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.

State Attorney Dave Aronberg in Guantanamo for accused terrorist trial

Dave Aronberg, seen here at an unrelated press conference on Oct. 25, 2016, is expected to testify in a trial for a lawsuit from a former prosecutor who says he fired her while she was undergoing cancer treatment.
Dave Aronberg, seen here at an unrelated press conference on Oct. 25, 2016, is expected to testify in a trial for a lawsuit from a former prosecutor who says he fired her while she was undergoing cancer treatment.

State Attorney Dave Aronberg announced this morning that he will be spending the week in Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba to attend the trial of accused terrorist mastermind Abdul al Hadi al Iraqi.

According to a press release from Aronberg’s office Monday, Aronberg was selected to represent the National District Attorneys Association (NDAA) in observing the criminal hearings for Iraqi, an alleged former member of Osama bin Laden’s inner circle.

Iraqi has been described as a military leader for the Taliban, and is accused of various war crimes, including allegations that his troops attacked U.S. and U.S. ally targets in Afghanistan.

“I am honored to have the opportunity to observe up close our system of justice as it relates to terrorist suspects, and to meet with the brave men and women of our military who keep us safe every day,” Aronberg said in a press release Monday.

Contempt charge dropped against defense attorney Elizabeth Ramsey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Teen resentenced in 2007 robbery, murder near Boynton Beach

Linwood Lewis, 26, speaks to a member of his defense team at his resentencing hearing on Monday, July 18, 2016
Linwood Lewis, 26, speaks to a member of his defense team at his resentencing hearing on Monday, July 18, 2016

A man who once sentenced to life in prison for participating in a deadly robbery when he was 17 will be resentenced Monday.

Circuit Judge Edward Garrison will hand down the new sentence Monday for Linwood Lewis at the end of a two-hour resentencing hearing that began at 1 p.m. and is still underway. Assistant Public Defender Jennifer Marshall told the judge that Lewis’ rejection of a 10-year plea offer in the case was a sign that he was not mature enough to understand the gravity of his actions and was therefore undeserving of a life sentence.

Lewis was 17 and Leotis Lester was 17 when they participated in a robbery where another man shot and killed Marc Thibault, 43, in 2007 at his home in Nautica South near Boynton Beach.

Assistant State Attorney Andrew Slater objected to the judge considering the 10-year plea offer in considering his sentence.

Lewis, known to his relatives as Woody, received a new sentencing hearing because of a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision declaring it’s unconstitutional to sentence juveniles to life without parole. Citing studies that juveniles’ brains aren’t fully developed, leading them to make impetuous decisions without considering the consequences, the high court ruled that juveniles have to be given a chance to show they have been rehabilitated.

In response, Florida lawmakers passed a law permitting a life sentence for a juvenile if a judge deems such a sentence is appropriate.

 

Lake Worth man, serving a 270-year sentence, wins chance for freedom

A Lake Worth man who is serving a 270-year sentence for a series of violent home invasion robberies he committed when he was 17 will benefit from a U.S. Supreme Court decision that juvenile offenders must be given hope that they may one day live outside prison walls.

Ramon Rosario (Florida Department of Corrections)
Ramon Rosario (Florida Department of Corrections)

Ramon Rosario, who was implicated in the 2010 murders of two clerks at a Circle K in Greenacres, wasn’t handed a life term that the high court declared unconstitutional for juveniles, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath said at a brief hearing on Wednesday.

But the total sentence Rosario received after pleading guilty to 15 charges, including racketeering, home invasion robbery with a firearm and kidnapping with a firearm, is what courts have called the “functional equivalent” of a life sentence with no chance for parole, he said. Rosario’s scheduled release date is 2280.

Under two landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions that means Rosario must receive a new sentence, Colbath said. Rosario, now 23,  is to return to court on July 7 after a new attorney is appointed to represent him.

While the Supreme Court said juveniles are amenable to rehabilitation and therefore must be given a chance at some point to show they can return to society, the justices didn’t provide much guidance to states, like Florida, which outlawed parole years ago, Colbath said. He urged Assistant State Attorney Andrew Slater to meet with Rosario’s new attorney and victims to craft a sentence that will pass constitutional muster.

Based on other rulings in similar cases, Rosario will be an old man if and when he is released.

Prosecutors said Rosario was part of a group, that called itself the “Headshot Committee,” that committed a spree of violent home robberies in the northern part of the county in May and June 2010. Their motto, police said, was “thuggin’ to get money.”

He was shot by a Boca Raton police officer after he pulled a gun on her when she attempted to stop a car on Spanish Isles Drive, records show. The driver of the car fled. Rosario identified the driver as Robert Alvarez.

Alvarez, along with Darnell Razz, was ultimately convicted of fatally shooting Circle K clerks Ralston Muller and Michael Dean Bennett in a botched robbery that netted the robbers $71.

Rosario at one point confessed that he murdered the convenience store clerks but refused to give details. As part of a plea deal, he agreed to testify against his former gang mates. When he refused, the 270-year sentence was imposed.