Court watchers have a couple of choices as 2018 gets underway. Two major murder trials have started in Lee and Collier Counties, and that’s after the former Naples Officer was acquitted at trial last week.
In Fort Myers, the trial of Placido Moreno-Torres started yesterday: he’s on trial for murder for a 2016 incident in Lehigh Acres where he shot his wife and the neighbor who tried to intervene in their domestic dispute. It will be an interesting case, as he is likely to claim self-defense, because the neighbor came onto his property trying to break up the altercation, and only then did he retrieve the firearm. He will claim self-defense (and previously filed a stand your ground motion that was denied), but he has an uphill battle if he brought a gun to a fistfight. He is also charged with attempted murder, because after he shot the neighbor and his own wife, he held the gun to his neighbor’s sister’s head and tried to shoot her, only to have the gun misfire. There’s no self-defense argument there. He faces life in prison with a 25-year minimum under 10-20-Life. NBC-2’s Jaclyn Bevis is in the courtroom with live coverage on Twitter.
In Collier County, jury selection is underway for Lisa Troemner who is charged with killing her live-in boyfriend at their Marco Island apartment in 2014. They had apparently been arguing for a while, when it became physical, and she stabbed him. She tried to resuscitate him unsuccessfully, then went to a nearby convenience store to summon help. Again, self-defense is likely to be argued here. Also, a review of the court file indicates the Defense has sought the assistance of a false-confessions expert to challenge her statement, a blood spatter expert, presumably to challenge the findings at the crime scene. The case has been going on for more than three years, including an appeal of some matter while it was pending. She has been in custody the whole time, and is facing life in prison. There are some 150 witnesses listed, and the trial will take weeks, maybe five or more. Patrick Riley from the Naples Daily News is on this one, and has been tweeting from the courtroom as well.
Posted in 10-20-Life, Criminal Law, Florida, Fort Myers / Lee County / Southwest Florida #SWFL, Naples / Collier / Southwest Florida, Stand Your Ground
Tagged collier, donald day, jaclyn bevis, lehigh acres, lisa troemner, murder, naples, patrick riley, placido moreno-torres, self defense, stand your ground, swfl, trial
Howell Donaldson III
The state has charged Howell “Trai” Donaldson III with four counts of murder for a string of killings in the Seminole Heights area of Tampa in the last few weeks. The State then subpoenaed his parents, Howell Donaldson, Jr. and Rosita Donaldson, to ask them about his history, including criminal, mental health and so forth. His parents, who were concerned that the State may try to use any evidence they provided to put their son to death, refused to answer the State’s questions or to cooperate. While the concerns may be sympathetic, there is no parental privilege applicable in this circumstance.
The State moved to hold them in contempt, and a hearing was held today in court. The Judge ruled that they would have to comply with the subpoena and to testify. He has given them until January 5, 2018 to answer the prosecutors questions or risk being found in contempt of court, which could include jail time.
This is fascinating, from a legal perspective, and the first time I’ve seen something like it. They were lawfully served with a subpoena (probably an Instanter), and the judge probably correctly orders them to comply under the law. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. The serial murders he is charged with are shocking, as four seemingly unconnected, innocent people were killed. The young man accused was a college graduate who was apparently polite, even with the cops that arrested him. This case will be in the headlines for some time.
Posted in 10-20-Life, 8th Amendment - Bail and Punishment, Criminal Law, Florida, Tampa Bay area
Tagged contempt, howell donaldson iii, murder, privilege, seminole heights, serial killer, subpoena, tampa
In the last month, a circuit court in Tampa held a Stand Your Ground hearing on the case of Curtis Reeves, a retired police officer. Reeves shot and killed a man named Chad Oulson after a heated argument in a movie theater. There is some dispute about the factual details, but the general case is based on an argument that began verbally, but became physical. The two exchanged words, and at some point, Oulson snatched a bag of popcorn out of Reeves’ hand, and threw it back at him. Defense lawyers allege that he also threw a phone at Reeves. Reeves pulled out a handgun and shot Oulson: CNN has the surveillance video of the incident.
The court held about two weeks of testimony. In her ruling, the judge found some of Reeves’ testimony to be contradicted by the evidence, and questioned his veracity. Under the current iteration of the Stand Your Ground law, the burden is on the Defendant to prove up his motion, but that could be changed down the road. Reeves can still argue that he was justified in defending himself to a jury, if he can convince them that he reasonably thought he was in fear of death or great bodily harm. Generally speaking, that’s hard to show when the other party is unarmed… Reeves brought a gun to a popcorn fight. Given that he’s in his 70s, I fully expect this case to end up going to trial, though it could still be a while.
Advocates of sentencing reform have been doing a nationwide tour for their push, and came to Florida this past week. Brian Elderbroom, of the Urban Institute, took part in a “Fair Sentencing” event at the Florida State University College of Law. Also taking part was Lauren Galik, who’s report “The High Cost of Incarceration in Florida: Recommendations for Reform” can be found online, HERE.
There is a serious movement from both sides of the aisle to put more common sense in sentencing, and in doing so, reduce the cost and potentially be more proactive in preventing crime. It’s a movement to keep an eye on.
read more here. and here.
Surveillance of Darth Vader’s most recent robbery attempt
Darth Vader committed another robbery, this time in Jacksonville Beach, Florida. Vader can be seen on surveillance videos at an 8 ’til Late convenience store, where he walked in, pulled out a gun, and demanded money.
Jacob Mercer mug shot
This is where it gets amazing: apparently the force was not strong with this Vader. One of the clerks in the store threw a wine glass at him, striking him in the face. Vader ran out, only to be captured a short time later. Judging by the suspect’s mug shot, the clerk seems to have struck him square in the face. Why didn’t he use the force?
This is the second time Vader has struck this year, that I’m aware of. As I pointed out last time, still not as classy as the Point Break guys. But, programming note… they are releasing a new Point Break remake next month, a week after Star Wars – The Force is Highly Anticipated. Doesn’t look as classy as the first one, though…
Point Break (2015)
Michael Spiegel Mug Shot
There was never any doubt that he did it, he was apprehended shortly after the crime splattered with the victims’ blood. However, Michael Spiegel’s defense at trial was that he was not sane at the time of the killings. The jury found him guilty in just a couple of hours.
Insanity is an affirmative defense, which means the burden is on the Defendant to prove that he was insane at the time. It’s difficult to do, especially when two people are brutally killed. There was evidence of a long history of mental illness, but the jury did not find it sufficient. The State argued that the steps he took demonstrated planning: which is indicative that he understood the nature and wrongness that he undertook. The finding today doesn’t mean that he wasn’t crazy, but that the jury wasn’t convinced that he was so mentally impaired that he did not appreciate what he was doing or that it was wrong.
There is a 25 year minimum mandatory sentence on the firearm charge. Due to his age, Mr. Spiegel will almost certainly die in prison, even if the judge doesn’t give him a life sentence.
You can read the standard Florida jury instruction on Insanity here.
Michael Spiegel Mug Shot
Trial is underway on the Michael Spiegel case. Spiegel is charged with killing his ex-wife and her new fiance a couple days before their wedding. Since he’s 72 years old, Spiegel is probably going to be sentenced to the rest of his life in prison if he is convicted of any charges related to the killing. As Mr. Carpenter points out in the NDN article, it is extremely hard to convince a jury that someone should escape culpability with an insanity defense: they must have such a great mental impairment that they do not know what they are doing or cannot tell right from wrong. The James Holmes defense attempted this argument, unsuccessfully. The state is arguing that his pre-planning, google searches, and so forth demonstrate comprehension and understanding of the wrongfulness of his crime.