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.”

Charges dropped against Gardens man accused of double murder

Prosecutors on Thursday abruptly dropped charges against a former Palm Beach Gardens man who was set to go to trial for the October 2015 shooting deaths of two men he once called his friends.

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Jury selection had already begun in Joshua Brown’s case Thursday, but court records show that at some point in the afternoon, Assistant State Attorney Lauren Godden and Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Ramsey had a hearing outside the prospective jurors’ presence with Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley.

Godden in that hearing announced that the state would be dropping the two first degree murder charges in the deaths of 33-year-old Brian Tanksley and 20-year-old Sean Pollum. Prosecutors also dropped related robbery and gun charges.

The announcement brought an abrupt end to a case that began in March when Brown, who lived in Palm Beach Gardens at the time of the shooting, was tracked to Washington County, in the northeast end of Tennessee, and captured by U.S. Marshals.

Five months earlier, police found the bodies of Pollum and Tanksley, a local hip-hop artist known by the stage name “Cook Em Up, in an apartment on Tamarind Avenue.

Brown initially told police he had an alibi and had last seen Tanskley when he, Tanksley and another unidentified man hung out at a casino a day before the murders. He also said he’d only seen Pollum in passing when he came to pick up Tanksley,.

According to arrest records, police almost immediately discovered inconsistencies in Brown’s story and later found his DNA on hairs recovered from Pollum’s hands.

After his March arrest, Brown’s case became the subject of an appellate court fight after prosecutors tried to extend the deadline on his speedy trial because lead crime scene investigator Douglas Stryjek was being deployed that month to Afghanistan with the U.S. Air Force.

Kelley later denied that request but prosecutors appealed it. An appellate court sided with Kelley, and after Ramsey invoked Brown’s right to a speedy trial, Kelley set Thursday’s trial date.

There was no reason listed for the dropped charges in court records Thursday, but prosecutors indicated they would be filing a written order formalizing the decision.

Brown, 22, has been free on bail since August.

 

Lake Worth cab driver killing earns pair 15, 30 year sentences

sccmgcgiA judge sentenced Christian Eberhardt and Brian Javon Brown to 30 and 15 years in prison respectively Thursday on manslaughter convictions connected to the 2012 shooting death of a taxi cab driver in Lake Worth.

The sentences come nearly two months after the men escaped what would have been definite life sentences on first degree murder charges in the death of Madsen Paul, who died days after prosecutors say the pair’s attempt to rob him during a cab ride went wrong.

“He was a very hard-working man, an innocent man,” Chief Assistant State Attorney Adrienne Ellis told Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley of Paul. “I don’t believe that you can get anymore callous and cold than what happened to him that day.”

The higher sentence for Eberhardt, 24, came because jurors accepted prosecutors’ assertion that he was the triggerman and convicted him of manslaughter with a firearm, which carries a 30 year maximum sentence.

Brown’s conviction on a simple manslaughter charge carried a 15-year maximum, but the punishment was mandatory since Kelley sentenced the 25-year-old as a reoffender who had recently been released from prison at the time of Madsen’s death.

Court records show Brown had confessed to shooting Paul before the trial in hopes of getting a 15-year plea deal with prosecutors, but they ultimately rejected his version of events and took the case to trial.

Eberhardt’s family members say they will be appealing his sentence based on that information.

Madelene Paul on her way out of court said her thoughts were only of her father, the man she called her best friend.

“Now he can finally rest in peace,” she said.

Judge refuses to delay Dalia Dippolito’s trial – set for Dec. 1

While allowing one attorney to get off the case, a Palm Beach County judge on Thursday refused to delay Dalia Dippolito’s Dec. 1 murder-for-hire trial to allow another lawyer to get up to speed about the seven-year-old case.

Dalia Dippolito cries as she is cross-examined 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. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)
Dalia Dippolito cries while testifying at a hearing in February. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

In a brief hearing, Judge Glenn Kelley granted Miami attorney Mark Eiglarsh’s request to withdraw as one of Dippolito’s attorneys. Eiglarsh cited irreconcilable differences, explaining that to say more could embarrass Dippolito.

Minutes later, Kelley denied attorney Greg Rosenfeld’s request to push Dippolito’s trial back to early next year. “This case has been pending for seven years. It’s been two years since it came back from the (appeals court),” Kelley said. He noted that Dippolito has chewed through “two or three sets of attorneys” yet California atttorney Brian Claypool has been her lead attorney since July 2015. There is no reason for a further delay, he said.

The 33-year-old Boynton Beach woman was convicted in 2011 and sentenced to 20 years in prison for hiring a hitman in 2009 to kill her new husband. The “hitman” turned out to be a Boynton Beach cop. She won a new trial in 2014 when the 4th District Court of Appeals ruled that jurors should have been interviewed individually about how much they knew about the case that became an internet sensation when her tearful – some say insincere – reaction to the false news of her husband’s death went viral. Dippolito, who was silent during the hearing, remains on house arrest.

 

One of Dalia Dippolito’s lawyers wants off her case

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 February 23, 2016. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

Less than six weeks before her scheduled retrial on charges she tried to hire a hitman to kill her husband, a member of Dalia Dippolito’s legal team has just announced that he wants off the case.

In a press release Tuesday afternoon, Miami attorney Mark Eiglarsh announced that he filed a motion to withdraw from the 33-year-old former Boynton Beach newlywed’s case, which is now set for a Dec. 1 retrial.

Eiglarsh and California attorney Brian Claypool joined Dippolito’s legal team after several rounds of changes after an appellate court overturned her 2011 conviction and 20-year prison sentence in a plot caught on camera where Dippolito was recorded telling a man she thought was a hitman that she was “5,000 percent sure” that she wanted her then-husband Michael killed.

That “hitman” turned out to be an undercover Boynton Beach Police detective.

Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley is expected to hear Eiglarsh’s motion to withdraw from the case in a hearing scheduled for Thursday.

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: Eberhardt, Brown guilty of manslaughter in cabbie death

Defendant Christian Eberhardt  at the Palm Beach County Courthouse in West Palm Beach on September 1, 2016.
Defendant Christian Eberhardt at the Palm Beach County Courthouse in West Palm Beach on September 1, 2016.

Christian Eberhardt and Brian Javon Brown were convicted of a lesser manslaughter charge and acquitted of attempted robbery charges in the 2012 murder of a cab driver near Lake Worth.

The verdict came after more than seven hours of deliberation in the case surrounding the May 2012 murder of Yellow Cab driver Masden Paul.

Paul, 48, died three days after he was shot in the neck near State Road 7 in suburban Lake Worth.

The two men originally faced the death penalty when arrested in Paul’ death, but prosecutors dropped that pursuit more than a year later, although they still pursued first-degree murder charges.

Had jurors sconvicted the men of those charges, they would have faced life in prison. Under the circumstances, they will only face 30 and 15 years respectively when Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley sentences them Nov. 3.

Luis Rijo DeLos Santos gets plea, 15 years in cross-dresser murder

062615_santos_7Just days before what would have been his second trial in the death of Tyrell Jackson, Luis Rijo De Los Santos accepted a 15-year prison sentence as part of a last minute plea deal.

The sentence, which Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley imposed Wednesday, ends the case where he once faced a possible death sentence for killing the cross-dresser he haid he thought was a woman when he picked him and another man up in 2012.

“I loved my grandson. He would’ve never hurt anyone,” Dorothy Jackson told Rijo De Los Santos before the judge sentenced him. “But you chased him down, you shot him, and you left him to die.”

Kelley in June 2015 declared a mistrial on the first degree murder charge and two counts of attempted murder in the shootings that killed Jackson and injured Michael Hunter and Terence Chatman after jurors failed to reach a unanimous verdict on those charges.

The charges the jurors acquitted him on are the ones that pertain to Chatman. Assistant State Attorneys Lauren Godden and Teri Skiles reached the plea agreement with defense attorney Marc Shiner rather than take the case to trial, where several witnesses involved in the case have gotten in trouble with the law themselves since the last trial.

The three victims, who sometimes worked as prostitutes, were all dressed as women on March 24, 2012, when their two separate encounters with Rijo De Los Santos ended in gunfire.

Rijo De Los Santos was the star witness in his own defense during the month long trial last year, telling jurors that he shot Jackson and Hunter in Riviera Beach because they’d tried to rob him after he’d given them a ride to a convenience store.

According to Rijo De Los Santos, Chatman was with Hunter and Jackson when he initially encountered them in the 4400 block of Broadway and he, thinking they were women, offered Hunter and Jackson a ride.

Rijo De Los Santos said after the first shooting, he drove back to West Palm Beach, where he encountered Chatman and tried to tell him that his friends had tried to rob him, only to have Chatman also pull a knife on him.

Murder trial continues for pair charged in Lake Worth cab driver death

Murder trial defendant Brian Javon Brown wears a shock vest devices under his clothing at the Palm Beach County Courthouse in West Palm Beach on September 1, 2016.  Brown and Christian Eberhardt are accused of shooting a taxi driver in the head and robbing him in suburban Lake Worth in 2012.  (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)
Murder trial defendant Brian Javon Brown wears a shock vest devices under his clothing at the Palm Beach County Courthouse in West Palm Beach on September 1, 2016. Brown and Christian Eberhardt are accused of shooting a taxi driver in the head and robbing him in suburban Lake Worth in 2012. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

Testimony continued Thursday in the murder trial of two men accused of killing a cabdriver during a 2012 Lake Worth robbery.

Both Christian Eberhardt and Javon Brown have been outfitted with special electrically-wired garments since jury selection in the case began Monday out of fears of a possible escape attempt.

On Wednesday, the first day of the trial, Masden Paul’s daughter and two cousins hed back tears as prosecutors showed jurors pictures of the 48-year-old Yellow Cab driver’s bloodied van.

Earlier, as Eberhardt and Brown looked on silently, Assistant State Attorney Takisha Richardson told jurors in opening statements that they were the men responsible for Paul’s bloodshed — a gunshot wound to the head that killed him three days after he allegedly picked up the men for what would be his last fare.

Christian Carl Eberhart
Christian Carl Eberhart

 

Brian Javon Brown
Brian Javon Brown

“He was doing his work, picking people up and taking them to their desired destination,” Richardson said of Paul, 48. “But these defendants had a different plan.”

 

That plan, prosecutors said, was to rob the Yellow Cab driver in May 2012 after they forced him to drive to 10920 50th Street, just off State Road 7 in suburban Lake Worth.

Eberhardt’s attorney Robert Gershman, said authorities never found a murder weapon after the western Lake Worth shooting, and found no gunshot residue on his hands. Brown’s attorney, Christopher Haddad, attacked witness identifications of the two men as faulty.

Richardson, however, told jurors that they would hear an incriminating conversation between the two men as they sat in the back of a squad car after they were caught less than a mile from where authorities found Paul’s crashed van.

It was Brown, Richardson said, who told Eberhart that investigators were saying that they didn’t know whether the badly wounded Paul would survive the attack. If he died, Richardson quoted Brown as saying that he and Eberhart would be “straight” if Paul died.

Paul survived for three days after the shooting but eventually died of his injuries.

Pair accused of Lake Worth cab driver murder on trial

Christian Carl Eberhart
Christian Carl Eberhart

What Marsen Paul thought was a routine Sunday fare four years ago turned out to be the last one of his life, Assistant State Attorney Takisha Richardson told a jury Wednesday.

Prosecutors say two men, Christian Eberhart, 24, and Brian Javon Brown, 25, set out to rob the taxi cab driver, and Eberhart shot him to death when the robbery went awry. But at the start of a joint trial for the men Wednesday, their attorneys said the case was built on scant evidence and false conclusions.

Eberhardt’s attorney Robert Gershman, said authorities never found a murder weapon after the western Lake Worth shooting, and found no gunshot residue on his hands. Brown’s attorney, Christopher Haddad, attacked witness identifications of the two men as faulty.

Brian Javon Brown
Brian Javon Brown

Richardson, however, told jurors that they would hear an incriminating conversation between the two men as they sat in the back of a squad car after they were caught less than a mile from where authorities found Paul’s crashed van at

It was Brown, Richardson said, who told Eberhart that investigators were saying that they didn’t know whether the badly wounded Paul would survive the attack. If he died, Richardson quoted Brown as saying that he and Eberhart would be “straight” if Paul died.

“What they were counting on is the unfortunate reality that dead men can’t say what happened to them,” Richardson told jurors.

Paul survived for three days after the shooting but eventually died of his injuries.

Testimony in the case began Wednesday with Paul’s supervisor at Yellow Cab. If convicted, both men face life in prison.