JUST IN: Seth Adams case gets a new judge, new date for second trial

Richard and Lydia Adams with attorney Wallace McCall at the Federal Courthouse in West Palm Beach on March 30, 2017. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

The retrial of the multi-million-dollar lawsuit against Palm Beach County sheriff’s Sgt. Michael Custer in the 2012 shooting death of Seth Adams will be held before a different federal judge as early as July 10.

Seth Adams

In an order signed Monday, U.S. District Judge Daniel Hurley, who presided over the trial that ended  last month with a hung jury, assigned the case to his colleague, federal Judge Donald Middlebrooks.

Hurley, who reportedly planned to retire before the summer, had scheduled the second trial to begin Oct. 10. But, in the order, he said attorneys for Adams’ parents and the sheriff’s office  indicated they wanted it to be held sooner. Both sides agreed to a July 10 start, he said.

Middlebrooks agreed to hear the case, Hurley wrote. He told the attorneys to consult with Middlebrooks’ staff to see if the trial could be held sooner.

PBSO Sgt. Michael Custer

After a month-long trial, the nine jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict about whether Custer used excessive force when he fatally shot the 23-year-old as Adams returned to A One Stop Garden Shop in Loxahatchee Groves, where he lived and worked with his brother and sister-in-law.

Attorney Wallace McCall, who talked to some of the jurors after the trial, said he was told there was one hold out. He had sought $10 million to $20 million for Lydia and Richard Adams, claiming Custer lied when he said Adams attacked him and the sheriff’s office helped him cover up the truth.

The sheriff’s office has said that Custer, who was working undercover on the night of the shooting, was in fear for his life.

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.

NEW: No venue change for third Dippolito trial

Prosecutors will not take the unprecedented step of asking a judge for a change of venue in the upcoming third trial for Dalia Dippolito.

The news comes just days after Dippolito’s lawyers said they’d like to keep the 34-year-old’s case in Palm Beach County, where last month jurors failed to reach a unanimous decision on whether or not Dippolito was guilty of hiring an undercover Boynton Beach Police officer posing as a hitman to kill her then-husband, Michael.

Dalia Dippolito, 34, sits in a Palm Beach County courtroom awaiting the start of a hearing in her case on Jan. 6, 2017.
Dalia Dippolito, 34, sits in a Palm Beach County courtroom awaiting the start of a hearing in her case on Jan. 6, 2017.

Dippolito attorneys, Brian Claypool and Greg Rosenfeld, said prosecutors soon after their announcement sent an email to Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley indicating that they would seek to move the trial out of the area.

Local defense attorneys say they’ve never heard of prosecutors making such a request in this circuit. In most states, prosecutors are prohibited from asking for changes of venue.

Claypool and Rosenfeld had unsuccessfully tried several times to get Kelley to move the trial out of the area before last month’s trial.

  Continue reading “NEW: No venue change for third Dippolito trial”

UPDATE: Facebook was weapon in nasty PBC judicial race

UPDATE: The “Truth About Gregg Lerman” Facebook page was taken down Friday. Richard Giorgio, Dana Santino’s political consultant, said in an email, “Several defense attorneys who are supporting Dana Santino contacted the campaign.  They felt the Facebook page “The Truth About Gregg Lerman” could be viewed as a commentary on all defense attorneys.  In deference to them, the page has been taken down.”

A Palm Beach County judicial candidate is using Facebook to blast her opponent as unfit because he works as a criminal defense attorney.

In a Facebook page titled, The Truth About Gregg Lerman, a political committee operated by Dana Santino’s campaign consultant attacks Lerman “for trying to free Palm Beach County’s worst criminals!”

lermanfb2The page, that offers links to newspaper stories about several high-profile cases Lerman has handled, underscores further how little Santino understands about the criminal justice system or what criminal defense attorneys do, Lerman said.

“A criminal defense attorney works to preserve the system and make sure it works,” said Lerman. He is challenging Santino in the Nov. 8 election for a seat on the county court bench, where misdemeanor cases and civil matters, worth less than $15,000, are decided.

A few newspaper stories don’t begin to tell the story of his 31-year career or the job of a criminal defense attorney, Lerman said. The job involves more than appearing in court. It often involves trying to get people help with demons, such as drug addiction, to keep them from committing crimes. It also involves protecting clients from overzealous prosecutors and making sure the punishment fits the crime.

He said he suspects Santino, who in an email to would-be supporters last week said Lerman represents “murderers, rapists, child molesters and other criminals,” has stepped over a line. Unlike those seeking other elected positions, judicial candidates are constrained by judicial canons and can face sanctions for violating them.

Richard Giorgio, Santino’s political consultant, said Santino is on firm legal ground. “We’ve looked at the canons,” said Giorgio, who administers Taxpayers for Public Integrity which created the website for Santino.

“Candidates are allowed to draw clear, honest, factual differences with their opponents,” he said. “There’s nothing misleading. One candidate focused her career on defending victims and one focuses his on defending perpetrators of crime.”

Santino, who works as a guardianship and probate attorney, worked as a victim’s advocate from 1993-94, according to her campaign brochure. Giorgio said she still represents victims of crime.

Lerman said he does, too. He said he and those close to him have been victims of crime. He said he understands both sides. “It’s aggravating because she doesn’t know me or what I do,” he said.

Santino, he said, is violating judicial candidates by misrepresenting his credentials and questioning the validity of the type of law he practices. “You can’t attack someone personally based on what they do and infer they can’t be fair and impartial,” he said. “That’s exactly what they claim.”

He said he intends to seek an opinion from a campaign ethics committee of the Palm Beach County Bar Association and file a complaint against Santino with the Florida Bar.

Giorgio indicated he isn’t worried. “He doesn’t represent these people because he champions constitutional principles. He’s doing it because he make a lot of money doing it,” Giorgio said.

Lerman accepts court appointments to represent people charged with murder. Most agree it is far from lucrative.

But, he said, he does it because he respects the criminal justice system and takes his responsibilities as a lawyer seriously. “I raised my hand 31 years ago to uphold the Constitution of the state of Florida and the Constitution of the United States,” he said.