James “Whitey” Bulger
Yesterday was the funeral for convicted gangster James “Whitey”. Bulger, a notorious leader in Boston area organized crime gained even more notoriety when he hid out for decades while sitting atop the most wanted lists. When they finally caught up to him, Bulger claimed immunity from prosecution as he had been cooperating with government investigators. That defense didn’t work, and Bulger was sent away to prison. He was murdered last week the very day he was transferred to a new facility, bringing to a close a dark chapter in Boston history.
Bulger was played by Johnny Depp in the biopic “Black Mass”, and influenced other stories, such as Martin Scorsese’s award-winning “The Departed”.
We previously covered the story of former Miss Hialeah and Miss Miami Lakes, Vanessa Barcelo. Barcelo was initially arrested for aggravated battery for threatening a man who refused to leave her party after causing a serious disturbance. The state determined that she did not strike anyone with the bat, but proceeded a misdemeanor battery charges as Ms. Barcelo slapped the man at the end of the altercation. After a 9-hour hearing, the court found that the man’s refusal to leave, and since he had taken the bat, meant her fear was justified, and dismissed the case under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law.
Now Barcelo is suing the cop and the Hialeah Police Department for the arrest, and for propagating the story that she beat hit the guy with a bat. While police are generally immune from suits, this suit alleges that the officer was grossly negligent, and relies on language in the stand your ground statute that compels police to investigate and determine whether there was justification for the force used. Working against the civil defendants is that Barcelo indicates the officer would not even take a statement from her, there were multiple witnesses who stated she had not struck him with the bat, and the alleged victim was drunk, and initiated the incident when he refused to leave her house when it appeared had had attempted to assault her cousin.
One of the less discussed aspects of the stand your ground law is that it is supposed to help prevent charges like the ones on Ms. Barcelo. It is explicit that officers are supposed to do a little more digging, and to be very sure that force was necessary before they make any arrests. They could be in trouble here, in light of the facts and the sloppy investigation. This is one of the rare circumstances where the cop and the police force may face consequences for their wrongful arrest.
Amira Fox won the Republican primary in the race for State Attorney for the 20th Judicial Circuit. That effectively means she will win the seat. This is a relief for everyone working in the criminal justice system in Southwest Florida, as things tend to run pretty well at the State here, and the kind of wholesale changes her opponent planned could have started chaos in our justice system. Ms. Fox was clearly the best candidate, and has the smarts and experience to do the job well.
I hope that when Ms. Fox takes over, she does look to improve some of the things about the State Attorney’s office: it would be nice to see more consistency from county to county, a reduction in jail time for non-violent crimes, especially misdemeanors like marijuana possession, and being willing to admit when a case is bad. Generally, the office has been pretty well run since Ms. Fox took over as chief assistant, and it probably will continue to be so. Ms. Fox ran a good, honest campaign and did not stoop to the dishonesty and mudslinging of her opponent. Hopefully this will show that races can be won the right way, by the best candidate. I wish her luck.
Jorge Guerrero Torres
The state has announced its intention to seek the death penalty against Jorge Guerrero Torres, who was indicted about a week or so ago for first degree murder in the kidnapping death of nine-year-old Diana Alvarez. Authorities located Guerrero’s phone with incriminating pornographic pictures involving the girl. He has been convicted in Federal court and sentenced to 60 years for child pornography. When he was in jail, he allegedly made incriminating statements that he killed Alvarez and hid her body, leading to the murder charges he now faces. The notice is the next step, after the grand jury indictment for first degree murder, to seek the death penalty, which has been reinstated in Florida.
Yesterday the State Attorney’s Office and LCSO held a major press conference to announce not one, but two, grand jury indictments for first-degree murder. The first was in the high-profile disappearance of Diana Alvarez. Jorge Guerrero-Torres has been charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping, and lewd and lascivious molestation: the first degree murder charge could be subject to the death penalty, if the State decides to seek it. Guerrero is already under a federal sentence for possession of child pornography related to the case: there was a challenge to the admission of evidence from his cell phone, but the court permitted it in the federal case, which is a good indicator in the state case. Further, NBC-2’s Jaclyn Bevis reported in December that Guerrero may have made a jailhouse confession to killing the girl and hiding her body.
The other indictment was for a much more recent case, but not the Lois Riess case… yet. The other case was in the robbery-murder of a taxi driver in Lehigh Acres just last month. Three co-defendants have been charged, and two of them are teenagers… one only 13 years old. Not many details have been released, but the State indicated today they sought the indictment due to the “horrendous nature of the crime“. 20-year-old Ricky Lagonde allegedly had a gun and threatened the victim, but the teenagers then shot him.
The other news of the day was that a press conference was held by “ARM”, the Animal Recovery Mission. ARM has been pushing for charges to be brought for some Lee County farms they allege were operating as illegal slaughterhouses and illegally selling horse meat. ARM and their investigators ran their own undercover operations, and presented videos and other evidence first to LCSO and later to the State Attorney’s office, who declined to file charges. Earlier press conferences from ARM have lead to protests against animal cruelty in Lee County. One of the concerns that the State has cited is the difficulty in introducing surreptitiously obtained videos as evidence in court, as our local State Attorney’s office learned the hard way. ARM brought their legal adviser to the session today, and he argued that since the videos were taken at a business with many people around, there was not an expectation of privacy, and that the videos would therefore be admissible. And even if the videos didn’t come in, the ARM witnesses would be available to testify. There’s a lot more to the issue, but suffice it to say, tensions are high on both sides.
Now, a cynic might point out that it was very convenient for the politicians who might be up for election this year that the big indictment announcements came on the same day as the controversial press conference. A cynic might wonder why, after almost two years, and months after the arrest and confession of Jorge Guerrero-Torres, the state obtained an indictment right before the ARMs media push: a push that has been seized on by the outsider running for State Attorney against the Chief Assistant ASA that presented the announcement today. The news of the day ended up being the new charges, and not the activists asking why the State had not moved on the ARM allegations, though it still made some news. I’m not that cynic, and I know that there are legitimate legal reasons that make it very difficult for the State to prosecute the ARM cases. That cynic might also point out that if it had been intentional timing, it was a brilliant bit of political maneuvering to control the biggest stories in the media on what was shaping up to be a bad day for people who have elections coming up.
Posted in Criminal Law, Florida, Fort Myers / Lee County / Southwest Florida #SWFL, Tampa Bay area, Uncategorized
Tagged animal cruelty, arm, diana alvarez, election, jorge guerrero-torres, murder, ricky lagonde, sexcrime