Articles on this Page
- 04/25/15--07:41: _Murder trial to beg...
- 04/25/15--08:45: _BCSO arrest log (Ap...
- 04/25/15--18:06: _Man, 74, hit crossi...
- 04/26/15--09:58: _Lynn Haven man earn...
- 04/26/15--10:03: _Naval hovercraft, k...
- 04/27/15--13:08: _BCSO officer gets a...
- 04/27/15--15:54: _P.C. sailors help r...
- 04/27/15--16:28: _UPDATE: Woman charg...
- 04/28/15--08:41: _Spring breaker plea...
- 04/28/15--17:14: _Jury selection cont...
- 04/29/15--15:55: _PCB Police mull cha...
- 04/29/15--17:05: _Jury selection slow...
- 04/29/15--17:06: _UPDATE: GCSC crimin...
- 04/30/15--11:34: _Attorneys to host L...
- 04/30/15--12:50: _Deputies: Pair stea...
- 04/30/15--16:00: _Attorneys open thei...
- 04/30/15--16:01: _Murder suspect's bo...
- 04/30/15--16:03: _Panhandle officers ...
- 04/30/15--16:04: _UPDATE: PCB man kil...
- 04/30/15--16:05: _Former PCPD officer...
- 04/25/15--07:41: Murder trial to begin in case of missing couple
- 04/25/15--08:45: BCSO arrest log (April 17-22)
- 04/25/15--18:06: Man, 74, hit crossing parkway later dies
- 04/26/15--09:58: Lynn Haven man earns Medal of Valor for quick action during fire
- 04/26/15--10:03: Naval hovercraft, kayak crash under investigation by FWC
- 04/27/15--13:08: BCSO officer gets advanced training
- 04/27/15--15:54: P.C. sailors help rescue stranded boaters in Dauphin Island Regatta
- 04/27/15--16:28: UPDATE: Woman charged with murder of retired BCSO deputy
- 04/28/15--08:41: Spring breaker pleads not guilty to attack on elderly man
- 04/28/15--17:14: Jury selection continues in murder trial of area couple
- 04/29/15--15:55: PCB Police mull charges against frat members in vets' accusations
- 04/29/15--17:05: Jury selection slows start of Davis murder trial
- 04/29/15--17:06: UPDATE: GCSC criminal justice official charged with grand theft
- 04/30/15--11:34: Attorneys to host Law Day Picnic Friday
- 04/30/15--12:50: Deputies: Pair steals $200 worth of meat from DeLand Winn-Dixie
- 04/30/15--16:00: Attorneys open their cases in Davis murder trial
- 04/30/15--16:01: Murder suspect's bond set in PDL double homicide
- 04/30/15--16:03: Panhandle officers wary of latest designer drug 'Flakka'
- 04/30/15--16:04: UPDATE: PCB man killed in motorcycle crash on State 390
- 04/30/15--16:05: Former PCPD officer charged with perjury in addition to grand theft
DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — There has been no sign of John Hughes and Heidi Rhodes since they disappeared May 7, 2012, and authorities have come to believe they won’t be seen again, dead or alive.
They believe Barry Davis used his friendship with Hughes to secure an invitation into his home in south Walton County. Once inside, he first killed Hughes and then Rhodes, a Panama City Beach resident Hughes was dating, according to law enforcement.
When Davis goes on trial Monday in DeFuniak Springs for first-degree murder, prosecutor Bobby Elmore likely will tell jurors that Davis burned the bodies of his victims, and use testimony or previous statements from Davis’ ex-girlfriend to bolster his case.
Elmore declined to discuss specifics of his trial strategy last week, but 1st Judicial Circuit State Attorney Bill Eddins said at the time Davis was charged with murder in 2013 that he was confident his office would obtain a guilty verdict in a no-body trial.
If Davis is found guilty of the two murders, the state intends to seek the death penalty.
Tiffani Steward was identified as Davis’ girlfriend at a news conference held to announce his arrest. She provided statements that helped the Walton County Sheriff’s Office wrap up a long, arduous investigation, according to Sheriff Mike Adkinson.
After Davis was arrested on unrelated drug charges, investigators were able to convince Steward to tell them she’d seen Hughes and Rhodes murdered, Adkinson said at the news conference.
Adkinson said part of the difficulty with building a case against Davis was the reluctance of witnesses to speak against him.
“Truly, I can tell you, Davis struck fear in the hearts of these people,” he said.
Steward told authorities she and Davis had been invited to dinner at Hughes’ home May 7, 2012, and she knew Davis was plotting a robbery, according to an affidavit filed at the time of Davis’ arrest.
Steward said she and Rhodes went to run an errand and returned to find Hughes lying on the floor. She said she then watched Davis strangle Rhodes into unconsciousness.
Steward told officers she’d seen Davis tie his incapacitated victims with duct tape and submerge their heads in a bathtub.
Later, she said, Davis told her he had burned the bodies.
Information is provided by the Bay County Sheriff’s Office on people arrested on charges April 17-22. Those arrested can contact The News Herald if charges are dropped or if they are acquitted. Addresses are those given by the defendant during arrest.
Ruberto Quiles Jr., 23, 5205 Marla Drive, Parker, felony or domestic battery by strangulation, kidnapping/false imprisonment
James Willis Basil, 25, 1222 E. 13th Court, Panama City, possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, manufacture, sell or deliver
Marcus Earl Lowder, 32, 907 Cone Ave., Panama City, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, manufacture, sell or deliver, possession of cocaine
Jonathan Eric Hall, 18, 1714 Wolfrun Lane, Panama City, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, manufacture, sell or deliver, possession of amphetamines with intent to distribute, manufacture, sell or deliver
Andy Jackson Sanford, 24, 2817 Wakulla Ave., Panama City, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, manufacture, sell or deliver
Casey Donald Wright, 41, 4364 Grand Lagoon Oak Drive, Panama City Beach, possession of controlled substance without prescription
James Michael Stevens, 40, Colorodo Springs, Colo., possession of controlled substance without prescription
Buck Westley Pennel, 26, 107 Benicia Place, Panama City, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon without the intent to kill, felony or domestic battery by strangulation
Edwin Cruz Figueroa, 54, 132 N. Comet St., Callaway, possession of cocaine
Valerie Mandella Porter, 25, 6300 Tammy Lane, Panama City, possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, manufacture, sell or deliver
Lenny Clyde Leonard, 33, 6112 Ivy Road, Panama City, possession of controlled substance without prescription
Ronald Jay Savage, 49, 1805 Grant Ave., Panama City, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon without the intent to kill
Brian James Taylor, 35, 6220 Hilltop Ave., Panama City Beach, possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, manufacture, sell or deliver
Devan Dwayne (Dewayne) Eldridge, 24, 7136 Beachwood Blvd., Panama City Beach, burglary
Jeffrey Oshaun Johnson, 30, 347 N. Center Ave., Panama City, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon without the intent to kill
Trent Oliver Montgomery, 30, Birmingham, Ala., burglary
David Lee Hall, 49, 2713 E. Sixth Place, Panama City, possession of controlled substance without prescription
Lucy Marie Koerner, 30, 20022 Ring Road, Fountain, possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, manufacture, sell or deliver
James Edward White, 62, 7426 Harvey St., Panama City, possession of cocaine
Trannon Lamond Myers, 23, 228 Williamsburg Road, Wewahitchka, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, manufacture, sell or deliver
James Chadwick Mond, 23, 4321 Quick Lane, Bayou George, burglary
Candace Amanda Martin, 32, 9402 S. Thomas Drive, Panama City Beach, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, manufacture, sell or deliver
Stacy Shenna Hill, 27, 1901 Brown Ave., Panama City, burglary
David Paul Lowe, 51, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon without the intent to kill, sexual assault
CALLAWAY — A pedestrian that was struck by a vehicle Friday has died, the Bay County Sheriff’s Office said.
Panama City Beach resident John Ethell, 74, was taken to a local hospital after being struck while crossing Tyndall Parkway, the BSCO said. The incident happened at around 8:30 p.m.
While the incident is still under investigation, authorities do not believe drugs, alcohol or speed are factors in the accident.
MEXICO BEACH — Lynn Haven resident Anthony Kelly said he was just “doing what I do for a living.” But Mexico Beach Police Chief Glenn Norris said it was an act of valor.
Between 7:30 a.m. and 8 a.m. on March 9, Sgt. Kelly was driving to his Lynn Haven home following a 12-hour shift with the Mexico Beach Police Department. As he drove he spotted smoke rising from the Abolone Junior Apartment Building in Callaway.
As Kelly watched the smoke he noticed a nearby deputy’s car respond to the scene and he followed.
“I thought it was strange for there to be smoke that time of day,” said Kelly, who has been a law enforcement officer for 28 years. “I responded by virtue of doing what I do for a living.”
As the first two responders at the scene, Kelly and the deputy began going door-to-door, waking up residents as they waited for the fire department to arrive.
The building soon became engulfed in flames and Kelly and the deputy entered the top floor apartments by kicking in doors, allowing them to clear out residents.
“Most people were asleep or just waking up,” Kelly said. “Many of them were seniors.”
By the time the fire department arrived on scene, Kelly and the deputy had evacuated 17 residents from the building. Kelly also ensured the deputy received oxygen after suffering smoke inhalation.
No injuries were reported in the blaze.
“These people were asleep and they could have died very easily in those apartments,” Norris said. “It’s amazing to me that no one was hurt, including the officers.”
Norris recently presented Kelly with a Medal of Valor — the first time the chief has awarded the recognition during his tenure with Mexico Beach. Due to his military background, Norris believes in recognizing the positive achievements of his officers.
“He’s a true hero to me,” Norris said. “He responded in his personal vehicle just to see if he could help and it turned out there was a need for action. He’s a great asset to the department. We’re getting very qualified, experienced officers, which is exactly what we need.
During a recent meeting of the Mexico Beach City Council, Kelly received a standing ovation from his fellow officers as well as members of the community.
“It feels good anytime you’re recognized amongst your peers,” Kelly said. “I’m glad no one got hurt and the people who needed to get out got out.”
PANAMA CITY BEACH — Authorities are investigating a crash in St. Andrew Bay after a naval hovercraft ran over a kayaker, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) reports released Friday.
Matthew Goff, of Georgia, was taken to a local hospital April 14 at about 9:30 a.m. after an FWC officer spotted him paddling up to the St. Andrews State Park boat ramp with a significant amount of blood on his shirt. Officers learned Goff had just been run over by a U.S. Navy hovercraft traveling at about 40 mph in thick fog. Goff suffered minor injuries. However, no charges had been filed at the time of the report, FWC said.
Representatives with the Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division confirmed the incident occurred between a Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) hovercraft vehicle and a kayaker. Jacqui L. Barker, spokeswoman, said the incident remains under investigation.
Goff told officers he was fishing and had just landed a king mackerel when he heard what sounded like a big engine coming his way. The fog was so dense, however, Goff could not tell from which direction the sound was coming. He turned around to suddenly see a LCAC hovercraft coming straight at him, FWC reported.
Goff was thrown from his kayak but able to pull himself back on and paddled over to the hovercraft, officers said. The hovercraft’s crew asked Goff if he wanted to board their vessel so they could take him back to the Navy base and receive treatment for his head and leg injuries. Goff told the crew he had launched from the state park and that his friend would meet him at the boat ramp.
Goff was taken to a local hospital by his friend, and FWC officers went to Naval Support Activity Panama City to question the hovercraft’s crew.
Operators of the hovercraft, contractors who worked for a company called Engility Corp., said when they left the naval base for a routine test operation at about 8:30 a.m. that day they had about a mile of visibility. Robert James, operator, said as they headed farther into the pass they noticed the fog was only getting thicker and slowed to about 35 mph.
“James stated that at one point visibility was only between 50-100 yards, when all of the sudden the port lookout advised they were going to make contact on port side,” FWC reported. “James advised he quickly placed the engines in reverse, but it was too late and ended up making contact with the kayaker.”
The crew offered Goff a ride back, but he told them he would paddle back to the state park, FWC said.
Goff, who could not be reached for comment, was given a verbal warning by FWC for being in possession of a light but not using it at the time of the incident. The U.S. Coast Guard’s rule for traveling at safe speeds accounts for state of visibility and the “maneuverability of the vessel with special reference to stopping distance and turning ability in the prevailing conditions,” according to USCG policy. However, no charges have been filed against the hovercraft crew.
LYNN HAVEN — The Bay County Sheriff’s Office announced Monday that Lt. Michael Branning, of the BCSO Callaway Precinct, recently graduated from the Florida Sheriff’s Association Commander’s Academy.
The Commander’s Academy is a two week course of instruction held every year at the FSA headquarters in Tallahassee. Some of the classes offered instruct attendees on leadership skills, crisis management and public relations.
Instructors for the classes include 22 Florida sheriffs as well as majors, chief deputies, and captains at Florida sheriff’s offices.
A crew of four — including two sailors from Panama City — with a boat out of the Fort Walton Yacht Club not only rode out the deadly storm that hit a regatta on Mobile Bay Saturday, but actually rescued three fellow boaters.
Rob Brown, owner of a Tripp 26 called Road Tripp, took to Facebook to heap praise on the men with him when a storm bearing winds over 70 mph slammed into the annual Dauphin Island Regatta.
“It was being surrounded by excellent sailors that allowed us to get through the storm without damage or injury,” Brown wrote. “Everyone worked as a team in terrible conditions to get squared away and ride it out.”
The crew consisted of fellow Fort Walton Beach resident and National Sailing Hall of Fame member Zach Grant and highly experienced sailors Greggory Preston of Crestview, Mike Willette of Panama City and William Zehner of Panama City, according to John Farris, fleet captain of the Fort Walton Yacht Club.
Hundreds of boats were in the water when the storm hit, according to news reports, and 10, three of which were participating in the regatta, either capsized or were incapacitated.
After riding out the storm, but still facing “heavy seas and high winds” the Road Tripp happened to come within 50 yards of three people who had gone into the water.
“William’s fabulous boat handling under jib alone allowed us to move into position and pull everyone from the water in really tall swells and bad conditions,” Brown wrote in his Facebook account.
“Saving their lives made the moment very heavy,” with the realization that others on the water were missing, Brown wrote. Still today, four people remain unaccounted for in Mobile Bay.
Farris, the fleet captain, spent his Air Force career as a weather forecaster and today is an instructor at Hurlburt Field.
He said he knows well how unpredictable storms can be, and, in his job as fleet captain, is also sensitive to being forced to cancel an event that people plan for all year.
“Everyone is susceptible to pressure,” he said. “You’re planning all year round and everyone wants to go party.”
Officials at the Fairhope Yacht Club, the hosts of this year’s Dauphin Island regatta, had temporarily canceled the event for weather, only to ultimately decide to go ahead with it.
After the Saturday accident, and given two other freak storm accidents in the state this year, Farris said he had decided to postpone the annual Fort Walton Yacht Club Round the Island Race until 2016.
“We need the time to review and improve our safety protocols,” he told club members in a letter.
FOUNTAIN — A former deputy who asked twice for protection against a woman he’d been in a relationship with for 13 years has been shot and killed in a Fountain home following a domestic quarrel, according to BCSO investigative reports.
Cheryl Gay Hundley, 56, was arrested and charged with an open count of murder Monday after an early-morning shooting that left former deputy Sam Walter Denham, 60, with a gunshot wound to the chest. Denham died from his wounds shortly after being rushed to a local hospital for treatment. Hundley was later charged with his death after investigators learned the two had allegedly been in a verbal altercation when she shot Denham, BCSO reported.
Deputies and EMS responded at about 5:15 a.m. Monday to the home at 12406 Silver Lake Road in Fountain. Hundley had called to report the shooting. When deputies arrived, Denham lay inside the home shot once in the chest.
Investigators believe the couple was involved in a verbal altercation when Hundley shot Denham. Denham was taken to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead a short while later.
A light rain fell shortly after noon on the home, a quaint three-bedroom house that faces one of the neighborhood’s few paved streets. BCSO investigators had cleared the scene by then as neighbors began swapping bits of information in an effort to determine what might’ve taken place.
One woman, who did not want to be identified, said she had not seen anything or heard gunfire that morning. However, it was not unusual to hear the report of a firearm from the home since Denham would often hunt squirrels, she said. She added it also was not unusual to hear Denham and Hundley in an argument.
Both were residents of the home in Fountain and had been in a relationship for about 13 years, BCSO said.
According to court records, Denham had filed in March for an injunction for protection against domestic violence. He reported that he felt like his life was in imminent danger at the hands of Hundley.
“She has a .38 Spec. (Smith & Wesson) and has threatened me a number of times with it,” Denham wrote. “… Cheryl has anger problems. I fear for my health and well being. She has in the past (threatened) to shoot me. Please help me before this escalates. Please get me away from (this) person.”
The petition was denied based on the finding that Denham did not include enough facts concerning the threats he alleged had been made against him.
“… Threats alone do not constitute acts of domestic violence,” the order stated.
Denham moved to a property jointly owned by the couple on Gowan Road and returned to the court with a letter from his psychologist, claiming mental distress; a supplemental affidavit, claiming BCSO responded to his home after Hundley struck him on the face and he declined to press charges; and a letter to the judge from a Salvation Army dependency court advocate, pleading for help.
“I know victims and … Denham could change his mind but I would much rather go out on a limb for him than not and see something horrible happen,” wrote Pamela Martin, of the Salvation Army. “I would not take up your time unless I felt he was in danger.”
However, the case was dismissed at the beginning of April due to insufficient evidence, according to court records.
On the night before the shooting, BCSO reported that officers had responded to Silver Lake Road to a call that Hundley had allegedly stolen Denham’s cellphone. Officials said Denham had gone over to the home to retrieve the phone when an argument ensued and Hundley allegedly shot him.
Hundley was taken to Bay County Jail Monday and charged with an open count of murder to await first appearance.
Denham had retired from BCSO about three years ago. He had been a deputy for 26 years prior.
PANAMA CITY — A Kansas spring breaker has pleaded not guilty to charges that he broke into a snowbird’s rented condo and attacked the elderly man for no apparent reason, according to court records.
Keith Leon Rakestraw, 23, waived an appearance in Bay County Court Monday for a hearing of the charges against him. Rakestraw faces charges of burglary of an occupied dwelling and battery on a person more than 65 years old after a March incident in which 93-year-old Joseph Calderon was attacked, court records indicated.
Rakestraw pleaded not guilty to the charges last week.
Authorities have yet to release a reason why Rakestraw entered the condo at 5127 Gulf Drive and began striking Calderon with a PVC pipe. However, officers reported Rakestraw walked through the front door where Calderon was seated on a couch. He began striking the couch with a newspaper and then striking Calderon with the PVC pipe in the arm and cheek before fleeing the condo, officers reported.
Calderon, of Quebec, Canada, suffered minor lacerations and bruising. He said he didn’t know Rakestraw and had never seen him before the attack.
Rakestraw, of Chetopa, Kan., is scheduled for a pretrial conference on July 9.
DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — Of about 600 people summoned to the trial of Barry Davis, attorneys have whittled down the final group.
In closed-door interviews with batches of six jurors at a time Tuesday in the Walton County Courthouse, state prosecutors and defense attorneys approached an agreement on the 12 jurors and two alternates who will decide the fate of the 29-year-old Davis. He faces the death penalty if convicted at trial.
Davis was charged Feb. 13, 2013, with first-degree premeditated murder in the deaths of Santa Rosa Beach resident 49-year-old John Hughes and his girlfriend, 41-year-old Heidi Rhodes of Panama City, who were reported missing in May of the prior year. A close acquaintance of Davis told authorities that, after a robbery attempt, she watched as Davis submerged the heads of the incapacitated couple in a bathtub. However, their bodies were never found.
Circuit Judge Kelvin Wells called for the 600 potential jurors, an unusually large number, according to criminal court officials. Opening arguments were expected to take place at some point Wednesday, but juror negotiations continued as Tuesday came to a close.
Davis previously was acquitted in September 2012 of stealing and selling Hughes’ 2008 Corvette. The trial took place months before he was charged with the deaths of Hughes and Rhodes. The defense relied on Davis’ statement to police that Hughes had traveled to Orlando a few hours ahead of him and was present, although hidden, when the sale took place. The transaction took place four days after Hughes and Rhodes were reported missing.
Following the trial, the Sheriff’s Office and State Attorney’s Office decided not to prosecute Davis on a burglary charge stemming from the discovery of many of Hughes’ home furnishings in his possession. Instead, they settled on the painstaking task of developing a murder case against him.
Authorities arrested Davis in February 2013 and labeled him a “cold-blooded, calculated murderer,” said Walton County Sheriff Mike Adkinson. Davis was in the Okaloosa County Jail on drug charges and transferred to the Walton County Jail.
At the time of the arrest, officials announced they had developed a case against Davis with the statements of an eyewitness who was close to him.
Tiffani Steward, identified as Davis’ girlfriend, told deputies that on the way to Hughes’ home for a dinner party Davis said he was going to kidnap Hughes and hold him for ransom. Hughes had been severely injured in a workplace accident and was bringing in about $6,000 a month from an insurance settlement.
Steward told authorities she and Rhodes went to run an errand to buy margarita mix and returned to find Hughes lying on the floor, bleeding and not moving. She said she then watched Davis strangle Rhodes into unconsciousness.
Steward told officers she’d seen Davis tie his incapacitated victims with duct tape and submerge their heads in Hughes’ master bathtub. The two then left the residence and the victims behind, she told officers, but debits from Hughes’ bank account continued after that date.
“The next time Steward saw Davis …” a day or two after the killings, according to an affidavit summarizing Steward’s statement to investigators, “he was dragging a blue tote … to a burn pit. The tote smelled bad and Steward assumed the tote held the bodies of Hughes and Rhodes. Davis told her later that he had cut up the bodies and burned them in the burn pit and scattered the ashes.”
Prosecutors will also likely have the testimony of another of Davis’ acquaintances, who had a Cadillac Escalade belonging to Hughes parked behind his home. Kenneth Ingram, a correctional officer and the homeowner, told investigators that Davis asked him to store the Escalade on his property sometime in June 2012.
The back bench seat was missing and the back carpet had been cut out when it was recovered, according to Davis’ arrest affidavit.
The trial continues Wednesday, and attorneys anticipated opening statements will begin.
PANAMA CITY BEACH — Police are investigating whether criminal charges should be filed against visiting fraternity members who allegedly yelled at and spat on a group of wounded veterans during a biannual warrior retreat, according to Panama City Beach Police Department officials.
However, the length of time that has lapsed since the incident — which happened during the week of April 14 — has hindered the investigation, police said.
The University of Florida’s Zeta Beta Tau (ZBT) chapter was closed Tuesday amid the allegations stemming from the biannual Warrior Beach Retreat week. The university charged the fraternity with public drunkenness, obscene behavior, causing physical harm, theft and property damage.
“In any investigation, the longer the time that passes since the incident the more difficult it is to investigate,” said PCBPD Capt. Robert Clarkson. “But it is still early in the investigation, and we are continually developing witnesses.”
Three of the fraternity members have so far been reported as either suspended or expelled. UF has refused to say whether any fraternity members have been suspended or expelled as a result of the incident, citing federal privacy laws. Those students’ names have not been released amid a flurry of outrage and threats circulating on social media.
About 60 veterans at the Warrior Beach Retreat were staying as guests of Laketown Wharf two weekends ago when members of ZBT fraternity members attending their spring formal allegedly yelled at them, spat on them, tore flags off their cars and threw beer bottles at them, according to people attending the veterans retreat.
Panama City Beach Police responded to a call April 17 but let resort management handle the situation. Management threw the students off the resort property the following day, according to Laketown Wharf. No police report was filed, but after a complaint published anonymously on social media went viral nationally, the fraternity members were reprimanded by UF and PCBPD has begun to investigate whether criminal charges can be brought against the students.
Linda Cope, founder of the Warrior Beach Retreat, said she is pleased PCBPD has begun an investigation. However, with the amount of public backlash, she encouraged people to keep a level head as the veterans decide whether they want to press charges.
“Let justice run its course,” Cope said Wednesday. “We do not need to take justice into our own hands.”
Officials reported no suspects have been identified as of Wednesday. The number of suspects sought by police, as well as any other details of the investigation, was not released by PCBPD. Clarkson said witnesses can reach out to investigators to aid in the investigation.
“Anyone who saw or heard anything can contact us to help in the investigation,” Clarkson said.
Clarkson said criminal investigators and the case agent, Sgt. Eusebio Talamantez, can be reached through the PCBPD main line of 850-233-5000.
DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — Delays in selecting a jury have pushed the start of the first-degree murder trial of Barry Davis back until this morning.
Prosecuting attorney Bobby Elmore had surmised the trial would be ready to go by mid-day Tuesday, but a second pool of potential jurors had to be brought in Wednesday when he and the Davis defense team couldn’t agree on the 14 candidates needed to fill the jury box.
Walton County Circuit Court Judge Kelvin Wells told the second group of potential jurors that he expected the Davis trial to go “three to four weeks,” and warned them that it could include a death penalty phase.
Davis is charged in a 15-count indictment with killing John Hughes of Seagrove Beach and Heidi Rhodes of Panama City Beach on May 7, 2012.
Authorities say Davis was invited in to Hughes’ home on Arbor Lane for dinner when he attacked the pair, incapacitated them and placed their heads in a bathtub full of water.
The other charges against him are theft-related. It is alleged he stole most of Hughes’ household goods and cashed checks for thousands of dollars.
If the jury finds Davis guilty, it will be asked to listen to more testimony as Elmore and Davis’ attorneys argue for and against the death sentence.
The 14 jurors selected Wednesday will include two alternates.
PANAMA CITY — The manager of Gulf Coast State College’s Criminal Justice Selection Center has been arrested for allegedly stealing funds collected from would-be law enforcement and students, according to Bay County Sheriff’s Office arrest records.
John Michael Dwyer, 64, was placed on paid leave following an April 21 arrest on charges of grand theft. BCSO investigators claim Dwyer stole $1,435 in funds paid over the course of two months to the Criminal Justice Selection Center by students and officers aiming to become Bay County law enforcement, authorities reported.
Attempts to contact Dwyer went unreturned Wednesday. GCSC officials also declined to comment Wednesday since the incident is an ongoing investigation.
Dwyer’s role as manager of the Criminal Justice Selection Center was to examine applications of officers trying to recertify or out-of-state officers applying for Florida certification, according to the college’s website. Dwyer balanced the funds collected from those applications and tests as well as funds collected from students and staff in need of background checks and fingerprinting, the website states.
BCSO reported the missing funds came out of one of those revenue streams.
“We believe (Dwyer) falsified documents and destroyed receipts, which meant those funds couldn’t be tracked,” said Ruth Corley, BCSO spokeswoman. “He then used the money for personal gain.”
Investigators responded to a call to a possible embezzlement at the college April 7. Campus security director David Thomasee questioned Dwyer and obtained a taped conversation in which he admitted taking the money, BCSO reported.
Dwyer was arrested April 21, bonded out of jail before his first appearance and was ordered to stay away from GCSC property. Dwyer was placed on paid leave as the investigation continues, according to a motion to allow bond on pretrial release. His first arraignment is set for May 26.
PANAMA CITY — BBQ chicken and ribs will be one of the ways a local law firm shows appreciation to emergency responders Friday during their annual Law Day Picnic, according to the event hosts.
Manuel & Thompson will be hosting their annual Law Day Picnic as part of the Law Week 2015 celebration Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. to honor the Panama City Police officers, EMTs and fire crews. The public is invited to stop in, enjoy the picnic and show support for local first responders during the picnic, which will take place on the lawn of the Manuel & Thompson offices at 314 Magnolia Ave. BBQ chicken and ribs will be served and Stainless Steel will be playing music.
This year’s Law Day Picnic will be the 10th hosted by Manuel & Thompson.
DELAND — A woman with a hankering for steaks and pork ribs traveled 26 miles to steal them from a Winn-Dixie in DeLand, Volusia County sheriff’s deputies said.
The trip didn’t go well for Doris Rowe, 48, of Mount Dora who dropped some pork ribs as she hit a store manager in the neck and escaped in a car waiting for her in the store’s parking lot, Volusia County sheriff’s deputies said.
Rowe and the driver of the getaway car, Kenneth Edwards, 54, who were caught Tuesday afternoon in a traffic stop made by DeLand police, were each charged with grand theft and robbery, court records show.
Rowe and Edwards were being held in the Volusia County Jail on Wednesday, each on $20,000 bail, records show.
After getting arrested, the duo gave investigators an idea how the meat heist developed, reports state.
Edwards said Rowe came to his house and asked to go to the store but could not explain why he drove to a Winn-Dixie at 3120 N. Woodland Blvd. near DeLand, 26 miles away from his Sanford home, deputies said.
Rowe said she asked Edwards to give her a ride to DeLand and stopped first at the Winn-Dixie in south DeLand. What Rowe said happened at the south DeLand store was redacted from the report but Rowe said she then went to the store on north Woodland Boulevard at the Brandywine Shopping Center.
That’s where a manager called deputies at 2:02 p.m. Tuesday after seeing Rowe stuff a bunch of meat products and other items in her pants, deputies said.
As Rowe left the store, the manager stopped her and grabbed onto some merchandise but Rowe hit the manager in the neck multiple times, dropping a pack of pork ribs, two packs of detergent and three water filters, deputies said.
Rowe then dove head-first into the car Edwards was driving and they sped out of the parking lot, deputies said.
Once inside the car, Rowe started pulling steaks out of her pants, reports show.
When deputies searched the car, they found five ribeye steaks valued at $123.24, two 3-pound packs of ground beef valued at $23.94, four packs of bacon valued at $43.99, two packs of pork ribs valued at $31.09 and a $2.49 gallon of bleach, reports detail.
The total value of the stolen merchandise, which were largely meat products, totaled $361.31, Volusia deputies said.
DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — Assistant State Attorney Bobby Elmore appears to face a daunting task in convincing jurors that Barry Davis killed John “Greg” Hughes and Heidi Rhodes on May 7, 2012 at Hughes’ home in Santa Rosa Beach.
Elmore has no bodies and a handful of witnesses who Davis’ attorney, Spiro Kypreos, seems eager to expose as serial liars.
“All of these witnesses have lied time and time again,” Kypreos said Thursday in his opening statement at Davis’ murder trial. “The state is asking, essentially, that you believe their most recent versions of the facts are the truth.”
But Elmore, a prosecutor for more than 30 years, is nothing if not thorough, and he laid out his plan to convict Davis on two counts of first-degree murder in a two-hour opening statement of his own.
“Evidence will show he disposed of the bodies. Evidence will show they are dead. Death isn’t a body. It is the absence of life,” he said. “Their lives were ended by Barry Davis.”
Davis could face the death penalty if convicted.
The key witness likely will be Tiffani Steward, who Elmore confirmed will take the stand during the trial that could last four weeks. Steward was Davis’ girlfriend on the day almost three years ago that Hughes and Rhodes were last seen, and she has told Walton County sheriff’s investigators she saw him kill them.
In his overview of the evidence they will be presented, Elmore described the death scene to jurors as Steward recalled it. She and Rhodes had gone to Publix to buy Margarita mix. When they returned, “Davis threw Steward aside and grabbed Rhodes and smashed her against the wall.”
He said Steward will testify that she screamed at what she saw and was told “shut up or you’re next.” She left the room and saw Hughes lying in a bedroom covered in blood, Elmore told the jury.
Steward also will testify she saw Davis bind Hughes’ and Rhodes’ feet with duct tape and submerge their heads in a bathtub he filled with water.
Steward will testify, Elmore said, that Davis had made statements about disposing of the bodies by cutting them up and burning them.
Elmore also told the 14 jurors that he will show that Davis stole nearly everything of value from Hughes’ home, “right down to the salt and pepper shakers.”
He said they will see checks showing that Davis was dipping into Hughes’ bank account after he killed him and hear from handwriting experts who will verify forgeries on those checks.
Davis faces 12 charges of theft and fraud in addition to the murder charges.
Elmore said cadaver dogs alerted to the smell of decomposed flesh on Hughes’ Cadillac Escalade. Witnesses will testify they saw Davis driving the Cadillac after May 7, 2012, and evidence will show that he tried, successfully for quite some time, to hide the vehicle from authorities, Elmore added.
Steward’s testimony will be backed up by people who Davis hired as unknowing dupes to help him cover his tracks, he said. Most of them lied at one time or another to deputies investigating the Hughes and Rhodes disappearances.
One thing they told investigators was that they had packed Davis’ home belongings into a Ryder truck, Elmore said. The company, he added, had been out of business since 2002.
Kypreos told jurors that several of Elmore’s witnesses obtained immunity from prosecution by agreeing to testify. Steward, at least, could have faced prison for her role in helping Davis cover up the murder and thefts he is accused of, he said.
Kypreos said he would point out all the many lies that were told and leave it for the jury to find the truth, if they could.
“They lied. The question you’ll have to resolve is when were they lying,” he said. “How motivated were these people to avoid prosecution.”
Elmore called the first witnesses of the day to verify that Heidi Rhodes, who lived in Panama City Beach, had indeed disappeared and that her close family ties would rule out her just running away. He called several family members, a former Bay County sheriff’s deputy and her former landlord to testify that the disappearance was unexpected and that it did not look when she left her home on May 7, 2012, that she had plans to be away for a long while.
BONIFAY — A 28-year-old Pensacola man is being held on an $850,000 bond in Holmes County for allegedly killing a Ponce de Leon couple last month.
Joshua Brandyn Gaskey made his first appearance in court Thursday morning to face murder charges in the deaths of Sheley and Jacqulyn Brooks. A judge set the bond and Gaskey was returned to jail.
Gaskey allegedly went to the Brooks’ home April 18, shot them each in the head and took two bottles of prescription medication before he fled, according to his arrest report.
He then returned to Escambia County and allegedly threw the gun he had used in Pensacola Bay, the report said.
Jacqulyn Brooks was found dead about 6 p.m. by a Walton County deputy, who was first on scene after a call for assistance.
Her husband was found alive but died a few days later from his wounds.
Gaskey already was wanted in Escambia County for allegedly stealing checks from a church.
He also faces charges for violating his probation in Santa Rosa County.
CHIPLEY — Gravel, $5 Insanity, Flakka — whatever street name Florida’s most recent drug trend is given, Washington and Bay County law enforcement officials say they’re preparing officers to battle its presence.
Washington County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) Lead Investigator Mark Collins says the drug induces “excited delirium,” affecting both the physical and mental states of its users.
Flakka users “are a danger to themselves and others,” Collins said. “So far, we haven’t had any Washington County cases involving flakka, but we’re alert and looking for every training opportunity possible to be sure our staff knows the signs that someone has been taking the drug.”
Officials with the Bay County Sheriff’s Office said even with a heightened synthetic drug presence of “Molly” and synthetic marijuana during Spring Break, Flakka didn’t seem to make an appearance. They are suspicious of two cases pending lab tests right now, but those came in after March from local residents, according to BCSO Capt. Faith Bell.
Bell said flakka seems like the second coming of a bath salt era, only much worse.
“As if bath salts weren’t bad enough, this stuff seems to be even worse,” Bell said.
Most flakka reports in the state are currently coming out of South Florida, although Jackson County already has reported at least one finding. Some of the incidents in South Florida stem from people ingesting what they think is going to be similar to synthetic marijuana until the drug takes hold. The drug’s symptoms include profuse sweating, violent seizures, hallucinations, erratic behavior and extreme combativeness. And because of the drug’s black-market nature, users never really know how heightened those effects might be.
Readily available in many places in Florida for $5 or less a vial, flakka’s active ingredient is a chemical compound called alpha-PVP, which is on the Drug Enforcement Administration’s list of the controlled substances most likely to be abused. It is usually made overseas in countries such as China and Pakistan.
A derivative of the Spanish word for a thin, pretty woman, flakka is usually sold in a crystal form and is often smoked using electronic cigarettes, which are popular with young people and give off no odor. It can also be snorted, injected or swallowed.
Judging from the evidence being seized by police around Florida, flakka use is up sharply. Submissions for testing to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s crime labs have grown from 38 in 2013 to 228 in 2014. At the Broward Sheriff's Office laboratory, flakka submissions grew from fewer than 200 in 2014 to 275 already, in just the first three months of this year, according to spokeswoman Keyla Concepcion.
In March, one man who’d allegedly ingested the drug impaled himself while trying to scale the spiked fence surrounding the Fort Lauderdale Police Department. On Thursday, police in Boynton Beach arrested 20-year-old Qushanna Doby on child neglect charges after officers found her 1-year-old daughter, crying and shivering in a soiled diaper outside an office building along a busy road. Doby told officers she had had smoked flakka and suffered hallucinations from the drug in the past.
Chipley Police Chief Kevin Crews says one of the drug’s greatest dangers, aside from the physical and mental risks, lies in loopholes that can make it technically legal, and in some cases, even available on convenience store shelves.
“Flakka is an example of the ever-evolving trade that has drug dealers cooking up ‘legal’ versions of drugs from new chemical compounds from substances that have not yet been banned,” Crews said. “We haven’t seen any version of flakka here yet, but similar to designer drugs from the past, such as synthetic marijuana, some store owners don’t even know what they have, so we do give them an opportunity to take the products off their shelves.
“We still conduct undercover buys of synthetic drugs at convenience stores. If we find those items, we seize the product, send it to the lab to have it tested. If it comes back for any of those banned substances, we pursue the case further.”
Similar to bath salts, the drug is a crystalline substance many law enforcement officials have dubbed “more dangerous than meth.”
“The effect can be frightening,” Crews said. “It’s still in its infant stages, but we are remaining vigilant.”
The Drug Enforcement Administation reports the number of flakka cases has been steadily increasing in the U.S. since the drug first emerged in 2012. As of 2014, 670 cases of the drug were found nationwide.
News Herald writer Zack McDonald and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
PANAMA CITY — A Panama City Beach man died in a Thursday traffic crash involving three vehicles on State 390, the Florida Highway Patrol reported.
David P. Wooten Jr., 57, was killed when his 2014 Harley-Davidson collided with a 1995 Jeep Wrangler west of the intersection of State 390 and Ruth Hentz Avenue, according to an FHP report. FHP responded to the crash at 8:40 a.m. Thursday and the driver of the Wrangler, 50-year-old Alexander T. Harris of Panama City, also had minor injuries, according to the report.
A third vehicle, a 2006 Honda Civic driven by 20-year-old Felicia N. Forness, of Panama City Beach, was traveling eastbound on State 390, while Harris was driving in the westbound lane, FHP reported. Forness drove left of center to go around a slower-moving vehicle and entered the path of the Wrangler, according to the crash report. Harris swerved to the right to avoid contact and entered the westbound shoulder, FHP reported.
Harris crossed loose gravel and lost control of the Wrangler before traveling back onto the roadway and entering the eastbound lane, FHP reported. The front of the Wrangler struck the left side of the motorcycle, rotated clockwise and came to a rest on the south shoulder, facing east, while the motorcycle came to rest underneath the front of the Wrangler, according to the report.
The report noted alcohol was not a factor for any of the three drivers and also noted Wooten was not wearing a helmet. Forness had no injuries, according to the report.
The crash remains under investigation and FHP said charges are pending.
PANAMA CITY — A former Panama City Police officer who was arrested on charges of stealing a computer from evidence has been charged with lying while under oath to investigators, according to court records.
Brandon Mistric, 34, was charged with grand theft of more than $300 after a backpack containing an iPad, among other items, came up missing as a group of individuals were being booked into the Panama City Police Department. He was arrested in October and his employment with PCPD terminated. Now, Mistric is facing additional charges of perjury after giving investigators contradictory information during interviews, authorities reported.
Mistric appeared in court Thursday to set a pretrial meeting date in May on the sum of the charges. He did not immediately return calls for a comment later in the day.
According to arrest reports, as five individuals were being booked into PCPD on July 19 for unrelated charges, a backpack containing a pair of red Jordan 3 running shoes, True Religion jeans, an iPad, Polo socks and a Polo shirt was taken into police possession. When the individuals were released, one of them complained of missing the iPad that was supposed to be in PCPD’s property holding.
Police began investigating Mistric and found the iPad at his home Oct. 1, authorities reported. Mistric knew the owner was looking for the iPad but did not attempt to return the property in that time, according to his arrest report.
Police reported that Mistric admitted at the time of his arrest to taking the iPad, though he pleaded not guilty to the charge. He was released on his own recognizance a few days later. After about a month of investigation, authorities reported he gave contradictory information while under oath on two or more material statements and that Mistric made false statements Sept. 5, according to court records.
PCPD officials did not return a request for comment Thursday as to the substance of those statements. The case remains under investigation.
Mistric has been charged with grand theft and two counts of perjury in an official proceeding. His next court hearing was set for May 28.