Tag Archives: tallahassee

Love-triangle Murder Case Results in Conviction and Life Sentence for Wife, after Claims of Threesomes and Alligators

 

denise williams

Denise Williams with Mike, and Brian Winchester (inset)

Mike Williams body was never found after his friend told police that he had drowned in a lake while they were duck hunting back in 2000. At they time, they assumed his body had been eaten by alligators, but his mother never believed it, and never gave up. She even paid for signs and billboards to get the police to investigate, right out of a movie. But the break in the case didn’t come until year later.

Denise Williams collected a $1.75 million dollar life insurance policy payout when her husband was declared dead. His best friend, Brian Winchester, had been fishing with Mike on the Williams’ sixth wedding anniversary, and apparently explained the disappearance well enough that the cops bought it. A few years later, Brian and Denise got married.

It turns out, Denise and Brian had been having an affair- a juicy affair involving threesomes with other parties, trial testimony revealed. She and Brian ultimately got married a few years after Mike’s death, in 2005, and their marriage lasted ten years, falling apart after both of them had additional affairs. Things came to a head in 2016 when Brian, apparently worried that his now-ex-wife would spill the beans about murdering Mike, that he kidnapped Denise at gunpoint. Major backfire, as Brian was now facing a possible life sentence for the armed kidnapping and armed burglary charges. Desperate to make a deal, Brian offered to come clean about Mike’s death. The prosecutors agreed to offer him immunity if cooperated, and 20-years on the kidnapping case. Brian explained that Denise has conspired with him to stage Mike’s death as a boating mishap so they could be together. Brian led authorities to Mike’s remains and charged Denise with murder, conspiracy, and accessory.

The trial was a juicy one, replete with intrigue and affairs. Denise’s defense suggested that Brian was lying to try to save his own skin, and that he had lied repeatedly to investigators. At trial, prosecutors introduced images from one of the threesomes with Brian’s first wife, but they brought her in and she testified that there had been a sexual encounter with she, Brian, and Denise prior to Mike’s disappearance. They also brought in a woman who testified she had had an affair with Brian while he was married to Denise, and that Denise had walked in on them together at one point.

ID Photo

Brian Winchester, via DOC

Ultimately, Brian Winchester’s testimony about Denise’s involvement persuaded the jury, who found Denise Williams guilty at her December trial. The sentencing occurred last week and was mostly perfunctory, as the court was required to impose a mandatory life sentence. Winchester still has most of his sentence in front of him, Florida DOC estimates his release date is not until July, 2036. Denise Williams is not eligible for any form of parole or early release.

Below is a great behind-the-scenes interview with Winchester’s attorney about how he was able to get the immunity deal on Winchester’s kidnapping case- cool insights from an interview with the Law and Crime network. Sounds like the state was leaning hard on the new case to compel him to cooperate on the murder. Also, much of the trial testimony is available online, here.

Supreme Court Oral Arguments on Two Ballot Issues start this afternoon at 2:00 PM

Florida Supreme CourtProposed Amendment 6 and proposed Amendment 8 were both found to be misleading, and circuit courts in Leon county enjoined the state from including either on the ballot. This afternoon, starting at 2:00 pm with Amendment 8, followed by arguments on Amendment 6 at about 2:40, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on both issues. You can watch live on their video feed at gavel-to-gavel.

Another Florida Constitutional Amendment Proposal has been Ordered off the Ballot

This week, a Leon County judge enjoined the State from including proposed Amendment 6 from appearing on the ballot. There have already been a couple provisions stricken, and now the court has found a third violates the “truth in packaging” requirement the the description accurately inform the public of the contents and effect of the proposed amendment. As we discussed on the last one, there is a pattern apparent that the CRC decided to try to cram the amendments through by hiding the ball, as well as bundling multiple issues into several of the proposals. The courts have been unimpressed, as challengers are now 3 for 3 in their attempts to strike the amendments.

Amdendment 6 was problematic not just because it combined disparate subjects: victim’s rights, term limits for judges, and de novo review of administrative hearings. Amendment 6 was also flying under the banner of “victim’s rights”, (as it’s being pushed by a special interest group promoting ‘Marsy’s Law’), however, it was misleading because Florida already has a Victim’s Rights component to its Constitution, and this amendment would not only create additional victim’s rights, but it would likely infringe upon due process rights of the accused, as required under the federal Constitution. The court found multiple reasons that the title and summary of the proposal are incomplete or outright misleading, and has ordered that it not appear on the ballot.

The issue has been appealed, and it appears the Supreme Court of Florida will hear argument on it September 5, which I believe to be the same day they will hear argument on proposed Amendment 8.

Another Proposed Amendment has been Stricken from the Ballot by a Judge

Recently a Leon County judge prevented another proposed amendment from the CRC, the Constitutional Revision Commission (Amendment 8). As we have discussed at length before, the CRC chose to combine amendment proposals, which has led to several lawsuits seeking to strike the amendments due to the language describing them to voters being confusing. The court that ruled on the previous challenge, striking Amendment 13, found that the language in the summary amounted to outright “trickeration.” The judge in this case found that the language “fails to inform voters of the chief purpose and effect of this proposal.” There are additional challenges to other Amendment proposals regarding the summary language still pending. Also, former Supreme Court Justice Harry Anstead has filed a petition with the Supreme Court to strike all six of the bundled amendment proposals. And just this week, a group of former legislators, including former Lt. Gov. Jeff Kotkamp and former congressman Connie Mack have announced that they will be working together to fight the CRC proposals, and the process in whole. Their group is called Save My Constitution, and it is comprised of all republicans.

Ultimately, the apparent pattern consistent in the CRC proposals suggests a deliberate intent to get the proposals passed, even at the risk of misleading the public. The CRC’s explanation that they combined the proposals to reduce ballot fatigue don’t ring true: there are just as many issues being propagated, but they are packaged with together to attempt to increase the likelihood of passage with voters. Many of the issues really don’t belong in the Constitution, the CRC is using the Amendment process to skip the hard work of legislating in line with the statutory scheme: they want to cram disparate issues together under a positive sounding title and summary, and hope the voters go for it. Unfortunately, that plan relies on “hiding the ball” from voters, and instigated the numerous challenges now in the court system. These rulings will be appealed, and the Supreme Court will likely be the final arbiter, but the pattern has become apparent. And now the challengers are two-for-two in striking the misleading proposals. The Supreme Court will hear the appeal of the dog racing proposal next week.

*UPDATE* The 1st DCA has sent the issue regarding proposed Amendment 8 directly to the Supreme Court for review, as well. It appears the Court has accepted jurisdiction, though not set the case for argument yet.

There are Major Problems with Florida’s Proposed Constitutional Amendments

  • The constitutional revision committee has proposed several amendments to the Florida Constitution
  • Judge has thrown out the amendment relating to dog racing, finding “outright trickeration”
  • More Amendments have been challenged in court for misleading summaries

At least four of the proposed constitutional amendments intended for the fall ballot from the Constitutional Revision Commission [CRC] are now facing legal challenges that the ballot summaries mislead voters. This week, a judge in Tallahassee has ruled that one of them, Amendment 13-which would ban dog racing, cannot be placed on the ballot because the descriptive language that summarizes the measure would be misleading. The judge found that the Title and Summary of the language is “clearly and conclusively defective”. An amendment cannot go before voters if the Title and Summary of the ballot measure do not let the voter know the true effect and extent of what the amendment would do. In this case, for instance, the title suggests the amendment “ENDS DOG RACING” and ends wagering on dog races; but the amendment does not, in fact, accomplish that. The court found that the Title and Summary do not comply with the Constitutional and statutory requirements of “truth in packaging”, and that the language “hides the ball” and amounts to outright “trickeration“.

The language of the Title and Summary was crafted by the CRC, presumably to increase the likelihood of the amendments passing. After the CRC decided what amendments it wanted to place on the ballot, it combined several of them into joint ballot measures, sometimes with several issues (20 would-be Amendments became 8 ballot measures). That immediately jumps out as problematic, as generally Amendments are for broad areas of the law, not discreet issues. And the issues often don’t go together, for instance, vaping and offshore drilling have been combined into one ballot measure.  The likely reason is that the Commission, which is largely a partisan one, want to slide through less popular issues with popular-sounding ones which are more likely to pass. And to increase the likelihood of passage, the CRC created Title and Summary sections that may not clearly indicate the effect of the proposed amendments.

This sneaky tactic has opened the amendments to challenge from detractors, who are trying to keep the amendments off the ballot based on the misleading language that could trick the voter… and the dog racing amendment is the first casualty. There are several other amendments facing similar lawsuits: Amendment 8 relating to charter schools has been challenged for being “intentionally misleading” and has garnered support from a former Supreme Court justice, several counties have sued to stop Amendment 10 related to government structure, and importantly for this blog, the so-called victim’s rights amendment has been challenged as well.

I call it “so-called” victim’s rights amendment, because in addition to victim’s rights, it would also affect judicial retirement ages and affect judge’s ability to defer to agency findings… three quite disparate purposes. The suit has been filed by respected local attorney Lee Hollander, who points out that due to victim’s rights already enshrined in our Constitution, “there’s no need for it”, as we already have extensive victim protections. No only that, the new rights the amendment would impede on the rights of the Defendant, in violation of the Federal Constitution, and likely cost the state dearly to comply with the superfluous requirements. The challenge to the lawsuit focuses not on whether the amendment is necessary, rather it alleges that the Title and Summary mislead the voter.

You might notice a trend here… four unrelated groups have all filed suit on four different proposed amendments, and they all allege that the voters would be misled by the language of the proposal. Regardless if you support the cause of the amendments, it is essential for all of us to know what might end up being included in our state’s Constitution. The fact that there are similar complaints about multiple ballot measures, suggest that the misleading language was part of a deliberate ploy by the CRC to sneak some of these issues through. Most of these issues really shouldn’t be Constitutional amendments anyway, they are the type of issues that should be deliberated and legislated to fit our statutory scheme. Attorney General Pam Bondi indicates she’s going to appeal the first ruling, because she supports the ban, but the problem is not the subject of the proposal, but the misleading way it was presented. There will probably be more measures taken off the ballot as the suits go through the courts. The blame falls squarely on the CRC, which deliberately drafted these proposals to hide the ball and deceive voters. We should be glad when they are called out on their “trickeration”.

FHP Troopers told to Write More Tickets – Allegations of Quotas

DUI Operation in Lee County Friday

The Tampa Bay Times has uncovered an email from an FHP supervisor instructing his troopers to write more tickets. “The patrol wants to see two citations each our…” reads the email from Major Mark Welch. He and FHP deny this is a quota, which would be in violation of state law: but this is a quota. He sets a minimum number of tickets he expects his underlings to write per hour. That’s exactly a quota. The fact that he says “This is not a quota” does not redefine what a quota is.

 

To make matters worse, there may be benefits tied to the number of tickets officers write. Troopers in Miami-Dade were given additional weekend passes when they met ticket-writing goals earlier this year. FHP ended that policy when it was exposed. It seems this new quota is tied to ‘SOAR’, an overtime program, though that program appears to incentivize them to work more hours, not to inflate their ticket numbers. Big brother is most definitely watching.

Drunk Juror’s Contempt Conviction Overturned

Florida Supreme Court

The Florida Supreme Court building

The Florida Supreme Court overturned the contempt conviction and jail sentence for juror Noel Plank, saying that the procedure for trying his contempt hearing was flawed, and that he should have been entitled to an attorney. The court found that since the drinking that led to his intoxication occurred out of the court’s presence, it should not have been heard as ‘direct criminal contempt’ [think of an angry defendant making a scene in a courtroom: that would be direct contempt]. Rather, the court found that it should have been treated as ‘indirect criminal contempt’ [think of someone going home and refusing to obey a court order after they leave]. The courts have long held that those accused of contemptuous conduct are entitled to attorneys for indirect contempt hearings, and that this proceeding was properly considered indirect.

Plank had already served 17 days in jail, when the court reduced his sentence. Since this sentence was overturned on procedural grounds, he could technically be facing a new hearing for indirect contempt, though I doubt anyone wants to go to the trouble and expense of prosecuting a man who already served his time.

Dane Eagle’s DUI Reduced to Reckless Driving

Dane Eagle Mugshot

Dane Eagle Mugshot

State Legistlator Dane Eagle pled out to a reduced charge of reckless driving from his DUI arrest in Tallahassee. That’s not an unusual result on this type of first-time offense, that did not have any egregiously bad facts. Tune in to NBC-2 this evening, as they may run some of my comments on the case. Generally, when a DUI is reduced, there are similar sanctions to a DUI charge, just with a different conviction.

http://www.nbc-2.com/story/25888130/link#.U63MS_ldXVU

What’s the Difference Between the Arrests of Dane Eagle and Trey Radel

  • State Rep. Dane Eagle was arrested for DUI last week in Tallahassee
  • Frmr Congressman Trey Radel was arrested for purchasing cocaine last year in Washington, D.C.
  • Radel resigned his position in Congress and spent time in rehab
Dane Eagle Mugshot

Dane Eagle Mugshot

Another arrest of a local politician brings criminal matters to the coffee shops around Southwest Florida. People I talk to generally agree that Trey Radel’s resignation from Congress was the right thing to do, but there doesn’t seem to be the level of anger regarding Dane Eagle’s DUI arrest. Though it doesn’t help that Eagle was recently quoted as saying that elected officials need to be held “to a higher standard”.

Legally, the offenses are not greatly different in terms of severity. Both charges are classified as misdemeanors, which are generally considered minor type offenses. Neither of them have been charged with felonies, as was former Lee County commissioner Tammy Hall. Neither offense would affect their civil rights, and neither has mandatory incarceration, though it could be a possibility, as they are criminal offenses. In fact, both charges carry a maximum 180 days in jail as a potential penalty in their respective jurisdictions. They are technically equivalent offenses. However, the nature of the offenses give people different reactions.

Many people feel more strongly about the cocaine charge, because the stigma of hard drugs, and the potential professional implications on a user, especially if abuse becomes a problem. That said, alcohol abuse can become a problem. There was information that Radel’s use had been ongoing, but at this time there is no evidence that the allegations against Eagle, which are still just allegations, are anything more than a one-time incident. In Florida, Radel’s charge would have been taken much more seriously. Any controlled substance possession is a felony, with exception of a small amount of marijuana. Purchase is actually an enhanced charge, and as a second degree felony, could be subject to 15 years in prison. Washington, D.C. does not consider a personal amount to be so serious.

Ironically, Eagle’s DUI in Florida could be considered more serious, as there are more mandatory minimum obligations for DUI offenses, including higher fines, community service, driver’s license suspensions, and classes that have to be taken if he is convicted. Radel will avoid even receiving a conviction if he completes his probation: that’s not available if Eagle ends up pleading or being found guilty of DUI. Also, many people consider DUI more serious because it puts other people at risk. He could have killed someone if he was driving under the influence, while personal use drug possession does not have the disregard for others associated with DUI.

Possible Eagle Photo on Instagram

Possible Eagle Photo on Instagram

Also worth noting is the way each conducted himself when detained by cops. Radle was completely cooperative and apologetic, immediately taking responsibility for his actions. Eagle denied having anything to drink, despite the officers description of an odor of alcohol, stumbling, and a bad driving pattern. Also, a picture has surfaced on social media that appears to be Eagle drinking from an oversized beer stein, and shark-tank.com estimates was posted Sunday evening before the arrest. That would not prove he was impaired, which he is still entitled to have heard in court before judgment is passed. Frankly, any misdemeanor charge is unlikely to reflect such a serious offense as to end someone’s career: their ability to do their job should be decided on actual merit.

More reading, with details on arrest: https://crimcourts.wordpress.com/2014/04/23/dane-eagle-arrested-charged-with-dui/

Dane Eagle Arrested, Charged with DUI

  • State Rep Dane Eagle (Cape Coral), arrested for DUI
  • Prosecutors will make a filing decision in the next few weeks
  • Eagle refused Field Sobriety Exercises and a Breath Test
Dane Eagle Mugshot

Dane Eagle Mugshot

Dane Eagle was pulled over at 1:50 a.m. Monday morning by officers in Tallahassee, where he is currently representing Cape Coral for the ongoing legislative session. He was pulled over after coming out of a Taco Bell. No word on whether the officer was deliberately targeting Taco Bell… Eagle has been charged with DUI: driving under the influence to the extent that his normal faculties are impaired. He is innocent until proven guilty, and has released a statement to the News-Press claiming that there is not a “clear and accurate picture” of events.

The Huffington Post points out that Eagle recently statedWe need to be as elected officials held to a higher standard” relating to his sponsoring of a bill to require legislators to submit to drug testing. The arresting officer indicates that Eagle refused to take a breath test, in addition to refusing to submit to field sobriety exercises when he was pulled over. Eagle claimed to have nothing to drink, but the officer alleges he detected a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage when Eagle spoke to him, and that he did not detect the odor in Eagle’s vehicle after he got out. That’s what looks worst for Eagle: if he was telling the truth and had not had anything to drink, why didn’t he take the breath test? An officer could be mistaken about an odor of alcohol, but blowing .000 would prove whether he’d had anything to drink.

The officer further alleges that Eagle nearly struck the curb a couple of times before he pulled him over, and that Eagle was speeding. He finally pulled Eagle over after he allegedly ran a red light, without braking. The officer said Eagle was swaying, and stumbled into the door of his vehicle when he tried to walk.

While he has not been convicted yet, the state can make a consciousness of guilt argument. When Eagle was asked to take the breath test, he was informed of the consequences: a one-year driver’s license suspension. So, the prosecutor can argue that even though Eagle knew they were going to take his driver’s license, he still refused the breath test. That’s not the behavior of someone who had nothing at all to drink.

Eagle has defenses to work with, so a conviction is not a foregone conclusion. An experienced criminal defense attorney will be able to point out how difficult the case is to prove. Since Eagle didn’t do any exercises, the State is short on proof that his normal faculties are impaired. Since he is facing criminal charges, Eagle cannot really respond in full to the allegations, but he will likely dispute some of the details of the officer’s statement. The officer apparently recorded the incident, so the case will really depend on how bad Eagle looks on the video.

The case is a long way from a possible trial, the prosecutor will have some time to make a filing decision, then it’s usually a couple of months before a case resolves. The case may still be pending when Eagle’s primary come around for his seat: he faces a Republican challenger Jim Roach. Eagle’s father is currently in Federal prison for fraud charges related to land deals in Lee County. We have covered Greg Eagle’s case extensively on this blog.

Taco Bell continues to be ground zero for DUI busts:

DUI Checkpoint at Taco Bell?

DUI Checkpoint at Taco Bell?

Full article, statment, and report on News-Press: http://www.news-press.com/story/news/politics/2014/04/22/rep-dane-eagle-of-cape-coral-charged-with-dui/7999339/