asked a question about the dog until he mentioned that the dog had been re-injured as a result of last night's activities.

It's great when the System does its job.

Parenting Advice Provided in DV Injunction Court

Judge Alice Blackwell knows how to conduct injunction hearings better than any other judge I've watched over the past 2 years. She walks the participants through the process, letting them know up front what to expect and what will be required of them. She alerts them to the fact that the hearing is being audio recorded and advises everyone that if a criminal case is pending, anything they say in her courtroom could be used against them. She asks probing questions, explains why she can't listen to hearsay, and gets to the facts she needs to make an informed decision efficiently. She also, on occasion, has had to train attorneys about proper protocol in this specialized court.

I saw a case this morning where the Petitioner wasn't quite sure whether or not she was genuinely fearful of the Respondent. He had threatened to do some property damage and she didn't want him to come to her place of employment and make a scene. The Respondent filled in the rest of the story - asserting that the Petitioner had threatened to have her boyfriend beat him up. He recounted that when she started yelling at him, he "naturally" yelled back at her.

Judge Blackwell thoroughly explained to the Petitioner why she couldn't grant the injunction - that these court orders are meant to protect people who are in fear of imminent danger. She encouraged her to re-file if circumstances changed, but the Petitioner's equivocation about whether or not she was fearful had to be a key factor in her decision.

The judge then shared some wisdom about co-parenting with the parties. She was concerned that dad "naturally" responded to yelling with yelling. She told him that the best way to honor his daughter, even though he and mom don't love each other anymore, was to treat the child's mother the way he wants a man to treat his daughter when she grows up. The judge then told mom that her daughter was learning how to treat a man by the way she treats her child's father.

I hope both parties think beyond their own hurt and anger and put their daughter first, before their situation escalates into one that truly needs an injunction.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Shannon Burke - Is he a loose cannon?

From reading the media coverage and talking with local experts, it is apparent to this CourtWatcher that Edward Shannon Burke's "accidental" discharge of a .40 cal pistol, hitting his wife and her dog, was no "accident." A direct correlation between animal abuse and domestic violence has been made by the experts, and this is a classic example of it. Tragically, this kind of abuse often extends to children as well.

The Humane Society lists the following as reasons why batterers abuse/threaten/kill pets:

To demonstrate and confirm power and control over the family.
To isolate the victim and children.
To eliminate competition for attention.
To force the family to keep violence a secret.
To teach submission.
To retaliate for acts of independence and self-determination.
To perpetuate the context of terror.
To prevent the victim from leaving or coerce her/him to return.
To punish the victim for leaving.
To degrade the victim through involvement in the abuse.

Click here for more info about animal abuse and domestic violence.

Three women have now been granted temporary injunctions against this man. That fact alone should tell everyone, even his devoted fans, that he has abusive (power & control) tendencies.

Burke had previously been prohibited from having unsupervised contact with his children. One more indicator that he is a dangerous man.

I applaud these women for doing everything in their power to protect themselves and their children. But an injunction is only one part of a safety plan. I tell people all the time that it is not bulletproof. If the perpetrator is not afraid of the criminal justice system, or if they feel they have nothing to lose, no piece of paper in the world will keep you safe. The most dangerous abuser is one who thinks that life is no longer worth living and they become suicidal. Burke has now lost his job at Real Radio 104.1 (WTKS is a station whose website does little more than objectify women by sponsoring bikini contests) and his reputation. He's lost his home (at least for the time being) and his wife has filed for divorce. He's being monitored by Orange County for alcohol consumption in their VOP (Violation of Probation) case. A GPS device has been ordered in the Seminole County case. So even though he's out of jail, he's lost a significant amount of freedom. I suspect he scores off the charts on lethality assessments.

I hope the Seminole State's Attorney upgrades the charges from Aggravated Battery w/Deadly Weapon to Attempted Murder. If, after pulling the trigger and getting no response from your weapon, you eject the pistol's magazine, insert a new one, and pull the trigger again, the State should charge you with attempted murder.

Ultimately a jury will have to decide, unless the State cuts him a plea deal. And even though there was only one victim relating to this May 1st shooting incident, I hope and pray the State's Attorney will keep the other victims apprised of any developments in the case. Call it a "fatality prevention" measure.

PS: I suspect Casey Anthony is glad for the media respite.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Young, Stupid & In Jail

In monitoring Judge Tim Shea's court this morning, I saw two defendants that could be categorized as young & stupid. The first was Doreen Maynard, age 19 at the time of her arrest for 3 counts of DWI manslaughter. She pled no contest last month and was here to be remanded into custody while a PSI (pre-sentence investigation) is prepared. Several family members wept as this petite young lady had the handcuffs put on her. The primary thought that ran through my mind (after realizing that she is younger than my oldest daughter) was how foolish it is to drink and drive. She ruined the lives & families of 3 people who died. She ruined her own life. All because she was stupid enough to get behind the wheel after drinking. Her sentencing is scheduled for June 8th.

Our second "stupid" individual was scheduled for sentencing. Carlos Guzman pled to Robbery with a Firearm (which carries with it a 10-yr minimum mandatory sentence). Guzman is also 19 years old. He and a co-defendant severely assaulted a security guard who confronted them in a parking lot last July. The victim, a young man in his 20s, was pistol whipped in the assault. After hearing the victim's testimony, it appears as though Defense Counsel Kendall Horween's tactics with the victim could be construed at best as questionable, at worst as harrassment. The victim testified that Horween had repeatedly called him to discuss the case. The victim had to ask the State Attorney's office to contact Mr. Horween to ask him to stop calling. Horween's subpoena to depose the victim "accidentally" had the victim's name where the defendant's name belonged. When the victim called him for clarification, he got the victim to agree to request a "Youthful Offender" sentence of 6 years in exchange for cancelling the deposition. Even when he was testifying this morning, Judge Shea had to reign Horween in, stating that he was not going to permit the victim to be re-victimized at this hearing.

Perhaps Guzman was simply caught up in a situation where he & his buddy, because they had a gun, decided to act like tough guys. The defendant claimed today that he did not have a gun during the offense. If that was the case, his attorney did him a terrible disservice by allowing him to plead guilty last month (I don't think the judge bought that claim). In spite of my criticisms of Mr. Horween, I don't think he is incompetent. Perhaps Guzman's apology to the victim was genuine, but from where I sat, it was (as Assistant State Attorney Mark Graham asserted) a case of crocodile tears. The defendant committed this offense less than 2 months after being released from jail on a burglary charge. Perhaps we should believe his attorney's argument that the defendant entered the plea in order to spare the victim from having to testify in deposition and trial. Sorry, you're not going to sell me on that one either.

Thankfully, Judge Shea didn't buy the defendant's arguments and presentation of mitigating factors. He sentenced Guzman to the 10-year minimum mandatory sentence because the maximum he could impose under Youthful Offender guidelines would be 6 years, which he did not believe to be sufficient for the severity of the offense.

Two different defendants, two different offenses, same theme. Young, stupid & in jail.

Friday, May 1, 2009

A Mom's Failure to Protect

I was in Judge Jenifer Davis' courtroom this morning for the sentencing hearing of Floyd Anderson (2008CF10385), a man who pled in February to the charge of Attempted Sexual Battery of a Child Under 12 Years of Age. In exchange for the plea, the State dropped a charge of Lewd/Lascivious Molestation of a Child Under 12. Last week, Mr. Anderson attempted to have his plea withdrawn, but Judge Davis refused to grant his motion. Mr. Anderson was supported today by approximately a dozen members of his family, some long-time friends, and the victim's mother (who actually walked in on him when he was assaulting her daughter!). Several supporters, including the victim's mother, asked the judge for leniency. Two young girls (one was his 11-year old niece) submitted letters on his behalf for the judge to read. The defense admitted that Mr. Anderson was severely intoxicated at the time of the offense and asserted that this incident was a one-time occurrence. He characterized the defendant's actions as having made a "mistake" while drunk. Numerous mitigating factors were presented in an effort to convince Judge Davis to go easy on him. He faced up to 20 years in prison.

For today's hearing, Assistant State Attorney William Busch had previously agreed to not present testimony or argument for a lengthy sentence, which utterly baffled me. I later learned that the victim's mother had threatened to "disappear" with her daughter in order to thwart the State's efforts to prosecute this man whom the victim called "Uncle." In researching Mr. Floyd's record, I learned that this was not a one-time incident, but that 2 counts of Sexual Activity With a Child were dropped in 2004 because of victim unwillingness to prosecute - a common situation that prosecutors face. I understand that there a numerous reasons why victims don't want to prosecute - most often they're either afraid of retaliation from the perpetrator or they're afraid of the court system.

Judge Davis told the defendant that she was fully prepared to sentence him to 20 years incarceration + 10 years sex offender probation before this hearing. She commented that in all her experience, both as an attorney and as a judge, she had never seen such a good job of mitigating factors presented. The overwhelming support for the defendant made a difference. She told him that the biggest thing that hurt him legally was his actions and his admissions and that he should not blame anyone for the 78-month sentence she imposed. She declared him to be a sexual predator, ordered 10 years of sex offender probation with electronic monitoring, and alcohol evaluation/treatment were ordered. She also told him that he was not to be in the presence of children if he was impaired (I guess she doesn't expect alcohol treatment to be effective).

I am appalled that the mother of this child worked against the State to this degree. My heart goes out to this child, who was not present today, that her mother valued her friendship with Mr. Anderson more than she valued her daughter's (or other girls') well being. Perhaps she should be charged with failure to protect by DCF, but that's unlikely. In spite of the circumstances, I am perplexed that the State agreed to not present argument or testimony in this hearing. Mr. Busch appeared to be frustrated with the situation to a degree I've not seen before.

Finally, I am glad that there are minimum guidelines in place for sentencing, otherwise Mr. Anderson might have been held even less accountable than he was for his actions.