Suspect Testifies Fear Kept Him Quiet at Slaying
He takes stand to dispute claims he planned to bury a Duval couple alive
By Paul Pinkham, The Times-Union
Saying he wanted to tell the truth, unrepentant murder defendant Michael James Jackson testified Friday he planned the robbery of a retired Jacksonville couple but had no idea his cohorts would kidnap and murder them.And when he saw them being buried alive and heard the wife moaning inside a remote pre-dug grave in Georgia, Jackson said he didn't try to stop it because he was afraid he would be next.
"I didn't kill nobody. I didn't kidnap anybody. I didn't plan that," Jackson, 24, told the jury hearing his first-degree murder case in the 2005 killings of Reggie and Carol Sumner, both 61 and disabled. He faces a possible death sentence if convicted.
Circuit Judge Michael Weatherby said jurors would begin deliberating Monday morning.
Jackson's testimony directly contradicted that of his co-defendant, Bruce Kent Nixon, who told jurors Thursday that Jackson planned the entire event, right down to how the Sumners would die and shoveled dirt on them. Nixon, 19, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, robbery and kidnapping after leading police to the bodies. He faces 52 years to life in prison.
Two other accused participants - 25-year-old Tiffany Ann Cole and 19-year-old Alan Lyndell Wade - are awaiting trial and face possible death sentences as well. Cole was Jackson's girlfriend and knew the Sumners, and Wade was a friend of Jackson and Nixon.
Jackson showed no emotion during more than an hour on the witness stand. He told jurors the robbery plan began after he and Cole spent the night at the couple's St. Nicholas home. The Sumners were former neighbors of Cole's stepfather and had recently sold her a car.
Jackson testified they noticed a lot of televisions and electronics, and Cole mentioned the couple had recently sold a condominium for $90,000.
"Tiffany said, 'I know them, I can get them comfortable,' and the idea of a robbery came up," Jackson testified.
Jackson said Wade gave him the Sumners' bank card and PIN number, and he continued to withdraw money for a week, even impersonating Reggie Sumner in a call to Jacksonville police. He testified because there was no evidence of a murder, he decided to get as much from the card as he could. None of the other participants wanted to use it, he said.
Jackson's testimony differed from statements he gave police that were played for the jury this week. In those statements, he initially denies being at the burial site, then admits he was there holding the flashlight. He also denied to police that he impersonated Reggie Sumner.
"It's tough to keep your stories straight," Chief Assistant State Attorney Jay Plotkin told him. He said Jackson knew he could get more out of the bank cards if the Sumners weren't alive to report the robbery.
"That's true," Jackson replied.
Plotkin also questioned Jackson about his plots to escape jail by attempting to buy an alibi and offering to pay his cell mate to switch wristbands.
"You're telling me you're going to kill me for something I didn't do, so I got to get out of here," Jackson said. "I'm afraid for my life right now."
In closing arguments Friday afternoon, Assistant State Attorney Alan Mizrahi told jurors even if they believe Jackson's testimony, he's still guilty under Florida's felony murder law, which says all participants in a felony that ends in a foreseeable death can be held equally responsible.
But Mizrahi said Jackson's control of the money shows he was in charge.
"We're asking you to convict this man because this man carefully, calmly planned and then carried out a shockingly evil and extremely wicked crime," Mizrahi argued.
Earlier Friday, court-appointed defense attorney Richard Kuritz presented two witnesses who testified a heavily drugged and intoxicated Nixon bragged at a party about killing an old couple and stealing their prescription drugs and money.
"He told me that he buried them people alive," Ellick Griffis said. "I really didn't believe him."
Kuritz told jurors the crux of Jackson's story has remained consistent. Kuritz continued to point the finger at Nixon as the one who elevated a simple robbery to murder.
"I would take Mr. Jackson and his phone calls any day as my client as opposed to a cold, calculated killer, bragging about killing," Kuritz said.
Judge: Child Molester Must Stay On Probation
JACKSONVILLE, Fl -A once-prominent man who was convicted five years ago of molesting three boys was back in court Tuesday, asking to be released from his probation. After hearing from the parents of his victims, that request was denied. Stephen Edmonds, 50, was seeking to be released from court supervision nine months early because of family issues. According to his attorney, Edmonds' brother passed away last year and his sister is sick.
But those representing the victims -- already unhappy that Edmonds served only one year in prison and received five years of probation -- told the judge that his punishment should not be shortened. "My son was 12 years old when Steve befriended him. He was our neighbor," one mother testified on Tuesday. "I almost encouraged my children to be around him. I feel like I gave him my children on a silver platter." "I realize that Mr. Edmonds' family has gone through some struggles," said the father of one victim. "That doesn't change the fact that he made the choice to stalk, manipulate and molest who knows how many boys, including my son."
At the time of his April 2002 arrest, Edmonds headed the Northeast Florida Builders Association and was a deacon at First Baptist Church. A year later, he pleaded guilty to three counts of lewd and lascivious acts, but prosecutors dropped 10 additional counts. In 2005, Edmonds was arrested for violating his probation by having contact with two of the victims. During Tuesday's hearing, the aunt of one victim addressed Edmonds directly, saying the letter of apology they received was too little, too late. "I know you. I know you personally from my church," she said. "A Godly man extends an apology to the family. And not when it serves you, sir, but when it serves someone else."
Leaving the courthouse, Edmonds did not respond to questions about why he apologized now -- more than five years later -- but his attorney spoke on his behalf. "At any time previous when he did not apologize, it was at the direction of the probation officer and of previous lawyers," Richard Kuritz said. Judge John Merrett did lift certain conditions of Edmonds' probation, allowing him to travel to neighboring counties on family business. Edmonds' probation is scheduled to end in March 2009.
Convicted Hitman Wants New Trial
By Victor Blackwell First Coast News
JACKSONVILLE, FL - Seven years ago, Donald Bradley denied taking life. Now, he hopes to save his own.
Bradley was sentenced to death for the 1995 murder of Jack Jones. Bradley wants a new trial.
"He's very afraid, he's worried, he doesn't understand why he is there. I don't either," said Bradley's mother, Julie Witherell.
Witherell has never spoken publicly about the case. For the first time, she says her son was not given a fair shake.
"I certainly don't think that he deserves to be on death row when Linda has life," said Witherell.
According to court documents, Jack Jones' wife, Linda, hired Bradley to attack her husband. She suspected he was having an affair.
During the beating, Bradley and two of his employees, Patrick and Brian McWhite, killed Jack Jones.
Linda Jones was sentenced to life in prison. Patrick and Brian McWhite were sentenced to ten years behind bars.
Bradley's new lawyer claims his former attorney, Alan Chipperfield is partly responsible for his death sentence.
"He provided ineffective assistance as counsel, such that it compromised Mr. Bradley's representation," said Bradley's current attorney, Richard Kuritz.
"Mr. Chipperfield, I can tell you generally is, if not the best, one of the best defense attorneys in the city of Jacksonville," said Chief Assistant State Attorney, Jay Plotkin.
Witherell sat in the courtroom as her son fought for his life. She's fighting with thought that he might lose.
"You don't ever accept it, so there's no wrapping your mind around it," said Witherell.
Attorneys expect a decision on a new trial in the coming months.
Jury Gets Work Camp Drug Case
The father's lawyer tries to paint the son as the crack dealer to farm workers.
By MATT GALNOR, The Times-Union
A jury must now decide if an East Palatka labor camp owner and his wife are guilty of running a crack cocaine ring and trying to keep cash transactions from being reported to the government.
Federal prosecutors argue Ronald Evans Sr. and his wife, Jequita, are "sinister" crack dealers who prey on homeless drug addicts. Defense attorneys continued their two-pronged defense: attacking the credibility of government witnesses and hanging the blame for the crack ring on Evans' son, Ronald Evans Jr.
The jury began deliberating late Wednesday afternoon, the eighth day of the trial, and will resume this morning.
Both Evans Sr. and Jequita Evans face up to life in prison if convicted. Neither testified during the trial.
Evans Jr. pleaded guilty last month to his role in the drug ring, which sold farm laborers crack on credit five days a week after working in cabbage fields and potato packing plants. Evans Jr. did not testify against his father but two employees who kept the books from the company store did and implicated both Evans Sr. and his wife in the crack ring.
Laborers were also offered marked-up beer and cigarettes and could buy crack only if they worked.
Farmers paid Evans Sr. for providing workers and then promised hourly wages to workers. But after deducting for crack and other purchases, Evans Sr. often only paid out 30 percent of the wages and pocketed the rest, prosecutors argued.
"They are motivated by pure greed," Susan French, an attorney with the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, told jurors Wednesday.
Former farm workers and those who ran the store had a reason to lie about Evans Sr., defense attorneys argued. Both William Kent, who represents Evans Sr., and Richard Kuritz, who represents Jequita Evans, said the witnesses have drug problems and some of them are beholden to the government for plea deals.
While prosecutors have said the illegal operation dates back to the 1990s, detailed records found in the Evans home date back only five years.
Evans Jr. started working full time for his father in the late 1990s, witnesses said. Both Kent and Kuritz argued the lack of records prior to Evans Jr.'s arrival bolsters their case that there's no proof Evans Sr. and his wife were involved in the drug sales.
Police found 148 individually wrapped crack rocks, about 20 cases of beer and dozens of cartons of untaxed cigarettes.
Evans Sr. and his wife also face 50 counts of intentionally cashing checks in amounts less than $10,000 to avoid federal reporting requirements.
Evans Sr. is also charged with Clean Water Act violations and tampering with a witness.
Witness Tells Of Screaming Baby Being Stuffed Into Bag
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A 16-year-old admitted drug dealer calmly told jurors Wednesday that he watched John Mosley Jr. strangle a woman, but he broke into sobs when describing holding open a plastic bag while the man stuffed her screaming baby into it.
Bernard Griffin's testimony came on the opening day of Mosley's trial on two charges of first-degree murder in the deaths of 40-year-old Lynda Wilkes and her 10-month-old son, Jay-Quan Mosley. Assistant State Attorney Libby Senterfitt told jurors in an opening statement that Mosley strangled the woman and suffocated her baby to avoid an upcoming hearing to determine if he was the infant's father. Prosecutors want the death penalty.
Griffin said when Mosley picked him up on April 22, 2004, Wilkes and her baby were in the passenger seat of Mosley's SUV. The teenager, dressed in brown prison clothes and shackled at his hands and feet, said Mosley drove to a deserted area, told the woman to get out of the car and then strangled her with his hands.
She was trying to defend herself. She was scratching," Griffin said. "Then she stopped moving." Griffin said he just sat there as Wilkes was killed. "I've never seen nothing like that before," he said. The teenager testified Mosley put a bag over Wilkes head and placed her in the rear of the SUV. Griffin said Mosley asked him to get a black plastic garbage bag and hold it open. The screaming baby was placed in the bag, which was tied and placed next to his mother's body. At that point in his account, Griffin buried his head in his hands for several seconds.
Griffin was asked why he didn't go to the police "I didn't know what he was capable of doing," Griffin said of Mosley. "I didn't want to jeopardize my family." Griffin also said he helped Mosley dispose of Wilkes' body near Waldo, about 50 miles southwest of Jacksonville, where Mosley set it afire. He testified that the baby's body was placed in a trash bin in Ocala. That information caused investigators to spend several days digging through a landfill in Valdosta, Ga., but the baby's body was never found.
Under cross-examination by defense attorney Richard Kuritz, Griffin acknowledged selling drugs, which he said he was doing to help his mother pay the bills. The young witness reversed himself Wednesday and said he was lying or not telling the entire story during his first talks with police detectives. "I didn't know who to trust," he said. Griffin, who faces two charges of being an accessory after the fact, said he had not made any deals with prosecutors in exchange for his testimony.
Thursday morning , Medical Examiner Margarita Arruza showed the jury photos of the burned remains of Linda Wilkes and acknowledged under cross-examination that there was no way to tell how she died. Prosecutors said they will connect Mosley to the slaying by blood found in the back of his car, cell phone records, which allowed them to follow his movements on the day of the slayings, and Griffin's testimony. Arruza also told the jury that Jay-Quan Mosley would have suffocated after being placed in a trash bag which was tied over his head, but said that can't be confirmed as his body was never recovered.
Kuritz questioned the prosecutor's theory about Mosley's supposed motivation and said some of Griffin's statements to police were inconsistent. The defense attorney said police were under extreme pressure to make an arrest in the case and focused on Mosley. "The family anointed Mr. Mosley as the easy target," Kuritz said. "They made an arrest to fit into their theory." After his arrest on the charges, Mosley denied any involvement in the deaths and said he was not the infant's father. The trial is expected to continue into next week.
Judge Frees Another Murder Suspect
OUT OF JAIL Merrett calls the case weak and orders Williams to wear a monitoring bracelet
By Paul Pinkham, The Times-Union
A violent felon charged with murdering a woman he thought was a snitch was released from the Duval County jail without bail because a judge thought the state had a weak case.
He's the second Jacksonville murder defendant released in the past four months courtesy of bail reduction orders from Circuit Judge John Merrett.
Kenneth Larry Williams, 23, walked out of the jail Monday wearing an ankle bracelet to monitor his movements but otherwise free. The only restriction Merrett imposed was that he stay crime-free.
Jail workers were so caught off guard that they called the State Attorney's Office to make sure it was true. Williams, who's previously been to prison for aggravated assault with a weapon and cocaine possession, was jailed on the first-degree murder charge since September 2006 under a $750,000 bail.
Merrett called Williams "a hostage to a bureaucratic process" before setting him free, according to a transcript of the hearing. Merrett declined comment beyond the contents of the transcript.
Undersheriff Frank Mackesy said prosecutors should be commended for pursuing a case with difficult witnesses.
"I can't remember the last time a judge released someone [without bail] and put them on house arrest when the guy's in jail for murdering a witness in a previous case," Mackesy said. "This can't be good for other cases, let alone this case."
In court, according to the transcript, the judge had said: "From consultation with the attorneys, the government's case has gotten weaker as time has gone on. The case is not able to proceed forward because of interference from people who aren't going to be involved in the trial."
Williams' court-appointed lawyer said that was a reference to the State Attorney's Office's unwillingness to complete a plea agreement because of pressure to enforce more mandatory gun sentences.
"The lead prosecutor and I have worked zealously at resolving the case," said Richard Kuritz, Williams' attorney. "Unfortunately due to some of the political pressure ... we have been unable to reach a resolution that her superiors would approve."
Chief Assistant State Attorney Jay Plotkin said it would be inappropriate for him to discuss plea negotiations but added Wednesday: "I respectfully disagree with the court."
Plotkin conceded that the case against Williams is "challenging." He said prosecutors plan to ask Merrett for a rehearing.
This is the second time in four months Merrett has enabled a murder defendant to go free. In December, David Vesey, 37, was released after Merrett lowered his bail to $750. Vesey, charged with second-degree murder, is accused of shaking his infant daughter to death in February 2007 and faces up to life in prison.
"Bond decisions should be made based on the danger of the defendant to the community and his risk of flight," Plotkin said.
Williams is charged with repeatedly shooting Martha Kirkley, a 51-year-old homeless woman, after telling her, "You told on me." The killing occurred on a porch at 1612 W. 19th St.
He was arrested two months later after a witness identified him from a photo spread and others gave a physical description. Kuritz said the state's problems with the case include witnesses changing their stories and other potential suspects.
Williams faces a mandatory life prison term if convicted of the charge.
Merrett told him after ordering his release: "Don't let your celebrating get out of hand and put you back in here."
State Department of Corrections records show Williams was released from prison in April 2005 after serving 18 months for aggravated assault with a weapon and cocaine possession.
Ted Hires, founder of the Justice Coalition victim rights group in Jacksonville, called Williams' release "beyond belief." Hires didn't concur with Merrett's reasoning that release was merited because the state's case was weak.
"I'm not for sure that's for Judge Merrett to make that determination," Hires said. "That's why we have juries."