Tuesday, December 29, 2009

You Are Not Crazy

Like many folks this week, I'm taking some time off. But I found this excellent website that explains the dynamics of verbal abuse - identifying it, explaining it, and determining whether or not a verbal abuser can change his or her behavior.

Click here: You Are Not Crazy

Sarah's father, Dan, was a master at verbal abuse. He never physically battered me. Yet he murdered our daughter and committed suicide 13 years ago - just a few months after we separated.

I encourage victims to not minimize a verbal abuser's behavior simply because they've never battered.

Verbal abusers can become killers.

An abuser's behavior is all about power & control. It's not about anger (which is a tool they use). It's not about battering (another tool). It's about doing whatever is necessary to get that "rush" of power they feel when their partner acquiesces to their demands. And if you've ever been involved with someone who is verbally abusive, you know that those demands become increasingly impossible to accomodate.

I thought I was crazy when I was married to Dan. It wasn't until he was out of my life that some semblance of sanity returned.

There's no law in this State against demeaning or insulting your partner, disregarding their feelings, or reminding them of their shortcomings. Victims of this type of abuse can't have their abuser arrested for these behaviors. Yet they gradually kill the spirit of the victim, a little bit every time. The victim eventually believes they deserve to be treated like dirt and that they should be grateful for every little kindness the perpetrator bestows upon them.

Even if law enforcement never becomes involved, help is available. Contact your local domestic violence shelter if you take the quiz and realize you need help.

In Florida, call 1-800-500-1119 to talk with an advocate. Or click here for a list of certified shelters and their local phone numbers.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Best of Blackwell

It was with a bit of melancholy that I monitored Judge Alice Blackwell's injunction hearings this afternoon. At the end of each year, a bit of judge-shuffling is done and Judge Blackwell will be moved from her position as Administrative Judge for the Domestic Court to the felony Violation of Probation division in January.

I first became acquainted with Judge Blackwell in 2006 when she and Dick Batchelor co-chaired the Orange County Domestic Violence Commission's Implementation Group. Her leadership and passion for victims of domestic violence, and for making the injunction court more effective and compassionate in its handling of DV cases, was pivotal to the creation of the much-improved injunction court that Orange County has today.

Prior to the creation of this specialized court in 2007, seven judges would serve one week out every seven as they rotated through the division. Injunction hearings were held in a large, impersonal courtroom on the 4th floor where petitioners would sit on one side of the aisle and respondents the other. It was not uncommon for petitioners and respondents to encounter one another in the halls outside the courtroom, in spite of Harbor House's best efforts to escort petitioners to court.

As one who obtained an injunction in this enviroment several years ago, I can tell you that the process was both terrifying and embarrassing. There could be 2-3 dozen spectators waiting for their own hearings while they watched yours. Nobody wants to have their personal business aired for all to know - particularly when it relates to their intimate relationship.

With the help of Judge Blackwell's leadership on the Commission, Orange County now has a model Injunction Court that other jurisdictions have come to observe. There are separate waiting rooms for the parties and smaller, more intimate courtroom where only the participants involved are present.

Three judges rotate the three main functions. On any given day, 50-75 people file petitions for an injunction in Orange County. A "signing" judge reads those petitions during the day and if they grant a hearing and temporary injunction, they will be the judge to conduct the "return" hearing when it comes to court two weeks later. Their third week is spent doing follow-up hearings (hearing allegations of injunction violations, assuring that respondents have complied with court orders, etc.) and handling any overflow from the "return" hearings.

Because she is so good at what she does, CourtWatch has used Judge Blackwell as the benchmark for all the other injunction judges we monitor. From setting the stage for each hearing (providing the participants with a thorough explanation of the "ground rules" relating to how the hearing will be conducted before it begins) to using excellent fact-finding questions to elicit relevant testimony, to addressing the pertinent concerns of time-sharing of children, the parents' financial obligations and other issues, and doing an excellent job of explaining her ruling, Judge Blackwell consistently scores Above Average to Superb with CourtWatch volunteers.

Her feathers rarely get ruffled and she treats everyone in her courtroom with dignity and respect. Her demeanor sets the tone for everyone in the courtroom, and in spite of the contentious nature of injunction hearings, the parties seem to be better behaved when she is on the bench.

Today was the sort of bittersweet experience for me that one has when you know you won't be seeing someone you respect and admire as often as you're accustomed to seeing them. We wish her well in her new assignment.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Whatever Happened to . . . ? #6

Recent Sex Offender Cases in Orange County

Mark William Green
Sexual Battery (3cts); False Imprisonment
Defendant pled to 2 counts of Sexual Battery, other two counts were dropped. Sentenced to 12 years Department of Corrections to be followed by 8 years sex offender probation.

Eusebio Ortiz
Sexual Battery; Lewd/Lascivious Molestation Upon Elderly/Disabled
Defendant pled no contest and was sentenced to 32 months DOC.

Christopher Cains
Sexual Battery
Defendant pled and was sentenced to 3 years DOC as a youthful offender (he is 20 years old), to be followed by 2 years Community Control and 1 year youthful offender probation. He was declared a sexual predator.

Felix Morales
Attempted Sexual Battery (2cts); Lewd/Lascivious Exhibition; Lewd/Lascivious Conduct
Defendant pled no contest to all 4 counts and was sentenced to 15 years in prison each count (concurrent), was designated as a sexual predator, and to have no contact with the victim or the victim's mother. Judge Latimore gave defendant until 12/30/09 to begin serving his sentence. If he fails to turn himself in on that date, each count will become consecutive, thus giving him a 60 year sentence.

Jerome Wilkerson
Sexual Battery Child<12 yrs old (2cts)
Lewd/Lascivious Molestation (2cts)

Defendant was found guilty by jury on count 1. Other counts were dismissed. Defendant was sentenced to LIFE in the Department of Corrections.

Waldes Derice
Sexual Battery Child<12; Lewd/Lascivious Battery (4cts); Lewd/Lascivious Exhibition
Defendant pled to L/L Battery & L/L Exhibition charges. Sexual Battery charge was dropped. Defendant was sentenced to 20 years in Dept. of Corrections.

Recent Sex Offender Cases in Seminole County

William West
Lewd/Lascivious Battery Victim<12 yrs old
Defendant is a former Seminole County Sheriff's Dept dispatcher who pled no contest. He was sentenced to 365 days in jail to be followed by 14 years of sex offender probation.

Gustavo Barreto
Tamper w/Physical Evidence; Voyeurism
Defendant allegedly swallowed the video card that had images he captured looking up the skirt of a 16-yr old girl at a Target store in Lake Mary. Defendant failed to appear for arraignment on 11/17 and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

Possess Material Depicting Sexual Conduct by Child (141 counts)
Defendant failed to appear for arraignment on 12/1 and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

Check back for his booking photo - I will post as soon as I receive it.

The following were recently sentenced in Orange County for Failure of Sex Offender to Report

Edward Greggs II
31.5 months DOC
(originally had a child victim)

Nelson Ross Summerall, Jr.
24 months DOC
(originally had a child victim)

Danny R Martin
18 months DOC

Moises Davila
24 months DOC
(originally had a child victim)

Merill Calhoun
24 months DOC
(originally had a child victim)

William Thomas Moore
Sentenced on 12/7/09 to 5 years DOC for failure to report, but was released on ankle monitor until 1/25/10.  Judge A. Thomas Mihok will reduce his sentence when he reports to court in January.
(originally had a child victim)

For more information on any of these defendants, you can search the statewide offender database.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Somewhat Braindead

No, I'm not talking about anyone in the criminal justice system tonight!  :)

I spent the day at UCF attending a conference sponsored by the National Center for Victims of Crime and am a bit overwhelmed by all that I learned. In addition to providing assistance to victims, the NCVC is involved in several legislative initiatives to benefit crime victims.

Their current campaign here in Florida relates to amending the State Constitution to eliminate statutes of limitation (the deadlines for filing legal actions) in cases of sexual battery against children. The current Statute of Limitation for a child sexual abuse case is 7 years after the age of majority (or at age 25), or within 4 years after the victim leaves the dependency of the abuser, or within 4 years from the time of discovery by the victim of both the injury and the causal relationship between the injury and the abuse, whichever occurs later. Since it is not unusual for a victim to not disclose the abuse until 15 or more years after the fact, many victims have no legal recourse because the Statute of Limitations has expired. You can download a petition from Protect Our Kids First in order to get this issue on the ballot.

Prior to this conference, I knew little to nothing about civil remedies that victims of crime had at their disposal. Jeffrey Dion, Director of the National Crime Victim Bar Association, together with three local attorneys presented too much information to digest in one day. These attorneys were not your stereotypical ambulance-chasing lawyers looking to make a quick buck. Each of them truly has a heart for victims and the all-too-often failure of the criminal justice system to provide for the needs of those victims. The NCVBA provides valuable information to attorneys, victims and advocates; attorney referrals to victims; an online database of civil litigation cases; and maintains a list of expert witnesses.

Finally, for a comprehensive source of information about crime victim rights and protections, click here.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Grasping at Straws

Last Wednesday I had occasion to monitor what was on the docket for a plea, but morphed into a highly unusual hearing in Judge Marc Lubet's courtroom (it seems as though he's gotten more than his fair share of "highly unusual" cases lately).

James Gilbert (2008-CF-018238-A-O) was arrested December, 2008 for ten counts of soliciting a minor via computer. Gilbert was employed by the Florida Highway Patrol at the time of the offenses. The defendant allegedly had sexual conversations and sent over 600 text messages to a 17-year old girl. Gilbert's ex-wife, an Orange County Deputy Sheriff, was later disciplined for conduct unbecoming a member of the OCSO for intimidating the victim's mother at the mother's place of employment.

In the hearing (which started to look a bit like a circus) last week, Defense Counsel Neal McShane made several serious allegations about a cover up within the State Attorney's Office.
  • He told the Court that the previous Friday some new information had just come to light about an alleged cover up - claiming that the State and FHP conspired to obstruct justice by tampering with the victim. The victim was allegedly told by the State that she did not need to go to the deposition that had been scheduled in a corresponding injunction case (the parties in that case jointly requested a dismissal, having worked out the issues involved with the assistance of their attorneys).
  • McShane also alleged that all of the victim's text messages to the defendant are now missing.  However, Judge Lubet stated that what the underage victim may or may not have texted is not relevant - the defendant is an adult and is therefore still responsible for his messages to her.
Assistant State Attorney Ryan Williams argued that the allegations are without substance because Mr. Gilbert's attorney had no evidence to back them up. His "source" remained unnamed. Mr. McShane requested that Judge Lubet call Assistant State Attorney Sarah Freeman, who handled the case at the time, and William Jay, Counsel for the victim in the injunction case, to testify on the spot. He asserted that if he could just ask them some questions, he could prove his allegations.

Judge Lubet told Mr. McShane that making allegations without knowing the facts is unethical. He would not grant McShane's request at that time.

Ms. Freeman advised that her office will be filing a protective order to prevent her from testifying in the matter and will attempt to quash any subpoena that is issued for a deposition.

Mr. Williams' original offer to the defendant of 90 days jail and 3 years Sex Offender Probation was not withdrawn at this stage of the game (remember, the case was scheduled for a plea - not a hearing where testimony would be taken) because he did not want to punish the defendant because of his attorney's allegations and motions.

Mr. McShane became extremely argumentative with Mr. Williams and angrily yelled at him about some emails he had sent to the State. I couldn't capture it quickly enough in my notes, and must admit that I was a bit stunned to see an attorney behave so badly. I don't remember what else was said.

Judge Lubet, who was in the second day of a jury trial, would not tolerate Mr. McShane's multiple assertions that this was still going to be a plea. He refused to order the victim to be deposed a second time in this case, but granted a second depo of FHP only as it related to the new information.

While waiting for the elevator after the hearing, several observers commented that Mr. McShane's arguments were without merit. I thought he was grasping at straws to further prolong his client's case.

A follow up 90-minute hearing was scheduled for Wednesday, January 6th at 2:00pm.

Click here for WFTV's coverage of the initial arrest.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Whatever Happened to . . . ? (#5)

Maritza Meade & Clarence Lee
Neglect of Child
Meade brought her 6-yr old son to hospital where he died of a closed head injury; co-def Clarence Lee is Meade's boyfriend. Meade was sentenced to 4.5 years probation and ordered to complete a parenting class. Lee also pled to Neglect of Child and was sentenced to 88 days jail with credit 88 days time served, 5 years probation, and 80 hours community service.

Tangela Key
Aggravated Manslaughter of Child; Neglect of Child Causing Great Harm
Defendant's 13-yr old son is accused of fatally beating his 8-yr old brother to death after being left to babysit him in September, 2007. She was sentenced this week to serve 1 year in jail (work release program) + 9 years probation. Click here for WFTV's report.

In July, 2009 Key pled to Disorderly Conduct (offense date June, 2009) and was sentenced to 45 days jail.

In August, 2009 Key pled to a Robbery charge stemming from an arrest in October, 2008. She was sentenced to 24 months probation, seek/maintain employment, complete an anger management class and to have no contact with her victim.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Best of Kest

In spite of an earlier disastrous injunction, Judge Sally Kest's manner of conducting injunction hearings has not improved. With several new volunteers doing their "on the job" courthouse training, I've had several opportunities to observe Judge Kest this week.

Click here to view what CourtWatch looks for when monitoring an injunction hearing.

Disclaimer: The written word inherently has its limitations when one tries to convey another person's demeanor and tone of voice. However, I'll give it my best shot.

The new volunteers, none of whom had observed an injunction hearing before today, thought that Judge Kest was rude and condescending to both petitioners and respondents - particularly when they failed to grasp what the proper protocol is for testifying, eliciting testimony from witnesses or the other party, or for introducing evidence. They were astounded that the judge resorted to raising her voice (some called it yelling) in order to command attention. Some remarked that she frequently interrupted when someone attempted to answer her question. She rolled her eyes and was impatient.

In addition to the above, there were several issues (from these hearings and from previous weeks) that CourtWatch believes are indicative of an immediate need for correction:
  • Failing to "set the stage" for explaining the process to the participants.
    [Another judge, after explaining the process and assuring the Respondent that issues of child visitation and the return of personal property will be addressed, frequently avoids an evidentiary hearing because the Respondent doesn't object to the injunction]
  • Expecting the participants to understand what hearsay testimony is and why it is not admissable - and then yelling at them after they've been told they can't testify about what someone else told them
  • Calling witnesses into the courtroom before the parties have laid any foundation for their testimony
  • Expecting the participants to ask questions of the other party that will get to the heart of whether or not their situation meets the legal requirements for an injunction
    [All communication should be between the judge and the parties - they should not be permitted to directly address one another. Additionally, the judge should not expect them to know what elements need to be proven - she should ask the questions]
  • Frequently specifying an agreed upon McDonalds or other restaurant for the exchange of children
    [I wonder how thrilled McDonalds' attorneys are about the potential liability if an "incident" occurs]
  • Failing to designate a third party to serve as go-between for child-related communications
  • Sometimes permitting direct contact via text/email between parties if it relates to children
  • Failing to set up visitation schedules and/or temporary child support
  • Interrupting people when they attempt to answer questions she has asked
  • Interrupting the interpreter when he/she is attempting to do their job
  • Lapsing into "legalese" which most participants do not understand
Injunction hearings, because the parties have a great deal of "baggage" with one another, are without a doubt one of the most challenging hearings to conduct. It is not unusual for people to want to tell the entire tale of their relationship, going back to the day they met. They are wounded and they come to the courthouse seeking a cure to their situation.

Many are terrified to be in the same vicinity of the person against whom they've sought an injunction. They shouldn't have to be terrified of going before a judge. For some, I suspect that being in Judge Kest's courtroom rises to the level of traumatic.

Imagine for a moment if the judge who was hearing your case raised their voice and said "This is a court of law . . . rules apply . . . does everybody understand that?!?!?" I imagine it feels like you've stepped into the middle of a football field without ever having seen the game before or been told how it's played, been given the ball, and told to run (and then getting tackled when you try to do what you're told).

Or imagine, as you try to answer a question posed by the judge with a loud and sharp tone, being interrupted with "Ma'am. . .  ma'am" or "Sir . . . sir" and then being admonished about the fact that there are these "rules." The judge then refuses to listen to your reply because you don't abide by the "rules" that you've never been taught.

If Judge Kest treated the parties with more respect and took 2-3 minutes at the beginning of a hearing to coach everyone about the "rules," I daresay the process would be much less painful for everyone in the courtroom.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Anger Management vs. BIP

We've often talked about the Batterer's Intervention Program (BIP) as being the appropriate counseling for perpetrators of domestic violence and that an Anger Management class is not recommended. The following information from the November 2009 Office of the State Courts Administrator highlights the differences between the two programs. For more info, click here.

Experts in the field of domestic violence have long considered BIPs to be best equipped to handle the needs of batterers. Anger management programs are sometimes utilized in place of BIP. While excellent at what they are designed to do, anger management programs do not generally meet the needs of most batterers. The following chart was provided by Department of Children and Families (DCF) as a helpful reminder of the differences between anger management and BIP.

Anger Management (AM) vs. Certified Batterer Intervention Program (BIP)

Are programs state certified?
AM: No
BIP: Yes. Certification is granted by the Florida Department of Children and Families, Domestic Violence Program Office.

Who is served by the programs?
AM: Perpetrators of stranger or non-intimate violence
BIP: Specifically designed to work with perpetrators of intimate partner violence.

How long are the programs?
AM: Usually 6-20 sessions, with an average program lasting 10 sessions (Typically Orange & Seminole courts order an 8-hr anger management class). 
BIP: Mandated by Florida Statute at 29 weeks which includes a minimum of 24 sessions, assessment, intake/enrollment and orientation.

Do programs contact victims?
AM: No
BIP: Yes. By letter when the batterer enrolls and is discharged from the program. If the offender makes known threats toward the victim, the program will contact the victim and the proper authorities. The victim is provided with local referral information.

Are programs monitored by a state agency?
AM: No
BIP: Yes. By the Department of Children & Families, Domestic Violence Program Office.

Are programs linked with a battered women's agency?
AM: No
BIP: Not directly. Letters to victims contain contact information for local certified domestic violence centers. Certified batterers programs are encouraged to establish relationships with their local certified centers and many have fostered that relationship.

Do programs assess batterers for lethality?
AM: No
BIP: Yes. While not a prediction model, certified assessors conduct an assessment which includes questions which reveal how potentially lethal a batterer may be - such as if he owns a gun, has a history of intimate partner violence or has been convicted of other violent offenses.

What is the emphasis of the intervention?
AM: Violence is seen as a momentary outburst of anger.
BIP: Physical violence is seen as one of many forms of abusive behaviors chosen by batterers to control their intimate partners. Other behaviors include physical, sexual, verbal, emotional and economic abuse. Batterer intervention models hold batterers accountable for the violent and abusive choices they make. They teach batterers to recognize how their abuse affects their partners and children and to practice alternatives to abusive behaviors.

Are group facilitators trained about domestic violence?
AM: Subject to agency discretion
BIP: Yes. State standards require that facilitators receive an initial 21 hours of state approved basic facilitator training, 8 hours of substance abuse as it relates to domestic violence, 4 hours of attendance at domestic violence court hearings, 40 hours of victim centered training and 84 hours of co-facilitating with a certified program (may not be completed in less than six months). Twelve CEU's in DV/batterer intervention are required annually thereafter.

How would I address grievances with this type of program?
AM: Talk to the director of the program
BIP: First, talk to the director of the program and second, notify the DCF, Office of Domestic Violence Programs, (850) 921-2168.

For more info, see What Batterer Programs Can & Cannot Demonstrably Do

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Whatever Happened to . . . ? #4

William Edward Allen
Child Abuse, Neglect of Child, Resist Officer w/o Violence; Possess Cannabis

Allen allegedly abandoned his 11-day old son October 13, 2008 in a garbage bag in the woods of east Orange County after an argument with the baby's mother. He pled in February to Neglect of Child & Possession of Cannabis and was sentenced to 114 days in jail with credit for 114 days time served and ordered to complete 4 years of supervised probation, a parenting class, to follow the DCF case plan and seek/maintain employment.

Less than 6 months later, an arrest warrant for violation of probation was issued. He pled in September to violating probation and was sentenced to 1 year and 1 day in the Department of Corrections. The DOC website shows his anticipated release date to be 3/17/10.

Dwight Pinder

Defendant is a Special Agent with US Immigration & Customs Enforcement who allegedly assaulted an ex-girlfriend at her apartment. The State was unable to contact the victim who had no injury (defendant allegedly grabbed her arm).

No Information Notice filed (case was dropped 12/1).

Katie Furtaw
Aggravated Child Abuse

Defendant admitted to biting her 21-month old daughter numerous times. The child subsequently died. Charges were dropped this week due to insufficient evidence, causing the State to determine the case could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.  For more info as reported in the Sentinel, click here.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Kudos to Judge LeBlanc

I had occasion to monitor a bond motion in Judge Bob LeBlanc's court today for defendant Darrel Rayford, charged with Burglary, Lewd/Lascivious Battery, Lewd/Lascivious Molestation, and Possession of Cannabis.

Rayford, age 25, allegedly used the cannabis to lure a 15-yr old girl while she was on her way to school. After smoking it, they had consensual sex (though a 15-yr old cannot legally consent). The defense contended that she lied about her age.

Defense Attorney Robert Larr did a good job of eliciting testimony from the defendant's mother about the family's finances (which are minimal) and ties to the community (Rayford recently moved here from Miami, but his mother has lived here 4 years). He requested a $2,500 bond.

Assistant State Attorney Lisa Gong made sure the judge was aware of Rayford's 14 previous convictions for crimes like armed robbery, cocaine possession, burglary, grand theft motor vehicle, trespass, cannabis, resisting officer w/o violence, etc. She indicated that the victim and her mother are very afraid of the defendant (they were not able to be present in court today and were extremely upset that he was seeking a bond).

The defendant actually started to argue with the judge that he did not have 14 convictions - not seeming to understand that each charge counted as one, even though they were consolidated into two or three court cases. The judge was patient but firm as he explained how he could have so many convictions with so few court cases.

Judge LeBlanc expressed great concern for the victim and her mother as he announced his decision. He granted a $26,100 bond and put the defendant on home confinement, ordered that he have no contact with the victim, submit to drug testing, and abide by a 9:00pm to 7:00am curfew. I always thought home confinement meant he was confined to home. I'll look into that further.

Thank you Judge LeBlanc.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Chronic Offender Gets $1,000 Bond

Please be sure to read to the end - additional info was made available subsequent to having posted this article. Laura.

Larry Lee Hudson, age 43, has Judge Martha Adams to thank for granting him a $1,000 bond this morning on his newest battery offense against victim KW (this is his 10th arrest since 2005 for having assaulted her).

Let's review his resume.

Hudson has had several assault victims over the years, but KW has been the recipient of the vast majority of his attacks (victim initials are noted next to the date of each arrest below):

[KW] 11/30/09 Battery DV
On his way to jail last night, defendant told the law enforcement officer that he was going to kill the victim. He then quickly added that he was just mad. He had just been released from jail 6 days earlier in case 2009-CF-014180-A-O.
And Judge Martha Adams granted a $1,000 bond??? So he only has to come up with $100 to get out of jail. If this doesn't make you wonder about our criminal justice system's ability to hold perpetrators accountable and insure victim safety, I don't know what does!

[KW] 7/21/09 Aggravated Battery w/Deadly Weapon; Battery
Case dropped 9/21/09 - victim not present for trial
[KW] 3/29/09 Aggravated Battery w/Deadly Weapon; Battery
Pled 8/7/09 to Battery & adjudicated guilty; Aggravated Battery charge dropped. Sentenced to 69 days jail with credit time served.
[KW] 7/29/08 Robbery; Battery
Pled 10/13/08 to Battery & adjudicated guilty; Robbery charge dropped. Sentenced to 78 days jail with credit time served.
[KW] 6/2/08 Aggravated Battery Great Bodily Harm
Pled 11/23/09 and sentenced to 49 days jail with credit time served.

[KW] 3/15/08 Battery
Case dropped 4/11/08 - victim unable to be contacted

[RM] 9/3/07 Cause Bodily Harm or Disability
Case dropped 10/31/08 - victim unable to be contacted

[KW] 9/17/07 Battery
Case dropped 10/16/07 - victim unable to be contacted

[KW] 1/26/06 False Imprisonment; Aggravated Battery w/Weapon; Battery DV
Case dropped 3/1/06 - victim unable to be contacted

[KW] 6/10/05 Battery
Case dropped 7/8/05 - victim unavailable

[KW] 5/23/05 Battery DV
Case dropped 8/1/05 - victim unable to be contacted

[CH] 5/7/04 Battery
Case dropped 6/8/04 - victim unable to be contacted

[MP] 9/22/03 Robbery; Extortion; Battery
Case dropped 3/2/04 - reason unknown

[DR] 9/24/1994 Domestic Violence
Case dropped 11/10/94 - insufficient evidence

This is by no means the extent of Mr. Hudson's involvement with law enforcement over the years. A check of the Orange County Clerk's website (his DOB is 1/24/1966) uncovered the following cases:
3/31/09 Resist Officer without Violence
[45 days jail w/credit 37 days time served]

11/18/08 Possess Controlled Substance; Possess Drug Paraphernalia
[4 months jail w/credit 87 days time served]

4/21/08 Possess/Use Narcotic Equipment
[15 days jail w/credit 1 day time served]

12/30/07 Trespass (Originally charged with Burglary)
[53 days jail w/credit 53 days time served]

4/8/07 Possess Controlled Substance
[4 months jail w/credit 109 days time served; 16 months probation w/ drug evaluation/treatment]
Defendant later admitted to probation violation & was sentenced to an additional 4 months.

11/11/06 Possess/Use Narcotic Equipment
[2 days jail w/credit 2 days time served]

6/10/05 Resist Officer without Violence
[112 days jail w/credit 112 days time served]

2/24/05 Possess Drug Paraphernalia
[25 days jail w/credit 8 days time served]

12/2/09 4:00pm Additional Info from the Court:
     While Judge Adams did give Mr. Hudson a $1000 bond she also put him on Home Confinement and GPS monitoring. He was issued a No contact order with the victim and told that if he violates it he will be brought back to OCJ with no bond at all. Further, he was ordered not to return to her residence and maintain a separate residence. The Judge advised him not to possess weapons or firearms and not to possess or consume alcohol beverages or illicit substances. He is also subject to random testing.
     I should also point out that the standard bond schedule on this offense is $500. Again, bond is designed to ensure that a defendant returns to court and the monitoring and other conditions would go towards ensuring the safety of the victim.

Update on the Dad in Seminole County "Debtor's Prison"

Judge Alan Dickey granted a request yesterday to lower the interest rate on the father's unpaid court costs to 5%. The father is still in Seminole County jail, serving his 90 day sentence for non-payment of his ex-wife's attorney fees. He will not be released until after Christmas.

For more info, see our previous blog posts:

10/13/09: Injustice in a Seminole County Courtroom
8/8/09: One Father's Victimization by the System

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Today's SWAT Standoff & Another "Injunction Dysfunction" Are Related

Last month, Judge Sally Kest presided over an injunction hearing that ended in the SWAT shooting of one of the parties, Palin Perez, today.

In her Petition for Injunction, the mother of his two children (ages 2 and 3), alleged Perez (Facebook photo below) had been abusive throughout their 4-yr relationship.

She wrote:
Mr. Perez has been violent, mentally, emotionally, verbally, and sexually abusive throughout our relationship. He has raped me . . . at least 4 times, laughing and calling me a whore. Also asking if I liked it. I cried the whole time. He has called me a slut, [expletive], whore, n . . .loving whore and bitch. He has threatened to take my life and even told me he would "cut my throat."

He has given me multiple black eyes and punched me in my head so hard and so many times I have migraine headaches. He has choked me and hit me during my pregnancy of my 3-year old.

I am in fear of my life scared that Mr. Perez will find me. I am afraid to go anywhere especially alone. I have a 911 phone, but I do not feel safe.

He was my boyfriend for the last 4 years and we have 2 children together. During the course of our relationship I wasn't allowed (per order of Mr. Perez) to leave the house at all! I wasn't allowed to have any communication with anyone. I wasn't allowed to have a phone or seek therapy. I could not look at any men, even on TV that made Mr. Perez feel [indecipherable] about himself.

Soon (2 months) after Mr. Perez and I began our relationship I found out that Mr. Perez had Domestic Violence issues (pending) with his ex-wife. I then found police reports and other papers explain what he did to her and realized he was doing the same to me. He was arrested and charged with Attempted Murder and Assault on his ex-wife, but it appears that it was continued without a finding.
CourtWatch monitored the first hearing over which Judge Kest presided on Wednesday, October 7, 2009. The Respondent (Perez) failed to appear when the case was called at 10:09 AM (it was on the docket for 9:30 AM). After the Petitioner briefly testified about the situation, Judge Kest granted a 6 month injunction, ordered $362/mo in temporary child support, and supervised visitation through Family Ties. The hearing concluded at 10:17 AM and the Petitioner left soon thereafter, with her injunction paperwork in hand.

At that point, the only fault we could possibly find was that the injunction was only granted for 6 months.

Fast forward to later that morning.

Mr. Perez arrived about an hour later and claimed he had been present but had not been called for his hearing. As one who has spent many hours on the 16th floor of the courthouse, I find his claim to lack credibility. If he had reported to the room he was instructed to, and at the time he was instructed to arrive, court personnel would have made certain he was in the hearing.

Here's where Judge Kest blew it.

Instead of telling Mr. Perez to file a motion to request a re-hearing, she cancelled the injunction she had just granted to the Petitioner and told him to return the following afternoon at 1:00 PM for a hearing.

When the parties returned the next afternoon, they had to wait for all the other cases to be heard first (Thursday afternoon is devoted to hearings that require Spanish interpreters). When the case was finally heard at 4:21 PM, the Petitioner's attorney attempted to introduce testimony about Perez's attempted murder case from another jurisdiction, but Judge Kest refused to consider it. Perez allegedly got those teardrop tattoos on his face while serving time in prison for that assault.

In addition to the above petition  against him, Mr. Perez (6'1" and 280 lbs) had filed an injunction a few days earlier on behalf of his two children, claiming that Ms. S (5'2" and 130 lbs) had been behaving erratically, had physically assaulted him, broken things, and threatened to kill him and to commit suicide with a knife. Police were called and she was Baker Acted. Her petition was filed after her release from Lakeside.

At the hearing on October 8th, Judge Kest granted a 1-year injunction, but no longer required supervised visits through Family Ties. In fact, Judge Kest also granted custody of the children to Mr. Perez  and only weekend visits for the mother.
Three weeks later, Perez filed an affadavit stating that Ms. S had violated the injunction by driving by his home, making harrassing phone calls, and alleged that his 3-year old daughter had been exposed to improper sexual behavior by her mother and her new boyfriend.
At the hearing for the alleged violations on November 20, 2009 Judge Theotis Bronson dismissed the charges.
Mr. Perez apparently realized he was not able to control the situation further, the Court system having thrown gasoline on the fire, and he took Ms. S and the children hostage shortly thereafter - holding them for 4 days until she was able to escape this morning.

The act of a desperate man? Undoubtedly.

Suicide by Cop? Maybe.
Whether or not this situation could have been averted will be the subject of a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking by law enforcement, court personnel, DCF, and domestic violence advocates. I'm just relieved that the children and their mother were not injured or killed.

Now for our two cents about Judge Kest's performance on the injunction court bench:

CourtWatch has sent our concerns about Judge Kest to her and to those above her in the past. Our concerns, thus far, do not seem to have been addressed. So we'll share them with you.

CourtWatch volunteers have consistently noted that Judge Kest is often disrespectful to the parties in her courtroom, speaks condescendingly to them, and seems to expect them to know the legal procedures for presenting their case (in spite of the fact they rarely have an attorney to represent them).  She conducts hearings in a manner that suggests that getting it done fast is more important that getting it done thoroughly - often failing to to elicit additional testimony that would be pertinent to the case and failing to cover all the issues (child support/visitation, property retrieval) that need resolution.

After 11 months hearing injunction cases, she should be doing a better job for the citizens of Orange County.

12/11/09: More information in the Sentinel about this case.

Protecting or Re-Victimizing a Victim?

Judge Marc Lubet heard a request last Friday from the victim of Charles Allen Ford (pictured here), convicted in July of Aggravated Battery (Great Bodily Harm). Ford was also initially charged with Burglary of Dwelling with Assault/Battery and Battery after a particularly gruesome assault on his victim with a hammer, but those charges were dropped in exchange for the plea.

In monitoring this case, CourtWatch saw how truly difficult a judge's job can be - trying to balance the requirements of the Law against the often opposing wishes of the victim. Ford's victim repeatedly told the State that she wanted to prosecute and told Defense Counsel that she wanted to drop charges. Ultimately, because both sides were convinced of what she had told them, Judge Lubet issued a Material Witness Warrant in June to have her picked up and to testify in court as to what her real position was. Click here for more info.

When she first appeared before the judge, she affirmed her desire to testify on behalf of the State and the judge released her. She then failed to appear for trial, and a second warrant was issued. This time Judge Lubet had her held at the jail. Only after Mr. Ford knew that his victim was in custody and was prepared to testify, did he accept the State's plea offer of 4 years in the Department of Corrections.

It is important to note that this was not Ford's first assault on an intimate partner. He has had several other women (5 or 6 I believe) whom have been victimized by him but who have been intimidated into dropping charges.

Is this re-victimizing the victim by incarcerating her and charging her for costs of investigation? Yes.

Is it also doing what was necessary to uphold the Law and make a batterer be accountable for his actions? Yes.

Is it the judge's responsibility to protect the victim against making bad choices that could lead to her being in a position to be assaulted or even killed? You tell me.

The result of Friday's hearing? Judge Lubet denied the victim's request to visit Mr. Ford while he is incarcerated for the next four years. He told her that he would not be party to permitting Ford to continue to victimize her.

CourtWatch likes to see perpetrators held accountable for their crimes, particularly as it relates to repeat offenders and we commend the judge for doing precisely that. But we don't like seeing victims re-victimized by the justice system.

In spite of the expenses incurred in tracking her down, CourtWatch thinks the Court should waive the costs of investigation in this matter. If Ford is/was financially supporting her, having this added financial burden continues to make her feel dependent upon him and his family, thereby making it more difficult for her to make a break from them.

Was this justice? How would you have handled the case?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

One Down, One to Go - The Shannon Burke Saga

Shannon Burke's plea deal in Seminole County on November 20th doesn't surprise me in the least. In the nearly three years I've been courtwatching, I've seen hundreds of cases either dropped or have minimal sentences when the victim does not want to help prosecutors hold their batterers accountable for breaking the law.

Believe it or not, his sentence is more severe than most. And it focuses on his assault to the dog (breed is pictured here), not on his treatment of his wife. Click here to review the evidence photos.

Catherine Burke was initially gung-ho about prosecuting her husband. But as is often the case, he is working very hard to redeem himself in her (as well as the public's) eyes, and she has decided to give him a second chance. It is a terribly difficult thing for those who've never walked in the shoes of a victim of domestic violence to comprehend - particularly when she almost lost her life. But as a survivor myself, I understand the numerous factors that go into influencing victims to give their partner another chance.

To recap, Burke pled to one count of Using a Firearm While Under the Influence of Alcohol and one count of Animal Cruelty. The charge of violating the conditions of pretrial release on the domestic violence case was dropped. He will be required to serve 6 months in jail (he must turn himself in by December 31st to begin serving), 3 years probation, and 100 hours of community service at an animal shelter. In addition to continuing his current counseling, Burke must attend one AA meeting each week and complete a firearm safety class.

All in all, it's a good sentence for a first-time offense (though there was another similar offense of discharging a firearm with a different woman for which he was never arrested). It's much tougher than most I see (which is a sad testament about our criminal justice system). Most first-timers have adjudication withheld, which means that if they successfully complete their probation, they are not considered a convicted felon.

I am disappointed, however, that the State did not require him to complete the 26 week Batterer's Intervention Program. The counseling he is currently doing will hopefully deal with the issues of power & control.

I am also disappointed that Judge Marlene Alva will permit Burke to participate in the Work Release Program if he qualifies. I hope his new radio gig, where he has bought his own air time, does not qualify as a "job" for Work Release purposes.

One down.

One to go.

Burke is scheduled for his Violation of Probation hearing on a 2007 DUI charge in Orange County next month. There are two hearing dates set - 12/4 and 12/14 - and we're not certain yet exactly when it'll happen. But we'll be keeping a watchful eye on it.

By the way, once it was all over in court on Friday, did anyone notice the Sentinel mention that Shannon asked his wife to fix him meatloaf for dinner Friday night? Seems to me he's the one that ought to be fixing dinner for her after all that he put her through.

Whatever Happened to . . . ? (#3)

Wade Edwards
2009-CF-015215-O Bond Motion held 11/5/09 Judge Tim Shea
Charged with Attempted 2nd degree murder
Defendant allegedly shot his 16-yr old daughter's 18-yr old boyfriend in the rear when he caught them having sex.
$50,000 bond was set; no trial date yet

Jose L Torres
2009-CF-008384-O Judge Jenifer Davis
Charged with Causing Bodily Injury During Felony; Possess Firearm by Convicted Felon; Shooting from Vehicle w/in 1000' of a person; Leave Scene of Accident w/Injuries
Defendant allegedly struck 2 children with his car and attempted to shoot their father after he confronted defendant for hitting the children
11/19/09: Affidavit of Violation of Conditions of Release (GPS) was filed, now being held on NO BOND status

Loc Buu Tran
2006-CF-014820-O In custody since 10/19/06 ~ Trial now scheduled for 11/16/09 with Judge John Adams
1st Degree Murder. Allegedly stabbed a UCF student to death 10/06 when she tried to break up with him. Also was convicted 8 years ago in Clearwater for rape. Mistrial was declared 8/12/09 after Judge Jenifer Davis realized during the first witness' testimony that she had worked on the case when in the PD's office.
Why can't we seem to get this guy tried?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What's your verdict?

Posted by WESH News on 3/1/09:

Man Shoots Girlfriend In Back At Least 5 Times, Police Say
Mother Of 4 Shot, Killed In Orange Co. Condominium

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Police said a man told them he shot his girlfriend in the back because he was mad at her on Sunday.

Dwayne Grant, 29, was charged with first-degree murder.
Family members said Grant shot his girlfriend five or six times in the back at unit 2355 in the Huntington on the Green condominiums.

Randy Bowles said his niece, 28-year-old Rahmisha Oliver, had a 3-month-old child. Bowles said he was only feet away from Oliver when she was shot.

"He stood right here, and I was standing right here by the dryer," he said.

Bowles said Grant and Oliver were arguing, and then Grant snapped.

"When she got shot the first time, she was trying to come this way," he said. "He was coming this way. When she tried to turn around, he was still shooting. That's when she fell right here and he kept shooting at her."

There are five spots on the tile floor where bullets ricocheted and then hit a wall.

Crime scene investigators removed part of the wall so that they could get to the bullets.

Bowles said he grabbed a knife from the kitchen and chased Grant outside.

Police found Grant hiding behind a bush 30 feet away from Oliver's apartment.

"She was a very friendly, nice person," said neighbor Sue Walden.

Neighbors said Oliver was a good mother to her four children, but her relationship with Grant was violent. He has a criminal history including a charge for abusing her when she was pregnant.

Bowles said Oliver's mother is going to adopt her four children and they are moving to South Carolina.
Grant was in court today, before Judge Jenifer Davis, on trial for First Degree Murder with a firearm. Evidence presented during trial showed that the defendant discharged his gun 8 times - emptying all rounds from the magazine - during the incident. His attorney, Tanya Terry, conceded that he pulled the trigger and argued that they went to trial because there was no premeditation involved. Something happened to make him "snap" during his argument with Oliver over the paternity of her 3-month old daughter.

Testimony at trial showed that Grant went upstairs, retrieved his gun, went downstairs, chambered a round, and aimed it at Oliver before firing it at her, all within a matter of moments. Assistant State Attorney Ken Lewis argued that his actions showed conscious intent and were not a spur of the moment act. Oliver's uncle, Randy Bowles, was on the line with 911 during the shooting and the jury listened to multiple gunshots as they were fired and his niece's life ended.

Ms. Terry attempted to convince the jury that her client suddenly "snapped" and that his actions were not premeditated. Mr. Lewis argued that they were indeed premeditated.

What's your verdict?

Jury deliberations will continue Wednesday. I'll keep you posted.

11/18/09: The defendant was sentenced to LIFE in the Department of Corrections.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Every Day is a Gift

Even though this case doesn't fall into the usual category of cases we follow, CourtWatch was sufficiently appalled after John Hill Hawthorne, age 19, (pictured here) was released on home confinement by Judge John Adams soon after his arrest. Hawthorne is accused in the July murder that involved over a dozen pocket-knife stab wounds in the back of Joel Boner, a homeless man who allegedly flirted with the defendant. Hawthorne had reportedly been drinking all night before coming upon Boner's camp near his parents' 20-acre property in Ocoee.

Click here to see the earlier post.

Mr. Hawthorne was in court Friday before Chief Judge Belvin Perry, who took the case after Judge Adam's earlier ruling. Hawthorne was requesting the opportunity to go outside his parents' home in order to "get some sun" and help cultivate the acreage into a hay farm.

When Hawthorne's father, Milton Claude Hawthorne testified, he couldn't seem to remember whether or not the family was going to clear the old, overgrown orange grove in order to plant hay or sod. When he finally seemed to recollect that they were growing hay, he was sketchy about what that entailed. He mentioned that they had been trying to get it established since last December. He testified that having John do the work would give him the opportunity to earn some money as well. The elder Hawthorne was also evasive when Judge Perry asked who had mowed the grass around the home prior to the incident, claiming that he, John, and his wife took turns doing it. His son was a much better witness on the stand than he was.

Assistant State Attorney Ken Lewis presented Detective Inizzuzi, who testified that there was no visible evidence of any cultivation work being done. She also testified that Cameron Milner, eyewitness to the murder, had lived with the Hawthorne family earlier in the year, and had no knowledge of his friend having responsibility for chores of any kind.

Mr. Lewis effectively painted a picture of a young defendant who has accomplished nothing of value in his life - having been expelled from school, was unemployed, and was drinking alcohol while driving an ATV on his family's property that fateful night. The victim's family was represented by his uncle, Lon Boner, who found it extremely objectionable that Hawthorne might be permitted to come within a few yards of the murder site. He also testified that the family did not know about the bond hearing earlier, or else he would have attended (he is the closest family member and lives in Georgia).

In his final argument, Defense Counsel Charles Willetts asserted that even inmates at the jail get to go outside for sun. He claimed that his client was merely defending himself (something I find hard to believe given the fact that Mr. Boner had over a dozen stab wounds in his back), and that Hawthorne's request is a reasonable one.

In his final argument, Assistant State Attorney Ken Lewis must have read my mind when he offered that the State would have no problem with Mr. Hawthorne serving the rest of his pretrial release at the jail. He emphatically reminded the defendant that every day of the past 3+ months that he's been on home confinement have been a gift. After all, the victim can't have any modification of his situation.

The ruling?

Judge Perry ruled that Hawthorne could have 1 hour a day (the same as inmates at the jail) outdoors. He is to be limited to a radius of 50 yards from the home and must schedule his hour with the home confinement officer. 

We can only hope the defendant's parents give him some chores to do.

Whatever happened to . . . ?

State v. Thomas Maroney
False Imprisonment; Battery
Maroney was a Sergeant with the Ocoee Police Department when he allegedly assaulted a woman at a party in July, 2008 by spanking her with a belt. He pled no contest to the false imprisonment and battery charges and the State dropped the Sexual Battery charge. Adjudication was withheld and he was sentenced to 1 year probation and required to permanently surrender his law enforcement certification in March, 2009.

Maroney was in court on 11/13/09 to request early termination of probation (having served 8 months of his 12 month sentence). Defense Counsel Mark Lippman argued that his phone-in status probation is not a good use of State resources, that he has successfully completed 2/3 of his sentence, and that his previous record as a law enforcement officer should speak for itself.

Assistant State Attorney William Busch concurred (to a certain extent), adding that having phone-in probation is not a hardship, agreeing that he has been successful thus far, and noting that a similar incident with a female cadet, the subject of an Internal Affairs investigation, also spoke for itself.

The "slap on the wrist" sentence he got in this case was at the victim's request because she did not want to testify.

Judge Jenifer Davis, after (in our opinion unnecessarily) congratulating him for being successful thus far, re-iterated that there was to be no contact with the victim, told him he would have to complete the full 12 months, and permitted him to transfer his probation to another county.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Three Co-Defendants, Four Wasted Lives

As reported in the Sentinel on September 14, 2007....

Morgan Willis may have died because he wouldn't get off the phone.

His nephew and a nephew's friend beat, kicked and stabbed him, cut his throat, then urinated on him -- all because he was tying up the line when the nephew was waiting for a call from his girlfriend, according to the Orange County Sheriff's Office.

Jerry Allen Henry, age 22, was sentenced today in the 2007 murder of his uncle, Morgan Willis (age 37), to 40 years in prison as part of a plea that involved two other cases (a felony battery and a violation of probation for a theft charge).

When Assistant State Attorney Les Hess gave the factual basis for the plea, he indicated that Henry and his two co-defendants beat Willis to death after their initial attack on him because they feared going to jail for having assaulted him.

In addition to being stabbed and having his neck slashed, the victims beat Willis' head with an axe handle wrapped in a bicycle chain. His body was buried near his home in a shallow grave and was undiscovered for several months.

Mr. Hess did not seem as on top of things with this case as we usually see him in the courtroom. The sentencing scoresheet needed two corrections (in fact, a driver's license offense that was incorrectly attributed to the defendant was deleted because he was 10 years old at the time). Mr. Hess also had to ask Judge Bob LeBlanc to repeat the sentence on the Violation of Probation case before him.

The soonest Mr. Henry will be able to leave prison (with gain time for good behavior) will be after he has served 34 years. That's a long time for someone who feared going to jail.

Co-defendant James Hollriegel, age 19, (pictured here) is expected to testify against the third co-defendant, Francis Fowler, who is awaiting extradition from Canada.

Three young lives lost to incarceration. And a fourth life to the grave.

Defendant Sentences Himself to Death

Last week, three CourtWatchers monitored the three day trial of Pedro Antuna, who was charged with seven counts of Sexual Activity w/Child, one count Lewd/Lascivious Conduct, and five counts of Lewd/Lascivious Battery over the course of 6 years beginning mid-2000.
Mr. Antuna was clean-shaven with a neat haircut and well dressed with a suit and tie, as though to project the message that someone so “put together” could not have committed the heinous acts for which he was on trial.

Our volunteers were impressed with the grace of the eldest victim (who is now an adult) as she testified. In addition to being thoroughly prepared, Assistant State Attorney Ryan Williams was the epitome of a gentleman as he led the victim through the ordeal of telling a room full of strangers about the embarrassing and disgraceful acts she was forced to endure at the hands of the defendant. Defense Counsel Melissa Stockham's cross examination of the victim was nothing short of horrendous in the way she treated this young lady.

Stockham was condescending and repeatedly asked why she didn’t say anything about the abuse even after the defendant was removed from the home and their parents' divorce proceedings were underway. She kept asking questions over and over again in various ways trying to get different answers and/or cause the victim to give conflicting answers - making comments such as “well which is it?” “is it your contention?” “you don’t remember?” Stockham implied that because the victims called the defendant "Dad" even while the abuse was happening, that such abuse not must have occurred if they kept calling him Dad.

The oldest victim maintained her composure under both direct and cross-examination. She testified that throughout the many years she was subjected to the defendant's assaults, she complied because she was attempting to protect her younger sisters from being victimized. As is so often the case, it was only after the defendant was no longer in the home did the victim feel safe to disclose the abuse once she suspected a younger sister had also been assaulted.

She testified that Mr. Antuna had two sides to his personality but was a good Dad to her younger siblings and provided a stable home.  She also believed that she was the only victim in the home. The defense attorney attempted to put blame on a younger sibling for not saying anything when she once witnessed the eldest victim on one occasion run from the bedroom (where all the assaults occurred) holding her pants up - expecting that the younger child should ask the victim what had happened and try to help.

In response to repeated questions from the defense attorney as to why the victim never confided to anyone about the abuse she stated, “It’s hard to walk around with an ‘I’ve been raped sign’ on my forehead,” and “I didn’t expect to be raped my whole childhood.”

One of the things I find most aggravating is that defense attorneys in these cases seem expect children to react to situations in the same manner as an adult would be expected to behave. And they're made to feel guilty for not trying to stop their caretaker - a bigger, stronger, adult who wields incredible power over their lives - from abusing them or another family member.

It is the fear of encountering such treatment that keeps victims from being willing to prosecute in these cases.

On the second day of trial, Antuna attempted to delay the trial by asking to fire his attorney. Judge Lubet told him he was free to do so, but that the trial would continue.
That night he attempted suicide by hanging himself while in custody at the jail. He was transported to the hospital.
The judge determined that since the defendant voluntarily did not attend court, case law permitted the trial to continue.  The trial concluded on Friday and the jury rendered a verdict of guilty of all thirteen counts. Sentencing was scheduled for January.
Mr. Antuna succumbed to his injuries and passed away on Saturday.
As someone who was victimized by a loved one who committed suicide, I suspect the victims in this case will feel a combination of sadness, anger, relief and gratitude. Sad that the person they loved came to such a tragic end. Angry that they don't get to see him pay for what he did (though I suspect he is now paying dearly). Relief that the ordeal is over. And gratitude that this abuser can never hurt them again.
I hope they learn that forgiving does not mean that they have to agree that what he did was ok. Forgiving is merely letting go of the bitterness, anger, and other negative feelings one has and allowing God to take care of the situation as He sees fit. Forgiving is the best way to quit being a victim and to start being a survivor and to truly thrive.

The Lisa Nowak Media Frenzy

I think the general consensus after today's hearing is that all parties concerned are glad it's over. The victim, the judge, reporters, and most especially, the defendant. The saga that began with Lisa Nowak's arrest on February 5, 2007 ended with a packed courtroom and a sentence of 1 year probation nearly 3 years after the offense.

As we waited outside the courtroom, not even the prosecutors nor the defendant could gain entry until the appointed time. Nowak had to retreat to a private waiting area while the cameras followed her like a cat stalks its prey. I couldn't imagine having that much attention focused on me and I felt a measure of sympathy for her in that moment.

I sat smushed between two reporters and directly behind Colleen Shipman, feeling a bit like a media vulture myself. Originally charged with Burglary of a Dwelling with Assault or Battery, Attempted Kidnapping with Intent to Inflict Harm/Terror with a Weapon, and Battery, the defendant pled to the lesser included offense of Burglary of a Conveyance (5 year maximum penalty) and the misdemeanor Battery (1 year maximum). The State dropped the Attempted Kidnapping charge.

In listening to Ms. Shipman recount Ms. Nowak's behavior - I was perplexed as to why the State did not charge Aggravated Stalking (which carries a possible 5 year penalty). The facts of the case certainly seemed to support such a charge. The victim testified about her fear that Nowak intended to kill her in the parking lot. Nowak had thoroughly researched murder, corpse dismemberment, disguises, and trace evidence prior to the offense. Several weeks before that night at the airport, Nowak entered Astronaut William Oelefein's apartment without his permission, stole Shipman's personal information (address, phone, email) as well as her travel itinerary. She assembled a number of items to be used as weapons in confronting Shipman. Nowak drove to Florida, paid cash along the way, used an assumed name and wore a disguise in order to avoid having a record of her presence here. She followed the victim for several hours while at the airport and subsequently tracked her to her car. The victim, who prior to the incident had never met Nowak, thought she was going to be killed or carjacked.

Sounds like stalking to me.

Defense Counsel Donald Lykkebak asked Judge Marc Lubet to treat his client just like anyone else who pled to the identical offenses (Burglary of Conveyance + Battery). I would have to say the Judge Lubet did exactly that. This was a first offense, and judges routinely withhold adjudication on first offenses. I must state that it's a sad commentary that our system allows one "freebie" in terms of one's record for a felony conviction. A misdemeanor maybe. But if you plead to a felony there ought to be a criminal record.  Nowak was initially charged with Attempted Murder, although the State declined to proceed on that charge - likely because Nowak's pre-Miranda statements and some evidence were suppressed as a result of police misconduct.

Assistant State Attorney Pam Davis emphatically argued that this is not like your usual Burglary of a Conveyance case and recounted Nowak's numerous stalking behaviors. I agree. So why did the State agree to the plea? I ask again, why wasn't she charged with Aggravated Stalking?

In addition to 1 year's probation, the judge sentenced Nowak to 50 hours of community service. She is permitted to "buy out" her hours at the rate of $10/hour. As a side note, CourtWatch believes this practice unfairly benefits defendants who have the financial resources to avoid having to actually do community service and would like to see the practice eliminated.

She was ordered to have no contact with either Shipman or Oelefein, to write a sincere letter of apology, pay restitution, and to complete an 8-hour anger management course. She is permitted to transfer probation to Texas and must obtain the consent of her probation officer prior to traveling.

Judge Lubet commented that he has no sympathy whatsoever about the impact this case has on her Naval career and retirement, stating "You've brought this all on yourself."

To the best of my knowledge, the man at the center of all this, Bill Oelefein, has never been called upon to testify in open court.

In addition to the apology letter to Shipman, Ms. Nowak ought to consider sending a thank you note to the OPD for botching the case.

Both parties have paid a high price for Nowak's assault. Now that they no longer have the spectre of this case hanging over their heads, I hope the media leaves them alone to heal and get on with their lives.

To watch the complete hearing, click here.

Sentinel photo gallery
Case Synopsis