Boynton Beach Mall murder retrial to begin for Wilson Pierre

Wilson Pierre
Wilson Pierre

Jury selection is expected to begin Tuesday in the murder retrial of a man accused of the Christmas Eve 2006 killing of a rival gang member at the Boynton Beach mall.

Wilson Pierre was convicted in 2009 of 24-year-old Berno Charlemond’s murder and sentenced to 40 years in prison.

His conviction was later overturned when an appellate court ruled the first jury received an erroneous deliberation instruction on a lesser included charge of manslaughter.

Berno Charlemond
Berno Charlemond

The case was headed to retrial last year but stalled when a couple of judges stepped down from the case.

Defense attorney Peter Grable, who represented Pierre during the first trial, is also now off the case, and attorney Gerald Saleno will now represent Pierre in the case to be tried before Circuit Judge Dina Keever.

Dennis DeMartin ordered back to Florida for new sentencing hearing

(Palm Beach Post staff file photo)
(Palm Beach Post staff file photo)

Dennis DeMartin, the juror once jailed for a series of missteps that led a judge to overturn John Goodman’s first DUI manslaughter conviction, will have to return to Florida if he has any hopes of reducing what’s left of a 6-month jail sentence hanging over his head.

While a potential Florida Supreme Court fight looms over whether Chief Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath’s five month, 29-day contempt of court sentence against DeMartin is justified, attorneys for the 72-year-old retired Delray Beach accountant have asked the judge to reduce his sentence to the 37 days he already served at the Palm Beach County jail between January and March of 2014.

Assistant Public Defender Paul Petillo on Thursday filed paperwork asking for a reduced sentence for DeMartin, who landed in legal trouble after Goodman’s 2012 trial when he revealed he conducted a forbidden drinking experiment as a juror and later revealed he failed as a prospective juror to disclose that his ex-wife had once been arrested for DUI.

As a result, Colbath in 2013 overturned Goodman’s DUI manslaughter conviction and 16-year prison sentence in the Feb. 12, 2010 death of 23-year-old Scott Patrick Wilson. Another jury, selected from Tampa, convicted the polo club founder again in 2014 and he is now serving the 16-year sentence.

DeMartin as a result of the time he’s already spent in jail lost his  social security benefits temporarily, which caused him to lose his Delray Beach condo, Petillo said,. He now lives in a government subsidized apartment in Connecticut, but could lose that as well if Colbath sentences him to more prison time.

In a brief hearing Friday morning, Colbath told attorneys in the case that he will consider reducing DeMartin’s sentence and any other matters still up for discussion in the case, but DeMartin must return to Florida for a hearing he’s scheduled for June 3.

According to Petillo’s petition, DeMartin suffers from heart disease, is nearly blind, has short-term memory loss and is taking nearly a dozen medications that includes one used to trat Alzheimer’s patients. He pays $630 in rent a month and otherwise lives on $1,223 a month in social security, a $175 monthly annuity that will end when he is 75 and $37 a month in food stamps, Petillo said.

“He is poor by just about any standard, but with HUD-subsidized housing he is able to get by,” Petillo wrote. “If he temporarily loses his Social Security benefit, he will lose his apartment. If he can’t live with relatives, he will be homeless.”

Port St. Lucie youth who beat parents to death gets chance for freedom

A Port St. Lucie man, who is serving two life sentences for bludgeoning his parents to death with a hammer in 2011 when he was 17, will have a chance to argue that he should one day be allowed to live outside prison walls.

Tyler Hadley
Tyler Hadley

As it has done for others convicted of committing heinous crimes when they were under 18, the 4th District Court of Appeal on Wednesday ruled Tyler Joseph Hadley, now 22, should benefit from a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision that outlawed life sentences without parole for juveniles. The youths deserve special consideration because their brains aren’t fully developed, act impetuously and they are amenable to rehabilitation, the high court ruled.

In response to the ruling, the Florida Legislature passed a law that allows life sentences for juveniles. But, a judge must make certain findings, the West Palm Beach-based court found.

Because Hadley was sentenced in 2014, before the law went into effect, 19th Judicial Circuit Judge Robert R. Makemson had no way of following it, the appeals court wrote. While crediting the judge for trying his best, it said he erred by justifying the life sentence by saying Hadley had a previously been convicted of a capital crime. There is no evidence of that, the court wrote. Further, Makemson was required to consider possible alternatives to a life sentence.

Almost apologetically, the appeals court wrote: “We are therefore compelled to reverse and remand for resentencing.” Under the law, the minimum sentence would be 40 years and any sentence would be reviewed after 25 years.

The murders attracted national attention because of their brutality and callousness. After killing his parents, Hadley had a keg party, locking their bloodied bodies in a bedroom.

John Goodman juror Dennis DeMartin’s case could be headed to high court

(Palm Beach Post staff file photo)
(Palm Beach Post staff file photo)

The case of the wayward juror held responsible for forcing a judge to throw out John Goodman’s DUI manslaughter conviction could soon be a matter for Florida’s Supreme Court.

Last week, on the heels of a 4th District Court of Appeal ruling affirming Dennis DeMartin’s contempt of court conviction and six month jail sentence, his lawyer filed a request to for them to send the case to Florida’s high court to address an issue the appellate court left unanswered.

“May a court sentence a defendant more harshly in order to ‘send a message’ to the community?” Assistant Public Defender Paul Petillo wants to ask the Supreme Court.

The question has been the center of the retired accountant’s appeal since January 2014, when Chief Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath sentenced the retired accountant to five months and 29 days in the Palm Beach County jail for a pair of missteps DeMartin had as a juror on the 2012 panel that convicted Goodman in the Feb. 12, 2010 death of Scott Patrick Wilson.

In two separate self-published books, DeMartin revealed he conducted his own, forbidden drinking experiment in the night before he and jurors began deliberating Goodman’s case and later disclosed that his ex-wife had once been arrested for DUI – a fact that prosecutors say would have surely kept him off the jury had he told them as required while he was a prospective juror.

Colbath when he sentenced DeMartin said he wanted to “send a message” to the community on the importance of honesty and integrity as jurors.

Petillo in his request to the appellate court last week reiterated his belief that it was improper for Colbath to base his sentence on that premise.

Assistant Attorney General Richard Valuntas, in a response filed Wednesday morning, said there’s nothing for the Supreme Court to consider because Colbath’s sentence was within the statutory limits.

“Nothing in the record shows appellant was actually sentenced more harshly in order to ‘send a message’ to the community,” Valuntas wrote, adding that courts in other jurisdictions have ruled that judges can use “the concept of general deterrence” when giving an offender a legal sentence.

Colbath cited DeMartin’s actions in 2013 as the reason he overturned Goodman’s first conviction and 16-year prison sentence. A second jury in October 2014 convicted Goodman again, and he is now in the second year of a 16-year sentence.

DeMartin now lives in New Haven, Connecticut, where he moved after serving a month of his sentence.

Goodman juror Dennis DeMartin’s “shocked” his contempt appeal was rejected

The juror credited for derailing Wellington polo club founder John Goodman’s DUI manslaughter trial could be headed back to jail now that an appeals court has upheld his two contempt of court convictions.

(Palm Beach Post staff file photo)
(Palm Beach Post staff file photo)

In an eight-page decision released by Florida’s 4th District Court of Appeal Wednesday, the high court backed Chief Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath’s 2014 conviction and 6 month jail sentence against retired Boynton Beach accountant Dennis DeMartin. In a pair of self-published, DeMartin books revealed that he conducted his own drinking experiment at the end of Goodman’s 2012 trial and also withheld from the court as a prospective juror that his own ex-wife had once been arrested for DUI.

The missteps led Colbath to throw out Goodman’s conviction and 16-year prison sentence in the case tied to the death of 23-year-old Scott Patrick Wilson, who drowned in a Wellington canal after Goodman ran a stop sign while drunk and plowed his Bentley into Wilson’s Hyundai.

Reached by phone in New Haven, Conn. Wednesday, DeMartin said the decision has left him both stunned and confused.

“I’m shocked by the whole thing,” said DeMartin, who added he is very much afraid of having to go back to jail. “I don’t know what to do.”

DeMartin became the source of public ire in the aftermath of Goodman’s first trial, especially by those upset at the cost of bringing the Texas-born millionaire to trial again. The appellate court on Wednesday ruled that there was “substantial evidence” to support the contempt of court convictions.

“Our jury trial system depends on the complete candor of all jurors during voir dire,” Judge Spencer D. Levine wrote. “Our jury trial system also requires the strict adherence of all jurors to the instructions given to them by the trial judge.”

A second jury last year convicted Goodman again, and he is now a year into his 16-year sentence. In an appeal to DeMartin’s conviction filed last year, Assistant Public Defender Paul Petillo placed the blame for for the entire debacle on the local court system.

The accusations against DeMartin, he said, were “hyperbole.”

“If it did wreak havoc (and it didn’t), that’s only because the Palm Beach County justice system let itself get caught up in the fanfare of trying a wealthy defendant,” Petillo said in a petition filed Monday. “After all, the charge, though serious, was a DUI manslaughter, and probably a handful of those are tried every year in each circuit in this court’s jurisdiction.”

Goodman’s defense team immediately asked Colbath to throw out Goodman’s conviction after DeMartin revealed he drank three mixed vodka drinks and attempted to walk around his condominium complex the night before he and five other jurors began deliberating Goodman’s fate.

DeMartin in 2014 served a month of his six-month sentence before he was granted an appellate bond. He has been living in Connecticut since last year.

He said he found out his appeal had been rejected when he got a phone call from Petillo. THe attorney told him he had 15 days to appeal the court’s ruling, he said, but he doesn’t know how he would go about doing that.

When Colbath sentenced DeMartin at the end of a short trial, the judge had little sympathy for the 72-year-old. Though DeMartin’s pro-bono attorneys, Robert Gershman and Joseph Walsh, had pleaded with the judge to keep DeMartin out of jail, Colbath said he felt DeMartin deserved the punishment.

“If I found Mr. DeMartin to be a benign Mr. Magoo who was unaware of the destruction he left in his wake, then I would find differently. I don’t think that is the case,” Colbath said.

Palm Beach man Martin Zelman, focus of twisted guardianship case, has died

A Palm Beach man, who was the focus of what amounted to a custody fight between his wife and his adult children, has died.

Martin and Lois Zelman were regulars at Palm Beach events. 013014 PBDN Debbie Schatz 11 Photos Reception for American Friends of the Israel Museum's Palm Beach Fundraiser at the Baum Residence
Martin and Lois Zelman in 2014 at a reception for American Friends of the Israel Museum’s Palm Beach Fundraiser.

The death of Martin Zelman, a successful Long Island real estate investor, was announced by his family in an obituary that appeared on March 8 in the New York Times. He was 87.

His second wife, Lois Zelman, who fought his adult children’s efforts to separate them after 15 years of marriage, was not mentioned in the obituary.

Lois Zelman was ordered out of the couple’s Palm Beach condo in 2o14 by then-Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Diana Lewis. She believed Martin’s children’s claims that Lois was a threat to their father’s well-being. The decision was overturned nearly a year later by the 4th District Court of Appeal. It ruled that Lewis had for fallen for “legal hocus pocus” and had violated Lois’ rights.

But by that time, it was too late for the couple to resume their life together. With Martin Zelman falling deeper into the well of Alzheimer’s disease, he no longer recognized his wife, said attorney Jeff Fisher, who represented Lois in the litigation.

“Due to an abuse of the guardianship process, Lois lost the ability to care for and be with her husband in the last years of his life,” Fisher said Tuesday. “Martin’s passing makes that fact all the more painful for her.  At this point, we simply hope that the rulings from her case prevent the same thing from happening to other couples who are at a similarly vulnerable stage of their lives.”

At stake in the case was roughly $10 million. According to a prenuptial agreement, if Martin divorced Lois she wouldn’t get the money.

In the guardianship case, Lewis ruled that Martin was incompetent and appointed his children as his guardians. But she let him preserve the ability to file lawsuits. While a divorce suit was filed, Judge Charles Burton later threw it out, ruling that Martin lacked the capacity to understand what he was doing.

The dispute was ultimately settled out of court.

 

Milagro Cunningham gets another bid for freedom in rape of Lake Worth girl

Milagro Cunningham, who was 17 when he raped an 8-year-old Lake Worth girl, buried her under rocks and left her for dead, will get another chance at freedom.

Milagro Cunningham when he was sentenced to life in 2009.
Milagro Cunningham when he was sentenced to life in 2009.

An appeals court on Wednesday overturned Cunningham’s 70-year sentence for the 2005 crime that snared national headlines both for his viciousness and its miracle ending. The girl survived.

While less than the four life sentences Cunningham was handed in 2009 after he was convicted of multiple charges, including attempted murder, kidnapping and sexual battery, the 70-year sentence is still too long, the 4th District Court of Appeal ruled.

When the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010 ruled that juveniles can’t be sentenced to life without parole for non-homicide offenses, it meant that those who commit crimes when they are young must be given a reasonable chance to someday live outside prison walls, the West Palm Beach court wrote. The nation’s high court ruled juveniles must be given special consideration because their brains aren’t fully developed, they don’t always fully understand the consequences of their actions and they are amendable to rehabilitation.

The 70-year sentence Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Charles Burton handed Cunningham in 2014, after the high court ruling, doesn’t provide Cunningham, now 27, the opportunity to prove he has been rehabilitated and should be allowed to live outside prison walls.

In its decision, it noted that the Florida Supreme Court in 2015 threw out 90-year and 70-year sentences for juveniles convicted of non-homicide crimes. The lengthy sentences, the appeals court wrote, “did not provide the defendant with a meaningful opportunity for early release based upon maturity and rehabilitation.”

Cunningham will have to be brought before Burton for re-sentencing.

Check back for updates.

Dalia Dippolito, lawyer to have day of reckoning with judge

Dalia Dippolito testifies in a pretrial hearing Tuesday, February 23, 2016. 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 testifies in a pretrial hearing Tuesday, February 23, 2016. 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. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

If all goes well for Dalia Dippolito Tuesday, the former Boynton Beach newlywed once convicted of trying to have her husband killed will escape a return trip to jail and keep the lead defense attorney going into her May retrial.

If not, the 33-year-old could be headed back to jail on accusations that she violated her house arrest by traveling to Miami late last year for an exclusive interview with ABC’s 20/20. And Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley could revoke the special permission he gave California attorney Brian Claypool to work on Dippolito’s case because Claypool told reporters last month that the judge would be giving in to community pressure and sensationalism if he rejected Dippolito’s recent quest to have her case thrown out.

“Mr. Claypool’s comments at the February 23, 2016 press conference violate Bar Rule 4-8.2(a) by making a statement concerning the integrity of the Court that he knows to be false, or that was made with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity,” Kelley wrote earlier this month in an order for Claypool to appear in court.

Kelley, who ultimately denied Dippolito’s motion to have her charges dismissed, included as a footnote in his memo against Claypool that Dippolito also violated the rules of house arrest when she traveled to the offices of her Miami attorney Mark Eiglarsh for the December interview with ABC.

Prosecutors seized on that and just days later asked Kelley to either raise Dippolito’s bail or send her back to jail. Echoing Kelley’s words, Assistant State Attorney Craig Williams wrote on March 7 that Dippolito was allowed to travel to Miami only for the purposes of meeting with her lawyers to prepare for her retrial – not for an interview.

Williams has asked Kelley to either send Dippolito back to jail or raise her bail.

Kelley has called Dippolito, her legal team and prosecutors in for a 4 p.m. hearing Tuesday to decide both issues in what has become just the latest twist in the case that made international headlines when a YouTube video showing Dippolito crying at what turned out to be a staged crime scene went viral.

Claypool over the weekend announced plans to mount a vigorous defense to keep himself on the case, saying he’d already consulted with local defense attorneys Richard Lubin and Scott Richardson on the matter but will represent himself in an attempt to keep the judge from taking him off the case.

The statements he made were in no way intended to disparage Kelley, Claypool has said, calling the matter “an unfortunate incident.” In paperwork filed Sunday, Claypool quoted other comments he’d made about the judge in the same press conference.

“I think he is a fair judge. I think what he is trying to do is give leeway to both sides and let everything in so he can make an informed decision,” Claypool said a month ago.

The statements came after a hearing that marked Dippolito’s first time ever testifying in court since her 2009 arrest.

Her 2011 trial ended with a conviction after a jury rejected her defense that she and her husband Michael conspired together to hire an undercover Boynton Beach detective posing as a hitman to kill Michael as a ploy for a reality television show.

In the time since an appellate court overturned that conviction and 20-year sentence, Dippolito has said that she was just following the orders of Mohammed Shihadeh, the former lover who turned her in to police and sparked the undercover investigation.

She said she, her husband and Shihadeh were all working together to create an acting showcase that they hoped to parlay into more acting work, but when she tried to back out of the plot Shihadeh threatened to hurt her and her family.

— Daphne Duret, staff writer

 

Judge W. Matthew Stevenson to step down from 4th District Court of Appeal

Another Palm Beach County judge is retiring  – this time from the 4th District Court of Appeal.

W.+Matthew+Stevenson+.jpg
Judge. W. Matthew Stevenson

In a statement on the West Palm Beach-based court’s web site, Judge W. Matthew Stevenson announced he will end his two-decade career on the appellate bench on May 31. Stevenson, 62, who was appointed to the court by Gov. Lawton Chiles in 1994, didn’t explain the reasons for his retirement. He is expected to be available for comment late Thursday afternoon.

A former Palm Beach County Circuit Court judge, Stevenson worked as both a private mediator and was a state administrative hearing officer before being appointed to the bench. He also worked in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps in the U.S. Navy, was a law clerk to the Florida Supreme Court and worked in the Palm Beach County Public Defender’s Office.

In his resignation announcement, he highlighted a program he spearheaded that allows high school students to see the court in action. Since 2008, when it held a session at Palm Beach Lakes High School, the court has met at area high schools several times a year. He also served as director of the court’s mediation program. While it had an 87 percent success rate, he said it was discontinued due to lack of funding. He is a member of the board of trustees of Palm Beach Atlantic University.

Gov. Rick Scott will name his replacement.

Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Amy Smith earlier this week announced she will retire for health reasons.

 

Dalia Dippolito lawyers to judge: give us more hearing time

Prosecutor Craig Williams questions Dalia Dippolito as she testifies in a pretrial hearing Tuesday, February 23, 2016. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

Attorneys for the former Boynton Beach woman caught on camera trying to arrange for a hitman to kill her husband are accusing a judge in her case of violating her constitutional rights by not giving them more time to convince him to throw out her case.

Dalia Dippolito’s retrial on murder solicitation charges is expected to begin in May, but that’s only if Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley rejects requests from Dippolito’s lawyers to have her charges thrown out on claims of police misconduct.

Dippolito, who testified in court for the first time since her 2009 arrest in a hearing last week, said the murder-for-hire plot was actually part of an acting project for her, her now ex-husband Michael Dippolito, and her boyfriend-turned-police-informant Mohamed Shihadeh.

On the witness stand, Dippolito said she tried to back out of the allegedly scripted plot, but Shihadeh threatened to harm her if she did, saying that he was being pressured by Boynton Beach Police officials desperate to parlay the plot into a riveting episode of the reality television show COPS.

In paperwork filed with Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley Monday, Dippolito attorney Brian Claypool said he wanted to call two more witnesses to testify to Kelley before the judge makes his decision, adding that it was unfair to Dippolito that Kelley ordered both attorneys to expedite their final arguments at the end of last week’s hearing because of a mandate to shut down local courts at 5:30 p.m. to curtail clerks’ overtime.

“The courthouse regulations should not trump Ms. Dippolito’s constitutional rights,” Claypool wrote.

Dippolito’s lawyers had asked for the extra hearing time last week, but Kelley quickly denied the request.

Among the extra witnesses that Claypool and Dippolito’s legal team would like to question is former Boynton Beach Police Sgt. Paul Sheridan, who Dippolito says tricked her into signing a release to appear on COPS and later falsified a police report about it.

Police officials have said there was an internal investigation on the matter, but have never provided Dippolito’s defense team with any documents related to it. Prosecutors say they don’t know the outcome of the investigation, and current Boynton Beach Police Chief Jeffrey Katz testified last week that he doesn’t know what came of it either.

Dippolito’s attorys want to ask Sheridan about it directly and also present testimony for a law enforcement procedures and policies experts, all in hopes of convincing Kelley that police officials committed misconduct so egregious that Dippolito’s charges should be dismissed.

In 2011, a jury convicted Dippolito of solicitation to commit first degree murder, and Chief Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath, calling her “pure evil,” sentenced her to 20 years in prison. An appellate court overturned her conviction after the judges ruled that Colbath should have questioned prospective jurors individually about their exposure to media attention in the case surrounding a YouTube video at a staged crime scene that went viral.