State: Frederick Cobia won’t testify in Jamal Smith murder trial

Public Defender Carey Haughwout (left) talks with Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Ramsey and her client, Jamal Smith, after Judge Jack Cox charged Ramsey with contempt of court for allegedly violating a no-publish order in a case involving a jail informant. She faces a 6 month jail term. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)
Public Defender Carey Haughwout (left) talks with Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Ramsey and her client, Jamal Smith, after Judge Jack Cox charged Ramsey with contempt of court for allegedly violating a no-publish order in a case involving a jail informant. She faces a 6 month jail term. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

On what could be the last full day of testimony in 24-year-old Jamal Smith’s murder trial, prosecutors announced late Thursday that they will not be calling to the witness stand a jailhouse informant whose presence in the case sparked a firestorm of controversy last year.

Assistant State Attorney Andrew Slater told Circuit Judge Charles Burton that prosecutors will likely rest their case in the murder of Kemar Kino Clayton Friday and will not call Cobia as a witness.

Cobia, a convicted murderer who prosecutors have listed as a witness in nearly two dozen other cases where he says he’s obtained confessions from other defendants, told deputies that Smith confessed his involvement in Clayton’s death while the two were housed together at the Palm Beach County Jail.

Smith’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Ramsey, has fought hard since last year to keep Cobia off the stand. Ramsey provoked the ire of Circuit Judge Jack Cox last year when she entered into court records last year transcripts of recorded jail calls between Cobia and his daughter that showed Cobia bragged about receiving special treatment for helping detectives build cases against his jail mates.

The Palm Beach Post published excerpts of those transcripts. Cox afterwards had the transcripts sealed, ordered reporters to remove excerpts from the newspaper’s website and sought criminal contempt charges against Ramsey for allegedly violating court orders.

An appellate court later overturned Cox’s ruling, and he later recused himself from Smith’s case, but Ramsey’s contempt case is still open.

As for Smith, who has argued that Clayton’s death was the result of an unintentional killing, the most damaging testimony against him now will likely be from co-defendant Quentin Lythgoe, who on Thuesday completed his testimony against his former friend.

Lythgoe told jurors that Smith lured Clayton to the parking lot of a Publix Supermarket on State Road 7 in Wellington under the guise of selling Clayton an iPad.

In exchange for his testimony, prosecutors dropped murder charges against Lythgoe, allowed him to plead guilty to robbery charges and capped a sentence recommendation at 15 years in prison.

Corey Jones shooting: Nouman Raja posts bail, will stay overnight in jail

UPDATE 4:25 p.m.: Nouman Raja will spend another night in the Palm Beach County Jail, according to a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s official.

Raja has met his $250,000 bond set Thursday morning, but he remains in jail while his home is outfitted to meet the requirements of house arrest, the official said.

Ex-officer Nouman Raja, charged with the shooting death of Corey Jones, enters court Thursday morning, June 2, 2016. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)
Ex-officer Nouman Raja, charged with the shooting death of Corey Jones, enters court Thursday morning, June 2, 2016. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

» RELATED: More coverage of the Corey Jones shooting

“It’s really just moving him from one cell to another cell,” the official said.

Raja, facing charges of manslaughter by culpable negligence and attempted first-degree murder, is expected to leave the jail Friday.

— Staff writer Jorge Milian

UPDATE 1:40 p.m.: Former officer Nouman Raja remains in custody at the Palm Beach County Jail while the sheriff’s office sets up a monitoring system at his suburban Lake Worth home, a sheriff’s spokesperson said.

It isn’t yet clear whether Raja has posted bail, or when the monitoring system will be set up. Once the system is in place, Raja will be transported by deputies from the jail to his home, where he will remain on house arrest.

ORIGINAL STORY: A Palm Beach County judge on Thursday morning set bond for the former police officer who shot and killed musician Corey Jones at $250,000.

Nouman Raja appeared in handcuffs and blue prison garb before Circuit Judge Joseph Marx. Raja was arrested Wednesday and charged with first degree attempted murder and manslaughter by culpable negligence.

Other terms of Raja’s release: He is on house arrest with a GPS monitor, must surrender his passport, cannot work in law enforcement, must surrender any guns to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, and must have no contact with the Jones family or with the Palm Beach Gardens Police Department.

Raja’s arraignment has been set for June 14 at 1:30 p.m.

Before Raja, 38, entered court, it was announced that prosecutors and Raja’s attorney, Richard Lubin, had reached an agreement on Raja’s bail.

Raja’s brother, Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputy Adnan Raja, sat in a bench on one side of the courtroom, while friends and family members of Jones sat on the other side.

This hearing comes less than a day after Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg announced that a grand jury had deemed Raja’s actions in Jones’ Oct. 18 shooting death unjustified, and that Aronberg’s office subsequently charged with the two felony counts for which he could face up to life in prison if convicted of both.

Raja was in plainclothes and drove an unmarked van when he approached Jones’ broken-down car on Interstate 95.

According to Raja’s arrest report, he never identified himself as a police officer and started shooting at Jones — who was on the phone with a roadside assistance call center — after repeatedly asking him if he was “good” before shouting at him to get his hands up.

Jones’ family members will hold a news conference at the courthouse at 11:30 a.m.

PBC juror jailed for eight days for misconduct in Three Amigos trial

A Palm Beach County juror who in January helped convict a man in the 2007 death of a 70-year-old motorist who was shot after a robbery of the Three Amigos market was sent to jail for eight days on Thursday for jury misconduct.

Circuit Judge Krista Marx sentences Victor Salastier Diaz to life in prison Tuesday, January 26, 2016, consecutive to the 53 years he's already serving for an armed robbery at the Three Amigos convenience/check cashing store. He was convicted of murder, after one of the robbers shot 70-year-old motorist Samuel Salomon in a deadly car chase following the robbery. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)
Circuit Judge Krista Marx sentences Victor Salastier Diaz to life in prison in January. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

In a stern rebuke after a two-hour hearing, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Krista Marx found that Philip Elliott violated jury rules by looking up the definition of words during the trial of Victor Salastier Diaz and then encouraging another juror to lie that other violations had occurred in hopes of overturning the verdict.

“You maligned the dignity of this court,” Marx said before ordering deputies to handcuff Elliott, 45, and take him to jail. “You showed a complete and total disregard for the judicial system.”

Elliott claimed he was trying to woo fellow juror  Samantha Scalpi in a series of Facebook messages that were sent after the trial. “I had a crush on Samantha,” he said, adding that he may have been intoxicated when some of them were sent. “I said a lot of B.S. stuff.”

Scalpi was distraught after the verdict, indicating she had been bullied by other jurors to convict. “I said whatever she wanted to hear,” Elliott said.

Marx said she didn’t care about Elliott’s motives. Encouraging Scalpi to claim that jurors discussed the case during the trial, to say Elliott was friends with Marx’s husband, fellow Judge Joseph Marx, and to say that jurors had looked up information about Diaz’s co-defendants, was despicable, she said. She cleared Elliott, who works at a Palm Beach bike shop, of actually doing any of those things or of knowing her husband other than to sell a bike to him four years ago. But, she said suggesting that Scalpi falsely claim that such breaches had occurred was a serious violation of jury conduct.

Further, she said, Elliott admitted he looked up the meaning of the phrase “immediate scene,” during the trial despite repeatedly being told that jurors were barred from doing any independent research.

Elliott claimed he is dyslexic and simply wanted to understand the terms so he could weigh the evidence against Diaz.

“I don’t know if you know what the word truth means,” Marx said. “Perhaps you should look that up in your dictionary.”

Attorney Adam Farkas, who represented Elliott, said he could appeal Marx’s decision. But, he said, time is too short. By the time an appeal could be heard, Elliott would be out of jail.

Attorney Joseph Walsh, who represents Diaz, said he is weighing whether to again ask Marx to throw out the verdict. Marx has already rejected one request that the verdict be thrown out due to jury misconduct.

In his Diaz’s first trial in 2010, the jury convicted him of armed robbery and burglary charges but acquitted him of attempted murder charges and was unable to reach a unanimous verdict on the murder charge, splitting 7-5 in favor of acquittal. He was retried and convicted of murder in January and sentenced to life in prison.
Diaz is one of seven men accused in the 2007 death of Samuel Salomon, a retired baker was shot and killed when one of the Three Amigos robbers tried to shoot at the suburban Boynton Beach store owner after he got into his car and chased the robbers. Salomon, of suburban Delray Beach, was out shopping with his wife when he was hit by a stray bullet.

Check back for further updates.

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.”

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.

Shamrock Jewelers owner Anthony Simpson back in jail

A month after a federal bankruptcy judge ordered the arrest of the former owner of Shamrock Jewelers for failing to come clean about how millions disappeared from the once popular Lake Park store, Anthony Simpson is in the Palm Beach County jail.

Anthony Simpson jail mugshot taken Friday.
Anthony Simpson Palm Beach County jail mugshot taken Thursday.

However, the 52-year-old North Palm Beach man wasn’t picked up by federal marshals on orders from U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Erik Kimball. Instead, Simpson was arrested Thursday evening by North Palm Beach police on a warrant from Louisiana, where he faces charges of writing worthless checks to a diamond broker in Ouachita Parish.

Attorney Jesus Suarez, who represents bankruptcy trustee Robert Furr, said Monday he was aware Simpson had been arrested. But, he said, he is still sorting through what it means and which judge – one in Louisiana or a federal bankruptcy judge here – has the upper hand.

Records in Louisiana show that a warrant was issued for Simpson’s arrest on Dec. 15. Officials at Tommy Parker Diamonds said he avoided jail time there last year by agreeing to make monthly payments to cover $61,000 worth of bad checks he wrote to the broker last summer. However, under the court-approved agreement, if he failed to make the court-ordered payments, he was to be arrested.

Simpson’s troubles in bankruptcy court began last year when those who invested $12 million in a high-tech security briefcase he invented filed a petition to recover their money. Furr said he discovered that the briefcase manufacturing operation, Rollaguard Security, was a sham.

Accountants he hired also found that millions washed into Shamrock Jewelers from the briefcase company. For months, Kimball repeatedly ordered Simpson to detail where the money went. Finally, on Jan. 21, he ordered marshal’s to arrest Simpson.

In the meantime, former customers and friends have said Simpson has failed to return jewelry they gave him for repairs and money they loaned him to deal with his financial problems.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Simpson was arrested Friday.