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.
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.
Lois Riess, who has already pleaded guilty to murder charges in Florida and received a life sentence in exchange for avoiding the death penalty, has now pleaded guilty to the murder of her husband in Minnesota. Riess, dubbed “Losing Streak Lois” by law enforcement that pursued her on a multi-state manhunt after she committed her second murder on Fort Myers Beach, had come to Florida after this murder in Minnesota. She targeted, befriended, then betrayed and killed a woman she met on Fort Myers Beach to assume her identity, take her car, and then spent several days on the lamb. She was caught on video gambling in a casino, hence the nickname, before being spotted and turned in by an observant civilian in Texas. Riess was already going to spend the rest of her life in prison, thanks to her plea to the Lee County, Florida murder charges. This resolves her remaining murder, and she will likely serve out her sentence in Minnesota.
Three people have been arrested in the triple murder of three friends who were killed on a fishing trip in Frostproof. The alleged shooter, Tony “T.J.” Wiggins, allegedly accused the victims of stealing his truck and then shot all three of them. Wiggins has multiple prior felony convictions (though the
Tony Wiggins via DOC
200 quoted in the article is unclear- it likely includes duplicative arrests), and has been to prison multiple times at only 26 years of age. The other two co-defendants are charged with accessory and tampering. The report doesn’t seem to indicate that they were directly involved in the killings, and the state will likely try to use their charges to pressure them to flip on the accused shooter. The brutal nature suggests that this is a case the state may seek the death penalty, but that decision likely won’t be made for a few weeks. First degree murder carries a mandatory life sentence.
Attorneys for Mark Sievers have filed a motion for new trial after his conviction and death sentence in the death of his wife, Theresa Sievers. Sievers’ attorneys have alleged several issues to be heard at the motion for new trial. The strongest claim is probably the discovery of new evidence. The motion alleges that a newly discovered letter from Sievers’ neighbor Mark Petrites proves that Petrites misled the jury about the extent of his friendship with Sievers, and that the letter helps explain why his testimony was inconsistent over the course of the case.
If the court fines that the motion is supported by evidence and that there was prejudice from the issues, the judge could grant Sievers a new trial. This doesn’t mean he would be released or acquitted, it would mean that the trial would start over again, but only if the judge is persuaded that the issues raised in the motion prejudiced Mr. Sievers and to entitle him to a new trial. The motion will be heard in court tomorrow.
Mark Sievers was sentenced to death today after being found guilty at trial of first degree murder for planning his wife’s killing. The jury found that Sievers had instigated the plan for his wife, Dr. Theresa Sievers’, murder by asking his friend Curtis Wayne Wright to carry it out. Wright traveled from Missouri with his friend Jimmy Rodgers, and the two bludgeoned Dr. Sievers in her home before travelling back to Missouri.
Curtis Wayne Wright pled guilty to murder, and agreed to testify against the others in exchange for a 25-year sentence. Rodgers was found guilty of second-degree murder in his own trial, and sentenced to life in prison. Mark Sievers was found guilty last month, and the jury recommended death during the sentencing phase. Today, the judge imposed a death sentence.
Sievers testified at the hearing today, still proclaiming his innocence, but asking for mercy. The judge indicated he would leave mercy to God, and that Sievers’ actions warranted the death penalty. As with all death penalty cases in Florida, it will be appealed to the Florida Supreme Court.
Lois Riess, dubbed ‘Losing Streak Lois’ by the media and who was the subject of a multi-state manhunt that saw her gambling in casinos as she avoided justice in two states, entered a plea today in Lee County Circuit court. She had been facing the death penalty for the murder of Pamela Hutchinson on Fort Myers beach. Authorities believe she targeted Hutchinson for the resemblance between the two women, and then killed Hutchinson to assume her identity. Riess stole Hutchinson’s car and identity to finance her flight halfway across the country, before she was captured in South Padre Island, TX.
Riess was already a suspect for the murder of her husband some time before that in Minnesota. Riess is believed to have fled to Fort Myers where she committed the Hutchinson murder to further evade capture. That’s an aggravating factor that could have contributed to the State’s death penalty case. As it is, she accepted a plea to life in prison to avoid the risk of the death penalty. Florida has no parole, so life means life, and she will not have the possibility for release. Also, she will be extradited back to Minnesota to face charges for the murder of her husband, though that’s unlikely to go to trial as she’s already been given a life sentence. It is unclear if she will serve her time in Minnesota, or be transferred back to Florida to serve out her time, here.
This deal is a good resolution for the state of Florida, as the state will not have to incur the expense of a trial and the necessary appeals and post-conviction motions necessary for a death penalty case. Due to her age, it’s unlikely she would have ever ended up being executed (Kevin Foster still awaits execution, and his conviction was for charges that occurred in 1996). Perhaps the benefit or her is avoiding having to serve her time on Death Row, and getting her case done so she can serve her prison time and not sit in the local jail. She will likely have to Minnesota to deal with her charges up there before she sees a state prison.
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.
Jimmy Rodgers, one of three men charged with the murder of Dr. Teresa Sievers in her Bonita Springs home in 2015 is on trial in Fort Myers. Jury selection began last Monday, and this morning the attorneys gave their opening statements. The State argues that Rodgers traveled here with Curtis Wayne Wright, who had allegedly been hired by the third Defendant Mark Sievers, Teresa’s husband. There’s substantial evidence to show that Rodgers and Wright traveled to Southwest Florida together from Missouri, and that they were here when Sievers was beaten to death in her home.
Curtis Wayne Wright has already pled guilty to his involvement, and agreed to serve 25 years in prison in exchange for his testimony for the state. That’s obviously something that the Defense will attack as to his credibility. Further, he gave several differing statements, at least eight, according to the Defense in their opening statement. The challenge will be for the State to use Wright to prove not just that Rodgers was present, but that he participated in the crime. The State also plans to use the testimony of Rodgers’ then girlfriend, to whom Rodgers allegedly admitted to killing Dr. Sievers. However, Rodgers’ girlfriend has been paid by the state about $400 per month for the four years since the crime, so the Defense will attack her credibility as well.
Crime Scene tech Van Waus testifying
The Defense conceded in opening that Rodgers traveled to Fort Myers with Wright, but deny that he was involved in the conspiracy with Mark Sievers to commit the murder. The State’s only evidence that directly ties Rodgers to the murder itself is the testimony of Curtis Wright. Not only is there a strong attack on Wright’s credibility, but Wright admitted that he was the first to attack Sievers. He says only after he struck her a couple times did Rodgers jump in to actually kill her. Wright’s testimony will be must-see viewing. Rodgers faces the death penalty, as does Mark Sievers.