Articles Posted in Violent Crimes

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Darth Vader of Death Star, Space, 45 years old, was indicted last week in the Middle District of Florida for allegedly violating the RICO act, Conspiracy, Committing Acts of Terrorism Transcending National Boundaries, Murder, loitering and prowling, and finally, wearing a mask on a public way. Mr. Vader has long been thought to be a vital cog in the “Dark Side” organization but has to date avoided capture or criminal charge, instead going unscathed while various ranking storm trooper underlings faced a variety of criminal charges including trespass and drunk and disorderly conduct. While the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United States Attorney’s Office have remained tight-lipped with respect to the evidence against Vader, many believe this could be it for the Dark Lord.

While it may seem to many a slam-dunk to earn a conviction against Mr. Vader, Mr. Vader’s legal counsel doesn’t think so. When asked, Mr. Vader’s lead defense counsel, Tampa criminal attorney Jason Mayberry indicated that while it may indeed be more difficult to defend against the loitering and prowling charge, it may prove to be an uphill battle in proving the terrorism charge, given a lack of eyewitnesses to Mr. Vader himself ordering or committing any act of terrorism under 18 USC 2332b. With respect to a potential conspiracy charge under 18 USC 371, Mayberry points out that there are no known remaining witnesses to attest that there was agreement to achieve an unlawful objective, that Mr. Vader knowingly and voluntarily participated in the conspiracy, and that Mr. Vader committed an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy. United States v. Brenson, 104 F.3d 1267 (11th Cir. 1997); United States v. Suba, 132 F.3d 662 (11th Cir. 1998); United States v. Hansen, 262 F3d 1217 (11th Cir. 2001).

As to a murder charge for the death of Obi-Wan “Ben” Kenobi, Mayberry cites a claim for self-defense within one’s home. According to Mayberry, “it appears clear that Mr. Kenobi entered Mr. Vader’s home with the intent to use deadly force against him. It was Mr. Kenobi who was committing the crime of burglary against Mr. Vader, who was simply using deadly force to defend himself and his friends against the deadly force planned against him by Mr. Kenobi and his lightsaber. Furthermore, there appears to be an argument for a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction in the middle district.” To Mayberry’s point, there are no known treaties between the United States and the Death Star, nor does there appear to be any enabling statutes, akin to the United States Coast Guard patrolling international waters for narcotics, in effect. A quick review of past police reports find that Obi-Wan Kenobi does have a history of brutally attacking Darth Vader leading to severe injury.

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Ah, the wonderful world of divorce and the precipitating domestic violence allegations that often accompany it. While not an uncommon crime, allegations occurring 6,834 times in Pinellas County last year and 6,387 times in Hillsborough County according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Crime Report statistics, what is rare is to have an incident on video. This is just such an example for Pinellas County resident Corinne Novak who stands accused of domestic battery against her unnamed husband for allegedly grabbing his crotch during a time-sharing exchange of their two children. On video, a hand alleged to be Ms. Novak’s is seen blasting into view and appearing to intrude in her unnamed husband’s genital region, against his will as indicated by his reaction, also caught on video. While this fact alone presents a considerable issue for even the most seasoned criminal attorney, her statement immediately after the alleged grabbing of her husband to “call the police” and that she’s “going to tell them that you (her husband) just assaulted me (Ms. Novak)” could circumstantially throw away any legitimate argument she had.

While not yet formally charged through information of any crime, Ms. Novak is accused of domestic battery and in some capacity violating the conditions of her initial pretrial release. Domestic battery in Florida is nothing more than an allegation of battery against a family or household member. A battery in this case would be proven if the State Attorney can show beyond a reasonable doubt that Ms. Novak intentionally touched or struck the unnamed husband against his will or alternatively if it can be shown beyond a reasonable doubt that Ms. Novak intentionally caused bodily harm to the unnamed husband. Ms. Novak, while still technically married to the unnamed husband, is a spouse and thus considered a family or household member thereby satisfying the domestic enhancement in this charge. So what difference does it make if a battery case is considered domestic in nature?

When a simple battery is ramped up to a domestic battery, the direct and collateral penalties/consequences become more severe. Initially, if your battery is considered domestic in nature, you will not receive a schedule bond and must see a Judge at a first appearance/advisory in order to have pretrial release conditions considered. As a general rule, if one stands accused of a domestic battery and the alleged victim desires for the case to move forward, there is a strong likelihood that the accused will have a no contact order placed against him or her and will not be able to contact the alleged victim, often their children if the circumstances are relevant for this, and will not be able to return to the shared residence. Under Florida Statute 741.283 if the accused is convicted and there is a showing that bodily harm was inflicted upon the victim, a five-day minimum mandatory jail sentence will be imposed. Even if a plea is entered and a withhold of adjudication is imposed, because the domestic battery is an act of domestic violence as described in Florida Statute 741.28, the record will never be permitted to be sealed or expunged. Under Florida Statute 790.06 if one pleas to a domestic battery or domestic violence related charge, that person’s concealed carry license will be revoked and the individual must go three years from the time is completed before he or she will be considered for a new concealed carry permit.

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Music producer and professional subject of controversy Suge Knight is back in hot water after being accused of a deadly hit and run in California. As so often is the case in a criminal trial, video of an alleged incident can be a crucial piece of evidence for the prosecution, defense, or both. In the video Knight appears to partially pull into a parking lot where he is confronted by a man known as Cle “Bone” Sloan. After what appears to be a scuffle, Knight backs his truck out of the parking lot and then accelerates forward, running over Sloan in addition to another man on the scene named Terry Carter. Sloan survived, Carter did not. Knight faces murder charges in California and the video of the incident may well have a significant impact on his trial.

While California law will vary from Florida, it is likely that Knight’s charges will be very similar to what he would face had his actions been committed in Florida. In addressing the most serious allegation only, Knight would likely be charged with second degree murder were his case situated in Florida. Second degree murder occurs when there is an unlawful killing of a human being when committed via act imminently dangerous to another with a depraved mind, lacking any real concern for human life but lacking the premeditation required for a first degree murder charge. While it is arguable the State could move forward on a first degree murder charge, it is unlikely premeditation was present. One could argue had premeditation been present, Knight would have just hit the individuals immediately upon his arrival at the scene rather than stop to speak. As to second degree murder, the charge will hinge on whether his actions in accelerating forward were done with a depraved mind, lacking a concern for human life.

So does the video lock the case down for the prosecution on a murder charge? Having dealt with similar issues, there is perhaps more to be told. No doubt Knight’s criminal attorney will point to Sloan appearing to attack Knight when the truck initially stopped at the scene. This would support an initial self-defense argument in that Knight was not the instigator of the physical contact. As we can see Knight’s truck then backs up, only to lunge forward, hitting the men. After some elapsed time a man runs over to Sloan and appears to take something from him. If it can be shown that this was a weapon (specifically a gun), Knight’s actions could be argued to have been in self-defense. Even if the item taken isn’t recovered, there is still room for argument by the defense. So what do we make of the car that travelled down the road Knight initially backed into, almost immediately after Knight’s truck lunged forward? The prosecutor will argue that this is evidence of a clear path allowing for Knight’s safe escape from a compromised situation. Was it really though? Knight’s criminal lawyer may argue that the car was accelerating away from the scene after being behind Knight. Depending on the actions of those in the car, Knight may have feared for his life in attempting to navigate his way from the scene in an alternate capacity than what he did. Regardless of the outcome of the trial, in my opinion this video will be a focal point of the trial and will be used by both the prosecutor and Knight’s criminal defense team. Time will tell as to who the jury agrees with.

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A St. Louis County grand jury chose not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of St. Louis teen Michael Brown. After nearly three months, the grand jury comprised of seven men and five women, nine white and three black heard evidence from 60 witnesses and met 25 times. St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney William P. McCulloch cited inconsistent witness testimony, thereby making it difficult to present a clear picture of what occurred in the 90-second confrontation between Officer Wilson and Mr. Brown. The grand jury considered charges ranging from first-degree murder to involuntary manslaughter, all before failing to find that probable cause was established to return a true bill of indictment to charge Officer Wilson.

To lead in, any loss of life is tragic. No one wins in this situation. A young man lost his life, his parents lost a son, and a police officer has possibly lost a career and will have to live with the fact that he had to use lethal force while on the job. In this case, at least from what was visible, due process was performed and the grand jury failed to return a true bill of indictment after having been presented with a considerable amount of evidence over a very long period of time. Article I, Section 16 of Missouri’s Constitution requires that 9 of 12 members on a grand jury find that there is probable cause that a crime has been committed in order to return a true bill of indictment.

Unlike a standard jury trial, a grand jury is performed without the presence of a criminal defense attorney and the proceeding is not open as a standard trial is. Using the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure (“FRCP”) as a guide can better explain how a typical grand jury system works. Though there is no enumerated quorum for a grand jury to convene, FRCP 6(a)(1) requires between 16 and 23 members of a grand jury in order for the grand jury proceeding to move forward. In a grand jury proceeding a Prosecutor will call witnesses and present evidence before the panel in an effort to prove by a probable cause standard (more probable than not) that a crime has been committed. Unlike a jury trial, these proceedings are conducted in secret with the only individuals present being government attorneys, the witness being questioned, a court reporter, and possibly a translator. FRCP 6(d)(1). There is no defense attorney to represent the accused’s interest or to make timely objections to otherwise inadmissible evidence. For instance, it is proper to present hearsay evidence to a grand jury. United States v. Calandra, 414 U.S. 338 (1974). Of course the hope is that the Prosecutor is ethical enough to vet the garbage hearsay from that that is most assuredly reliable, if there is such a thing as reliable hearsay. Once all evidence has been presented, the grand jury retires to a deliberation room, much like a jury would in a jury trial, to determine whether enough of them believe probable cause has been established. In Missouri, had 9 of 12, or 75% of them believed probable cause was established, they would have returned a true bill of indictment. In the Federal system 12 jurors must believe probable cause is present to return a true bill of indictment. FRCP 6(f). If an indictment is issued it will likely be under seal until the defendant can be brought in to custody.
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Volusia County woman Angela Stoldt of Deltona is accused of stabbing her neighbor, James Sheaffer, in the eyes with an ice pick before strangling him to death in a cemetery. After the alleged murder, Ms. Stoldt is accused of taking Mr. Sheaffer’s corpse back to her kitchen where she is said to have dismembered his body, followed by her attempt to cremate the remains. After her cremation attempt failed, Ms. Stoldt is alleged to have simply throw his remaining body parts out with the trash. As one can imagine, Ms. Stoldt’s alleged attempt to dispose of the evidence failed, instead leading to her arrest on murder charges. Ultimately Ms. Stoldt was charged with murder, tampering with evidence, and abuse of a corpse.

According to news reports, Ms. Stoldt was originally charged with second-degree murder until a Grand Jury returned an indictment for first-degree murder on or around November 12, 2014. Unfortunately for Ms. Stoldt, when one is indicted for first-degree murder there is the ever present potential for the death penalty. As for both first and second-degree murder in Florida, it must be proven that 1) there is a death, and 2) the death was caused by the criminal act of the defendant. What differentiates the degrees of murder is the mental state element. For a first-degree murder charge to stick, the State Attorney must prove that the defendant killed the victim with premeditation as opposed to merely performing an act imminently dangerous to another with a depraved mind. In other words, a first-degree murder charge requires an intent with some thought rather than just going a bit crazy and acting like a madman. For Ms. Stoldt, if she did in fact gouge out Mr. Sheaffer’s eyes and then follow that up with choking him, it would be more difficult for her criminal lawyer say that a singular depraved act caused the death. Furthermore, the combination of acts would provide support for an argument that there was ample time for reflection, which in turn lends support for the State’s allegation of premeditation.
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Oscar Pistorius, renowned Paralympic sprinter was sentenced yesterday to five years in a South African prison for the shooting and killing of his then girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. Mr. Pistorius was found not guilty of a more serious murder charge he stood trial for earlier this year but was convicted of culpable homicide for shooting Ms. Steenkamp several times in the middle of the night in what Mr. Pistorius claims was self defense out of fear that one had intruded into his home. South African prosecutors argued for a minimum of 10 years as a prison sentence for Mr. Pistorius but were unsuccessful in their bid for the heavy handed punishment. Conversely, Mr. Pistorius’ defense team argued for community service hours and house arrest. Judge Thokozile Masipa seemingly split the difference the two sides were arguing for by imposing a five-year prison sentence of which only 10 months are expected to be served in the Kgosi Mampuru prison with the balance of his time to be served as a house arrest sentence, assuming the requisite negotiation with prison officials is successful.

All in all, despite how one may feel about the outcome of the Pistorius case, his lawyers appear to have done a fine job in their representation of Mr. Pistorius. As a threshold charge, Mr. Pistorius was charged with premeditated murder, a comparable charge to first-degree murder in Florida. As a general rule, a generic first degree murder charge requires proving the same elements as Florida’s first degree murder statute in that someone is dead, that death was caused by the actions of another, and those actions were premeditated. Premeditation means killing after a conscious decision to do so. The decision must be present in the mind at the time of the killing, however in Florida the law does not detail an exact period of time that must pass between the formation of the premeditated intent to kill and the actual killing. All that is needed is that time period be long enough to allow reflection by the killer and that the premeditated intent to kill is formed before the killing. The premeditation is almost always where first-degree murder charge fails, and based upon the facts of the Pistorius case, it is easy to see how there would be reasonable doubt of premeditation versus gross negligence or recklessness, both mindsets insufficient for a first-degree murder charge.
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Jeffersonville, Indiana man, Joseph A. Oberhansley, 33, is accused of murdering his girlfriend and ultimately eating portions of her corpse. Oberhansley was arrested last Thursday after police came to his girlfriend, Tammy Blanton’s home looking for her as she failed to show up for work. According to news sources, Oberhansley began acting suspicious when police questioned him as to Blanton’s whereabouts. Police observed a fresh cut across Oberhansley’s knuckles during their contact and then patted down Oberhansley for weapons, finding a knife in the accused’s back pocket full of hair and what appeared to be blood. Officers then combed Blanton’s home calling her name only to find her corpse under a vinyl camping tent in her bathtub. Her skull had been crushed from multiple sharp force trauma to her head, neck, and torso. As if things weren’t ugly enough, after an autopsy was performed it is noted that part of Ms. Blanton’s heart, lungs, and brain were missing. Bad for Mr. Oberhansley, the missing body parts will no doubt be used by Prosecutors to correlate with a dinner plate found in the home with what appeared to be skull and bone resting on it and a pair of cooking tongs with blood all over them. That said, it won’t help Mr. Oberhansley’s case that he admitted to police that he removed several of Blanton’s organs and ate them, both cooked and raw.

Ouch. Hard to say much more about this. Unless there is a golden nugget of information regarding this situation unknown at the time of this blog, this Tampa criminal attorney is of the opinion that Mr. Oberhansley is in a bit of trouble. As it stands, he will very likely be charged with Indiana’s first degree murder statute for a premeditated killing of Ms. Blanton. I can’t speak for Indiana but if this case were in Florida, the State would need to prove the following: 1) Ms. Blanton is dead. 2) The death was caused by the criminal act of Mr. Oberhansley, and 3) There was a premeditated killing of Ms. Blanton.

Though this is tragic, the strangest (and grossest) issue is the evidence of cannibalization of his girlfriend. Though Indiana doesn’t appear to have a statute on the books specifically dealing with cannibalism (neither does Florida though he would get charged with abuse of a dead human body against FS 872.06) he will be charged with abuse of a corpse. Again, were this in Florida the State would have to prove that Mr. Oberhansley mutilated, committed sexual abuse upon, or otherwise grossly abused the corpse of Ms. Blanton.
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Sunrise, Florida man, Khemraj Samlall told law enforcement he was only joking when he allegedly attempted to ignite gasoline that he “accidentally” spilled on his wife and her bed earlier this week. As a result of this claimed joke, Mr. Samlall is now facing felony charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon without the intent to kill. According to reports Mr. Samlall and his wife were arguing after Mr. Samlall came home drunk. Mrs. Samlall is thought to have told him he was a bad father for not spending enough time with his children, prompting Mr. Samlall to retrieve a red gas can from outside in order to dump the gasoline contents on his wife and her bed. Mr. Samlall claims his actions were nothing more than a joke and his attempt to convince her to leave him alone and in the process he accidentally spilled gasoline on her and her bed. He further claims that his attempt to light the gasoline with a lighter was merely a joke, without an intent to do any harm. As so often is the case with an allegation of domestic violence, after initially telling police that she feared her husband, Mrs. Samlall retracted her statement, telling a Judge that Mr. Samlall is a great guy and a good father to their children.

Hmm… Evidently they joke a little differently in south Florida. That said, I get it. Nagging wife, guy gets a little soused up at the bar with his rough riding buddy after watching his team get dominated by a lesser opponent. Times are tough and you come home and are met at the door by the Angry Bird that explodes upon impact. Mrs. Samlall was running hot when Khemraj rolled in. Tale as old as time. We’ve all been there. That said, I’m still not sure the old “dump an accelerant on her and watch her squirm as I strike a lighter” joke was totally appropriate. The knives may have taken it a bit too far as well. Get better Khemraj!!!

In all seriousness, the defense of “just kidding” probably isn’t going to cut it in this situation. Aside from the fact that this could have obviously killed his wife and burned his home to the ground, Mr. Samlall now faces extremely serious charges. Aggravated Assault is codified at Florida Statute 784.021 and is really nothing more than an upgraded assault. Defined, an aggravated assault with a deadly weapon charge in Florida is an intentional, unlawful threat by word or act to do violence to the person of another, coupled with an apparent ability to do so, and doing some act which creates a well-founded fear in such other person that such violence is imminent all while having in their possession a deadly weapon. In this case, where there is no firearm present Mr. Samlall will avoid a minimum mandatory sentence but does face the prospect of prison time, as his charge is a third degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
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Kosovo born and now Tampa Bay area resident Sami Osmakac was found guilty last week of the federal crime of attempting to use weapons of mass destruction and knowingly possessing a firearm not registered to him in the National Firearms and Transfer Record. Osmakac’s case received national attention in 2012 when he was indicted after posting videos on YouTube, declaring his intention to blow up highly populated Tampa areas including Hyde Park and Ybor City and then subsequently purchasing non-functioning weapons from undercover FBI agents. According to Tampa news reports, Osmakac claimed to want to set off a car bomb near Macdinton’s Irish Pub in south Tampa as he claimed the area of Macdinton’s is a stomping grounds for sinners and homosexuals. Osmakac cited revenge for the deaths of Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki as his rationale for his planned destruction. In spite of his Tampa Federal criminal lawyer’s argument at trial that Osmakac was an easy target for an overzealous law enforcement agency and that he was entrapped as a result, the Tampa federal jury came back guilty on both counts in the 2012 indictment.

While Osmakac wasn’t charged under a terrorism related statute, what he was indicted for is commonly used when one is suspected of committing or attempting to commit a terrorist act on American soil. Specifically a charge that one has attempted to use a weapon of mass destruction requires the Federal government to prove the following:

1. That the Defendant attempted to use a weapon of mass destruction against any person or property within the United States;

2. that the Defendant did not have lawful authority to use the weapon of mass destruction; and

3. the mail or any facility of interstate or foreign commerce was used to further the offense or the property was used in interstate or foreign commerce or in an activity that affects interstate or foreign commerce or any perpetrator traveled in or caused another to travel in interstate or foreign commerce to further the offense or the offense, or the results of the offense, affected interstate or foreign commerce or the offense would have affected interstate or foreign commerce.
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Meet Patricia Ann Jamison. Ms. Jamison was recently accused of the odd act of pooping in a courthouse elevator and subsequently arrested for the same event. According to a Huffington Post story, on March 7, 2013 security staff at the St. Lucie County Courthouse was notified that there was a mysterious pile of poop located in the corner area of a public elevator. When Security investigated this crime scene, to their dismay lay a steaming pile of pew poo thought to be left by a human animal. Security staff consulted security video of individuals coming in and out of the elevator in question and noticed that Ms. Jamison was the last to enter the elevator prior to the poo appearing and first to leave. Specifically and possibly the damning piece of the puzzle for her criminal lawyer to deal with, Jamison was witnessed before the elevator doors closed to “pull her pants down and back up toward the interior elevator buttons consistent with someone using the bathroom.” Ultimately when the elevator arrived on the first floor of the courthouse Ms. Jamison was witnessed “fixing her pants and pulling her shirt out of her pants as if she pulled her pants up over her shirt.” After she was alleged to have pooped in the elevator Ms. Jamison then made her way to her criminal defense attorney‘s office where she was ultimately identified based on her signing in to her attorney’s office.
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