Man who killed friend after years of ridicule asks for light sentence

Ronald Hight booking photo
Ronald Hight booking photo

Attorneys for a Royal Palm Beach man who shot and killed his friend because he was fed up with years of the man’s threats and putdowns pleaded with a judge Monday to keep him out of prison.

Ronald Hight, who hung his head through most of his sentencing hearing, was set to receive his sentence Monday, a month after a jury convicted him of manslaughter in Craig Rivera’s January 2013 shooting death.

But because Hight’s attorneys wanted Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley to review some more letters on Hight’s behalf along with a report outlining claims that Hight suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, Kelley postponed the pronouncement of Hight’s sentence to Dec. 15.

The sentencing hearing comes on Hight’s 28th birthday and nearly three years after the January 2013 shooting during what was supposed to be a gathering to celebrate Hight’s 25th birthday.

According to Hight’s arrest report, Hight and Rivera’s friendship was one marked by Rivera’s constant putdowns and belittlement of his younger friend. Rivera, 41, of Wellington, worked with Hight and according to witnesses had a habit of touching Hight inappropriately, joking that the two had a sexual relationship and making other derogatory comments towards him.

“What he told the investigators what that he was fed up,” Assistant State Attorney Lauren Godden said Monday.

Still, witnesses told police, Hight’s family still had an “open door policy” at their Royal Palm Beach home for Rivera They never witnessed Rivera being physically violent with Hight, they said, and the two had lunch together the afternoon before the shooting.

By that night, however, Hight told witnesses that he had “a bad feeling” about earlier threats from Rivera to beat him up.

So when Rivera confronted Hight and approached him after ridiculing him during a party at Hight’s family home, Hight took out his .40 caliber Glock and shot the 41-year-old Wellington man once in the head.

“He outweighed him by 100 pounds, he was standing in his face, it’s clear who the aggressor was here,” defense attorney Scott Berry told Kelley, reminding the judge of his arguments during trial that Hight acted in self-defense.

Godden and felow prosecutor Aaron Papero asked Kelley to sentence Hight to 20 years in prison. Berry and attorneys Thomas Gano and Donnie Murrell asked Kelley to depart from the minimum 10-year recommended sentence, asking for county jail time and probation.

Berry cited Hight’s lack of a prior criminal record, and Rivera’s alleged role as the aggressor of the conflict. In Hight’s statement to detectives, played for jurors during his October trial, Berry characterized Hight as “crying, upset, and feeling for Mr. Rivera’s family.”

“Again, these are all signs of remorse for what happened here,” Berry said.

Stella and Patricia Rivera, Rivera’s 15-year-old twin daughters, told Kelley in a letter that the death of their father has shattered their family.

Because their mother is incarcerated, Rivera, who had himself been arrested six times since 1992, was a single father.

“My father can never be around ever, because of this man’s action,” Stella Rivera wrote in a letter Godden read aloud. “All my family wants if for this man to get what he deserves.”

Seth Adams case headed to trial after court denies officer’s appeal

PBSO Sgt. Michael Custer, who shot Seth Adams to death in May 2012 outside Adams' Loxahatchee Groves nursery. Photo made part of a federal civil case by Seth Adams' family attorney Wallace McCall. It came from a Power Point presentation produced by the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office and given to McCall during civil discovery.
PBSO Sgt. Michael Custer, who shot Seth Adams to death in May 2012 outside Adams’ Loxahatchee Groves nursery.
Photo made part of a federal civil case by Seth Adams’ family attorney Wallace McCall. It came from a Power Point presentation produced by the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and given to McCall during civil discovery.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeal has denied a request to throw out a multi-million lawsuit filed by the parents of Seth Adams against the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s sergeant who shot and killed him more than four years ago.

Attorneys for Sgt. Michael Custer filed a motion to throw out the case with the high court earlier this year. The court’s denial means the case could be headed to trail sometime next year.

“We are pleased that the Appellate Court agreed that there is no physical evidence to support Sergeant Custer’s version of events,” said Wallace McCall of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, the firm representing the Adams family. “We look forward to trial so that the public will be able to understand what really happened that night.”

Custer fatally shot Adams, a 24-year-old Loxahatchee Groves resident, as he was returning to his family’s garden shop on A Road off Okeechobee Boulevard, where he also lived.

Afterwards, Custer claimed he shot Adams, fearing he was reaching into his pickup truck for a gun. Instead, the unarmed Adams was grabbing his cell phone.

In March, a judge mostly cleared PBSO of wrongdoing amid allegations that it intentional destroyed or hid evidence to thwart the lawsuit – including the laptop and cell phone Custer used that night.

While attributing most of the agency’s lapses to negligence or technological glitches, U.S. District Judge Daniel Hurley said he was still “deeply concerned” that it allowed Custer’s cellphone to disappear.

Attorney Summer Barranco, who represents the sheriff’s office and Custer, attributed the failures to a simple mistake.

Joseph Walker sentenced to life for murder of girlfriend’s brother

gavelTaking the life of his girlfriend’s disabled brother earned Joseph Walker a trip to spend the rest of his own life in prison, a judge decided Friday.

Circuit Judge Krista Marx sentenced the 22-year-old to life in prison in at the end of a short hearing that comes nearly a month after a jury convicted Walker of second-degree murder in the March 2013 stabbing death of 38-year-old Tyrone Richardson.

Prosecutors in his trial claimed that Walker killed Richardson in anger after Richardson told him to stop dating his sister, Rhandi.

Walker later claimed he stabbed Richardson in self-defense.

Walker’s relatives in letters to Marx on his behalf described him as a loving brother who doted on his nieces and nephews, helped his mother and had aspirations for a career as a physical therapist.

“Wrong place at the wrong time,” Walker’s uncle, Ellis Green, said about his nephew’s case. “He’s praying and the family is praying. I hope for the best. Not for the worst.”

At the time of his death, Richardson lived in an independent living facility. His sister had asked if she and Walker could stay with him on the night he was killed because Walker’s mother had kicked him out of the house and Walker had plans to move to Georgia the next day.

According to arrest reports, Richardson hesitated, asking his sister to call their parents and get their approval first.

Walker in 2014 was on probation, having been found guilty in December 16, 2011 of robbery with a firearm and dealing in stolen property.

Jail payback? One-time murder defendant accused of arranging threats

Walter Burks
Walter Burks

Three months ago, Shantoria Thompson stood trial for perjury in a case where fear of retaliation from Lonnie Davis and Walter Burks Jr. led her to recant claims she saw the two men rob and kill a Belle Glade man.

Now, one of the men is accused of plotting from jail to somehow get to an eyewitness and prosecutor in another case against him – allegations that led a judge who was supposed to preside over his trial this week to instead revoke his jail phone and visitation privileges.

Burks, known in Belle Glade as “Boss Hog,” escaped a murder charge in 2013 after prosecutors were forced to drop charges against him in the May 2011 death of John C. Griffin. Prosecutors credited Thompson, a 25-year-old mother of one, with sinking their case after threats of harm led her to say she hadn’t witnessed the shooting after all.

Burks landed back in jail a year later from an April 2014 armed robbery at the Buy Rite Furniture store at 64 W. Ave. A in Belle Glade.

His trial was supposed to begin this week, but Assistant State Attorney Brianna Coakley in court records last week aid Burks was caught in a recorded jail call passing both her name and the name of an eyewitness to the robbery to someone at the other end of the line with instructions to pass the names along to someone else.

“The State has a substantial fear that the Defendant is attempting to coordinate witness intimidation from the jail,” Coakley wrote in a Nov. 9 motion to Circuit Judge John Kastrenakes. “Prior and subsequent calls also allude to contacting some individual and getting the witness information.”

According to Coakley, Burks on the recorded like spells out her name when asked for “state’s name,” then also spelled out the name of eyewitness Kathy Walton.

Before then, Coakley said, Burks can be heard tellilng the unidentified call recipient: “I’m taking your word for it that this [expletive] is straight.”

Kastrenakes on Monday granted Coakley’s request to cut Burks jail visitation and phone privileges except for calls and visits from his attorneys because of the calls.

Though jury selection was expected to begin in his case Monday, Kastrenakes set the case on a two-hour call, meaning it could go to trial anytime over the next several weeks.

Burks, 24, is accused of battery on a person 65 years of age or older for allegedly placing store owner Virgil Tullos in a choke hold during a robbery where two assailants made off with $20.

As for Thompson, it took a jury less than two hours in August to acquit her of perjury charges after defense attorney Andrew Strecker argued that she backed away from her testimony out of duress after prosecutors and investigators repeatedly failed to adequately protect her from threats she received.

Davis, 25, is currently serving a year in prison on unrelated charges of resisting arrest.

VERDICT: Fort Pierce man GUILTY in death of Belle Glade man

gavelUPDATE 5:55 p.m.: A Palm Beach County found a Fort Pierce man guilty of first degree murder in the 2014 masked shooting death of a 24-year-old Belle Glade man.

The verdict for Jaycobby Dukes late Thursday came after more than eight hours of deliberation that began Wednesday.

Circuit Judge Laura Johnson moved forward with a sentencing hearing immediately after the verdict, and – with a life sentence mandatory based on his conviction – handed the 24-year-old Dukes a life in prison punishment.

 

ORIGINAL POST: A jury’s second day of deliberation is ongoing in the trial of a 24-year-old Fort Pierce man accused of donning a mask and executing an enemy two years ago in a Belle Glade shooting caught on camera.

Whether Jaycobby Dukes was the one who killed 24-year-old Lennard “Boe” Cobb, or whether it could have been Dukes’ younger brother is a question that defense attorney Franklin Prince claims provides enough reasonable doubt for jurors to acquit Dukes on a first-degree murder charge.

But Assistant State Attorneys Emily Walters and Andrew Slater in their closing arguments to jurors Wednesday said the evidence was clear that Dukes was the masked man who shot Cobb outside the M&M Food Market at 449 Avenue A on May 13, 2014.

After deliberating briefly Wednesday, the panel returned Thursday and asked Circuit judge Laura Johnson to review the testimonies of five witnesses. Three witnesses said Dukes confessed that he shot Cobb over a longstanding feud.

If convicted, Dukes, who has a previous conviction for aggravated assault, faces life in prison.

Trump officially drops lawsuit against PBC over jets flying near Mar-A-Lago

Donald Trump has filed paperwork, confirming his plans to drop his $100 million lawsuit against Palm Beach County over jets flying near Mar-A-Lago, his private club in Palm Beach.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump

“It’s officially over!” County Attorney Denise Nieman wrote county commissioners on Wednesday.

While the president-elect’s attorneys had called her on Monday, saying they no longer planned to pursue the nearly 2-year-old lawsuit, they didn’t file necessary court papers until Wednesday.

It was the third lawsuit Trump filed against the county, claiming jets from Palm Beach International Airport were causing irreparable damage to the historic club, built in the 1920s by cereal heiress Margaret Merriweather Post and her then husband E.F. Hutton. The first lawsuit, filed in 1995, was settled and a second one was dismissed by a Palm Beach County circuit judge.

Airports Director Bruce Pelly said the county has spent more than $800,000 fighting Trump in court.

Trump officially drops lawsuit against PBC over jets flying near Mar-A-Lago

Donald Trump has filed paperwork, confirming his plans to drop his $100 million lawsuit against Palm Beach County over jets flying near Mar-A-Lago, his private club in Palm Beach.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump

“It’s officially over!” County Attorney Denise Nieman wrote county commissioners on Wednesday.

While the president-elect’s attorneys had called her on Monday, saying they no longer planned to pursue the nearly 2-year-old lawsuit, they didn’t file necessary court papers until Wednesday.

In a two-sentence notice, Trump’s attorneys John Marion and Bruce Rogow, a noted constitutional law expert, wrote that they were voluntarily dismissing the suit “with prejudice.” Neither the county nor Trump, they wrote, would seek court costs or attorneys fees in connection with the abandoned litigation.

It was the third lawsuit Trump filed against the county, claiming jets from Palm Beach International Airport were causing irreparable damage to the historic club, built in the 1920s by cereal heiress Margaret Merriweather Post and her then husband E.F. Hutton. The first lawsuit, filed in 1995, was settled and a second one was dismissed by a Palm Beach County circuit judge.

Airports Director Bruce Pelly said the county has spent more than $800,000 fighting Trump in court.

Jury to decide case of Fort Pierce man accused of Belle Glade murder

gavelA jury will soon begin deciding the case of a 24-year-old Fort Pierce man accused of settling an old beef with a fatal gunshot to his enemy’s head outside a Belle Glade grocery store two years ago.

Jaycobby Dukes has been on trial since last week in the May 13, 2014 shooting death of Lennard “Boe” Cobb, who himself was 24 when he was shot to death in a surprise attack on the south side of the M & M Food Market on 449 Avenue A.

Before closing arguments began in the case Wednesday, Dukes testified in his own defenses and denied shooting Cobb, whose family members say beat Dukes badly while both of them were behind bars in an escalation of an ongoing feud between members of their families.

Assistant State Attorney Ashleigh Walters told jurors afterward that there was a “mountain” of evidence implicating Dukes in the case, including the fact that he confessed to three separate people  – including a jailhouse informant – and was linked by DNA to sneakers that matched the shoes the killer was seen wearing in surveillance video.

Walters said even slight inconsistencies in witness testimony, including the fact that one witness said he saw Dukes with a gun before the shooting and another said he never saw a gun, made it all the more clear that Dukes was the killer.

“If all these people were going to come together, over a week and a half, and come here to lie to you to build a case against him, wouldn’t they have come up with a better lie,” Walters said.

But defense attorney Franklin Prince countered that the inconsistencies in the testimony were too big to ignore, portraying Dukes’ brother as the possible killer.

Prince also explained the fact that Dukes called a witness in the case Tuesday night to talk to her about her testimony as his interest in making sure the truth came out, knowing he planned to testify.

“He’s not a lawyer,” Prince said. “He just wanted to make sure she came in and tell the truth.”

Before Circuit Judge Laura Johnson sent jurors back to deliberate, Assistant State Attorney Andrew Slater told them “truth” was Dukes’ enemy.

Among his lies, he said, was calling a relative who is a law enforcement officer and claiming not to be in Belle Glade on the day of the murder, a statement he later recanted.

“He could’ve said: ‘Hey cuz, I was in Belle Glade and I know my name is ringing in the streets, but it wasn’t me.’ But he wasn’t interested in telling the truth so he told Big lie number 1,” Slater said.

Trial delayed for man accused of West Boca High star murder

A memorial for Christo "Sto" Maccius.
A memorial for Christo “Sto” Maccius.

A scheduled November trial has now been delayed until March for Garry Pierre, the 28-year-old North Lauderdale man accused of killing a popular former West Boca High School football star outside a bar in July.

Circuit Judge Charles Burton on Wednesday granted a defense request to delay Pierre’s trial in the death of 25-year-old Christo “Sto” Maccius, who was gunned down as he was leaving O’Connor’s Pub with two police officers.

Burton scheduled the trial, originally set to start with jury selection Nov. 30, to now begin on March 13. The judge also set a status hearing  on the case for Jan. 13.

According to witnesses, Maccius spotted Pierre starting at him the night of July 30 at a nightclub in the Sandalwood Plaza on State Road 7 south of West Palmetto Park Road. A pair of friends he was with told police Maccius told them Pierre was ” the guy I knocked out four or five years ago.”

Maccius was walking out of the club at 4:35 a.m. with the two friends, both Riviera Beach Police officers, when he was gunned down.

Maccius, 25, played football as a student at West Boca High and later returned there as a substitute teacher and security officer. He was known for his interest in working with special-needs and at-risk students.

Deputy who guarded John Goodman gets go-ahead in suit against PBSO

A Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputy can proceed with her lawsuit, claiming she was unfairly disciplined by Sheriff Ric Bradshaw for simply telling the truth about a strange incident involving now-imprisoned Wellington polo mogul John Goodman, an appeals court ruled Wednesday.

Sheriff Ric Bradshaw at the site of a deputy-involved shooting that critically injured a person Thursday morning, July 30, 2015, on Lakewood Road near South Military Trail in Palm Springs. PBSO said a deputy shot a person at 5:15 a.m. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)
Sheriff Ric Bradshaw (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

The 4th District Court of Appeal rejected Bradshaw’s request to toss out the lawsuit filed by Deputy Bridgette Bott. She was  one of Goodman’s security guards when he was on house arrest before he was convicted a second time of DUI manslaughter in the 2010 crash that killed 23-year-old Scott Wilson.

ID Photo
ID Photo

Bradshaw argued that Bott should have sought administrative relief before filing a lawsuit. The appeals court ruled that none was available.

In a lawsuit filed by attorney Sid Garcia, Bott claims she was unfairly docked 40 hours pay when she didn’t side with other deputies who said Goodman in 2012 tried to disable his ankle monitor while on house arrest.  In addition, she claims she was banned from the lucrative security detail that Goodman was forced to bankroll as a condition of being allowed to stay out of jail.

Ultimately, Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath ruled that there was insufficient evidence that Goodman had tried to break the monitor and allowed him to remain on house arrest. Goodman, heir to a Texas air conditioning and heating business, is serving a 16-year prison sentence.