Naples Doctor Arrested for Random Shooting in Vermont in 2019

Dr. Jozsef Piri

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.

Police photo of the Toyota

*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.

Man Sentenced to 110 Years for for Crash that Killed 4 in Colorado

Obviously, 110 years for an accident is a lot of time- it’s life in prison, even where four people died, the crash was due to an accident. The driver’s brakes failed, but the prosecutor was able to convict him on 27 counts for the actions he took after the mechanical issues arose. At one point, it was argued that he should have slammed into another truck, essentially committing suicide, as opposed to attempting the evasive maneuvers that resulted in the crash. The judge ultimately suggested that he would not have sentenced Rogel Aguilera-Mederos, 23, so harshly if he had not been required to do so by law.

This article indicates the most serious charges were the four counts of vehicular manslaughter for the people who passed away, but due to the violent crimes mandatory sentencing strictures, Colorado required harsher sentences on the assault charges than the manslaughter charges. The judge’s hands were tied, and had to sentence the six assault charges to 10 years each, and mandated that they be sentenced consecutively. Further, the 10 attempted assault charges each carry a mandatory five-year sentence, also required to be served consecutively. Add those up, and the judge had no choice but to enter a 110-year sentence.

For the remaining charges, including the manslaughter charges, the judge entered a sentence of 30 years in prison, to be served non-consecutively. The judge gave a sever sentence for the deaths that the jury had found Mr. Aguilera-Merderos culpable for, but did not seek a sentence that would surely extend beyond his lifespan. One can clearly extrapolate that he did not feel such a sentence was appropriate, but was bound to make it based on the laws in Colorado and the way the prosecutor chose to bring the charges. The judge even suggested that he was bound by law to the sentence, and that none of the victims (and families) who gave testimony suggested that a sentence beyond life was appropriate. The mandatory minimums resulted in a sentence that was beyond what the judge felt was just, but took away the discretion of the court to apply reason.

We have decried the issues with mandatory minimum sentences here before, and the issue is prevalent in Florida, as well. This reminds me of the Marissa Alexander assault case that resulted in a disproportionate sentence a few years ago- and ultimately lead to changes in Florida law. As a general rule, mandatory minimum sentences may be well intentioned, but where there is no discretion, will ultimately be used to an unjust end.

Fortunately, Colorado does have a provision that would permit the court to revisit these sentences after 6 months. Indeed, the judge referenced that the sentences would be revisited, suggesting that he may be open to a showing that would permit them to be reduced. Based on everything stated, that appears to be a likely, and just, result.

I also want to add that Colorado’s assault statute includes reckless behavior (“manifesting extreme indeference to the value of human life”), which is unusual. The crime of assault historically required the intent to place fear/strike/or injure the victim. So, even though Mr. Aguilera-Mederos did not manifest any intent, he was convicted and is now subject to the ‘violent’ crime sentencing structure. That suggests that the sentene may be of a type more sever that intended by the legislature, but certainly applicable under Colorado’s definition of assault. (Usually, behavior so reckless to endanger life is criminally punishable, but not usually as assault. That’s the type of language for manslaughter or reckless driving in most jurisdictions.)

Rogel Aguilera-Mederos

Time and Again, the Cover Up Ends up Worse than the Underlying Offense

The Lee County Sheriff’s Office recently released aerial footage from this weekend, when a man fled from deputies, wrecked his stolen vehicle, and jumped off the Edison Bridge into the Caloosahatchee River. He survived the fall, and was fished out by deputies. The footage is dramatic.

LCSO says Bryan Gray was driving a van that had been stolen. Now, Grand Theft Auto is a third degree felony. In Florida, that has a maximum penalty of five years. However, unless someone’s record is really bad, it does not generally score out to mandatory prison time. Since Gray fled, he’s also facing charges of fleeing, with a high speed and property damage enhancement, adding on a second degree felony. That takes his maximum penalty up to 15 years, and greatly increases his scoresheet that could lead to a minimum permissible sentence that is more likely to require prison. Plus, his stunt landed him in a hospital and it could have been much worse.

Another case is exemplar of the coverup far exceeding the underlying offense. This week, Courtney Gainey was sentenced in the death of 14-year-old Allana Staiano. She pled out a few weeks ago to charges of Leaving the Scene of an Accident involving death- literally her crime was fleeing the scene. Had she stayed, it may have merely been an accident and a civil traffic ticket. As it is, she was charged with a first degree felony, exposing her to up to 30 years in prison. The charge carries a four-year mandatory minimum prison sentence, but the minimum was thrown out the window as the judge maxed her out at 30 years. It was suggested that she had been drinking that night, but even if she had been drinking to the point of impairment, a DUI Manslaughter is a less serious offense than leaving the scene. Dui causing death is a second degree felony, again with a maximum 15-year sentence. Her flight from the scene directly exposed her to twice as much time, and the notoriety of the case likely contributed to such a harsh sentence for a first time offense.

Once more the flight, or the cover-up, ends up being more serious than whatever offense one is trying to avoid.

Shot Spotter System in Fort Myers Leads to an Arrest

The City of Fort Myers has instituted a ‘ShotSpotter’ system. This type of system alerts Myers Police when audio detectors are triggered by sounds that it recognizes as a shot from a firearm. The system not only ‘hears’ the shot go off, but can triangulate a location, much in the way cell-towers locate cell phones. It can be a very useful tool, but it can also raise all sorts of issues related to probable cause: such as whether the noise was actually a firearm and how accurate is the location system?

The system went off Wednesday night and ShotSpotter led officers to a home in the city. It was apparently the correct address, as resident Randolph Williams answered the door, bleeding from his head, and with a large pool of blood on the floor. Williams was detained, and officers searched the home. Inside, they found an apparent marijuana grow operation with lights and multiple apparent young and adolescent marijuana plants. Williams was arrested for multiple charges in relation to the grow operation and for resisting arrest.

While the officers found ample evidence for the drug charges, there is an issue with the legality of their search. While the ShotSpotter gives them reasonable grounds to investigate, it’s questionable whether that alone is grounds to search a home without a warrant. The news story appears to suggest they based their search on an exception of exigent circumstances- arguably that they were worried that there was possibly an injured person. Unfortunately for that argument, the injured person was the home owner, and he was already in custody. Whether or not there is an applicable exception to the warrant requirement (which is strictly construed in individuals’ homes) depends on the totality of the facts, to which I am not privy, but it is an interesting issue.

Joe Exotic, the Tiger King has Won the Chance for a Lower Sentence

Joe Exotic

A Federal Appeals court has ruled this week that Joe Passage-Maldonado, who goes by Joe Exotic and was featured in the hit Netflix docu-series, is entitled to be resentenced to a shorter sentence. He was sentenced last year for an attempted murder-for-hire plot and for the killing of several endangered tigers at his former zoo. He was sentenced to 22 years for al the charges, but the court ruled this week that his sentencing guidelines were improperly scored too high. The court found that the sentencing judge improperly treated his two convictions for attempted murder separately, as they evinced a common criminal purpose. When scored as one conviction, will substantially lower the minimum guideline sentence.

With the ruling, the guideline range minimum will go from 22 years down to 17 and a half years. There will be a new sentencing hearing, and Joe’s attorney will likely push for the court to go even lower than 17 years, especially in light of Mr. Passage-Maldonado’s health issues. Joe has indicated in statements that he does not expect to survive the sentence, as he is suffering prostate cancer. The court has the option to sentence him within the range indicated by the guidelines- last time he was sentenced at the bottom of the range, as he has no priors or other aggravators. One would anticipate the sentence would go down, as the range has shifted down, but the court can consider other factors, if new information is presented, which could convince the court to go below the guideline range. A new hearing will be set some weeks down the road.

Man Claims Self-Defense in Killing Iguana (Yes, It’s in Florida)

PJ Nilaja Patterson claims the encounter he had with an iguana was self-defense, claiming the 3-foot green iguana was the aggressor and that he was acting in self-defense when he killed the creature. A laceration on his arm from a bite required 22 staples to close up. Prosecutors counter that a surveillance video of the incident shows that Patterson tormented the animal, and then went into a violent rage when it bit him while defending itself. The iguana had to be put down due to the injuries suffered in the confrontation.

PJ Nilaja Patterson

Patterson claimed immunity from prosecution under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, that allows the use of force when defending oneself. A judge has denied the motion, however, Patterson still has a right to argue justifiable use of force at trial.

Green Iguanas are invasive creatures, and it is permitted to kill them under Florida law, but it must be done humanely. It’s not the first time we’ve covered the inhumane killing of an iguana that led to felony animal cruelty charges. The state has cleared it’s initial burden to allow the case to go forward, but to convict him, they will have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he did not have a reasonable fear, or that the level of force use was not justified.

It’s not the first time we’ve seen self-defense argued for the killing of an animal. In 2013, a man accused of killing a protected sandbar shark testified at trial in Fort Myers that he killed the animal in self-defense. The court rejected that claim and he was convicted at a bench trial. A man in Bonita Springs claimed self-defense (and defense of property) when he killed a bear that entered his property back in 2009. He argued that Stand Your Ground also granted him immunity, and the state argued that Stand Your Ground only applies to humans. The judge denied his motion, and he ended up agreeing to plead guilty to killing a protected species and do probation in lieu of a trial. I am not aware of any case law that goes as far to say that Stand Your Ground does not apply to animals, and the self-defense statute reads, “[a] person is justified in using or threatening to use deadly force if he or she reasonably believes that using or threatening to use such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another”. Fla. Stat. Sec. 776.012(2)- it does not say anything that would limit it to defending yourself (or others) against a person instead of an animal. (Law enforcement officers kill aggressive pets with some frequency, for instance, which is lawful.)

The hurdle for Mr. Patterson is that the iguana was only three feet, and they are docile vegetarians. They run away from people. If the video shows him provoking the animal, he will be unlikely to garner much sympathy from the jury, despite his injury. People don’t like it when animals die: He may explore a plea deal, but he’s facing a felony for animal cruelty.

Also, it gives me another excuse to post Jimbo:

Uncle “He’s comin’ right for us!” Jimbo

Alan Dershowitz Scores a win in Defamation Suit Against CNN

Famed attorney Alan Dershowitz sued CNN for defamation related to its coverage of his argument in the first Trump impeachment trial. He alleges that CNN misleadingly edited a clip of his statements to give a false impression about his argument… and then propagated that misperception by replaying the clip and repeating it through pundits who based their arguments on the inaccurate summary of his statement. CNN filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that his claim does not rise to the high level needed to show defamation against a public figure, among other things. The judge ruled that the claim does meet that burden, allowing the case to go forward, and scoring a huge win for Dershowitz.

One of the arguments made by CNN is that their coverage of Dershowitz’s arguments should be protected by the fair report privilege. The court agreed that verbatim statements in a public proceeding like an impeachment trial are generally protected when they are repeated verbatim, or are an “accurate or a fair abridgement.” But here, Dershowitz’s claim was that there was a deliberate scheme to defraud by playing the truncated clip, and then playing the pundits’ statements to present the comments in a defamatory matter. He will still have to prove it at trial, but Dershowitz’s allegations are sufficient to defeat the motion to dismiss. The court agreed with Dershowitz that “CNN presented an official proceeding in a misleading manner and the fair report privilege does not apply.”

This is bad for CNN. The court went on to explain that the abridgement of Dershowitz’s statement was inaccurate, in that it omitted a crucial qualification. The court said CNN could argue to a jury that Dershowitz’s statement was ambiguous and that CNN was reasonable in its belief about what Dershowitz argued. That’s a tough sell in light of the qualifying statements that CNN chose to redact from the clip. A failure to defeat a motion to dismiss is usually when media companies see the writing on the wall and look to settle. But beyond the liability for damages here, it’s bad for CNN because the judge essentially made a finding that CNN was presenting false reporting. The court said, “For the fair report privilege to apply, a defendant must have ‘presented a fair and accurate report of the source documents.’ The CNN broadcasts do not meet that standard.” [citation omitted].

Ouch. The “Most Trusted Name in News” just had a federal judge make a finding that it failed to present fair and accurate information.

This could also be bad for other media outlets, particularly those of the cable talk-show type. While it may feel good for them to dance a little over CNN’s misfortune, many other stations have used the format where they play a clip, and then have pundits attack the speaker. This ruling suggests than if they A: play a clip that is edited or redacted so as to be misleading, and B: then repeat it through pundits, even if those commentators couch their punditry as criticism. That’s been a common practice on many media outlets, and CNN has now shown that they can be called on that practice. This is an important ruling for defamation law.

Undercover Sex Sting Operation Ends up Exposing Houston-area Deputies to Harassment and Sexual Assault

In a shocking federal lawsuit, women working for the Harris County, Texas, Constable’s Office detail allegations of wild “Bachelor Party” prostitution stings, where female deputies were assigned to work undercover. The women allege they were then subject to sexual harassment, both physical and verbal, from other deputies, including more senior ranking officers. Their instructions were to act like hookers at a bachelor party, under the theory that sting targets would be more likely to agree to partake in criminal acts. However, the male deputies then proceeded to treat them like sex workers, all while drinking and partying. Real alcohol was provided by the department, and consumed by all, while the assistant chief and others allegedly groped them under the guise of ‘maintaining cover.’

The suit also alleges that during another operation a undercover female deputy was sent to a massage parlor with the instructions to “wait to be sexually assaulted” to give the raid signal. Multiple other allegations, including job retaliation and discovery violations were also reported. The Constable’s Office denies the allegations and claims the suit is “an effort to impugn the good reputation of the hard-working men and women” of his office.

The brave women who filed this lawsuit had the courage to stand in front of cameras in support of their allegations, in spite of threatening phone calls:

Judge Throws man in Jail for Writing Critical Letter After His Case

A judge in Palm Beach County filed contempt charges against Derrick Jenkins, who was sentenced to 30 days in jail, for a harshly worded letter critical of the judge after Jenkins’ case was dismissed. In addition to being critical, Jenkin’s letter was profane, stating ““f—— hypocrit” and he “cant wait til the voters wake up and get rid of these f—— clowns you call judges.” [sic] Judge Howard Coates did not take kindly and initiated contempt proceedings. Another judge was assigned, and found Jenkins’ words a danger to the orderly administration of justice, found Jenkins guilty or contempt of court, and sentenced him to 30 days in jail with 6 months of probation.

If that sounds a problematic, you’re right. The First Amendment guarantees the right to free speech, and its protections are strongest for speech that is critical of the government. There are limits, for instance it wouldn’t be prudent to shout insults and expletives at a judge in open court. However, there was no disruption of any proceedings in this case. In fact, Mr. Jenkins’ underlying case was closed, the court had dismissed his claim against the Sheriff’s Office, so there was no pending matter. The letter would lose its protection if it contained true threats, but claiming an investigation or to have a judge voted out is not a true threat- that’s the Constitutionally preferred way to deal with those officials we disagree with. Judge Warner said, “That’s what you do when you’re unhappy with the judge. You say, ‘we’re going to vote him out of office'” according to the Palm Beach Post.

Appellate arguments were Tuesday, and the statements and questions raised by the judicial panel hearing the appeal don’t appear to take kindly to the arguments in favor of the conviction. The case does not seem to meet any of the exceptions to the protections provided by the first amendment, in spite of the fact the allegations may have been “scandalous and noxious,” in the words of the offended judge. It will likely be several weeks or even a few months until the appellate court rules.

Florida Attorney Convicted of Ramming her Ex-Husband’s House with SUV

Francine Bogumil has been recommended for disbarment for her actions involving her former husband. She is currently serving a sentence of just under a year for leaving her children at home, going to the home of her ex and his new girlfriend, rammed his SUV, driving it into the garage door, then started trashing the car of the new girlfriend. When her ex came out to confront her, she slapped him a couple times, prompting him to slap her back. When law enforcement arrived, she spat on the deputy who tried to break them up. She had texted threats to her former husband before coming over and causing the scene, all of which was in violation of prior restraining orders against her for prior threats.

Francine Bogumil

She had a hearing with a bar referee last week, who recommended her permanent disbarment- she had already been suspended from the practice of law based her her arrests. She spent some time in an in-patient rehab, and will has community control (house arrest), followed by more probation when she gets out of jail. Ms Bogumil had been a member of the bar since 2006. The facts of this case are so crazy, I don’t have much to add. except that she is clearly troubled, and hopefully gets the help she needs to eventually be a mom to her kids.