Trial begins for Deerfield teen accused in fatal Boca crash

Wendy Harris-Aceves
Wendy Harris-Aceves

A jury as early as Wednesday could begin deliberating the case of a 16-year-old charged as an adult on vehicular homicide and other charges in the Nov. 1, 2015 death of a 47-year-old mother of two in a Boca Raton wreck.

The trial for Wesley Brown began in a Palm Beach County courtroom Tuesday, where prosecutors and defense attorneys presented two different scenarios for jurors of what happened the night Brown plowed a stolen convertible Ford Mustang into Wendy Harris-Aceves’ Honda pilot as he and a passenger fled from Boca Raton Police.

Harris-Aceves was driving along Palmetto Park Road, on her way to pick her daughter from a school dance just before 11:30 p.m., when Brown allegedly ran a red light at Northwest Second Avenue and hit her SUV. Brown was just 15 at the time.

Assistant State Attorneys Danielle Sherriff and Laura Burkhart Laurie have told jurors in the trial that Brown was behind the wheel of the Mustang when Boca Raton Police spotted it and identified it as being stolen in an armed robbery just hours before at The Addison Even Center.

According to arrest reports, Brown was not involved in the robbery.

Prosecutors did say, however, that Brown sped off soon after a patrol car pulled in behind him as he drove on Northwest Second Avenue near Glades Road, weaving in and out of traffic at speeds over 90 miles per hour until he ran the red light and caused the crash.

Police aid they had their lights sand sirens on when Brown sped through the light in the 30 miles-per-hour zone. Harris-Aceves died at the scene.

Palm Beach County Public Defender Carey Haughwout told jurors that Brown drove the car under duress, in fear of his passenger, 21-year-old Jacquan Strowbridge, who at the time was on probation for armed robbery.

Outside the jury’s presence late Tuesday, Haughwout said she planned to introduce certified records showing that Strowbridge had been released from prison four months before the crash and was still on probation from armed robbery and armed kidnapping charges.

Strowbridge tried to run from the scene soon after the crash but was captured by police. Haughwout is also planning to present evidence that Brown, who suffers from asthma, could have had an attack before the crash.

Testimony in the case is expected to continue Wednesday, when Brown himself could take the stand. Aside from vehicular homicide charges, Brown is also charged with fleeing and eluding and driving without a license.

VERDICT: Jury rejects claim prosecutor was fired because of cancer

Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg is on the stand on Friday, October 28, 2016 in a lawsuit where he is accused of improperly firing Assistant State Attorney Angela Miller while Miller was undergoing cancer treatment. (Joseph Forzano / The Palm Beach Post)
Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg is on the stand on Friday, October 28, 2016 in a lawsuit where he is accused of improperly firing Assistant State Attorney Angela Miller while Miller was undergoing cancer treatment. (Joseph Forzano / The Palm Beach Post)

UPDATE 2:48 p.m.: It took a Palm Beach County jury just over two hours Tuesday to decide in favor of the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s office in a lawsuit from a former prosecutor who said she was fired because she had cancer.

The verdict comes nearly two weeks after the trial in Angela Miller’s case began, featuring testimony from current Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg and three of his predecessors, along with several others in the legal community who worked with Miller during her 16-year stint at the office.

Attorneys for Aronberg’s office told jurors that all Aronberg did was exercise his right not to retain Miller when he took office, a decision that had already been in the making before Miller’s diagnosis in August 2012.

“We’re pleased with the jury’s verdict, and we feel justice has been served,” Aronberg said through spokesman Mike Edmondson after the verdict Tuesday.

Miller, a mother of two who tearfully told jurors on the witness stand that she was still undergoing chemotherapy when she learned she was being let go, said she was glad she pursued the case despite the outcome.

“It was critical for me to tell my story, because this is happening to someone else right now, as we’re talking, someone is being terminated right now because they’re sick. And it’s a story that has to be told,” Miller said.

Miller said she will be talking to her attorneys, Cathleen Scott and Lindsey Wagner, to decide whether she will appeal the case. Five months after she wasn’t retained at the state attorney’s office, Miller got a job at the Boca Raton commercial litigation firm Sachs, Sax and Caplan, where she remains today.

Defense attorney James Williams reminded jurors Tuesday that despite Aronberg’s decision not to keep Miller, he encouraged a partner the firm to hire her.

————–

ORIGINAL POST: Four women and two men have now begun deciding whether Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg wrongfully terminated former Assistant State Attorney Angela Miller in 2012 because she had cancer.

Lawyers of both sides of Miller’s lawsuit against her former employers are now delivering their closing arguments, ending the trial that began earlier this month and featured testimony from top politicians, judges and lawyers in Palm Beach County’s legal community.

Miller’s attorney, Cathleen Scott, reminded jurors that all who testified during the trial characterized Miller as a great trial attorney. Miller, diagnosed with cancer in August 2012, found out in December that Aronberg would not be swearing her in as one of his assistants when he took office in January 2013.

Scott balked at suggestions from Aronberg’s testimony while on the witness stand last week comparing his takeover at the state attorney’s’ office to a coach taking over a sports team and making changes to the coaching staff.

“This isn’t football, this isn’t baseball. This is somebody’s life,” Scott said, later adding: “The law doesn’t allow it, and neither should you.”

Defense attorney James Williams’ position to jurors has been that Miller wasn’t asked to stay on with Aronberg in spite of her cancer diagnosis, not because of it.

He reiterated concerns Aronberg and others said they had about Miller’s actions outside of the courtroom, including allegations that she berated a juror in 2010 for voting to acquit a murder suspect and broke the law in the summer of 2012 when asked an investigator to search an FBI database for personal reasons.

Williams told jurors that they would have to believe 11 lawyers, a doctor and three law enforcement officers would have had to have participated in an orchestrated cover-up in order for jurors to believe Miller’s version of why she was let go.

Though Miller’s cancer diagnosis was tragic, Williams said, her anger with Aronberg and the state attorney’s office is misplaced.

“It can’t be, ‘I can do anything I want, and now because I’m sick, they can’t do anything to me. That’s not how the law works,” Williams said, adding later: “To do it that way would encourage a lot of bad behavior.”

The last arguments jurors heard Tuesday was from Scott, who had harsh criticism for Aronberg and accused him of being more concerned with placating “his defense attorney donor buddies” than with prosecuting criminal defendants.

Scott compared Miller to Brian Fernandes, a chief assistant state attorney under Aronberg who as a statewide prosecutor was responsible for handling gang cases and other violent crimes.

“He’s a tough prosecutor, just like Ms. Miller,” Scott said. “Let’s hope he doesn’t get sick.”

Circuit Judge Donald Hafele sent jurors sback to deliberate at noon.

Kimberly Lucas gets January trial date for 2014 drowning of 2-year-old

Kimberly Lucas sits in court Monday, Feb. 8, 2016 during a hearing to check on the status of her 1st degree murder trial. Lucas is accused of drowning her 2-year-old daughter Elliana Lucas-Jamason, along with the attempted murder of her son, Ethan, then 10. At the time of the killing Lucas was estranged from Jacquelyn Jamason, the children’s biological mother and her former partner. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)
Kimberly Lucas sits in court Monday, Feb. 8, 2016 during a hearing to check on the status of her 1st degree murder trial. Lucas is accused of drowning her 2-year-old daughter Elliana Lucas-Jamason, along with the attempted murder of her son, Ethan, then 10. At the time of the killing Lucas was estranged from Jacquelyn Jamason, the children’s biological mother and her former partner. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

A January trial date has been set for a Jupiter woman who will likely argue she was legally insane more than two years ago  when she drowned the two-year-old girl she shared with her estranged partner and tried to kill their 10-year-old son.

Kimberly Lucas’ Jan. 26 trial date was set in a hearing before Circuit Judge Charles Burton on Monday, a day after Lucas turned 43 years old while behind bars at the Palm each County Jail.

She’s been there since May 2014, after the drowning death of 2-year-old Elliana Lucas-Jamason and attempted murder of Ethan Lucas-Jamason.

Lucas and Jacquelyn Jamason, the children’s biological mother, had been together for more than 20 years and joined together in a 2001 civil union, but were estranged at the time of the killing. Jamason has said that Lucas suffered from complications from gastric bypass surgery and had subsequently developed a prescription drug problem that contributed to their split.

Lucas first announced that she would be pursuing an insanity defense more than a year ago, after her family hired private defense attorneys Heidi Perlet and Marc Shiner. Now represented by the public defender’s office, her defense at next year’s trial will still be that she suffers from dissociative identity disorder and one of her alters killed Elliana.

Lucas’ case has also been caught in the legal morass surrounding Florida’s death penalty laws.

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.

 

Retrial to begin for Victor Diaz in Three Amigos murder

Victor Diaz

Jury selection in set to begin Monday in the retrial for Victor Diaz, once convicted in the murder of an innocent motorist shot to death in the aftermath of a 2007 robbery and car chase.

Diaz had been sentenced to life in prison after a jury convicted him in January of 70-year -old retired kosher baker Samuel Salomon’s death.

Circuit Judge Krista Marx on in May granted Diaz’s request for a new trial based on allegations of juror misconduct from Philip Elliott, who in a series of private messages with another juror claimed he knew both Marx and her husband personally and because of that felt Marx “went easy” on him when investigating misconduct claims after Diaz January trial.

Marx sent Elliott to jail for eight days on contempt of court charges after she determined he up words related to the case despite her instructions against it and encouraged fellow juror, Samantha Scalpi, to lie to the court in jurors interviews scheduled shortly after Scapli raised the misconduct allegations.
Assistant State Attorneys Sherri Collins and Lauren Gooden and Diaz’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender Joseph Walsh, will be selecting jurors from a new pool of prospective panelists with Circuit Judge Charles Burton, who took over the case for Marx.

Diaz and five other men are accused of a 2007 robbery at the Three Amigos convenience and check cashing store in West Boynton Beach. Store owner Sian Kiat Koh chased the assailants in his car, and in the ensuing chase one of the robbers took out a gun and tried to shoot him.

Hit in the crossfire was Salomon, who was on his way home from Hanukkah shopping with his wife. Salomon died of his injuries.

Three of the other men have been convicted and sentenced to life in prison for Salomon’s death. A fourth is serving 18 years after he agreed to testify against the others, and Raul Andino, the alleged mastermind of the robbery plot, is awaiting trial.

In his first trial in 2010, the jury convicted Diaz 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.

Riviera man gets 25 years in rape case where he called 911 on himself

Joel Jones
Joel Jones

When Joel Jones raped a woman in August 2014 after she answered a Craigslist ad for a job with an office cleaning business, he called 9-1-1 on himself after he told her he did it to earn a trip to prison so he could get even with the person who had killed his 14-year-old son.

On Thursday, Circuit Judge Jack Cox made at least the prison part of Jones’ request come true, sentencing him to 25 years more than two months after a jury convicted him of armed sexual battery.

The sentence was less than the life in prison sentence that Assistant State Attorney Chrichet Mixon requested, but at 49 years old and with no possibility of credit for good behavior on the 25-year minimum mandatory sentence, Jones will likely spend the rest of his days behind bars.

“This case is not really about what someone did to your child, but what you did to someone else’s child,” Cox told Jones. “The things that you did to her was completely beyond the realm of what a human being should do to another human being.”

According to an arrest report, Jones first met the victim when she filled out an application to work for his cleaning business two weeks earlier. On the night of the attack he lured her to a doctor’s office in unincorporated Palm Beach Gardens for a cleaning job, showed her the rooms she was supposed to clean, then raped her at knifepoint in one of the rooms.

Jones would later say that his attack was prompted by the shooting death of his 14-year-old son, and that he raped the woman because “this is how he would get to the people who killed his son,” according to an arrest report.

According to the Florida Department of Corrections, Jones was convicted for sexual battery and burglary in 1991 and served more than two years of a six-year sentence. He is not listed in Florida’s sexual offenders database because the Florida Sexual Predator Act does not include those convicted of sex-related crime before Oct. 1, 1993.

He also served almost eight years in prison for second-degree murder, though his sentence was 12 years, according to department of corrections records.

Three Amigos juror arraigned on contempt charges

Victor Diaz
Victor Diaz

A former juror in Victor Salastier Diaz’s murder trial pleaded not guilty early Wednesday to contempt of court charges stemming from alleged conduct that could win Diaz a new trial in the death of a motorist.

Philip Eliot also received legal help to fight the charges against him, as Circuit judge Krista Marx appointed a defense attorney to represent him in the case sparked by Facebook messages between Eliot and another juror after the trial.

In them, Eliot, who works at a bike shop on Palm Beach, tells Samantha Scalpi, a juror who previously made claims she was bullied, that the judge and her husband, Circuit Judge Joseph Marx, are customers. Eliot never mentioned the connection before he was selected as a juror or at any point during the trial.

Asked how well he knew the Marxes, Eliot replied: “Well enough to call her husband immediately after the trial.”

Eliot told Scalpi in the messages that because of this relationship, he believed Marx “went soft” on him when she interviewed him after the trial on allegations that he looked up words pertaining to the case during the jury’s deliberations.

The next hearing in Eliot’s case is May 26. If convicted, he could face up to five months and 29 days in jail.

Eliot and other jurors in Janury convicted Diaz of murder in the death of Samuel Salomon, a 70-year-old retired Kosher baker who was driving home from Hanukah shopping when he got caught in the crossfire of a group of robbers that had just fled the Three Amigos Grocery and check cashing store in Boynton Beach.

One of the assailants was trying to shoot at store owner Sian Kiat Koh, who had got into his car and chased the robbers in hopes of recovering the money they stole.

Based on the jury’s conviction, Marx sentenced Diaz to life in prison. His attorney, Assistant Public Defender Joseph Walsh, has now asked for a new trial based on Eliot’s claims.

Judge to stay on Three Amigos murder case, juror could face contempt

Victor Diaz
Victor Diaz

A judge has denied a request for her to step down from the case of one of several men charged in the death of a motorist after a robbery at the Three Amigos grocery, and now one of the jurors in his January trial could be facing contempt of court charges.

Circuit Judge Krista Marx on Tuesday turned down Victor Salastier Diaz’s motion for her to recuse herself from the case based on claims that one of the jurors who convicted Diaz in January personally knows both the judge and her husband but failed to disclose that fact in jury selections.

The same juror admitted in March that he looked up two words related to the case either before or during deliberations – an act judges caution jurors not to do and a move that has been the basis for appellate courts to overturn other convictions in the past.

Marx had previously denied a request for a new trial based on those grounds from Diaz’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender Joseph Walsh.

But Walsh renewed that request last week, along with what has become his second attempt to get Marx off the case, after he received a series of Facebook messages between Eliot and fellow juror Samantha Scalpi, who had previously complained that other jurors had bullied her into her verdict.

In the messages, Eliot said Marx and her husband, Circuit Judge Joseph Marx, were customers at his bike shop on Palm Beach. When Scalpi asked how well they knew each other, he said he called Marx’s husband immediately after the verdict.

Prospective jurors are typically asked to disclose whether they know anyone in the courtroom during jury selection, but in this case Eliot didn’t disclose allegedly having known Marx.

Walsh has also asked for a new trial based on the recent claims, but as of Wednesday, Marx has yet to rule on that request.

Diaz is now one of several men serving life sentences in the 2007 death of Samuel Salomon, a 70-year-old motorist shot and killed when one of the Three Amigos robbers tried to shoot at the Boynton Beach store owner after he got into his own car and chased the robbers as they left the scene.

Pair receive life sentences for rape of Delray Beach teens

Defendants Massillon Lherisson (above) and Francisco Henry (not pictured) sit in court today as a victim testified in the sexual assault case against the two men at the Palm Beach County Courthouse Monday, July 9, 2012.
Defendants Massillon Lherisson (above) and Francisco Henry (not pictured) sit in court today as a victim testified in the sexual assault case against the two men at the Palm Beach County Courthouse Monday, July 9, 2012.

Calling their actions “shocking” and “unspeakable,”a judge on Monday sentenced Francisco Henry and Massillon Lherisson to multiple life sentences in prison for forcing a group of Delray Beach teens into sex.

The sentence comes a month after jurors convicted the men in the 2010 robbery in an abandoned house where three boys and a girl were forced into sex with each other.

Circuit Judge John Kastrenakes announced the sentences after hearing from the father of one of the boys, as well as the female victim, who said she’s struggled to resume a normal life after the attack.

“I hope that they repented what they did because it’s not nice to be the one experience such acts and being forced to do the things that occurred,” she said. “I just hope that it doesn’t’ happen to them.”

Lherisson received 11 total life sentences, plus another 20 years in prison. Henry received five life sentences

 

Death penalty trial stalled for sex offender in 1987 cold case

Rodney Clark
Rodney Clark

Jury selection has been postponed in Palm Beach County in a 1987 cold case where a convicted sex offender is accused of raping and killing a 27year-old mother of three.

Jury selection was set to begin Thursday morning in the first degree murder case of Rodney Clark, accused in the death of Dana Fader. But legal arguments stopped that process, and the case is now set for a status check Friday.

Fader, of Lake Worth, was found strangled to death, the tan dress she’d borrowed from her sister hiked up to her waist, in the back seat of her car shortly after relatives reported her missing.

The case went cold until several years ago, when investigators linked DNA from semen found at the scene to Clark. By then, Clark was living in Mississippi.

Authorities arrested Clark in 2013. His case marks the first death penalty case to go to trial locally since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the way Florida courts decide death penalty cases was unconstitutional.

On Monday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a bill changing the state’s death penalty trial process. The new law requires a minimum 10-2 majority recommendation for judges to impose a death sentence.

Previously, judges could impose a death sentence based on a simple majority vote from a jury, and the judge could base his or her ruling on independent findings.