Former Boynton Beach man resentenced on child molestation charges

Cuminotto
Cuminotto

A man first arrested nearly a decade ago on charges he molested a 12-year-old Boytnon Beach girl was again sentenced to 55 years in prison after a Palm Beach County jury convicted him a second time on lewd and lascivious molestation an other charges.

The resentencing hearing Friday for Leonard Cuminotto came more than eight years after U.S. Marshals picked him up in Daytona Beach. Police said the alleged victim’s mother called them from Michigan and told them Cuminotto had abused her daughter for several months in 2007 when they lived with him in Boynton Beach.

The alleged victim later said the abuse went back to 2002, and jury in 2010 convicted him on four out of seven charges related to the case.

Cuminotto was sentenced to 55 years in prison, but both the conviction and sentence were overturned on appeal.

A second trial for Cuminotto began Wednesday, and jurors re-convicted him of three of his four remaining charges after deliberating Thursday. Though Cuminotto had acted as his own attorney during parts of his case, he accepted help during his trial from defense attorney Jacob Noble.

Despite the jury’s acquittal on a lewd and lascivious exhibition charge, Circuit Judge John Kastrenakes sentenced him to a total of 25 years in prison on a pair of lewd and lascivious molestation charges and and additional 30 years in prison on a charge of sexual activity with  minor.

Cuminotto plans to again appeal his conviction and sentence.

New trial for Matthew Heinly, man convicted in 2011 “prank” murder

031514-wpb-murder-verdict-matthew-heinlyAn appeals court Wednesday granted a new trial for one of four homeless men implicated in the June 2011 West Palm Beach murder of a 45-year-old who let them sleep at his apartment.

Matthew Heinly, now 27, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in March 2014 for participating in the strangulation murder of Timothy Bell – a man whose body authorities never found.

Heinly two years ago stood trial together with alleged accomplice Sean Wilson, although the two had separate juries.

In an eight-page ruling, Florida’s 4th District Court of Appeal ruled that Circuit Judge John Kastrenakes erroneously allowed Heinly’s jury to hear portions of alleged accomplice Pedro Roman’s testimony that pertained only to Wilson’s case.

Heinly’s first trial two years ago unearthed disturbing details about the last days and hours of the man he called his close friend, a man who fed and housed him, Wilson and two other young men at his Gardenia Street apartment before all four turned on him. There was testimony during the trial that Bell had the men perform sexual favors for him in exchange for the lodging.

Heinly testified that Bell’s death was a result of a prank gone wrong, telling jurors that Bell had expressed wanting to kill himself and they wanted to show him what it was like to suffocate.

Wilson is currently serving life in prison.

Roman accepted a 40-year plea deal on second-degree murder charges in exchange for his testimony against Wilson and Heinly.

A fourth man, Andre Banks, received 90 days in jail and five years of probation in 2011 on charges that he was an accessory after the murder.

 

Jamal Smith guilty of murder, gets life in prison

Jamal Smith
Jamal Smith

A Palm Beach County jury today found Jamal Smith guilty of first-degree murder for the 2011 shooting death Kemar Clayton.

After the jury delivered its verdict, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Charles Burton sentenced Smith to life in prison for the murder charge plus a consecutive 50 years in prions for an armed robbery conviction.
Clayton’s family, seated in the courtroom, declined to address the judge before he sentenced Smith. On her way out of the courthouse, Clayton’s mother said she was happy with the verdict and sentence for Smith but didn’t elaborate any further as she and other relatives walked out.

Smith’s family expressed audible shock at both the guilty verdict and the life sentence, which was mandatory with the first-degree murder conviction.

Two male relatives left the courtroom with harsh words for the justice system. A young woman put her head in her hands and sobbed.

“The police kill black men every day and they get to go home,” one of Smith’s aunts shouted, to no one in particular, as she left the courtroom.

Smith himself showed anger at his sentence. At one point, after hearing Burton’s life in prison sentence, he stood and pushed his chair into the table and said some words that led deputies to handcuff him and take him back to a holding cell.

When Burton asked deputies to bring him back in to pronounce his sentence on the robbery charges, he stood the entire time and leaned back against the two deputies who stood behind him.

The jury began deciding the case Tuesday afternoon after closing arguments from Assistant State Attorneys John Parnofiello and Andrew Slater and Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Ramsey, who presented jurors with two different versions of what happened when Clayton met Smith and Quentin Lythgoe hoping to buy an iPad from them.

Lythgoe testified last week that the iPad sale was just a ruse used to lure Clayton to the parking lot of a Publix Supermarket on State Road 7 so he and Smith could rob him. At some point during the robbery, Lythgoe said, Clayton tried to go for his own gun, and Smith shot him to death.

Parnofiello told jurors that the killing was not an accident, but rather a possibility Smith had planned for in the four days he planned the robbery.

Ramsey, on the other hand, reiterated Smith’s testimony in his own defense, telling jurors that physical evidence in the case fails to support prosecutors’ theory that Clayton was still reaching for the gun when Smith starting shooting.

 

Jurors to decide Jamal Smith murder trial

123115-cobia-testify-3A Palm Beach County jury is now deliberating the first-degree murder case of Jamal Smith, the 24-year-old man charged in the 2011 shooting death Kemar Clayton.

The panel began deciding the case Tuesday afternoon after closing arguments from Assistant State Attorneys John Parnofiello and Andrew Slater and Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Ramsey, who presented jurors with two different versions of what happened when Clayton met Smith and Quentin Lythgoe hoping to buy an iPad from them.

Lythgoe testified last week that the iPad sale was just a ruse used to lure Clayton to the parking lot of a Publix Supermarket on State Road 7 so he and Smith could rob him. He said Smith picked Clayton, who had a business buying and selling iPhones and iPads, after asking friends to give him leads on who to rob and hearing that Clayton might be an easy mark.

But at some point during the robbery, Lythgoe said, Clayton tried to go for his own gun, as Smith shot him to death.

Parnofiello told jurors that the killing was not an accident, but rather a possibility Smith had planned for in the four days he planned the robbery, recruited Lythgoe to come along as “muscle” and obtained a .45 -caliber handgun.

“He had that .45 to make sure he was going to come up. He had that .45 to make sure he was going to get some money,” Parnofiello said.

Ramsey, on the other hand, reiterated Smith’s testimony in his own defense, telling jurors that physical evidence in the case fails to support prosecutors’ theory that Clayton was still reaching for the gun when Smith starting shooting.

The downward splatter of Clayton’s blood is a sign that he was standing when he was shot, supporting the defense argument that there was no robbery and Clayton approached Smith with a gun after Lythgoe swiped a pair of sneakers from the trunk of Clayton’s Mercedes-Benz.

“It was a tragic misreading of motives and actions by everyone at the scene,” Ramsey said.

Although Lythgoe said the two made off with several hundred dollars in the robbery, Ramsey said the fact that investigators found several hundreds of dollars, Clayton’s jewelry and an untouched iPad on the scene is all evidence that a robbery never happened

Before Smith’s trial began last week, the expected highlight of testimony in the case was to be an appearance from Frederick Cobia, a jailhouse lawyer turned informant who claims to have obtained confessions from dozens of his cellmates – including Smith.

Though Cobia’s potential testimony was the subject of months of legal wrangling in the case, prosecutors unceremoniously announced Thursday that they would not be calling him as a witness.

 

 

 

Corey Jones wrongful death suit stalled while officer faces charges

060316+raja+first+appearance+04A federal judge has agreed to postpone a wrongful death suit against Nouman Raja while the former Palm Beach Garden police officer faces criminal charges in the October shooting death of stranded motorist Corey Jones.

U.S. District Magistrate Judge Patrick M. Hunt signed an order Monday granting attorney Oscar Marrero’s request to stay a lawsuit filed by Jones’ father, Clinton Jones, Sr., against Raja, who faces manslaughter by culpable negligence and attempted murder charges for shooting the 31-year-old during a roadside confrontation captured on a roadside assistance recorded line.

Corey Jones, 31, was shot and killed by a Palm Beach Gardens police officer, Oct. 18, 2015.
Corey Jones, 31, was shot and killed by a Palm Beach Gardens police officer, Oct. 18, 2015.

Prosecutors this summer charged Raja at the end f a months-long investigation and a grand jury session surrounding the deadly encounter that began when Raja drove up the off-ramp of Interstate 95 on PGA Boulevard in an unmarked van and approached Jones in plainclothes.

Raja later told investigators that he shot Jones because the professional drummer, who by day was a housing manager for the Delray Beach Housing Authority, came at him with a gun.

But prosecutors say they caught several inconsistencies in his statement, including the fact that Raja was overheard on a 911 call yelling at Jones to drop a gun when evidence in the case showed he had already fired the shot that killed Jones more than 30 seconds before he made the call.

Belle Glade man sentenced to life for murder during 2015 fight

dwane-lowersA 21-year-old Belle Glade man was sentenced  to life in prison Thursday immediately after a jury convicted him in the shooting death of a 23-year-old man during a fight last year.

Dwane Lowers’ first-degree murder trial began last week and ended Monday with closing arguments from defense attoreny Thomas Weiss and Assistant State Attorneys Jill Richstone and Reid Scott.

Jurors returned the guilty verdict after several hours of deliberation, and – with life in prison the only possible sentence – Circuit Judge Krista Marx sentenced Lowers immediately.

Deputies arrested Lowers in July 2005, less than two weeks after he and other patrons from the nightclub Club Coco got into a fight in the parking lot of the

 

Contempt charge dropped against defense attorney Elizabeth Ramsey

Circuit Judge Jack Schramm Cox sustains an objection to a recorded phone conversation during testimony by jail inmate and trial witness Frederick Cobia in the murder trial of Jamal Smith at the Palm Beach County Courthouse on December 30, 2015.  (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)
Circuit Judge Jack Schramm Cox sustains an objection to a recorded phone conversation during testimony by jail inmate and trial witness Frederick Cobia in the murder trial of Jamal Smith at the Palm Beach County Courthouse on December 30, 2015. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

A judge on Friday agreed to drop contempt of court charges against an assistant public defender who drew the ire of a Palm Beach circuit judge while fighting to keep a perennial jail informant’s testimony out of her client’s murder trial.

The order from Circuit Judge Peter Blanc in attorney Elizabeth Ramsey’s favor comes nine months after Circuit Judge Jack Cox first took the rare step of seeking the charges that could have landed Ramsey in jail for up to six months.

It also comes as testimony nears an end in the murder trial of Jamal Smith, Ramsey’s client whose case has been the center of more than a year of arguments over prosecutor’s use of Frederick Cobia – a man who has earned the reputation in legal circles as the most frequently-used jail snitch in local history.

Cox hit Ramsey with the contempt charges after arguing that she had violated a court order by placing in court records for public view transcripts from an interview with Cobia that discussed the contents of recorded jail calls with his daughter. Cox had ordered an mention of those calls sealed from public view in an order that was later overturned by the 4th District Court of Appeal in a case that involved The Palm Beach Post.

A request to dismiss the charges, which prosecutors filed last week, revealed that the Palm Beach County Clerk and Comptroller’s office did file the transcript into the court record, but did so under seal pursuant to the court order – meaning the records were never made public.

“Simply put, the defendant cannot be prosecuted because the court order was never violated,” Assistant State Attorney Donald Richardson, a special prosecutor from Okeechobee, wrote in a Sept. 15 filing.

Ramsey’s defense attorney, Donnie Murrell, confirmed on Friday that the charges against Ramsey had been dropped, although a copy of Blanc’s order had not appeared in public court records late Friday.

Murrell described Ramsey as a great lawyer who was doing nothing more than advocating for her client.

“All of this hullabaloo, after nine months, was over nothing,” Murrell said. “She should’ve never had to go through this.”

As for Cobia, prosecutors in Smith’s trial on Thursday announced that they will be not be calling him as a witness.

Had he taken the stand, he was expected to testify that Smith confessed to him his involvement in the August 2011 shooting death of Kemar Clayton. Cobia claims to have obtained similar confessions from several of his jail mates.

 

State: Frederick Cobia won’t testify in Jamal Smith murder trial

Public Defender Carey Haughwout (left) talks with Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Ramsey and her client, Jamal Smith, after Judge Jack Cox charged Ramsey with contempt of court for allegedly violating a no-publish order in a case involving a jail informant. She faces a 6 month jail term. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)
Public Defender Carey Haughwout (left) talks with Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Ramsey and her client, Jamal Smith, after Judge Jack Cox charged Ramsey with contempt of court for allegedly violating a no-publish order in a case involving a jail informant. She faces a 6 month jail term. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

On what could be the last full day of testimony in 24-year-old Jamal Smith’s murder trial, prosecutors announced late Thursday that they will not be calling to the witness stand a jailhouse informant whose presence in the case sparked a firestorm of controversy last year.

Assistant State Attorney Andrew Slater told Circuit Judge Charles Burton that prosecutors will likely rest their case in the murder of Kemar Kino Clayton Friday and will not call Cobia as a witness.

Cobia, a convicted murderer who prosecutors have listed as a witness in nearly two dozen other cases where he says he’s obtained confessions from other defendants, told deputies that Smith confessed his involvement in Clayton’s death while the two were housed together at the Palm Beach County Jail.

Smith’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Ramsey, has fought hard since last year to keep Cobia off the stand. Ramsey provoked the ire of Circuit Judge Jack Cox last year when she entered into court records last year transcripts of recorded jail calls between Cobia and his daughter that showed Cobia bragged about receiving special treatment for helping detectives build cases against his jail mates.

The Palm Beach Post published excerpts of those transcripts. Cox afterwards had the transcripts sealed, ordered reporters to remove excerpts from the newspaper’s website and sought criminal contempt charges against Ramsey for allegedly violating court orders.

An appellate court later overturned Cox’s ruling, and he later recused himself from Smith’s case, but Ramsey’s contempt case is still open.

As for Smith, who has argued that Clayton’s death was the result of an unintentional killing, the most damaging testimony against him now will likely be from co-defendant Quentin Lythgoe, who on Thuesday completed his testimony against his former friend.

Lythgoe told jurors that Smith lured Clayton to the parking lot of a Publix Supermarket on State Road 7 in Wellington under the guise of selling Clayton an iPad.

In exchange for his testimony, prosecutors dropped murder charges against Lythgoe, allowed him to plead guilty to robbery charges and capped a sentence recommendation at 15 years in prison.

Dalia Dippolito retrial set for December despite possible appeal

Dalia Dippolito in court Tuesday, February 23, 2016 during a pretrial hearing. The 33-year-old Dippolito is facing a May retrial on 2009 charges that she tried to hire a hit man to kill her husband, convicted conman Michael Dippolito. She has pleaded not guilty. Dalia Dippolito is expected to testify that a former lover threatened her with a gun and pressured her to speak to the hit man who was actually an undercover police officer. The case gained national notoriety because "Cops" happened to be filming with the Boynton Beach police.     (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)
Dalia Dippolito in court Tuesday, February 23, 2016 during a pretrial hearing. The 33-year-old Dippolito is facing a May retrial on 2009 charges that she tried to hire a hit man to kill her husband, convicted conman Michael Dippolito. She has pleaded not guilty. Dalia Dippolito is expected to testify that a former lover threatened her with a gun and pressured her to speak to the hit man who was actually an undercover police officer. The case gained national notoriety because “Cops” happened to be filming with the Boynton Beach police. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

The upcoming holiday season could mark the start of a retrial for Dalia Dippolito, the one-time Boynton Beach newlywed caught on camera in an alleged plot to hire a hitman to kill her husband.

Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley in a four-minute hearing Monday set a Dec. 1 retrial date for Dippolito, who was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison on a solicitation to commit murder charge before her case was overturned on appeal.

Since then, Dippolito and her legal team have been trying to get her case thrown out altogether, arguing primarily that police forced her former lover into helping them in an undercover investigation where they entrapped the 33-year-old to make a good episode of the television show COPS.

Kelley himself rejected Dippolito’s request earlier this year, and an appellate court recently refused to hear an appeal of that ruling.

Three weeks ago, Dippolito’s lawyers took the case to Florida’s Supreme Court, claiming the actions of police were so “reprehensible” that they violated Dippolito’s constitutional right to due process.

As of Monday, the high court had not decided whether they would consider the matter.

Kelley told Assistant State Attorney Craig Williams and defense attorney Mark Eiglarsh that he would set the trial for December and postpone if necessary.

In hearings on her casse earlier this year, Dippolito said she, her now ex-husband Michael Dippolito, and her former lover Mohamed Shihedeh all conspired to fabricate a plot to kill her husband in the hopes that it would land them all acting jobs.

VERDICT: Bryan Augustin GUILTY of lesser charge in 2014 stabbing

bryan-augustinA Palm Beach County jury on Friday convicted a 20-year-old Riviera Beach man of second-degree murder for the November 2014 stabbing death of his niece’s mother after an argument at his family’s home.

The only question for jurors in Bryan Augustin’s trial this week was whether he was acting with premeditation when he stabbed 17-year-old Kayla Storey to death.

Assistant State Attorneys Jill Richstone and Reid Scott told jurors that Augustin walked into the kitchen with the intent to kill the teen, who had a then-infant daughter with Augustin’s brother, because the two had argued earlier over a gun missing from the house.

Assistant Public Defender Noble Parsons acknowledged that Augustin killed Storey in front of his mother, Myriam, and Storey’s then 12-year-old sister Kiersten, but said prosecutors couldn’t prove it was premeditated.

After several hours of deliberation that began late Thursday, jurors ultimately sided with Parsons, convicting Augustin of second-degree murder, though they convicted him as charged of a related armed aggravated battery charge.

Augustin, who was just days shy of his 19th birthday at the time of the stabbing, could still face up to life in prison when Palm Beach County Judge Marni Bryson sentences him Nov. 18. The life sentence would have been mandatory had he been convicted of first-degree murder, but under the second-degree murder charge the minimum sentence is 25 years in prison.