Category Archives: Cape Coral / Southwest Florida

Exclusive: Ashley Toye Sentence Overturned, She’s Entitled to a New Sentencing in the Cash Feenz case

Ashley Toye

Ashley Toye mug shot

Ashley Toye was sentenced to life in prison at 17-years old for her involvement in the double murder of Jeffrey and Alexis Sosa in 2006. The facts of the case were troubling; one of the prosecutors who worked on the case told me it was the most troubling and disturbing cases she had worked on in a career of criminal law work. The Sosa’s were kidnapped, tortured, and ultimately killed by a would be rap group/gang under ringleader Kemar Johnston. Johnston allegedly forced Toye and others to participate in the torture, before the victims were taken to a remote area, shot, and their bodies set on fire. The State pursued the death penalty against Johnston, but he was given life in prison. Several other co-defendants agreed to cooperation plea deals to avoid mandatory life sentences on First Degree Felony Murder Charges.

Ms. Toye elected to take her chances at trial. She was pregnant with Johnston’s baby at the time of trial, and claimed that she only participated for fear of what he might have done to her. While she was acquitted of premeditated murder, she was convicted of first degree felony murder, which carries a mandatory life sentence. Life means life in Florida, and Ms. Toye was sentenced without the possibility of parole, in spite of the fact that she was a minor at the time of the offense: she got the same sentence as Mr. Johnston. The case garnered national attention, even a segment on the “Dr. Phil Show” discussing Ms. Toye’s case, specifically. I recommend checking out the episode, specifically for Dr. Phil’s discussion of the purpose and theory regarding juvenile sentencing.

Subsequently, the Supreme Court decided the landmark case of Miller v. Alabama, which found that mandatory life sentences are not permissible against minors under the Constitution. This entitled Toye to a new sentencing hearing. Florida subsequently passed a law governing sentences for minors, indicating that if they killed or intended the death of the victim, they still could be sentenced to life, with a 40 year minimum, albeit with the possibility of review after 25 years. Florida law also provided that if they did not kill or intend the death, there is no minimum sentence and that they are entitled to have their sentence reviewed after 15 years.

Ashley Toye’s most recent prison photo from DOC

Local attorney Stu Pepper took up the case for Toye, and represented her at the new sentencing. Pepper argued that the jury did not find that Toye had intended the death of the victims, in fact, she was acquitted of the premeditated murder charge. That would have required her to have a review after 15 years. Further he, he presented evidence of Toye’s efforts toward rehabilitation in prison and argued for a significantly reduced sentence. Also, the state conceded that it appeared that a term of years with a 15-year review was appropriate. However, the court chose to disregard those arguments, and sentenced Toye to life in prison, without the possibility of review for 25 years.

The case was again appealed, and the 2nd District Court eviscerated the lower court’s sentencing. The 2nd DCA found that Toye could not be sentenced to the greater possible sentence because there had not been a jury finding that she had killed or intended the death of the victims. The court overturned the sentence, and remanded it to the lower court for Ms. Toye to get a brand new sentencing hearing, and indicating that she should be sentenced under the subsection of the statute that does not have a mandatory minimum and allowing her a review after 15 years. Further, the DCA found that the court considered improper factors, so that when she comes back for re-sentencing, she will be entitled to have a new judge hold the new sentencing hearing. The State can appeal this ruling to the Supreme Court of Florida, but I would posit that is unlikely, when the sentencing prosecutor conceded that a life sentence probably wasn’t appropriate.

This is  huge win for the defense, as Ms. Toye will finally have a meaningful chance to not only avoid a life sentence, but to have her sentence reviewed after 15 years. The DCA opinion almost certainly will persuade the new judge that a life sentence is not appropriate- even the State did not argue for it the last time around. I spoke to Mr. Pepper, who was very happy that Ms. Toye will get a new shot at sentencing. Mr. Pepper says that after 7 years, Ms. Toye will be entitled to an early release from prison, which she deserves. Mr. Pepper complimented the appellate attorneys, Mariko Outman and Chris Altenbernd. Pepper said they, “did a fantastic job prosecuting the appeal. The reversal was made possible by their efforts. This is what lawyering is all about.”

Indeed it is… representing an unpopular defendant against whom the system again and again imposed an unjust result is exactly what lawyering is all about.

It’s up to you to Exercise Your Right to Remain Silent

Wade Wilson mugshot

Your right against self-incrimination is provided by the 5th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. You can’t be compelled to provide testimony against yourself… but time and time again, criminal suspects give statements that harm their own interests. The latest example is Wade Wilson, a Cape Coral man suspected in two murders during a spree a few weeks ago. Wilson was jailed on other charges while authorities continued their investigation.

Well, our Wade Wilson, not to be confused with the comic-book Deadpool’s alter-ego played by Ryan Reynolds, just couldn’t keep his mouth shut. Wilson started calling local reporters and giving statements that were broadcast on the news. Wilson gave chilling statements about his interactions with the women. While Wilson ultimately denied being responsible for killing the women, he made multiple incriminating statements, including admitting that he was the last known person to see the women alive. The state may have charged him anyway, but it certainly didn’t help, as he’s now been indicted for first degree murder in their deaths.  Yes, his news interviews will be admissible evidence against him.

This goes from the most serious charges like Wilson’s, down to misdemeanors like DUI. While the State may be able to prove up a DUI based on the observations of officers, other witnesses, or a breath result… the case gets a lot easier if the Defendant admits drinking, or how much he was drinking before he got pulled over. The cops are certainly going to keep listening.

Twins Arrested for Burglary: I wonder what their Defense Will Be?

douglas david null

Douglas and David (or is is David and Douglas) Null

A pair of twins from Cape Coral, David and Douglas Null, have been arrested for burglary of a local business. Needless to say, there are challenges inherent in identifying the culprit anytime an alternative suspect can be identified. The article doesn’t explain why there were charged (there is also a juvenile co-defendant)… but I suspect I know what each of them will argue. They will have to get separate attorneys!

Florida Man Dances Naked through Fire, Attacks Officers

John Hennessey 2

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.

 

John Hennessey

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…

Cape Coral on Enhanced Traffic Enforcement this Weekend

capecopsCape Coral will be conducting traffic enforcement operations this weekends, likely targeting Veterans, Coronado, and Kismet. Be sure to be safe out there. The Fox article got my attention because it says checkpoints in the headline, but I think that might be a misnomer. It’s probably just targeted enforcement as opposed to full checkpoints where they randomly stop drivers. Regardless- drive safely!

Video from DUI Arrest at the McDonald’s Drive Thru

christopher bidzinski

Christopher Bidzinski

ABC-7 tracked down the body cam video of the guy who passed out in the McDonald’s drive thru a few weeks ago. It is his third DUI arrest in the last three years. Employees called cops after Christopher Bidzinski fell asleep in the parking lot, waiting for the food he had ordered. When officers arrived, he told them to take him to jail, and at one point, attempted a cartwheel while officers were trying to conduct field sobriety tests. The entire interaction with the cops was caught on bodycam, and even they can’t help laughing.

Not only does Bidzinski have his own arrests, it appears he was struck by a vehicle a couple years ago while crossing the street when he was intoxicated. It’s clear he has a major alcohol problem: he tells the cops that he deserves to go to jail. He’s been in for three weeks right now, and some time in jail is a major part of getting him sober, but punishment alone is not enough: he will need major, long-term counseling help to stop being a danger to himself and to others.

 

Cape Coral Conducting a DUI Operation Tonight

Cape Coral announced they will be conducting a high-visibility DUI operation tonight. They plan to be out in force and looking for impaired drivers to bust. Part of the purpose of these operations is to raise awareness of the dangers of drinking and driving, and to remind everyone to stay safe!