Over the weekend, Assistant State Attorney Anthony Kunasek passed away. Mr. Kunasek was one of two prosecutors handling the trial of Kierra Russ, one of the co-defendants in the shooting at Club Blu several years ago in Fort Myers. Russ is charged with two counts of murder, as well as conspiracy for murder, though she is not alleged to be one of the shooters. The Sheriff’s department and the State Attorney’s Office have confirmed that it was not murder and deemed the death not suspicious. People have been speculating online that there may have been foul play, especially as the sudden death came in the midst of a murder trial with alleged gang affiliations, but there has been no evidence to support that theory, and that is not a likely explanation.
Beyond the tragedy of losing Mr. Kunasek, a long-time employee of the SAO, the State faced a challenge of what do to with the trial. Assistant State Attorney Sara Miller is the lead attorney on the case, and the State has decided to go forward. If the state had decided not to go forward, they could have requested a mistrial under the circumstances. However, had they been granted a mistrial, the Defendant would have challenged the State’s ability to retry the case due to the Constitutional Prohibition against double jeopardy. Generally, the State only gets to try somebody one time. Alternatively, the State could have asked to continue the case for a period of time in order to be prepared to go forward.
This is a sad situation for the legal community. My heart goes out for those who knew Mr. Kunasek, especially his friends and family. I worked with him during my time at the SAO many years ago, and knew him as a talented trial attorney, a sentiment I’ve heard echoed time and again. Condolences for anyone who was affected by his passing.
*UPDATE* The Jury found Kierra Russ Guilty of two counts of second-degree murder and a count of conspiracy to commit murder. She faces life in prison at sentencing on June 6.
Police say Dr. Jozsef Piri did not know Roberto Fonseca-Rivera, of Boston, but they have charged him in Fonseca-Riveras homicide along Vermont Rte. 103 in November, 2019. Details are still limited, but police say they have surveillance footage, GPS data, pictures, and other evidence that indicate Dr. Piri was driving his pickup directly in front of Fonseca-Rivera’s delivery truck the day he was killed. Fonseca was found shot to death in the head and neck in his truck, which had been pulled to the side of the road. They zeroed in on the silver Toyota pickup not long after the homicide, and believe Dr. Piri was driving a truck matching that description in the area at the time (he lived in Connecticut and was returning from Vermont.).
Dr. Piri has been arrested in Naples, where he worked as a doctor for Physician’s Regional Hospital. He is awaiting extradition to Vermont where he will face murder charges. The fact pattern suggests a possible road rage situation, but that’s unclear as there are so few details so far.
*UPDATE: I found a story from the time of the incident where Vermont Police released a photo of the Toyota pickup they had been looking for. It’s not clear what connection Dr. Piri may have to the truck. Notable, the photo released clearly shows a person sitting in the passenger seat, which means if the truck was involved, there must be a witness. Also, it happened in the middle of the day, between 1 and 1:30 p.m.
Wisner Desmaret, the man accused of taking the gun from and killing officer Adam Jobbers-Miller in 2018, has filed a notice of intent to rely on insanity as a defense in the case. This was expected, as he was caught on the scene, as well as on body cams, and Mr. Desmaret has an extensive mental health history. Desmaret had previously been declared incompetent to stand trial on prior offenses. Insanity is different from incompetence, and is an affirmative defense. That means the Defendant concedes the underlying action, and then the burden is on him to prove that he should be excused by the defense. To demonstrate insanity in Florida is difficult to prove: not only must the defense demonstrate the “mental infirmity, disease, or defect”, the Defense must show that the issue was so great that the Defendant did not know what he was doing or that what he was doing was wrong. It’s insufficient to merely claim that one is insane… it has to be proved that the mental issue is very extreme.
Candidly, I did not know it was illegal to keep raccoons as pets, and have never seen anybody charged with it. The Florida administrative code has classified several native species so that they cannot be kept without a permit if they are taken from the wild. Included under this classification are also skunks, bats, fox and whitetail deer- so no trying to keep Bambi! There is no restriction on keeping rats, mice, squirrels, chipmunks and most of the commonly kept pet animals.
Tori Parsons, of Venice, Florida was cited after a neighbor reported she was keeping racoons as pets. She only ended up getting arrested when she failed to appear for court, and got a bench warrant, though she has since bonded out. The charge is criminal, but it is only a second degree misdemeanor, the least serious criminal offense in Florida. FWC gave her three days to transport and surrender the animals to a licensed wildlife facility, and it was only when she failed to do so that she was cited.
As always, Crimcourts will stay on top of all wildlife related criminal news. Which reminds me, I didn’t get to report on the recent story about Florida Flying Squirrels. National Geographic reports that thousands of Southern Flying Squirrels may have been illegally trapped for the pet trade, and shipped overseas to places like South Korea. Rodney Knox and 5 of his associates are facing charges as serious as racketeering for the ongoing operation. Knox runs a farm and breeding operation, but FWC alleges that was a front for an illegal capture business, and Knox has a history running afoul of breeding regulations, including a warning for trapping flying squirrels. This operation rivals the time FWC set up a fake alligator farm to catch egg poachers!
Mariya Kelly, 21, of Cape Coral, has been arrested and charged with manslaughter for stabbing her mother, who died at Cape Coral hospital. The police have not released any details of what led up to the incident, though the manslaughter charge in lieu of a murder charge is curious. More details will follow as the case progresses.
The courts are still open, but very limited, as they have been for the last few weeks. The Florida Courts are still open, but for limited functions such as First Appearance, Arraignment, Bond Hearings, Injunctions/Restraining orders and some others. That means if you or a loved one get arrested, you can still seek the assistance of an attorney. While we’re locking up the physical office, you can still reach us by phone, 239-333-4686 or email: email@example.com
You can still reach the Law Office of Spencer Cordell.
Our phone number is 239-333-4686.
Our email is firstname.lastname@example.org .
The wheels of justice must continue to turn, in particular for those accused of crimes during the public health emergency. Florida courthouses, including those in Southwest Florida, are open on a limited basis for essential hearings. Among those hearings still happening are arraignments, injunctions, and first appearances for those who have been arrested. Attorney Spencer Cordell is available to consult by phone, answer emails, and even video chat if that is necessary.
Please stay safe during this health emergency. The novel corona virus has impacted all of our daily lives, and we must take steps to protect others who may be vulnerable to COVID-19, but we can stil make accommodations to help. If you or your loved one are facing criminal charges, even if there is not an essential hearing coming up, we are still available to discuss your options, and the consultation is still free. Don’t hesitate to call you have been arrested, injured in an accident or want to know your legal rights.
A prisoner in Iowa says he should be released after dying an having died and having to be revived at the hospital. Benjamin Schreiber says he was sentenced to life in prison, not life and one day more. His argument was bolstered by the fact that he had signed a do not resuscitate form, and even his brother had told the doctors not to do anything more than make him comfortable. The Iowa Supreme Court denied his claim, and he will continue to serve his prison sentence.
The appellate court wrote in their opinion, “Schreiber is either still alive, in which case he must remain in prison, or he is actually dead, in which case this appeal is moot.” While he has an interesting argument that his sentence had been fulfilled, he will have to wait it out on the inside.
Yesterday in Boston, Judge Richard Sinnott had defense lawyer Susan Churcharrested and removed from a courtroom as she tried to read case law relevant to her client’s case. This is wildly inappropriate behavior from the judiciary in any circumstance. Even though the judge released her, several hours later, without pursuing contempt charges, the intent and possible effect of threatening to jail a lawyer for doing his or her job is to discourage lawyers from advocating for their clients. The judge told her her didn’t her to turn the hearing “into theater”, then proceeded to perform the great theater of having her taken into custody. Said Church, “[I] sat there wondering if I was going to jail that night, whether I’d be able to see my children at dinner that night, what I was going to do about my work and my clients.” She continued, “My biggest concern is that this doesn’t have a chilling effect for all the other lawyers out there who are fighting the good fight,” via BostonGlobe.com.
The backstory is that Judge Sinnott was already feeling the heat by going against the prosecutor’s decision not to file charges, and refusing to dismiss this and several other cases the prosecution had already decided were not appropriate to be prosecuted related to protesters against the white supremacist “Straight Pride Parade” in Boston last week. So, when Church was citing case law, she was specifically pointing out the legal authority that said the judge had acted illegally in refusing to dismiss the case. Instead of listening to the legal precedent, he had Ms. Church removed. He didn’t like being told what he was doing was wrong, and he responded by arresting the messenger, who bravely persisted in doing her job in the face of threats to advocate for her client.
Since that episode in court, the prosecutor has filed an emergency petition with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to overturn Sinnott’s ruling. DA Rachel Rollins argued that the judge, “ignored the clear and unambiguous constraints placed on the judiciary by the separation of powers.” Church cited a 1991 Supreme Judicial Court case for exactly that proposition. It sounds like the case law will require the decision to be reversed, and the Judge may face discipline for his encounter with Ms. Church. Susan Church is a hero.