UPDATE: Dalia Dippolito prosecution rests; defense calls lover

UPDATE 3:15 p.m.: Dalia Dippolito broke down in tears Thursday as her former lover took the and said he told Boynton Beach police she was looking to have her husband killed in hopes of getting her some help.

Dalia Dippolito cries as her ex-lover-turned police informant Mohamed Shihadeh testifies for the defense in Dalia Dippolito's murder-for-hire retrial Thursday, December 8, 2016. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)
Dalia Dippolito cries as her ex-lover-turned police informant Mohamed Shihadeh testifies for the defense in Dalia Dippolito’s murder-for-hire retrial Thursday, December 8, 2016. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

Mohamed Shihadeh, who had a sexual relationship with Dippolito from years before she met and married her now ex-husband Michael, said he thought his old lover was being abused and went to police in hopes that they would call her.

LIVE COVERAGE: DALIA DIPPOLITO TRIAL

“I didn’t think she had it in her to do it,” Shihadeh said when asked whether he thought Dippolito would actually have her husband killed.

Hearing those words in the courtroom Thursday sent Dippolito, 34, into sobs. She continued crying for several minutes as defense attorney Brian Claypool continued questioning Shihadeh, who said police surreptitiously placed a video camera in his car and tapped his phones.

2:40 p.m. UPDATE: After calling just two witnesses, prosecutors Thursday rested their murder solicitation case against Dalia Dippolito.

The surprise move came after less than a full day of testimony in what had become one of the most highly publicized local cases in recent history.

From the start of the case Wednesday, Assistant State Attorney Craig Williams and fellow prosecutor Laura Burkhart Laurie presented a significantly pared-back version of the case the state presented to Dippolito’s first trial in 2011.

They based their case solely on a series of audio and video recordings in which Dippolito is overheard planning her husband’s murder with Mohamed Shihadeh and later undercover Boynton Beach Officer Widy Jean.

Dippolito defense attorneys Brian Claypool and Greg Rosenfeld will call Mohamed Shihadeh as their first witness.

12:50 p.m. UPDATE: Prosecutors could rest their case in the murder solicitation retrial against Dalia Dippolito as early as Thursday afternoon.

Assistant State Attorney Craig Williams made the bombshell announcement after Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley sent jurors out for the lunch break.

Dippolito’s retrial began Wednesday with an immediately apparent stripped-down version of the case against the 34-year-old former Boynton Beach newlywed whose alleged plot to kill her husband was caught on camera.

The quick end to the state’s case means prosecutors will likely not call the alleged victim, Michael Dippolito, to the witness stand. Dippolito’s former lover, Mohamed Shihadeh, was also expected to be a state witness, but according to the prosecutors’ announcement, it appears they may not be calling him to the stand, either.

ORIGINAL POST: In the parking lot of the CVS on Gateway Boulevard and Military trial, a young woman stepped out of her gold Chevy Tahoe and into the passenger seat of a red Chrysler Sebring.

Widy Jean aid he told the woman she was beautiful, an icebreaker he said he hoped would build her trust. Minutes later they were discussing the details of how he would kill her husband.

“At first she was moving around, but after a while he was calm and collected and giving me the instructions that I needed,” Jean, an undercover police officer who posed as a hitman, told jurors in Dalia Dippolito’s retrial Thursday.

Dippolito, 34, listened as the jurors watched the recorded video on what will be the first full day of testimony in the case. On Monday, jurors heard audio and video recordings of Dippolito’s interactions with Mohamed Shihadeh, the sometime lover who sparked a Boynton Beach Police investigation when he told detectives Dippolito was shopping for someone to kill her new husband, Michael.

In the recording with Jean Thursday, it was clear that he was trying to keep her talking, an indulgence she obliged.

She told him Michael Dippolito had enough enemies to keep police guessing as to who would want to kill him.

Played seven years later, Jean in the video might’ve given some clues that he wasn’t a real hitman.

At one point, after she told him to check with her on a detail, he responded: “I’m not going to do anything without your approval. You’re the client.”

Towards the end on the conversation, Jean – who was supposed to be a hardened hired gun from Miami – offered up a police “anything further?” before Dippolito left.

“I was trying to give her a way out,” he said. “In return she told me she was 5,000 percent sure that she wanted it done.”

Dalia Dippolito retrial: state plays recorded murder plot

120816-dippolito-13

4:08 p.m. UPDATE : Dalia Dippolito thought getting her hair done would make for a good alibi spot to be in when a hitman killed her husband.

Her words, played in a videotaped conversation between her and her lover-turned police informant Mohamed Shihadeh, dominated a slow first day of testimony in the 34-year-old former Boynton Beach newlywed’s retrial in the alleged 2009 plot to kill her then-husband, Michael.

Live coverage: Dalia Dippolito trial

In a handful of video and audio recordings so far, Dippolito appeared to project a cool, calm demeanor as she discussed with her sometime lover the logistics of hiring a man she thought was a hitman acquaintance of one of Mohamed’s relatives.

She did, however, express concern over the fact that some of their conversations were over the phone, wanted to make sure the hitman would carry out the act and was worried he might take her money and not follow through.

“Nobody’s going to be able to point a finger back at me,” Dippolito is overheard telling Shihadeh in one video.

Boynton Beach police officer Alex Mareno testifies about the phone calls he recorded between Dalia Dippolito and Mohamed Shihadeh on the first day of Dippolito's murder-for-hire retrial Wednesday, December 7, 2016. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post) POOL
Boynton Beach police officer Alex Mareno testifies about the phone calls he recorded between Dalia Dippolito and Mohamed Shihadeh on the first day of Dippolito’s murder-for-hire retrial Wednesday, December 7, 2016. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post) POOL

Prosecutors told jurors today that what Dippolito didn’t know is that it was already too late. Boynton Beach police were already listening in on their conversations, and the alleged hitman was actually an undercover detective.

Dippolito this year said she knew all about the investigation, but her husband and Shihadeh coerced her to act along in hopes that it would score all three of them Hollywood fame.

But defense attorney Brian Claypool in his opening statements to jurors in the trial this morning appears to have abandoned that defense except for a reference to the plot being “all fake” and “part of a script.”

The real actors, Claypool said, were Boynton Beach police officials who violated Dippolito’s rights to unlawfully get her to continue the murder try to make for a good episode of the television show “Cops.”

In the recorded conversations played for jurors Wednesday, Dippolito repeatedly asks Shihadeh if the informant she is set to meet will make good on his promise to kill Michael Dippolito for $3,000.

“Are you sure sure?” Dippolito asked.

“How sure do you want? You’re planning a murder, c’mon!” an exasperated-sounding Shihadeh responded.

Jurors heard the recordings while the state’s first witness, Boynton Beach Police Detective Alex Moreno, was on the witness stand.

11:15 a.m. UPDATE : For Assistant State Attorney Craig Williams, the case against former Boynton Beach newlywed Dalia Dippolito is simple.

Williams told jurors in opening statements for Dippolito’s retrial Wednesday that the 34-year-old simply tried to pay a hitman $3,000 to kill her husband. And she got caught.

Live coverage: Dalia Dippolito trial

“What’s great about this case is that it is based 100 percent on Ms Dippoito’s words, Ms Dippolito’s actions and Ms Dippolito’s intent,” Williams said.

Defense attorney Brian Claypool, well into his opening statements, has yet to mention Dippolito’s claims from last year that her husband, Michael Dippolito, and her lover, Mohamed Shihadeh, forced her to meet with the undercover detective because they thought the recorded exchanges would land them all acting jobs.

Instead, he’s said Boynton Beach Police forced Shihadeh to set Dippoito up even after he said he wanted out.

What’s more, Claypool said, police either failed to record or lost or destroyed recordings from more than 100 phone calls between Shihadeh and Dippolito over the course of the investigation.

“Maybe she wanted to rethink things, maybe she had issues with her husband that she needed to work out. But will you get to hear about that? No,” Claypool said.

The truth, Claypool said, was that Dippolito wanted out of the alleged plot.

ORIGINAL POST: Arguments over a request to keep recorded evidence from jurors marked the start Wednesday of Dalia Dippolito’s second trial in the August 2009 Boynton Beach case surrounding her alleged plot to have her then-husband Michael killed.

Dippolito’s defense attorneys tried unsuccessfully to keep out portions of Dippolito’s caught-on-camera plot involving a police officer posing as a hitman.

Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley has also put off a defense request for a mistrial.

Michael Dippolito divorced Dalia Dippolito after a first jury in 2011 convicted her of solicitation of first-degree murder charges. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison, but that sentence was overturned on appeal.

At Dippolito’s last trial, her now-former husband was the star witness against her and described how a Boynton Beach police officer’s knock on the door in August 2009 was his first clue that the woman he’d married just a month earlier was trying to have him killed.

A point of contention in the case will likely be how much of the alleged plot was Dippolito’s own doing and how much of it was contrived by the Boynton Beach Police Department to make for a good episode of the television show “Cops.”

Dippolito’s defense team tried several times unsuccessfully to get the case thrown out altogether because of claims that Boynton police violated her rights in the way they conducted the investigation.

Dippolito has also claimed that her husband and Mohamed Shihadeh, her lover-turned-police-informant, concocted the murder-for-hire-plot together as part of an acting script and forced her to go through with it.

A point of contention in the case will be Dippolito’s attorneys’ attempts to claim that police failed to record hundreds of calls between Dippolito and Shihadeh before and after he introduced her to the fake hitman.

Dippolito’s attonreys say there were more than 500 such calls, but prosecutors say the number is closer to two dozen and the calls in question were brief.

 

Girlfriend of murdered FAU student tearfully testifies

Through tears, the longtime girlfriend of slain Florida Atlantic University student Nicholas Acosta on Tuesday haltingly described the violence that erupted seconds after she opened the door of her Boca Raton apartment for what was suppose to be a routine drug deal.

Donovan Henry
Donovan Henry shortly after his arrest. His hair has been cut short for the trial.

While Kayla Bartosiewicz had difficulty articulating exactly what happened in the horror-filled seconds, she firmly identified 19-year-old Donovan Henry as the young man she let in on December 29, 2015, believing the fellow student simply wanted to buy some marijuana from her boyfriend. However, minutes after Henry and a younger man came into the apartment in University Park, three other men Bartosiewicz said she didn’t know barged in.

After screaming at them to, “Get on the ground,” one of the men shot Acosta twice, killing him, she testified.

Nicholas Max Acosta
Nicholas Max Acosta

Attorney Scott Skier, who represents Henry, who is charged with first-degree murder, armed robbery and armed burglary, hasn’t yet given his opening statements in which he explains to jurors Henry’s version of events. But, while questioning Bartosiewicz, Skier offered hints of his defense strategy. He indicated that he will argue that Henry had no plans to kill Acosta. In court papers, he has said Alexander Gillis, who police say was the shooter, masterminded the murder without Henry’s knowledge. Gillis and Adonis Gillis are awaiting trial.

A freshman, majoring in engineering and playing on FAU’s soccer team, Henry was friends with Acosta, Skier insisted. But, while Bartosiewicz acknowledged that both she and Acosta had seen Henry at a party and that Henry had bought pot from Acosta at least three times before, she rejected Skier’s intimation that the two were friends.

She firmly answered “no” when Skier asked whether Henry and Acosta had embraced when he entered the apartment. “That didn’t happen,” she said. But, she said, Acosta knew Henry well enough to give him the electronic code so he could enter the apartment.

Under questioning by Assistant State Attorney Brian Fernandes, she also acknowledged that she initially lied to police about Acosta’s illicit business and didn’t tell them that the intruders stole a quarter-pound bag of pot on their way out.

“I didn’t want Nick to be remembered that way,” she said. “Because he was so much more than that.”

The star witness is expected to be Rodrick Woods, who was allowed to plead guilty to second-degree murder after agreeing to testify against the others.

The trial is expected to wrap up Friday or Monday.

 

 

Lake Clarke Shores murder case ends with plea

Nicholas Agatheas DOC photo
Nicholas Agatheas DOC photo

A last-minute plea deal has ended what could have been a second trial in a Lake Clarke Shores murder case from more than a decade ago.

Nicholas Agatheas, 40, accepted an agreement Monday that will send him to prison for 22 years for the 2005 murder of Thomas Villano in Lake Clarke Shores.

The penalty is much lower than the life sentence he received in 2006 after his first trial in the case.

His attorneys and prosecutors reached the plea deal allowing him to plead guilty to a lesser second-degree murder charge before what was to have been his second trial in the case.

Villano found shot eight times inside his Lake Clarke Shores home.

At his first trial, prosecutors called to the stand Agatheas’ former girlfriend, who testified that he had admitted killing Villano shortly after they saw television coverage of his death.

The girlfriend testified Agatheas also told her he had left his T-shirt at the scene. Investigators found a discarded T-shirt in Villano’s ransacked home. Though investigators could not initially make a match, improved DNA technology years later linked Agatheas to the shirt.

In the new trial, Agatheas defense attorneys were expected to argue that because Agatheas worked for Villano’s small restaurant equipment company, the shirt could have been at Villano’s home after Agatheas did other work there.

Dalia Dippolito jury selected, trial to begin Wednesday

Judge Glenn Kelley presides over the fourth day of jury selection for Dalia Dippolito's retrial at the Palm Beach County Courthouse in West Palm Beach, Florida on December 6, 2016. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post) Pool
Judge Glenn Kelley presides over the fourth day of jury selection for Dalia Dippolito’s retrial at the Palm Beach County Courthouse in West Palm Beach, Florida on December 6, 2016. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post) Pool

UPDATE 4:58 p.m.: A group of five women and three men will make up the pool of six jurors and two alternates in the retrial of former Boynton Beach newlywed Dalia Dippolito, who is accused of a 2009 caught-on-camera plot to have her husband killed.

Dippolito’s defense attorneys immediately indicated that they will request to have the jurors sequestered. The selection of jurors ends four days of jury selection rocked by Dippolito’s last-minute attempts to drop the entire pool of 200 prospective jurors sand move the case out of Palm Beach COunty.

Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley denied the request to sequester the jury and said he will assk them every day whether they’ve been exposed to media attention in the case.

“I’ll stay on top of it,” Kelley said.

Opening statements in the trial will begin Wednesday.

 

UPDATE 1:54 p.m.: Concerns over the husband of a potential Dalia Dippolito juror temporarily halted jury selection in her retrial amid claims the man was stalking Dippolito.

Dippolito, 34, said she recognized the man from her 2011 sentencing hearing and other hearings in her case.

Concerns first rose Monday, when defense attorneys Greg Rosenfeld and Brian Claypool said the then-unidentified man was seen having lunch with a juror last week.

It turns out that juror, who was also accused of making a derrogatory comment about Dippolito to two other prospective jurors, is the wife of the court watcher.

Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley brought the man in for questioning. He said he watched the news and heard about Dippolito’s case, but denied telling his wife anything about it.

“I’d get shot if I did,” he said. “She’s a tough little lady.”

ORIGINAL POST: The presiding judge in Dalia Dippolito’s retrial has again rejected her request to move her case out of Palm Beach County because of widespread publicity of the case.

Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley announced his decision Tuesday in what developed into a heated exchange between the judge and defense attorneys in the case.

Responding to claims from defense attorneys Brian Claypool and Greg Rosenfeld that a television news poll revealed most viewers thought Dippolito couldn’t get a fair jury in Palm Beach County, Kelley said he didn’t need to see it.

“I’m not going to rely on the poll, and quite frankly, I don’t care what the citizens of Palm Beach County think because I’m the one who is sitting in the chair,” Kelley said.

His words come a day after rising concerns about the number of jurors who knew about Dippolito’s alleged murder-for-hire plot led defense attorneys to renew their efforts to get the case moved.

Kelley had said he would consider the request overnight, and announced his decision to keep questioning the 55 prospective jurors early Tuesday.

Claypool, comparing Dippolito’s case to the two DUI manslaughter trials of Wellington polo mogul John Goodman, questioned Kelley’s decision to keep the case local, considering Goodman’s second jury came from Tampa.

“We’ve done our due diligence. I think the court is ignoring that, because the court is in a rush to get a jury in Palm Beach County,” Claypool said.

“I am considering the volume of publicity, and you need to lower your volume,” Kelley said in response. “Passion is fine, but you need to lower your volume.”

After the exchange, jury selection continued with the 50 remaining jurors from an initial prospective pool of 200.

Claypool, in questioning the jurors Tuesday morning, appeared to preview Dippolito’s defense that Boynton Beach Police violated Dippolito’s civil rights in the way they handled the investigation into Dippolito’s alleged attempt to have her then-husband Michael killed.

The investigation began when Dippolito’s lover, Mohamed Shihedeh, told police Dippolito was looking for a hitman. He would later say that he hoped to get help for Dippolito, who had told him her husband was abusing her.

Shihadeh said police coerced him to continue setting Dippolito up for the caught-on-camera investigation with an undercover officer posing as a hitman even after he asked to back out.

Dippolito herself said in court earlier this year that Shihadeh and her husband had made up the plot as part of an acting showcase to get them all jobs, and both of them forced her to continue with it after she tried to back out of the plot.

 

UPDATE: Dalia Dippolito jury pool challenged, venue change possible

 

 

Dalia Dippolito looks out at the pool of prospective jurors before the start of the second day of jury selection for her retrial Friday, December 2, 2016. (Bruce R. Bennett
Dalia Dippolito looks out at the pool of prospective jurors before the start of the second day of jury selection for her retrial Friday, December 2, 2016. (Bruce R. Bennett

UPDATE 2:20 p.m.: Reports that an avid Dippolito court watcher had lunch with a potential jurors last week and that there was juror chatter about Dippolito on the first day of jury selection became the newest allegations that threaten to derail jury selection for Dippolito’s case.

Just before the lunch break, Dippolito’s defense team reported that a friend of Dippolito, seated in the court gallery, overheard a female prospective juror telling two others “we got her” – presumably about Dippolito.

Defense attorney Greg Rosenfeld said the same juror who allegedly made the comment was observed having lunch at the courthouse last week with an unidentified man who has attended as an observer a number of pretrial hearings in Dippolito’s case.

After the break, as Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley questioned those who were involved in the allegations surrounding the comment, one female prospective juror denied making or hearing the comment, but added that there was buzz in the juror pool on the first day of jury selection about Dippolito.

Though she didn’t recall having heard specifics about the case, the reference was enough for Rosenfeld and defense attorney Brian Claypool to renew their request to strike the jury panel and pick jurors from another area.

“I mean, this is terrifying,’ Rosenfeld said. “Everybody knows about this case, she is never going to get a fair trial in Palm Beach county, this is a perfect example. Her constitutional rights are being eviscerated here.”

Kelley did not grant the motion but didn’t deny it either, betraying what until now has been his biggest hint that he may consider scrapping the panel.

“I don’t think it’s time to pull the plug here,” Kelley said, however.

ORIGINAL POST: Calling her case “a poster child case” for why criminal trials should be moved out of the area in high-publicity cases, Dalia Dippolito’s attorneys tried unsuccessfully Monday to get a judge to move her case out of Palm Beach County.

The formal request comes on the third day of jury selection in what will be the second trial in the 2009 case surrounding Dippolito’s caught-on-camera alleged plot to have her husband Michael killed.

While more than five dozen prospective jurors remaining out of an initial 200 waited downstairs, defense attorney Brian Claypool told Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley their case has been “decimated” by the amount of publicity in the case.

“I’m pretty confident that we’re not going to get a fair and impartial jury,” Claypool said, later adding:”The continuity of the publicity has gotten worse.”

Assistant State Attorney Laura Burkhart Laurie said Claypool himself is to blame for the increased media attention, citing after-court press conferences and an appearance last week on HLN.

“He just tweeted two hours ago about this case,” Laurie said.

Claypool said that his tweets have been procedural about the case and added he felt that the community had a right to know.

Kelley said he didn’t want to assign blame to anyone for the publicity, saying “it is what it is.”

“Much of it has been inflammatory. I have to concede that,” Kelley said of the case.

Still, he decided to keep trying to select a jury from the pool of 66 prospective that remain. If attempts to pick from that pool fail, Kelley said, then he will reconsider.

Dalia Dippolito retrial: vast majority of jurors have heard about the case

More than three quarters of a pool of 96 prospective jurors for Dalia Dippolito’s retrial have already heard about her caught-on-camera alleged murder for hire plot.

The dozens of hands that went up Friday when Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley asked who heard about the case will undoubtedly bolster a last-minute request from the former Boynton Beach newlywed’s defense team to pick jurors from outside Palm Beach County.

The request, which Kelley has yet to decide, comes on the second day of jury selection in what has become Palm Beach County’s most widely publicized recent case aside from the two DUI manslaughter trials of former Wellington polo club founder John Goodman.

In Dippolito’s case, about half of a pool of 100 initial jurors questioned Thursday had already heard about the case.

Defense attorney Brian Claypool after court appeared untroubled by those numbers. But Friday morning, he said that after having a chance to sleep on it and talk to Dippolito, he was now concerned and wanted to move the case out of Palm Beach County.

Those fears shave culminated so far with a request for a change of venue before jurors were brought in this morning, and a more recent request from defense attorney Greg Rosenfeld to throw out the entire panel after hearing how many had heard of the case.

Kelley has rebuffed both requests so far, but after his last denial, he commented on the number of prospective jurors who had hear about the case.

“I’ll comment parenthetically that it’s disconcerting, but…” Kelley said with a slight shrug, his voice training off.

On Thursday, most jurors who had heard about the case were dismissed after Kelley questioned them individually and learned they had heard information both the judge and attorneys on both sides have agreed should be kept from jurors.

That includes the fact that Dippolito was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison before the case was overturned on appeal, that Dippolito was working as an escort when she met her now ex-husband Michael and that the 2009 Boynton Beach case was featured on an episode of the television show COPS.

Dippolito, 34, is charged with asking an undercover police officer posing as a hitman to kill her then-husband in 2009.

Dippolito’s 2011 conviction and 20-year prison sentence in the case was overturned on appeal because Florida’s 4th District Court of Appeal ruled that Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath should have questioned jurors individually instead of as a group about what they knew about the case.

Dalia Dippolito trial: most of prospective jurors knew about case

A prospective juror in Dalia Dippolito’s murder solicitation trial told a judge Thursday that he had a conversation with his wife after they watched a news report on the case years ago.

After hearing that Dippolito was caught on camera asking an undercover officer posing as a hitman to kill her then-husband in 2009, the man said he turned to his wife with a warning.

“I told my wife ‘be careful who you hire,’ She said ‘Don’t worry, I’d do it myself,” she said.

Dippolito, 34, smiled as both prosecutors and her defense team shares smiles and chuckles of their own, marking a brief light moment on what was the first day of jury selection in the retrial for the escort-turned-newlywed who says her caught on camera murder plot was part of an acting script.

Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley, who had hoped to finish electing a jury by Friday, quickly scrapped those plans when more than half of a pool of 100 prospective jurors said they’d already heard about Dippolito’s case.

Kelley questioned jurors who had heard about the case one by one, a process that took the rest of the day. Another 100 prospective jurors, which were originally scheduled for initial questioning Thursday afternoon, will instead come back Friday.

Questioning each juror individually about their prior knowledge of the case is important because Dippolito’s 2011 conviction and 20-year prison sentence in the case was overturned on appeal because Florida’s 4th District Court of Appeal ruled that Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath should have questioned jurors individually instead of as a group about what they knew about the case.

Less than a quarter of the initial pool of 100 jurors made it immediately through the first round of questioning after telling Kelley they hadn’t heard about the case and had no hardship that would keep them from serving as jurors for the week-long trial.

Less than a dozen more were asked to return Monday after individual questioning.

Most who had heard about the case before Thursday, however, were dismissed – including those who knew there had been a previous trial and heard certain details about the case that attorneys and the judge agreed would be kept from jurors.

A handful had heard Dippolito, 34, was working as an escort when she met Michael Dippolito, who subsequently divorced his wife and married her months later.

Others had seen the viral video of Dippolito crying fake tears at what was later revealed as a staged crime scene where police officers led her to believe her plot had been successful and her husband was dead.

A tense moment in  the day’s jury selection came when a prospective juror informed a court deputy that he could hear the individual jurors being questioned inside the courtroom from a live feed to a nearby conference room set up for television reporters covering the case.

After hearing the door to the room had been left open for at least part of the day, Dippolito attorneys Brian Claypool and Greg Rosenfeld asked Kelley to strike the entire jury panel.

“There’s no way to tell how deep this goes,’ Rosenfeld said.

Kelley opted to question jurors about it individually, and appeared set to move forward after the juror who reported the incident and other prospective jurors all said they could only  hear voices but no specific conversations between the judge and individual jurors.

Jury selection will continue Friday and is expected to wrap Monday. The trial could begin as early as Tuesday.

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.