Category Archives: Criminal Law

State is Seeking the Death Penalty Against Murdering Granny, Lois Reiss

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Lois Riess at Lee County Jail

The state has filed their notice that they intend to seek the death penalty against Lois Reiss, who allegedly befriended then killed a fellow tourist on Fort Myers Beach. Reiss was wanted in relation to the death of her husband in Minnesota (though at the time, only theft charges had been filed), and it is alleged that she targeted a woman who resembled her so she could steal her identity as she evaded authorities. She is alleged to have killed that woman, stolen her car, and was eventually captured in Texas.

It is not surprising that the State is seeking the death penalty, as they had obtained an indictment for first degree murder a few weeks ago. That is a precursor for seeking the death penalty. Further, the allegations include some aggravating factors, for instance, alleging that the murder was for pecuniary gain and was done to aid the flight from another crime. CNN picked up the latest story, as ‘Losing Streak Lois’ as garnered some national attention, both for the dramatic crime, and the nickname she was given by U.S. Marshall’s for her gambling habit.

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Friday Insanity: Minnesota Woman Holds Man Hostage with Machete, Forces Him to Have Sex with Her

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Samantha Mears

Samantha Mears, allegedly a 19-year old lunatic in Montana, has been arrested and charged with suprising her ex-boyfriend, holding him hostage with a machete, and forcing him to have sex with her. He says she had broken in, and when he came home she confronted him from behind and held him hostage with the machete. She then made him lie on the bed, take his pants off, and she got on top of him and initiated sexual intercourse against his will. He called police, pretending to call his friend “Doug”, and police came and arrested her. She claims to have been kidnapped, but the man provided a photo of her on the bed with the machete, and a bite mark on his arm.

There’s almost certainly something more going on here, though there is apparently a history of violence from her to him. However, they did not charge her with sexual assault (rape) or burglary, which would seem to be indicated by the allegations. Also, they say the couple had been dating for 7 years, which is a pretty long time for a 19-year old. So, some things sound fishy, to say the least. Regardless, it’s a pretty spectacular allegation.

Did a State Attorney Candidate Break the Law at his Fundraising Event? (On video)

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Candidate Christopher Crowley selling raffle tickets, via Facebook

One of the candidates for State Attorney for the 20th Judicial Circuit has been accused of breaking the law at a recent fundraising event. At the campaign event, of which Crowley posted video footage on his campaign Facebook page, Crowley can be seen promoting a “50/50” raffle (like a split the pot), for which tickets are being sold. He specifically states the tickets are to raise money for the campaign. This is problematic for several reasons.

The first problem is with doing any raffle or other lottery-type promotion… it’s illegal under most circumstances (Fla. Stat. Sec. 849.09). There is an exception for registered non-profit organizations: a 501(c) is allowed to do a raffle if they follow state law. That’s why you frequently see them at sporting events; the Red Sox, Twins, or whoever, does the event through their charitable foundation, which is permissible under state law. However, an election campaign is not one of those exceptions, and a raffle would qualify as a lottery, which is a third degree felony under Florida law. It may have been inadvertent, but this is a big problem for Mr. Crowley, contrary to his protestations that the complaint is a political stunt.

The second problem is that it runs afoul of campaign finance regulations. As NBC-2 points out, it’s clear on page 69 of the candidate handbook that raffles are not appropriate, and the handbook then specifically refers to the lottery statute, Sec. 849.09. Another reason for that is that all contributions must be identified, recorded, and reported under Florida law. That’s such a basic tenet of state campaign rules that it is disappointing that Mr. Crowley would be oblivious to it. He indicates that he called the ethics line and returned the money to the event organizer without depositing it. That’s a good remedial step, but it does not undo the initial error. Crowley has already been fined several times for late treasurer reports for his campaign, as well.

Crowley says to NBC that the complaint is a stunt by his opposition. It’s not. Steve Russell, the outgoing State Attorney, didn’t run out an file charges against Crowley, which he probably would be entitled to do. Instead, he referred it to FDLE, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, to conduct an independent investigation, and recused himself, as he should have. Crowley is incorrect that he can botch things up and try to pawn it off as fake news. This mistake is real, and it is serious, and Crowley posted the video of himself advertising the 50/50 raffle.

Further, Crowley tries to counter by touting an ethics complaint filed by his friend against Ms. Fox. He keeps saying she is under investigation… but NBC found a letter from the FEC indicating that the complaint they received was legally insufficient, and that the case was closed. It is a political stunt to get your friend to file an unsupported ethics complaint, and then to KEEP TALKING ABOUT IT, even if nothing has come from the investigation. This raises serious issues regarding Mr. Crowley’s lack of trustworthiness. On the other hand, kudos to Ms. Fox for taking the high road and declining to discuss the allegations against her opponent, which are much more serious.

I don’t think felony charges are appropriate for what appears to be an inadvertent, and relatively minor, campaign violation for which he returned the money. For now, it is up to FDLE to conduct their investigation. I am a lot more concerned about what this says about the judgment of the person running to be the highest law enforcement officer in Southwest Florida.

Below is the NBC video, but check out the full online story here, and also be sure to check out the News-Press article, which includes the full letters from Steve Russell.

Florida Man Dances Naked through Fire, Attacks Officers

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John Hennessey

Naked Florida Man stories are going to become passé before long. This time, John Hennessey was found completely naked, holding a knife while chanting and dancing around a fire. At one point, he actually stood in the fire, chanting gibberish all the time. He had allegedly broken a window of a home and tried to set a vehicle on fire. Officers tried to rescue him, and he dropped the knife but then allegedly grabbed a large stick that he used to assault officers. Cape officers were able to use a Taser to subdue him, and he was arrested and taken for treatment before being booked. There were indications he had taken psychedelic mushrooms prior to the incident. He’s facing charges of Aggravated Assault (X2), Criminal Mischief, Resisting with Violence, and an additional count of Aggravated Assault on a law enforcement officer.

 

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Hennessey, via DOC

Hennessey is already on Community Control (which is like house arrest) for several charges out of Levy county, including drugs and aggravated assault. This reminds me of the crazy naked guy from North Fort Myers from a few years ago. This is the second naked man story in Florida in just a few weeks…

Florida Man Gets Naked and Attacks Couple with Rake

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Maurice Castaneda

Bill and Crystal Colwell were sitting at home minding their own business, when a naked man with a rake barged into their house. Crystal tossed a hatchet to her husband, but he grabbed a hammer out of his truck and “went to town” trying to fight the guy off. The guy, Maurice Castaneda, (or Castanedo) got several licks in with the rake, and Colwell suffered several lumps on the head and puncture wounds on his back and shoulder. The rake was shattered from the force of the attack.

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Maurice Castanedo, via DOC

The Colwell’s suspect the suspect was on drugs. He retrieved his shorts from a nearby swamp and took off. Authorities called out the K-9 and helicopter, and were able to locate him a few streets over. He now faces charges for Burglary, Battery and Assault. Burglary with a Battery is a PBL (punishable by life offense) in Florida. I found a similar name in the Florida prison rolls: Maurice Castanedo has been to prison a couple of times: getting out for a robbery about 2 years ago. (There is another Castaneda, but that individual looks quite different- he happens to be on the sex offender registry). The distinctive Texas tattoo on this neck makes me fairly confident

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“Castanedo” via rapsheets.org

this ‘Castaneda’ is the same as the Castanedo in the prison photos. The recent release date indicates he may be subject to being sentenced as a Prison Releasee Reoffender.

He may plead insanity, or try to use intoxication as a mitigating factor. Normally, voluntary intoxication is not a defense- but if it makes you so crazy as to eliminate intent, they might have a claim! Most likely, he’ll be back in prison for quite a while…

Lois Riess Indicted for First Degree Murder

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Lois Riess

The State Attorney’s office held a press conference today to announce that a grand jury had returned an indictment for first degree murder charges against Lois Riess, the granny who allegedly killed a woman on Fort Myers Beach to steal her identity. Authorities have alleged that “Losing Streak Lois” Riess was hiding out from Minnesota, where she is a suspect in her husband’s murder, and used the identity and property she stole from the lady she killed to flee, ultimately until her capture in Texas. She may end up facing murder charges in Minnesota as well, but right now Lee County will proceed first. The indictment for first degree murder supersedes the second degree charges, and may be the next step for the state to announce that they will seek the death penalty. Only a grand jury can indict on first degree murder, and we should expect an announcement soon if the state intends to seek the death penalty.

Supreme Court Rules that Warrants Needed for Driveway Searches

supreme court facadeI haven’t had much time to post lately, but a substantial Supreme Court ruling this week demands a post. The Court ruled, by an 8-1 margin, that police searches that take place in the driveway of a home also require a warrant. Essentially, the court ruled that the curtilage of a home, that is, the immediate area surrounding the home, has similar protection to the home itself. In this case out of Virginia, an officer suspected that a stolen motorcycle could have been been stolen, and took it upon himself to peek under the cover. The Court found that the search was illegal because the officer did not obtain a warrant first.

Ultimately, this may not prove to be the most influential ruling… how many searches take place in a home’s driveway? Will this extend to the parking spot of an apartment complex? (I think so.) This ruling is not a great surprise, as the Supreme Court in the last few years has been very clear on the Constitutional protections for privacy against searches, particularly in relation to the home. And this will not hamstring law enforcement too much: cases like this one would present plenty of evidence to obtain a warrant.