VERDICT: Pair acquitted in 2008 Lake Worth murder

A Palm Beach County jury on Wednesday acquitted Tzaddi Allen and Dexter Lewis in the 2008 murder of Randall Copeland.

The jury’s verdict comes after more than four hours of deliberation that began Tuesday.

Assistant State Attorneys Andrew Slater and Karen Murillo argued that Allen and Lewis were two of several men who pulled up to a home where Copeland was staying on May 30, 2008 and ambushed him.

It was Allen, prosecutors say, who shot Copeland when he tried to run.

They say Allen and Lewis tried to rob Copeland to avenge Copeland’s former roommate, Ashley Rosa, a new girlfriend of Allen’s who felt Copeland owed her rent money after he abruptly moved out.

But Allen’s defense attorneys, Assistant Piblic Defenders Scott Pribble and James Snowden, and Lewis’ attorney, Franklin Prince, have said the only guilty parties in the case are Rosa, her brother Mark and a third man, Dwayne Jackson. 

Jackson and Mark Rosa are free after serving 7-year sentences. Ashley Rosa was never charged. 

Boca Raton nanny killer Jerry Wiggins dies in prison

The man serving a life sentence for a slew of crimes that included the 2004 rape and murder of a 26-year-old woman died in prison just before the Christmas holiday, prison records confirm.

Jerry Lee Wiggins, 40, was on Friday listed as deceased in the Florida Department of Corrections website. The site does not list a date of death, nor the circumstances of his death.

Jerry Lee Wiggins
Jerry Lee Wiggins

He is listed on the site as a “released” inmate, and the release date listed is Dec. 20.

Wiggins was convicted in October 2014 for the 2004 rape and murder of 26-year-old nanny Monica Rivera Valdizan. He was also serving a 15-year sentence for the 2003 rape of a Broward County girl and a total 90 years – 50 years for attempted murder and 40 years for armed burglary – for a 2003 home invasion robbery.

His attorneys in each trial argued that, with a severely low IQ and documented mental illnesses, that he was mentally unfit to stand trial.

A psychologist found Wiggins “marginally competent” during the nanny murder trial.

Accused Fort Lauderdale airport shooter denied bond

Fort Lauderdale airport shooter Esteban Santiago Ruiz was denied bond during a brief hearing on Tuesday where new details emerged about his mental state that prompted the Jan. 6 rampage that left five dead and six injured.

FULL COVERAGE OF THE FORT LAUDERDALE SHOOTING

Santiago, 26, an Iraq veteran who lived in Anchorage, Alaska, didn’t request bond. Even if he had, U.S. Magistrate Lurana Snow indicated she would not grant it.

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Esteban Santiago Ruiz (Broward County Sheriff’s Office)

“There’s no choice. Much of the danger to the community is on camera,” she said, referring to airport video that shows Santiago methodically gunning down travelers near the baggage claim area in Terminal 2 of the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. Further, facing the death penalty or at least life in prison, Santiago has no reason to stay and stand trial, she said.

RELATED: Two more Fort Lauderdale shooting victims out of hospital

While news outlets have reported that Santiago went to the Anchorage FBI office in November to report that he was hearing voices and believed his mind was controlled by the CIA, Special FBI Agent Michael Ferlazzo testified that the former U.S. Army reservist wasn’t prescribed any psychotropic medicine when he was committed to the Alaska Psychiatric Institute for evaluation.

“He was released with no medical prescriptions,” he testified. While in the hospital Santiago was treated with anti-anxiety drugs. “He was deemed stable,” he said of Santiago’s hospital discharge papers. A gun he turned over to Alaskan authorities – the same one used in the airport shooting – was returned to him, the agent said.

Photo gallery: Exclusive images of Lauderdale Airport Shooting

While Santiago initially told Broward County sheriff’s deputies that voices told him to kill, when he was interviewed by the FBI hours later, talk  turned to his interest in ISIL, Ferlazzo said. “We were discussing jihadist chat rooms he visited” on the “dark web,” the agent said.

During interviews, Santiago said he was in contact online with those affiliated with the Islamic terrorist organization – “like-minded individuals who were all planning attacks,” Ferlazzo said. No foreign group has accepted responsibility for the shooting rampage and Ferlazzo didn’t say whether Santiago’s claims had been verified. He did say that Santiago’s computer and those of his family, who live in Naples and Puerto Rico, had been seized.

Assistant Public Defender Robert Berube interviewed Ferlazzo  at length while Santiago sat at a table dressed in a red jail jumpsuit, indicating he is considered high risk. The only time Santiago spoke was when the magistrate asked him if he agreed to a delay in a preliminary hearing. “Yes,” he answered, giving permission for the hearing to be delayed until Jan. 30.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ricardo Del Toro said Santiago confessed to planning the killing spree. In October, Santiago bought the gun and practiced at an Anchorage area shooting range. Then, he bought a one-way ticket on a Delta flight to Fort Lauderdale. It left Anchorage with one stop in Minneapolis. His only luggage was a gun case that contained a Walther 9-millimeter handgun.

Once Santiago retrieved the gun from airline officials, he went into a bathroom near the baggage claim area, loaded it and stuck it in the waistband of his pants, Del Toro said. “He pulled the gun out of his waistband and fired 15 rounds, aiming at victims heads,” Del Toro said. The five who died ranged in age from 57 to 84 years old. The injured were 40 to 70 years old.

“There’s no conditions or combination of conditions that can secure the safety of the community,” he said.

Gun charge dropped for Riviera teen convicted of murder

Prosecutors on Tuesday dropped a felony gun charge against a Riviera Beach teen recently sentenced to 30 years in prison for killing another teen in a confrontation that stemmed from a Facebook feud.

Samuel Turner, who will turn 19 on Thursday, will likely be headed to prison this week after Assistant State Attorney Terri Skiles announced that the state would be dropping a gun charge against him in the case surrounding the October 2014 shooting death of Ivan Redding.

A jury at the end of Turner’s December 2015 first-degree murder trial convicted him of a lesser second-degree murder charge.

Circuit Judge Charles Burton in October sentenced Turner to 30 years in prison, 10 years longer than the 20-year punishment that Assistant Public Defender Jennifer Marshall requested.

Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Ramsey, who represented Turner through the trial, said more than a year ago that she planned to appeal the conviction. The appeal will likely center on video that captured part of the shooting in a car on the 2900 black of Old Dixie Highway, a video Ramsey says raised doubts about whether Turner was the shooter.

“The evidence was weird,” she said. “It was a case where every witness told a story – a very different story.”

Prosecutors said the confrontation between the teens marked the climax of a Facebook war of words between two of Redding’s sisters and Turner’s friend, Fiando Toussaint.

Turner had driven with his sisters to the convenience store on Old Dixie Highway when the sisters saw Toussaint and Turner, resulting in verbal sparring that led to a fist fight between Redding and Turner.

In the aftermath, Assistant State Attorney Lauren Godden told jurors during Turner’s trial, Turner told someone to go get his gun. Moments later, Redding had an ultimately fatal gunshot wound in his chest.

“Everyone knows Samuel Turner lost that fight, that’s why he was so angry,” Godden said.

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.

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.”

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

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

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

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

Walker later claimed he stabbed Richardson in self-defense.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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