Legislature agrees two former PBC students can be paid for horrific injuries

Two former Palm Beach County high school students – one who was horrifically injured when a tire exploded in his shop class at Seminole Ridge High School – are poised to get money from the School Board to pay for their injuries.

Dustin Reinhardt holds his dog Deedee while visiting his home in Loxahatchee in 2014. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

In a lopsided vote of 117-2, the Florida House on Wednesday gave the final nod to an unusual bill that directs the School Board to pay Dustin Reinhardt $4.7 million for injuries he sustained in the 2013 explosion in his auto shop class. Now 20 and living in an assisted living facility, Reinhardt lost an eye and suffered severe brain damage in the accident. He has already received $300,000 from the school district.

The bill also allows the School Board to pay $790,000 to Altavious Carter, who broke his neck in a 2005 traffic accident caused by a school bus driver. Carter, now 25, was a 14-year-old freshman basketball standout at the former Summit Christian School when the crash occurred.

Altavious “Tae” Carter before he enrolled in Eckerd College in St. Petersburg in 2013. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)

Since the Florida Senate passed the measure 31-5 on Monday, the bill is  headed to Gov. Rick Scott for his approval.

In Florida, the Legislature must approve any payments over $300,000 before government agencies can pay people who are injured by wrongdoing. The measures are known as claims bills.

In addition to awarding money to the two young men, the Legislature also ordered the Florida Department of Children & Families to pay $3.75 million to Victor Barahona. He was was found near death in a van along Interstate 95 in Lake Worth in 2011. Both he and his 10-year-old twin sister, Nubia, had been sprayed with pesticides. Nubia Barahona didn’t survive.

Officials at DCF admitted ignoring years of evidence of severe abuse and neglect at the children’s Miami home. The adoptive parents, Jorge and Carmen Barahona, are awaiting trial on murder and attempted murder charges.

Former Florida Sen. J. Alex Villalobos, a lawyer who now works as a lobbyist, persuaded the legislature to combine what had been two separate bills into one measure for Reinhardt and Carter. In his 25 years of watching the legislature, he said he has never seen it combine two claims bills. Without it, he said it is likely Carter, who in 2010 was awarded $1 million for his injuries by a Palm Beach County jury, would have been forced to wait yet another year.

Attorney Brian Denney, who represented Carter, said he was pleased the bill passed both chambers. But, having waited seven years, he said he wasn’t celebrating until Scott’s signature is affixed to the measure.

Carter, who also played at Grandview Prep, earned a college scholarship to play basketball. But, medical experts said, the injuries he suffered will force him to have additional surgery as he ages.

With two days left in the legislative session, a former Wellington youth, identified only has C.H.M, is still waiting to see if the legislature will pass a bill that would allow him to recover $5 million from DCF. A jury in 2013 agreed the state child welfare agency was negligent when it failed to warn his parents that a foster child they brought into their home was a predator.

The money is to help C.H.M. deal with psychological problems he suffers as a result of being sexually assaulted by the foster child, also the victim of horrific abuse.

This year appears to be a good ones for claims bills. In some recent legislative session, none have been approved.

 

Prosecutors, clerks to host workshop on sealing, expunging records

tmpNSWfqS-mdly-photoRemember that old criminal charge you’ve always wanted to get removed from your record?

The Palm Beach County court system has a workshop for that.

Officials from the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s office, Palm Beach County Clerk of Court and the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday will host a second sealing and expunging workshop for people seeking to have an arrest removed from their record.

Sheriff’s officials in a flyer list eligible participants as people who were ever charged with a crime in a Palm Beach County case that did not result in conviction, adding that people who fit that criteria may be able to a get a single arrest record sealed or expunged.

“Our community becomes safer when those who are eligible under the law for sealing and expungement can get their lives back on track and become successful members of our society,” Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg said in a press release this week.

The workshop will be held Thursday on the first floor of the main courthouse at 205 North Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach, from 3:00 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Workshop attendees should bring the following:

  1. A Florida driver’s license, Florida issued photo I.D. or U.S. Passport.
  2. A completed “State Attorney’s Preliminary Application for Sealing/Expungement Eligibility,” which can be found at sa15.org.
  3. Any copies of old paperwork available on the arrest. If the case occurred before 2008, call ahead so the clerk has a few days to locate the old file.

For more questions, contact Angel at 561-355-7373 or Lidis at 561-355-7313

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.”

Seth Adams case headed to trial after court denies officer’s appeal

PBSO Sgt. Michael Custer, who shot Seth Adams to death in May 2012 outside Adams' Loxahatchee Groves nursery. Photo made part of a federal civil case by Seth Adams' family attorney Wallace McCall. It came from a Power Point presentation produced by the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office and given to McCall during civil discovery.
PBSO Sgt. Michael Custer, who shot Seth Adams to death in May 2012 outside Adams’ Loxahatchee Groves nursery.
Photo made part of a federal civil case by Seth Adams’ family attorney Wallace McCall. It came from a Power Point presentation produced by the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and given to McCall during civil discovery.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeal has denied a request to throw out a multi-million lawsuit filed by the parents of Seth Adams against the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s sergeant who shot and killed him more than four years ago.

Attorneys for Sgt. Michael Custer filed a motion to throw out the case with the high court earlier this year. The court’s denial means the case could be headed to trail sometime next year.

“We are pleased that the Appellate Court agreed that there is no physical evidence to support Sergeant Custer’s version of events,” said Wallace McCall of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, the firm representing the Adams family. “We look forward to trial so that the public will be able to understand what really happened that night.”

Custer fatally shot Adams, a 24-year-old Loxahatchee Groves resident, as he was returning to his family’s garden shop on A Road off Okeechobee Boulevard, where he also lived.

Afterwards, Custer claimed he shot Adams, fearing he was reaching into his pickup truck for a gun. Instead, the unarmed Adams was grabbing his cell phone.

In March, a judge mostly cleared PBSO of wrongdoing amid allegations that it intentional destroyed or hid evidence to thwart the lawsuit – including the laptop and cell phone Custer used that night.

While attributing most of the agency’s lapses to negligence or technological glitches, U.S. District Judge Daniel Hurley said he was still “deeply concerned” that it allowed Custer’s cellphone to disappear.

Attorney Summer Barranco, who represents the sheriff’s office and Custer, attributed the failures to a simple mistake.

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.

Jail payback? One-time murder defendant accused of arranging threats

Walter Burks
Walter Burks

Three months ago, Shantoria Thompson stood trial for perjury in a case where fear of retaliation from Lonnie Davis and Walter Burks Jr. led her to recant claims she saw the two men rob and kill a Belle Glade man.

Now, one of the men is accused of plotting from jail to somehow get to an eyewitness and prosecutor in another case against him – allegations that led a judge who was supposed to preside over his trial this week to instead revoke his jail phone and visitation privileges.

Burks, known in Belle Glade as “Boss Hog,” escaped a murder charge in 2013 after prosecutors were forced to drop charges against him in the May 2011 death of John C. Griffin. Prosecutors credited Thompson, a 25-year-old mother of one, with sinking their case after threats of harm led her to say she hadn’t witnessed the shooting after all.

Burks landed back in jail a year later from an April 2014 armed robbery at the Buy Rite Furniture store at 64 W. Ave. A in Belle Glade.

His trial was supposed to begin this week, but Assistant State Attorney Brianna Coakley in court records last week aid Burks was caught in a recorded jail call passing both her name and the name of an eyewitness to the robbery to someone at the other end of the line with instructions to pass the names along to someone else.

“The State has a substantial fear that the Defendant is attempting to coordinate witness intimidation from the jail,” Coakley wrote in a Nov. 9 motion to Circuit Judge John Kastrenakes. “Prior and subsequent calls also allude to contacting some individual and getting the witness information.”

According to Coakley, Burks on the recorded like spells out her name when asked for “state’s name,” then also spelled out the name of eyewitness Kathy Walton.

Before then, Coakley said, Burks can be heard tellilng the unidentified call recipient: “I’m taking your word for it that this [expletive] is straight.”

Kastrenakes on Monday granted Coakley’s request to cut Burks jail visitation and phone privileges except for calls and visits from his attorneys because of the calls.

Though jury selection was expected to begin in his case Monday, Kastrenakes set the case on a two-hour call, meaning it could go to trial anytime over the next several weeks.

Burks, 24, is accused of battery on a person 65 years of age or older for allegedly placing store owner Virgil Tullos in a choke hold during a robbery where two assailants made off with $20.

As for Thompson, it took a jury less than two hours in August to acquit her of perjury charges after defense attorney Andrew Strecker argued that she backed away from her testimony out of duress after prosecutors and investigators repeatedly failed to adequately protect her from threats she received.

Davis, 25, is currently serving a year in prison on unrelated charges of resisting arrest.

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.

Trial begins for Fort Pierce man accused of Belle Glade masked murder

Coins covered in blood spilled from Lennard Cobb’s pocket when crime scene investigators found him, shot through the back of the head, outside a Belle Glade grocery store more than two years ago.

Palm Beach County Sheriff’s crime scene investigator Amy Oetinger told jurors after they viewed photos of Cobb’s body Wednesday that she also found a hat, sunglasses and a set of keys under Cobbs’ arm – all signs he was likely caught completely off guard when a masked man approached him on May 13, 2014 and shot him to death.

Prosecutors say that man is Jaycobby Dukes, a Fort Pierce resident who they say killed Cobb to settle a feud that family members say started more than five years earlier between relatives of both men.

jaycobby-dukesCobb, 24, was found shot to death in the afternoon outside the M&M Food Market at 449 Avenue A.

Surveillance footage from the market showed a masked man, wearing white Nike sneakers and carrying a black handgun, approached him and shot him in the back of the head before he could turn around.

Detectives interviewed Dukes the next day after a witness told them Dukes was seen in the area, but Dukes told them he’d been in Fort Pierce the entire previous day.

The investigation traced back to Dukes after investigators got information from more witnesses, including one who saw Dukes “sweating like hell, breathing heavy, panicked and acting abnormal,” according to Dukes’ arrest report. Investigators say another witness said Dukes confessed to him outright before explaining that Cobb had allegedly threatened Dukes while Dukes was incarcerated.

Family members this week said what actually happened between Cobb and Dukes was a 2012 fight while both men were housed at the Palm Beach County jail.

Cobb’s relatives say Cobb approached Dukes about having pulled a gun on one of Cobb’s relatives and her young child before Dukes’ arrest, and added that Cobb beat Dukes up badly in the ensuing scuffle.

Court records show both men at the time were serving sentences on separate aggravated assault cases. Dukes was released in February 2014, less than three months before Cobb was killed.

Assistant State Attorneys Andrew Slater and Lauren Godden and defense attorney Franklin Price delivered their opening statements in the case late Tuesday.

While prosecutors presented the case to jurors as a classic premeditated murder, Prince in his opening statements denied his client’s involvement and hinted at potential credibility issues with some of the state witnesses.

The trial is expected to continue into next week. Dukes, now 24, could face life in prison if convicted as charged.

Lake Worth cab driver killing earns pair 15, 30 year sentences

sccmgcgiA judge sentenced Christian Eberhardt and Brian Javon Brown to 30 and 15 years in prison respectively Thursday on manslaughter convictions connected to the 2012 shooting death of a taxi cab driver in Lake Worth.

The sentences come nearly two months after the men escaped what would have been definite life sentences on first degree murder charges in the death of Madsen Paul, who died days after prosecutors say the pair’s attempt to rob him during a cab ride went wrong.

“He was a very hard-working man, an innocent man,” Chief Assistant State Attorney Adrienne Ellis told Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley of Paul. “I don’t believe that you can get anymore callous and cold than what happened to him that day.”

The higher sentence for Eberhardt, 24, came because jurors accepted prosecutors’ assertion that he was the triggerman and convicted him of manslaughter with a firearm, which carries a 30 year maximum sentence.

Brown’s conviction on a simple manslaughter charge carried a 15-year maximum, but the punishment was mandatory since Kelley sentenced the 25-year-old as a reoffender who had recently been released from prison at the time of Madsen’s death.

Court records show Brown had confessed to shooting Paul before the trial in hopes of getting a 15-year plea deal with prosecutors, but they ultimately rejected his version of events and took the case to trial.

Eberhardt’s family members say they will be appealing his sentence based on that information.

Madelene Paul on her way out of court said her thoughts were only of her father, the man she called her best friend.

“Now he can finally rest in peace,” she said.