April 2012 Archives

Four charged with felony murder in death of Clay County detective

April 30, 2012

Florida law allows the state to charge people with murder, even if they were not the direct cause of the death. So, if someone is committing a felony at the time a homicide occurs, that person can be charged with what is called "felony murder." A prime example surfaced last week in connection with the February death of Clay County Detective David White, who was shot and killed during a Middleburg drug raid, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. And State Attorney Angela Corey left no potential charge on the table - charging all four people in the home with murder, even a 16-year-old boy living in the home with his mother. White was shot and killed by Ted Tilley, who was then shot by police as he tried to escape the home. Another Clay County detective was shot in the arm and survived the attack. All three adults in the house are charged with first-degree murder in White's death, second-degree murder in Tilley's death and three counts of attempted second-degree murder for shots Tilley fired at other deputies and trafficking methamphetamine. The 16-year-old was charged with third-degree felony murder in White's death and possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell. Tilley and the adults in the home were accused of running a meth lab out of the vacant house they did not have permission to occupy, according to the newspaper. Police, acting on a tip from the owner, went to check it out. The knocks on the door went unanswered, and when police went inside, Tilley met them with gunfire.

Prosecutors are hanging the felony murder on the meth lab, using the Clay County drug trafficking felony as the reason to charge the occupants in connection with White's death. The state will have to prove all three adults were involved in the drug operation if they want the murder charges to stick. If there's no felony, there cannot be a felony murder charge. The same holds true with the 16-year-old. He was found with drugs on him and is charged with possession with intent to sell. Police will have to show that he intended to sell the drugs that he possessed. The state charged about as high as it could on this case - not a surprise in a case that outraged the community to see a law enforcement officer with a young family killed by a drug dealer. The case will be interesting to watch, to see how many of the charges stick.

It's impossible to know how much the state knows about the meth operation inside the home. They haven't released many details, but that doesn't mean they don't have them. But if police don't have them yet, expect the state to start wheeling and dealing with the co-defendants to start ratting each other out. Suspects tend to talk a little more with a murder charge hanging above them. Don't think the state doesn't know that. Our Clay County criminal defense attorney has been involved in dozens of cases with multiple defendants and knows the tactics the state uses to try to open up its case. If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Middleburg or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm, PA at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Clay County Criminal Lawyer is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Police arrest convicted felon for buying "stolen" guns from undercover officers in Clay County

April 27, 2012

Various crimes and patterns cycle in and out as the "hot" crime for police to make arrests for. It's been drugs, lately child porn has been popular, it often depends on what's in the headlines. In recent years, Jacksonville police brass have made a big public push to concentrate on stolen and illegal guns and, as is often the cases, smaller suburban counties like Clay, Nassau and St. Johns counties have jumped on board. They are after cases that can make a splash in the media - and hold up in court. Often times, that leads to the low-hanging fruit ending up in the headlines.

Last week it was Gary Huskey, a second-hand dealer in Middleburg who sells items like coins, jewelry and other valuables. Including guns. Problem is Huskey is a two-time convicted felon, having run afoul of the law in Virginia, according to a report on First Coast News. No doubt Clay County police knew that when they sent undercover officers into Huskey's store and asked him if he would be interested in buying stolen guns. It is a key element in their case - essentially a fallback plan that could almost guarantee Huskey will face some time behind bars. Cases where police wear wires and ask people to buy things from them - be it drugs, guns, sex, etc. - can be dicey for the state in court. Entrapment issues almost certainly come up, which can make it more difficult to get a conviction.
But for Huskey, it won't matter if he is found guilty or not of actually dealing in stolen property with the guns. The state has its hammer: Florida possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. At least four counts on the guns he bought from undercover officers. And likely more, since police seized more than $200,000 worth of merchandize from the store, according to the television news report. One would assume there are a few more guns to be found.

Possession of a firearm by a convicted felon is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. More importantly, it carries a three-year minimum mandatory sentence - which ties the hands of judges and has a crippling effect on plea negotiations. The state is using it more and more - especially when the rest of its case is shaky at best. The burden of proof for the system is simple: 1) The person must be a convicted felon and 2) They must have actual possession of a firearm. In Huskey's case, it is cut and dried. His only shot at leniency might be if police are interested in who else is selling him stolen guns - and who's buying them. But those records may have been part of what police seized from his store, so police may not even need his help.
Before anyone speaks with police about a crime they are charged with, they should speak with an experience Jacksonville criminal defense attorney who can outline the options. Our Jacksonville gun crimes lawyer has defended hundreds of clients on firearms charges and knows when to start negotiating and when it might benefit a client to start talking to police.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Middleburg or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm, PA at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Clay County gun crimes lawyer is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

State Attorney drops DUI charges against former Jacksonville police officer

April 25, 2012

The state has dropped DUI charges against a former Jacksonville police officer, now that blood tests show he was not impaired at the time of the crash. Michael Rolison's career with JSO is still likely over though. He had 12 years with the agency but resigned the day after the crash, telling News4Jax he was given the option of resigning or being fired. Employers don't always have to be lined up with the courts when it comes to employee arrests in Jacksonville. Police agencies are particularly sensitive in that regard - especially when an officer in arrested for DUI in his patrol car, wearing his police uniform. Rolison was on his way home from work about 2 a.m. last November when his car crossed the center line on a St. Johns County road and crashed into another vehicle, according to the television news report.

As the Florida Highway Patrol investigated the crash, the trooper smelled alcohol on Rolison, and found a bottle cap in the car that matched a beer bottle found outside the car near the crash, News4Jax reported. Those factors led police to start a DUI investigation. Normally, field sobriety exercises would be next up. In this case, they could not be performed. Both Rolison and the 18-year-old whose car he hit were hospitalized following the crash. At the hospital, Rolison initially refused to submit to a blood test, but then decided to after meeting with internal investigators from the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, according to the news report. The blood sample was submitted to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and came back with no evidence of drugs or alcohol in Rolison's system. The results came back months ago, but Rolison's criminal defense attorney was waiting on records from the hospital he could then give to the state to tie everything together legally, the television station reported.

Last week, the state then dropped the charges of DUI and DUI causing property damage, citing a lack of evidence, according to the news report. For Rolison, the damage is likely done. He admits to News4Jax that he violated department policy by having a beer in his uniform after his shift. His criminal record is now clear. But what about his reputation if he tries to find another law enforcement job? That remains to be seen. The first step in a situation like this is to find an experienced Florida criminal defense lawyer that will delve into your case and look for ways to have the charges reduced or dropped. DUI charges are often knocked down, typically because of a technical issue - an error in the way the defendant was pulled over, a lack of reasonable suspicion before asking for field sobriety tests, etc. In Rolison's case, there's no technicality. There's just no evidence.

Our Jacksonville DUI attorney has represented hundreds of DUI suspects and is experienced in the intricate procedures police must follow in these cases. If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm, PA at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Duval County DUI lawyer is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Local NAACP wants sentencing delayed for Jacksonville woman, claims "Stand Your Ground" defense

April 23, 2012

The publicity surrounding Florida's now infamous "Stand Your Ground" self-defense law has activists digging through older cases and reinvigorating their push for dropping criminal charges or reducing sentences in Jacksonville and all over Florida. The case of Marissa Danielle Alexander is the second such case to make Jacksonville headlines lately in the wake of the February slaying of Trayvon Martin in Central Florida. Alexander is supposed to be sentenced this week after being convicted last month of three counts of Jacksonville aggravated assault stemming from a domestic incident in 2010, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. She faces a mandatory sentence of 20 years in prison.

Alexander and her now estranged husband had a history of violent disputes, according to the newspaper, which reported two domestic violence arrests in Duval County of her husband in 2006 and 2009 - the second of which led to a conviction. The two got in another heated dispute in 2010, though witnesses say it was Alexander who started this physical confrontation. Alexander claims she was in fear for her life, so she got her handgun, which she has a permit for. When her husband approached her, she fired a warning shot into the ceiling. No one was hurt. Her two stepsons were there at the time, hence the three counts.

A jury found her guilty last month, but the NAACP wrote the judge asking him to delay the sentencing and order a new trial. Local NAACP leaders say Alexander was a victim of domestic violence, feared for her life and was trying to protect herself. Florida's law, a version of which has since been adopted by about a third of the states in the country, says people do not have to retreat if they are in fear of their life. But if Alexander left the confrontation and came back with a gun, her "Stand Your Ground" claim could be shaky. A judge already denied her Jacksonville "Stand Your Ground" defense and ordered the charges could move forward. The "Stand Your Ground" claims are applicable to the immediate circumstances - not to a pattern of behavior. The challenge for Alexander will be proving the confrontation itself - this confrontation alone - caused her to be in fear for her life enough to fire a warning shot. The attention of the Martin case is giving more scrutiny to cases such as Alexander's, which is a positive from a criminal defense perspective. Self-defense is a fine line and, especially when minimum mandatory sentences are applied as in Alexander's case, every opportunity should be granted to see the case from her perspective.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm, PA at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Duval County gun crimes lawyer is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Under national spotlight, Jacksonville state attorney charges George Zimmerman with second degree murder

April 16, 2012

Legal analysts for every newspaper, television station and blog have one opinion or another on last week's announcement that 28-year-old neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman will face a second degree murder charge for shooting unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. The decision came from Jacksonville's own Angela Corey, the state attorney for Clay, Duval and Nassau counties who was appointed last month by Gov. Rick Scott to handle the controversial case. Corey has developed a reputation for charging big and this case bears that out. Now, Zimmerman faces up to life in prison, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union.

Two major questions are dominating discussion as the courtroom phase of this case now begins. First, will the judge find Zimmerman was defending himself under Florida's broad Stand Your Ground that allows people to use deadly force rather than force them to retreat if they believe their life is in danger? If the judge does, the case is over and Zimmerman walks. But, if the judge denies the Stand Your Ground claim and the case moves forward, the second question arises: Does the state have enough to prove second degree murder? For a second-degree murder criminal charge in Florida, the state must prove that while the killing was not premeditated, Zimmerman's shooting was an "imminently dangerous act" that showed a "depraved" lack of regard for human life. At this point, the state attorney must also show to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman was not acting in self-defense. Second degree murder is often charged when there is some sort of confrontation or fight that leads to a death, which is similar to the facts that have been made public about this case.

A major point will be if the facts give any indication of who the aggressor was: Zimmerman or Martin. Zimmerman, whose father is white and mother is Hispanic, has never denied shooting Martin, but says he was attacked and shot Martin in self-defense. Martin's family says Zimmerman started the confrontation between he and the black teen. This case is anything but cut and dried, and the state's burden of proof is high. The Florida criminal defense team will be leaning hard on self-defense and pulling out reasonable doubt - at some point bringing up the school disciplinary record for Martin, who was suspended from school at the time of the incident. Offensive as it may seem to bring up details of a slain teen-ager's life, there's little that's off limits when you are defending a second degree murder charge.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm, PA at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Duval County violent crimes lawyer is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Fired JEA employee pleads guilty to Jacksonville bribery charges

April 13, 2012

A former senior-level Jacksonville Electric Authority engineer pleaded guilty to bribery charges after devising a scheme to sell a contractor construction materials from a city yard for cash. Thomas William Allen was making more than $80,000 a year at JEA before his arrest last fall, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Allen went to the head of a local contracting firm and told him he was in a financial bind since his wife lost her job and offered to sell the materials for $20,000, the newspaper reported. The contractor went to the FBI the very next day and the feds set up recorded phone calls and meetings between the two men. Allen, who was in charge of the electrical part of subdivision development for the city-owned utility, sold more than $63,000 worth of materials for $10,000 cash and an agreement for $10,000 more. The materials were taken to an FBI storage facility. Allen was arrested in Jacksonville shortly thereafter, according to the newspaper report.

Allen faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. He quietly pleaded guilty at the end of March and no sentencing date has been set. In a criminal case like this, with recorded evidence stacked against you, sometimes the only choice to plead guilty, own up to the crime and hope your criminal defense attorney can get the judge to see that you have made a horrible mistake you'll learn from. In this case, Allen had been a JEA engineer for 14 years and was 44 at the time of his arrest. He did not have any prior criminal record, according to the newspaper, and devised this scheme out of financial desperation. That could backfire, with the judge looking at his $80,000 annual salary and saying many families should be so lucky to have that amount of income, and they don't steal. The facts of the case, though, are what they are and there is really no disputing them.

Our Jacksonville Criminal Defense Lawyer has represented clients at hundreds of sentencing hearings and knows which arguments will help in certain types of cases, and which could get a client more time than he or she expected. If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm, PA at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Duval County bribery and theft lawyer is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

Jacksonville teen awaits trial in shooting; judge had denied Florida "Stand Your Ground" defense

April 11, 2012

Florida's "Stand Your Ground" self-defense law is now a national topic in the wake of the attention brought by the February shooting of Trayvon Martin. Other criminal cases involving that Florida affirmative defense, which allows using deadly force instead of forcing a person to retreat, are bubbling to the surface across the state. Jacksonville is no different. Quintavis Seay, now 20, is charged with second-degree murder after he shot and killed one of three brothers who jumped Seay and his friend, nearly beating his friend unconscious in December 2009. A judge said in a Florida Times-Union report that he made a "razor close" decision last year to deny Seay immunity under the Stand Your Ground law.
The decision is now with the 1st District Court of Appeals as Seay waits in the Duval County Jail.

The issue in many Stand Your Ground cases, including this one, is whether the threat is still there when the deadly force is used. The Duval County state attorney's office is arguing that the fight was finished, the three brothers were retreating before Seay started shooting, according to the newspaper report. Seay's Jacksonville criminal defense attorney says the bullet wound shows the man who was shot could not have been walking away at the time, the newspaper reported. Seay and his friend were clearly beaten in the incident. Seay's friend was nearly unconscious in the middle of the street and cars could not pass because of the fighting, witnesses said in the newspaper report.

The 4th Judicial Circuit, which includes Clay, Duval and Nassau counties, gets one or two of these cases a month, according to the newspaper report. Very few have made headlines - at least up to now. But the Trayvon Martin case is bringing a spotlight to Stand Your Ground cases and everyone - media, criminal defense attorneys and the pubic - will be paying closer attention going forward. Our Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer has represented hundreds of clients charged with gun crimes and other violent crimes in Jacksonville, Clay County and Nassau County, and is well-versed in the intricacies of the Stand Your Ground law.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm, PA at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Duval County violent crimes lawyer is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Disabled 78-year-old woman gets Jacksonville house arrest in embezzlement case

An elderly, disabled woman who had been inflating her paycheck is confined to her home for two years and must pay back the $161,000 she took from a church she worked for. The missing money was discovered after the Terry Road Baptist Church upgraded its accounting system, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. An audit also found that Betty Barnes, 78, had been increasing her paychecks since at least 2006 and was cashing checks that had been marked as voided. Barnes must pay $3,000 within a week and stay on an aggressive repayment schedule; otherwise she could end up in prison.

Barnes pleaded guilty to running a scheme to defraud and to grand theft in Jacksonville. The amount she admitted to taking made the theft charge a Duval County first degree felony - punishable by up to 30 years in prison. Putting a wheelchair-bound 78-year-old in a state prison would likely cost the taxpayers more than Barnes stole. The key now is whether Barnes will be able to make the payments. Her sentence prohibits her from holding a "position of trust" in which she is responsible for handling money. That clause is likely moot, since the chances of Barnes landing a job in that role with these blotches on her record are not good. The flaw in many pleas agreements of this nature is the defendant is essentially set up for failure. The defense team is often backed into a corner because, if the offer is turned down, the alternative is likely prison.

One thing to keep in mind: if you violate your terms of probation in Jacksonville, Florida, you are then exposed to the entire penalty for your crime, not just what the state was offering at the time. For example, let's say Barnes' offer if she turned down the Duval County house arrest deal was a year in prison. If she can't make the payments and is found to violation probation, she could be sentenced to up to 30 years - not just the one year that was on the table. The first instinct is always to avoid prison, and that's understandable. But, in some Florida criminal cases, it can be beneficial to serve your time and move on. Our Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney will work to strike a deal that you can live within and stick to that will decrease your chances of landing back in court.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm, PA at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Duval County Theft Lawyer is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Former University of Florida basketball player arrested for stealing a $3 taco

Less than a week after playing his last basketball game for the University of Florida, former point guard Erving Walker was caught trying to make a fast break from a taco vendor. Walker ran off with the taco without paying for it, and also ran from police before being caught and arrested, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Walker, the all-time assists leader at the school, did not spend the night in jail. He was charged with Florida petit theft and resisting an officer without violence, both misdemeanors. It's highly unlikely that Walker will spend any time in jail. In similar cases, Walker might have to do some community service, pay a fine and perhaps enter a pretrial diversionary program.

In many criminal cases, the arrest can be sealed or expunged from a person's record.
For someone like Walker, though, it will never really go away. Right or wrong, he's a public figure and when he stumbles like this, it'll make the news. He's surely not the first - or the last - college student to steal a taco in the wee hours of the morning, but he might be the first to be in the newspaper for it. He'll be asked about it down the road and it will surely come up again. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can help negotiate on Walker's behalf and could have a shot at getting the charges dismissed or even having adjudication withheld - which means Walker's criminal record would not show a conviction if he completed all terms of his probation. It's even more important for someone living a far more anonymous and typical existence compared to Walker's. Everything seems to be Google-able these days if someone is looking hard enough, but getting the charges dropped or adjudication withheld is the first step in moving forward and trying to protect yourself from long-term consequences. Even if it's not Google-proof you or your loved one would benefit by having an explanation at the ready - one that includes the charges being dropped or expunged from any criminal record.
Our Theft and Resisting Arrest without Violence Lawyer knows while these cases are small potatoes in the grand system of our massive criminal justice system, they are the biggest cases in the world to you or your loved one and we treat the case that way. If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm, PA at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Duval County theft lawyer is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Jacksonville man guilty of hacking celebs' e-mail, which led to nude photos of Scarlett Johannson

A Jacksonville computer hacker worked his way into the private e-mails of Hollywood celebrities and sold pictures - including nude photos of actress Scarlett Johannson - to various sites and publications. That drew the attention of the feds, who launched a yearlong operation dubbed "Operation Hackerazzi." That operation led to Jacksonville's Christopher Chaney, 35, who was hacking the e-mails out of his Westside home, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Chaney was arrested in Jacksonville last year and last month pleaded guilty in a Los Angeles federal court to nine felony counts, including intercepting or attempting to intercept private emails, wiretapping and wire fraud. His deal with prosecutors got 15 other charges dismissed. He faces up to 60 years in prison and fines up to $2 million when he's sentenced this summer. Chaney hacked into the email accounts of more than 50 celebrities and would then sell or forward pictures and other content, according to the newspaper report. The Jacksonville arrest made national headlines, particularly because it was the root of nude photos of Johannson that were intended for Johannson's boyfriend, but instead spread through the Internet.

Chaney would get the private e-mail address, then click on those "Forget Your Password?" links, according to the new report. He'd use information from various websites and news sources to correctly answer security questions and reset the password. He'd then have incoming and outgoing emails forwarded to a separate account Chaney created. Once he was caught, authorities said Chaney was helpful to federal agents in the investigation and showed a great deal of remorse, according to the newspaper. That certainly can't hurt him when the sentencing rolls around. Typically federal investigations take longer and the case is well established before an indictment rolls around. In many cases, it's darn near iron clad - with wiretaps and documentation and pretty much everything wrapped up with a pretty bow. And, in those cases, if you're caught, you're caught and it can behoove you to help authorities and hope it helps in sentencing.

But never do so without a criminal attorney and, in Clay, Duval or St. Johns counties, you need an experienced Jacksonville criminal defense law firm to talk you through what you would say if and when you do talk to authorities. If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm, PA at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Duval County wiretapping and fraud lawyer is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Cristian Fernandez' mother enters guilty plea in her Jacksonville criminal case in death of 2-year-old son

The mother of Cristian Fernandez pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter in by culpable negligence in Duval County last week in the death of her 2-year-old son and the focus is now on how that will affect the first-degree murder case against Cristian.
Cristian, now 13, was 12 when he was the youngest person in Jacksonville ever to be charged with first-degree murder. He is accused of slamming his half brother into a bookshelf and killing him a year ago. Biannela Susana, the mother of both boys, left Cristian in charge at the home and, when he called to say the 2-year-old was hurt, she waited eight hours to take him to the hospital, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. She lied to state officials about how and where the incident occurred, first saying it happened on a playground, and initially told police she only waited two hours to take the boy for help, according to the newspaper report.

Susana's guilty plea in her Jacksonville criminal case has her facing between 13 and 30 years in prison. Prosecutors said she was not offered any deal for pleading guilty and it was unclear last week whether she'd be sentenced before or after Cristian's case is resolved. Every detail of this case it seems is headline news - but this development is important to Cristian's case. First, it opens the door for Susana to be called as a witness if Cristian's criminal case goes to trial. The state will want to establish Cristian's history of violent and deviant behavior - he is also charged in a Jacksonville sexual assault of another sibling, which is a Duval County sex case. The defense will likely delve into the details of what happened that March day when the 2-year-old was killed. The strategy of Cristian's Jacksonville defense team has been to emphasize that Susana is the mother, the adult. She had the responsibility to get the 2-year-old to a hospital immediately. Instead, she waited eight hours. Doctors told police the young boy could have survived his brain injury if he was treated quicker.

It also establishes a standard for punishment in the case. One of Cristian's Jacksonville criminal defense attorneys told the newspaper he didn't understand why the mother - who the Duval attorney says is fundamentally responsible - was able to plead to a lesser crime than his 13-year-old client. That argument is sure to be a focus in further hearings in the case. Using sentences in previous cases - or in the same case - in front of a judge can be uneasy ground to walk on. Judges want to hear the defendant admit guilt and be sentenced on their case, not anyone else's. But this case is different. It gets to the custodial responsibility of the 2-year-old and who is ultimately responsible.
The state says it was a 12-year-old. His criminal attorneys say it was the mother. As the case plays out, we'll see what a judge, perhaps ultimately a jury, has to say. No trial date has been set in Cristian's case.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm, PA at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Duval County criminal lawyer is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.