Recently in Violent Crimes in Jacksonville Category

Originally facing death penalty, Jacksonville man sentenced to 35 years in murder case

August 11, 2014

A Jacksonville man who prosecutors had been looking to execute pleaded guilty to a lesser charge this month. The man had been facing a first-degree murder charge for allegedly killing his mother in 2010 their Jacksonville home, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Instead, the state backed away from the initial charge and allowed the man to plead guilty to second-degree murder, the newspaper reported. Following the plea, the defendant, now 25, was sentenced to 35 years in prison, the newspaper reported.

While a murder charge is obviously very serious, and the 35-year sentence illustrates that point, there is a significant difference between first-degree murder and second-degree murder. In Jacksonville Murder Cases, there are only two options for sentencing in a first-degree murder case: life in prison or the death penalty. The judge has no latitude at all. But when the charge is second-degree murder, the judge can sentence the defendant anywhere from 25 years in prison to life in prison. In this Jacksonville Murder Case, the judge went toward to lower end. If the man stays out of trouble in prison, he will likely be released in 30 years, so at age 55 - a significantly better result than life in prison, which would have been the best possible outcome if the first-degree murder charge stuck.

In this Jacksonville Murder Case, the state initially filed the paperwork to seek the death penalty, but later backed off. It is another instance that looks like the state is using the death penalty as a bargaining chip in negotiations. There are various aggravating factors the state must prove in order to use the death penalty - and there are legal issue specific to the degrees of murder. For example, for a charge to be first-degree murder, there must be some form of premeditation - even if for just a moment. Aggravating factors for the death penalty include whether the murder was "especially heinous, atrocious, cruel or depraved." In this Jacksonville Murder Case, the defendant was accused of beheading the victim and removing her eyeballs, so that likely would have qualified. The death penalty is, and should be, reserved for the worst of the worst and used sparingly. Either a Jacksonville Murder Case is a death case or it's not. The death penalty should not be hung over a defendant's head to pressure a plea to another charge.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a FREE CONSULTATION. Our Jacksonville Violent Crimes Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Jacksonville prosecutors charge another 12-year-old with murder

August 4, 2014

A 12-year-old Jacksonville boy was arrested on a murder charge last week, bringing back discussion of a similar decision in 2010 that drew national headlines and attention. This time, a 12-year-old was arrested for killing a homeless man, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Prosecutors have not said whether the boy will be charged as a juvenile or as an adult. If he is charged as an adult with first-degree murder, as then-12-year-old Cristian Fernandez was, it would leave the only possible sentence as life in prison. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against mandatory life sentences for juvenile, adding yet another layer of complexity to this Jacksonville Murder Case.

Prosecutors do have the power to charge the boy as a juvenile in this Jacksonville Murder Case. There are varying levels of punishment in Jacksonville Juvenile Crimes Case, from community service and house arrest on up to what amounts to a prison for teens. Clearly this 12-year-old would be on the most severe end of the scale, given the charge he is facing. He is accused of walking up to a homeless man in a parking lot and shooting him in the head, though police have not released information on a possible motive, the newspaper reported.

After months of negotiating and highly publicized hearings, Fernandez eventually pleaded guilty to manslaughter as a juvenile, the newspaper reported. The teen, now 15, will be released from juvenile prison when he turns 19 and placed on probation. The two cases are far from identical, but the common thread is obviously the defendant being 12 when he's arrested. In the current Jacksonville Juvenile Crimes Case, the newspaper reported police made the arrest based on information from a 16-year-old already being held on charges of armed robbery and stealing a car, so there are credibility issues that could come up. There were issues in the Fernandez case, including the police interview with the boy that was ruled inadmissible - so it must be emphasized that every case is different and has its own unique set of challenges. Those challenges and issues would become more evident as the Jacksonville Murder Case moves forward.

Prosecutors in Clay, Duval and Nassau counties frequently charge juveniles as adults in Jacksonville Juvenile Crimes cases that are far less serious than murder, so it would be difficult to see a scenario where the boy is charged as a juvenile. Eventually, Fernandez was treated as a juvenile. Eventually. But it started as first-degree murder as an adult, which is probably closer to where this Jacksonville Murder Case will begin, too. Our Jacksonville Juvenile Crimes Attorney represents children and teens charged with all types of crimes, with cases in both juvenile and traditional court. Our Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney will thoroughly investigate the charges and work for a resolution that allows the juvenile to move on from his or her mistake and not have it hanging over them for the rest of their life.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a FREE CONSULTATION. Our Duval County Violent Crimes Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

State corrections officer arrested in Clay County road rage case

A Florida Department of Corrections officer was arrested this month, accused of punching another driver in what police described as a road rage incident. Police said the man got out of his car, walked up to another driver and punched the driver in the face, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. The alleged victim did not have any visible signs of injury, but did tell police that his chin hurt from the punch, the newspaper reported. The suspect was taken to the Clay County jail and charged with battery. Battery in Clay County is a first degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in the county jail.

There was nothing in the media reports that indicate what the alleged victim in this case did or did not do to warrant that alleged reaction from the defendant. But in most Clay County Battery Cases, there are two sides to every story. A Clay County Battery is a misdemeanor crime in which someone hits or otherwise makes physical contact with someone else during an altercation. A felony battery would be if someone uses a weapon, such as hitting someone with a bat or a bottle, or there is a more serious injury. People often confuse assault and battery in Clay County Misdemeanor Cases and use the two terms interchangeably. They are two completely different crimes.

According to Florida law, an assault 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." In a Clay County Misdemeanor Case, assault is a second-degree misdemeanor, with less severe penalties than a Clay County Battery Case. The maximum penalty for a second-degree misdemeanor is six months in jail. The corrections officer could have more trouble with his employer than with the criminal justice system itself. Employers, especially the state, can have strict penalties on discipline for people when they are arrested. For Clay County Battery charges, there are often programs the state will often agree to that would have the charges dropped if certain conditions are met. In many Clay County Battery Cases, it could be anger management and other courses that a defendant could take, especially if they don't have a prior criminal record. It's unlikely that a corrections officer has a criminal record, so he would likely qualify.

People have a tendency to be at their worst behind the wheel and these Clay County Battery Cases are becoming more and more common. Our Clay County Criminal Defense Attorney has represented hundreds of people charged with misdemeanors and can help try to dispose of the case quickly so you or your loved one can get on with life.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a FREE CONSULTATION. Our Clay County Misdemeanor Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Appellate court orders new trial in St. Johns County road rage incident

A woman sentenced to 33 years in prison last year for driving her car into several people has the opportunity for a new trial - this one before a jury of her peers. A state appellate court threw out the 2013 convictions from a bench trial in front of the judge and ruled that if there's another trial, it should be in front of a jury, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. The overwhelming majority of cases that go to trial are jury trials, but the defendant can waive that element if he or she chooses. The court ruled in this St. Johns County Road Rage Case that the defendant did not understand the difference, nor did she know the potential benefits of a jury trial, the newspaper reported. The case could end up in a plea agreement, too, but the bottom line for the defendant in this St. Johns County Traffic Case is the convictions have been thrown out.

The defendant was accused of hitting a bicyclist with her car, hitting someone riding a scooter and several other vehicles, including a police car, the newspaper reported. Police said she also drove at another officer who was standing in the road, attempting to stop her, the newspaper reporter. She convicted of six counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, two counts of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer with a deadly weapon, aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer with a deadly weapon, aggravated attempt to elude causing serious injury and resisting arrest with violence. The defendant's attorney argued the defendant was insane at the time of the incident, but the judge disagreed, finding her guilty on all counts and sentencing her to 33 years in prison.

The major benefit to a jury trial in a St. Johns County Felony Case is it brings more decision-makers into the fold. For example, a jury must be unanimous in its decision. So if there is one person on the six-member jury that does not vote to find the person guilty, there cannot be a conviction. When a jury cannot agree, it is called a hung jury and a mistrial is declared. That means the case starts over - just as it will in this St. Johns County Traffic Case. When it's simply a trial in front of the judge, the judge is the only person determining guilt or innocence. The sentencing would have been up to the judge regardless, so that element is not in the jury's control. Our St. Johns County Criminal Defense Attorney looks at each case individually, investigating the case and the defendant's personal situation and that analysis guides the recommendation she gives to the defendant on how to proceed with his or her case.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a FREE CONSULTATION. Our St. Johns County Felony Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Jury needs just four minutes to find man not guilty of Nassau County arsons

A Nassau County jury took just four minutes to set free and man accused of setting a string of well-publicized fires in an apartment complex. The man went to trial on two counts of arson, and was found not guilty of both counts, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. The defendant was charged with two counts of second-degree arson, both second-degree felonies with a maximum penalty of 15 years in state prison on each count. The charges were filed shortly after police went public with the news of about 10 early morning fires set at an apartment complex over a several month period, the newspaper reported. At the same time, police publicly offered an $11,000 reward for information that led to the arrest and conviction of a suspect in these Nassau County Felony Crimes, the newspaper reported.

The defendant's ex-girlfriend called police and named the man as the one who set the fires, the newspaper reported. He was initially charged with three counts of arson, but one was dropped before a trial, as were two burglary counts. But the state chose to press forward with two Nassau County Felony arson charges. It backfired. Nassau County Criminal Defense attorneys for the defendant outlined the volatile relationship between the man and his ex-girlfriend and said she concocted the story to try to get the reward money, the newspaper reported. The jury resoundingly sided with the defendant and returned a verdict in a matter of minutes. The verdict allowed the man to walk free - he'd been in jail for 10 months waiting for his trial, the newspaper reported.

Typically, it is difficult to place too much emphasis on the length of deliberations because you never know what jurors are discussing in terms of the case. But with a four-minute verdict, it's clear they did not have much to discuss and were in pretty clear agreement in this Nassau County Felony Crime case. And a jury coming back that quickly brings up a legitimate question of why the state decided to take the case to trial in the first place. State prosecutors have an important role in the checks and balances of the Nassau County Criminal Justice System. Police make arrests and prosecutors make the decision on which cases to file. Shouldn't there be some look into the accuser in a Nassau County Felony Case like this to determine what hard evidence the state has against the defendant and if the accuser has any motive at all to make up the story? Our Nassau County Criminal Defense attorney knows that, in many cases, the only way to clear a defendant's good name is to take the case to trial. Our Nassau County Criminal Defense Attorney will thoroughly investigate your case and help you make an informed decision on how best to proceed.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a FREE CONSULTATION. Our Nassau County Felony Crimes Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Jacksonville man prosecutors initially charged with murder accepts deal to plead guilty to criminal mischief charge

A man charged with felony murder after the state said his actions led to a driver running over and killing a man in a Jacksonville parking lot was credited with time already served in jail after pleading guilty to a significantly reduced charge. The defendant was charged in connection with the murder after police said he was punching and fighting a man who was trying to leave a Jacksonville night club and continued to punch the man as he tried to drive off, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. The driver took off and hit and killed a person in the parking lot, the newspaper reported.

State prosecutors came out firing with the felony murder charge, along with a charge of burglary with an assault or battery. Both are first-degree felonies with maximum penalties of up to 30 years in prison, so the man was facing up to 60 years in state prison on these charges. Felony murder can be charged when a person is killed during the commission of another felony, according to state law. So, in this Jacksonville Felony Case, the state alleged the defendant's beating of the driver led to the driver driving away recklessly to escape, which led to the driver running over the man who was killed. It seemed like a stretch at the time in 2012 when he was charged and now it appears that it was. Instead, the state agreed to file a criminal mischief charge - a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison and likely to do with damage to the vehicle. The defendant, who bonded out of prison late last year once the bond was reduced to a more manageable amount, was sentenced to the more than a year he had already served in prison awaiting the trial, so his punishment in terms of jail time is complete.

Felony murder is typically used in Jacksonville Violent Crimes Cases when someone is, for example, shot during a robbery gone bad and all of the suspects in the crime - not just the shooter - are charged. The Jacksonville Murder Charge that was just dropped had too many variables and the defendant seemed too far removed from the actual death for the charge to stick. Even the driver in the case, was who legally drunk and convicted of DUI, spent less time in jail, the newspaper reported. He was sentenced to six months in jail and was released last year, the newspaper reported. In some highly publicized cases like this, unfortunately, the state comes out strong with little to back it up. By giving it a little time, sadly with someone sitting behind bars, the state in some cases realizes the overcharge and comes back with a more realistic charge. Our Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney has over a decade of experience in Duval County and can help assess the potential outcomes in the case and allow for you to make an informed decision for you or your loved one.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a FREE CONSULTATION. Our Jacksonville Violent Crimes Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Florida Supreme Court overturns death sentence in Jacksonville murder case

March 31, 2014

A Jacksonville man convicted of a 2008 murder should have been sentenced to life in prison, not sent to death row, the Florida Supreme Court ruled last week. The court found that the murder of a convenience store clerk did not meet the standards the state applies when considering sentencing a person to death, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Instead, Michael Yacob will be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, the newspaper reported.

In Jacksonville Murder Cases, there are only two possible sentences in a first-degree murder case: life in prison or the death penalty. There are 16 types of circumstances that would allow the state to seek the death penalty in a Jacksonville Murder Case, including if it was committed during the commission of another felony. That was the only aggravating factor used to justify the death penalty in this Jacksonville Murder Case and the Supreme Court ruled the case lined up with other cases whether the court has overturned the death penalty when a robbery was the only piece of the crime that was used to pursue the death penalty, the newspaper reported. Other factors that can be used in seeking the death penalty include if the victim was younger than 12, if the crime was committed by a convicted gang member or sexual predator, or if it was especially "heinous, atrocious or cruel," according to state law. By design, what the legislature and courts are saying is the death penalty is reserved for the worst of the worst and should only be applied in extreme circumstances.

Locally, however, the state is often using the threat of the death penalty as a bargaining tool in getting people to plead to guilty to some sort of murder charge - usually second degree murder - to avoid a trial and take the death penalty off the table. Yacob is the fifth person in recent years sentenced to death locally who has had his sentence reversed, the newspaper reported. If the state is seeking the death penalty in a Jacksonville murder case, there are two phases to the trial. It starts with the initial trial and, if the person is found guilty of first-degree murder, a penalty phase follows. This is where both sides present their case and the same jury that decided the first phase makes a recommendation on the death penalty. And, unlike any other phase of Jacksonville Criminal Trials, the decision does not have to be unanimous. Ultimately, the judge makes the final decision, but rarely strays from the jury recommendation, which was 10-2 in favor of the death penalty in Yacob's Jacksonville Murder Case.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a FREE CONSULTATION. Our Duval County Murder Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Jacksonville man goes to trial on murder charge, found guilty of much lesser charge

February 20, 2014

A Jacksonville man was charged with first-degree murder as the state alleged he was one of four people involved in the killing of a local man. A jury of his peers, however, did not fully agree and found Corey Bright guilty instead of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. So instead of looking at a mandatory life sentence, Bright was sentenced this week to 20 years in state prison, the newspaper reported.

Bright and three others were accused of ambushing a 22-year-old man because they were upset with the man's alleged domestic abuse toward his girlfriend, the newspaper reported. Witnesses said two of the men pulled out guns and started shooting, the newspaper reported. All four suspects were charged with first-degree murder and faced a mandatory life sentence if convicted. What the state was likely trying to do is charge all four with first-degree murder and hope at least one of the men who didn't fire the shots would speak out, be a witness for the state and point the finger at the shooters to help have his own charges significantly reduced. That does not appear to have worked in this Jacksonville Gun Crimes Case. Another suspect pleaded guilty in December to second-degree murder and faces up to life in prison when he is sentenced. The other two are still charged with first-degree murder and are awaiting trial, the newspaper reported. Now, it is possible the suspect who pleaded guilty could be working with the state, and that his sentencing is being delayed until the other two cases are resolved. In Bright's case, it appears the jury thought he was involved and used a weapon, but likely felt the state could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Bright was indeed responsible for the man's death.

That can be the danger in overcharging crimes, or using the initial charge to attempt to get the suspect to plead guilty to a lesser charge - something that likely is more fitting of the crime in the first place. When a jury is read instructions before it starts deliberating in a Jacksonville Criminal Case, there are often other charges known as "lesser included offenses." For example, if someone like Bright is charged with first-degree murder, there is a list of other charges the jury can decide to find the defendant guilty of, if jurors don't think the initial charge was proven beyond a reasonable doubt. In many Jacksonville Gun Crimes cases, jurors believe the suspect is guilty of something - perhaps just not the most serious charge the state could possibly file - and will look to the lesser included charges as a compromise. But, in many Jacksonville Gun Crimes Cases, the state's game of hardball works. Some defendants feel they have too much to lose with a mandatory life sentence on the line in a trial, and try to plead guilty to second-degree murder in hopes of someday being released. The decision to plead or take a Jacksonville Gun Crimes case to trial is an individual choice that should be based on the facts of the case and the suspect's personal situation. What is the right call for one person may be more than another is willing to risk.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a FREE CONSULTATION. Our Duval County Gun Crimes Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Substitute Clay County school bus driver fired, state not filing charges in alleged choking incident

February 12, 2014

A substitute school bus driver in Clay County was fired this month for what some say was a choking incident with a 10-year-old student. The driver was fired after she was accused of putting her hand on the throat of a 10-year-old boy who refused to put away a cell phone on a ride home from school, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. While she is no longer employed, the larger issue would be criminal charges. Prosecutors have chosen not to file criminal charges in this potential Clay County Child Abuse case, the newspaper reported.

There is an important distinction in Clay County Criminal Court Cases on discipline that employers can levy and what is provable beyond a reasonable doubt in front of a jury. Prosecutors have the final say on when charges are filed in a Clay County Criminal Case. For example, once an arrest is made, the state has 40 days to determine whether the or not to file formal charges in a case. And, once charges are filed, the state has six months to take the case to trial, unless the defendant waives that provision and allows the deadline to be extended. There are several factors the state must consider when they are looking to file charges in a Clay County Child Abuse Case. In this case, the newspaper reported there were no video cameras on the bus, so law enforcement would have had to rely solely on statements from witnesses, as well as those from the suspect and the alleged victim. The stories from the boy and the driver, not surprisingly, differed significantly about exactly what happened and police said witness accounts were somewhere in between, the newspaper reported. That was apparently not enough for prosecutors, who appeared to make the right call in this potential Clay County Child Abuse Case. In order for a person to be convicted by a jury in any Clay County Criminal Case, that jury must be unanimous. If just one person on the jury does not agree with a guilty verdict, there is not a conviction.

If the jury cannot agree and is unable to come to a consensus, the result is a hung jury and a mistrial is declared. From there, the case essentially starts over from scratch. The state can decide to drop the charges, negotiate a plea agreement or take the case to trial again. If the Clay County Criminal Case ends up in trial a second time, an entirely different jury is chosen to hear the case. If you think you may be investigated in a Clay County Criminal Case, it can be beneficial to speak with a Clay County Criminal Defense Attorney before you speak with police. You have a right to remain silent and consult with an attorney, but must know that any statements you make to police can be used against you.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a FREE CONSULTATION. Our Clay County Criminal Defense Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Woman pleads guilty to manslaughter in St. Johns County stabbing

January 22, 2014

A woman initially charged with second-degree murder for stabbing a homeless man to death in St. Johns County has reached a deal to plead guilty to a lesser charge. Brenda Muniz pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter in the 2012 death, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Aggravated manslaughter is still a serious felony, but the plea deal that Muniz agreed to has a sentencing range of between nine years and 30 years in prison for this St. Johns County Manslaughter Case, the newspaper reported. Second-degree murder had a minimum sentence of 20 years in prison so, essentially, the plea deal opens up to the possibility for a sentence in the range of nine to 20 years in prison that would not have been on the table had she pleaded guilty to or been found guilty of a St. Johns County Murder Charge.

Both Muniz and the victim were homeless and the stabbing occurred at a homeless camp behind a shopping center where people often congregated, drank and slept, the newspaper reported. Muniz and the victim apparently got into an argument, which escalated to the point where Muniz stabbed and killed the man, whom police said was her boyfriend, the newspaper reported. Muniz' plea agreement touches on two important issues in St. Johns County Felony Cases. First, she pleaded no contest, instead of pleading guilty to the charges. Functionally, the two are the same. The difference is, Muniz is not admitting guilt, but is essentially saying it is in her best interest to stop fighting the charges and take a deal, rather than push the case to trial and risk even more time in prison. That often is a plea that is insisted upon by the defendant in a St. Johns County Manslaughter Case. But it can backfire when it comes to sentencing. In many St. Johns County Criminal Defense Cases, the judge wants the defendant to show remorse, admit his or her mistake and take ownership of it. When that doesn't happen, as in the case of a no contest plea, a judge may be less inclined to give the defendant a more lenient sentence.

The other interesting element is that the two sides at least agreed to a sentencing range to present to the judge in this St. Johns County Manslaughter case. That range does not bind the judge in any legal way, but in most instances the judge will honor a range that prosecutors and the St. Johns County Criminal Defense Attorneys agree on. The range is the case is 21 years, so it's likely the judge will find plenty of latitude in the range to deliver what he or she decides is an appropriate sentence in this St. Johns County Manslaughter Case.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a FREE CONSULTATION. Our St. Johns County Violent Crimes Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Man charged with felony for spraying graffiti at Clay County home where detective was killed

October 30, 2013

A man accused of spray painting symbols of hate groups on the Clay County home where a police detective was shot and killed has been charged with a felony. Anthonio Cassanova is charged with felony criminal mischief, accused of spray painting swastikas and "RIP Ted Tilly" on the side of the home, according to a report on News4Jax. Tilly ambushed police officers during a raid and shot two detectives, killing Detective David White, before being shot and killed in the shootout.

Clay County Criminal mischief, more commonly known as vandalism, is typically a misdemeanor in Florida. But when it causes more than $1,000 in damage, the charge can be upgraded to a felony, as it was in this Clay County Felony Case. Cassanova is charged with a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. The house had been boarded up since the shootout during a police raid on the subjected meth house in February 2012, the television station reported. Volunteers have since painted over the graffiti on the house, the television station reported. Typically, a vandalism case like this would not be headline news among Jacksonville-area media. But this Clay County Felony Case is far different and the offensive nature of Cassanova's alleged graffiti, combined with the high profile of the case could spell trouble in terms of sentencing for Cassanova.

There are already examples in connection with White's death that foreshadow a sentence for Cassanova that is likely to be longer than average in a Clay County Felony Case. For example, people charged with dealing in stolen property for passing along the gun that was eventually used to shoot and kill White were sentenced to seven years in prison. Yes, they had criminal records that weighed in the sentencing, but stolen guns move around the state frequently and are used in plenty of crimes, but sentences of seven years aren't the norm. Both were facing up to 15 years in prison, so they received about half of the maximum time. The state may argue in this case that Cassanova's sentence should be even closer to the maximum. In the gun cases, yes it was certainly wrong, but the defendants did not have a way of knowing the gun they passed onto someone else was going to end up in Tilly's hands and that he was going to use it to shoot a police officer. Whereas Cassanova is accused of using the house as a way to get across a message that many find offensive and disrespectful to the community and the detective's family. All elements of a crime and a defendant's criminal record, which Cassanova certainly has, are brought into consideration when it comes time to sentence a person in a Clay County Felony Case. None of those elements appear to be in Cassanova's favor here, and many will be watching closely to see how the case plays out.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a FREE CONSULTATION. Our Clay County Criminal Defense Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Woman accused of trying to hire undercover Jacksonville police officer to kill her daughter-in-law

October 16, 2013

A 70-year-old Clay County woman is charged with two felonies after allegedly trying to hire a hit man to kill her daughter-in-law. Diana Costarakis is accused of meeting twice with the person she thought was a hitman, but was actually an undercover officer with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Police said she paid the officer $500 one day and $1,000 the following day as a down payment, the newspaper reported. The rest of the $5,000 to have the woman killed could come from the jewelry she would be wearing at the time of her death, Costarakis is accused to telling the officer, the newspaper reported.

Costarakis is charged with criminal solicitation and criminal conspiracy in this Jacksonville Violent Crimes Case. Both charges are first-degree felonies in this Jacksonville Criminal Case, punishable by up to 30 years in prison. In criminal solicitation and criminal conspiracy cases, the seriousness of the charge is based on the crime the person is soliciting or conspiring to commit. If the crime is a capital crime, such as murder, then soliciting and conspiracy charges are first-degree felonies. So Costarakis is looking at up to 60 years in prison if convicted and sentenced to the maximum penalty on each count. As a general rule, the solicitation felony degree is one level down from the crime the person is soliciting for. So if the base crime is an armed robbery, a first-degree felony, soliciting or conspiring to commit an armed robbery would be a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. If the conspiracy is based on a third-degree felony, the solicitation or conspiracy charge would be a misdemeanor.

The key in a Jacksonville Violent Crimes Case like this is the state's ability to prove Costarakis was expressly paying to have the person killed. Police know that and, according to the newspaper report, asked her if the daughter should be killed. Costarakis is accused of saying, "If you don't do it, I will," the newspaper reported. On the surface, that doesn't bode well - and neither do the two cash payments to the officer. Defenses to conspiracy and solicitation in this Jacksonville Violent Crimes Case can be that the suspect was backing out of the plan and changed his or her mind. There is no evidence to that end that has been released so far, but that wouldn't be something police would voluntarily give up. It would, however, be subject to disclosure as the Jacksonville Violent Crimes Case moves forward. Jacksonville Violent Crimes Cases often appear to be open-and-shut cases when police wrap them up in a tidy bow and present them to the media. But when an experienced Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney starts examining the case and investigating the details and tactics used by the police, an entirely different picture can sometimes emerge.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Duval County or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a FREE CONSULTATION. Our Jacksonville Violent Crimes Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Judge issues life sentence but rare parole eligibility for man who was 17 at time of Clay County double murder

October 2, 2013

A Jacksonville man was sentenced to life in prison for his role in a Clay County double murder, but he could be released after 25 years in an increasing common sentence for judges waiting for direction on a U.S. Supreme Court decision. Derrell Emery Jr. was convicted of first-degree murder and second-degree murder, Clay County Murders he was charged as an adult for even though he was 17 years old at the time, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Emery and Todd Bradshaw went to a house where a man they knew was housesitting, the newspaper reported. They allegedly planned on robbing the man, but when the man fought back, he was shot and killed. Police arrived and when Emery and Bradshaw tried to run, both were shot by police, the newspaper reported. Emery was shot in the ankle, but Bradshaw was killed by police. Prosecutors argued Emery was criminally responsible in both Clay County Murders because he was involved in the robbery that eventually caused both of the murders, the newspaper reported.

In Florida, there are two possible sentences for someone convicted of first-degree murder: life in prison without parole or the death penalty. But last year, the U.S. Supreme Court put a wrinkle in Florida law by ruling juveniles could not be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, even in Clay County Murder Cases. This ruling came two years after a decision banning life sentences for juvenile on every crime but murder. In the most recent opinion, the Supreme Court argued the life sentence is cruel and unusual punishment. So even though parole does not even exist in Florida, some judges are adding it to the sentences people who were juveniles at their time of their crimes. This is done as a way to try to comply with the Supreme Court ruling, though there has not been direction on what would constitute a proper sentence going forward. Florida abolished parole in 1983 and people who are convicted must serve at least 85 percent of their sentence. No one sentenced to life can be released but, for example, someone sentenced to 10 years must serve at least 8-1/2 years. Laws have been proposed to add parole specifically to comply with the Supreme Court ruling on juveniles, but they've gone nowhere as lawmakers are reluctant to appear soft on crime, according to a previous report in the Florida Times-Union. The Supreme Court case provides a challenge for judges in cases such as this Clay County Murder case, but there is plenty of time for further directions. The first few defendants sentenced in these cases will not become eligible for parole for another 24 years.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a FREE CONSULTATION. Our Clay County Murder Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

After two juries can't decide, third trial begins for Jacksonville man accused of killing pregnant woman

September 16, 2013

A Jacksonville man is on trial for the third time, accused of stabbing his ex-girlfriend's pregnant roommate in 2010. Andrew King is on trial facing two counts of first-degree murder -one for the death of 22-year-old Felicia Burney and the second for the death of her unborn child, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. King is also charged with one count of Jacksonville armed burglary with assault or battery, the newspaper reported. If King is convicted on one or both of the murder charges, he will be sentenced to life in prison - there is no other option for a judge in a first-degree murder case, other than the death penalty. The state is not seeking the death penalty in this Jacksonville Murder Case.

The state's argument in this Jacksonville Murder Case is that King blamed Burney for his failed relationship with her roommate, Danielle Butler, the newspaper reported. King had been arrested a month prior for kicking in the door to the home and because he used to live there, prosecutors argued he knew his way around the house in the dark, the newspaper reported. But King's Duval County criminal defense team says King was framed by Butler, who was angry with Burney over an incident with Butler's 2-year-old son, the newspaper reported. Burney allegedly watched the boy while Butler worked and went to school, but Burney was talking about moving to be closer to family and King's attorneys said Butler was upset she would have to find and pay someone to watch her child.

There are enough moving parts in this Jacksonville Murder Case where two juries, so far, have been unable to agree on whether King is guilty. In a Jacksonville Murder Case, as with any criminal trial, the jury must be unanimous in its decision - either to convict someone or to find the defendant not guilty. It only takes one person on either side to hang a jury, and it's not known how far apart the first two juries were, nor do we know which side the majority was leaning toward. King has long proclaimed his innocence and his attorneys said he is not interested in any sort of plea agreement in the case. The only thing the state could do is reduce the charge, seeing that a plea to first-degree murder is a plea to life in prison. The rationale is understandable. King likely feels he's been close to being found not guilty twice by now. The state likely feels the same way. If the trial is not resolved after the third time in this Jacksonville Murder Case, it may be time for the state to take another look at the charges. But, it also seems King is not pleading to anything - and he has the right to take a case to trial.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a FREE CONSULTATION. Our Jacksonville Murder Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Judge grants order keeping evidence sealed - for now - in murder of young Jacksonville girl

September 13, 2013

Evidence in the murder of an 8-year-old Jacksonville girl will be able to be reviewed by the suspect's Jacksonville criminal defense attorneys before it is released to the public, a judge ruled last week. Donald Smith is charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping and sexual battery in the killing of Cherish Perrywinkle, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Smith's criminal defense attorneys have asked that all evidence remain sealed until the trial, the newspaper reported. The concern is that some of the stories will include information that will be ruled inadmissible at trial in this Jacksonville Murder Case, and would severely limit Smith's right to a fair trial. Prosecutors did say there likely would be some items released that the judge may ultimately rule could not be a part of a trial in this Jacksonville Murder Case.

The judge did not grant the entire motion, but did agree for now to let Smith's attorneys review the evidence first and have the ability to then ask the court to keep the evidence sealed until trial. Once the defense receives discovery information in the case, Smith's attorneys will have 10 days to file a motion as to whether or not the information should stay out of the public eye until trial, the newspaper reported. The judge will make the decision outside of open court, meaning there will not be a hearing the media or public can attend, the newspaper reported. All defendants have a right to a fair trial in front of a jury of his or her peers. This Jacksonville Murder Case, as expected, received plenty of media attention after Perrywinkle was abducted from a Jacksonville Wal-Mart when Smith lured her family with the promise to buy the family food and clothing, the newspaper reported.

It is always difficult to seat a jury in high-profile Jacksonville Murder Cases. And the case would certainly qualify. The media coverage of this Jacksonville Murder Case has been intense and will continue up to and through the trial. And as disturbing as the allegations are, Smith is entitled to a fair trial. The goal is to find 12 jurors who can sit in judgment who have not already formed an opinion one way or another in this Jacksonville Murder Case. While this coverage has not been as prolific nationally, everyone saw the difficulty of picking a jury in the case of George Zimmerman, accused of second-degree murder in the shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin. Smith's Jacksonville Murder Case has already drawn attention from state legislators and others asking how Smith, a registered sex offender, could have been out of prison and able to commit the crime he is accused of. The judge in this case is trying to protect Smith's right to a fair trial, and it will be interesting to see how much of the discovery is allowed to be released prior to a trial, if Smith indeed chooses to take the case to trial.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a FREE CONSULTATION. Our Jacksonville Murder Attorney, Victoria "Tori" Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.