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  • 07/10/14--15:55: Court date set in homicide
  • PANAMA CITY -- A court date has been set for the man accused of gunning down his landlord on church grounds nearly four years ago.

    Christopher Ray Hyler, 47, was set for a December jury trial Thursday for the Aug. 10, 2010 shooting death of Robert Ellison in the construction office of First Baptist Church in Panama City Beach.

    Hyler was arrested and charged with first-degree murder in May 2013 after a grand jury indictment.

    Investigators worked the case for almost three years and interviewed more than 100 people. But none of the dozens of people working on the site at the time heard or saw anything suspicious.

    Hyler previously spent about 18 months in prison for attempted burglary and was released in April of 2009. After he was arrested, police said, Hyler made numerous statements implicating himself in the killing. Police have recovered physical evidence in the course of the investigation, but not the gun used in the shooting.

    Hyler was arrested at a property Ellison owned, and had lived in another of Ellison’s properties in the past.

    Hyler has been in the Bay County Jailwithout a bond since his arrest. He waived his right to a speedy trial in September.


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  • 07/10/14--15:58: Topless-club owner arrested
  • PANAMA CITY -- The owner of a topless club is in jail on charges stemming from allegedly employing a minor as a dancer.

    Joyce Trench Cox, 77-year-old owner of Tan Fannies at 1137 Beck Ave., was arrested Thursday after Panama City police responded to the topless club in April to check on the welfare of an employee. Officers were unable to make contact with the employee in question but were able to establish that she was 16 years old and had been performing at the club, according to police reports.

    When investigators contacted Cox about the juvenile’s employment, she told them she didn’t know the girl’s age. Cox told police that if she did she would not have let her fill out an application.

    Police reports said Cox told a witness to change their story and to lie to the police.

    PCPD arrested Cox Thursday on charges of promotion of sexual performance by a child, employment of a minor under 18 years of age involving nudity and tampering with a witness.

    Cox was taken to Bay County Jail for the night, awaiting first appearance for the charges.


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    PANAMA CITY -- A man who allegedly shot at two customers after a sour drug deal has a trial date set to argue his case.

    Sonny Pierce, 28, of Panama City Beach, is facing charges of intent to sell marijuana and attempted second degree murder after allegedly shooting into a car in June of last year and hitting a potential customer in the hand and chest, according to arrest records. His trial has been set for November.

    Jeramy Ducharme and David Simmons met with Pierce at the Home Depot, 409 E. 23rd St., to make a drug deal, the two men told police.

    All three met in Pierce’s car and, as they began to negotiate a marijuana deal, Pierce pulled a pistol. Both Ducharme and Simmons fled the vehicle and got back in their car. As they started to drive off, Pierce stood in front of the car and fired once through the front windshield, hitting Ducharme in the hand and chest. Ducharme continued to drive off when Pierce fired a second round into the driver’s door, police said.

    Ducharme survived the shooting, and Simmons escaped without injury.

    Pierce also is facing charges of shooting into an occupied vehicle, discharging a firearm in public, aggravated assault with a firearm, use of a two-way device to commit a felony, possession of paraphernalia and marijuana with intent to sell. 


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    PANAMA CITY BEACH — Five people were arrested Thursday night in connection with a drug deal that ended with the shooting death of a 23-year-old Panama City Beach man.

    The victim was identified as Ryan Brooks.

    Late Thursday night, Panama City Beach Police announced the arrest of the following suspects:

    -Joshua Smith, 22,

    3803 W. 17th St., Panama City
    , first degree murder and attempted armed robbery

    -Randy Jackson, 24,

    1107 Arthur Ave., Panama City
    , first degree murder, attempted armed robbery and felon in possession of a firearm

    -Alyssa Watford, 17,

    3803 W. 17th St., Panama City
    , conspiracy to commit armed robbery

    -Joseph Cannizzo, 25,

    401 Paddock Club Drive, Panama City
    Beach, attempted armed robbery, tampering with evidence

    -Nicole Philbrook, 26,

    401 Paddock Club Drive, Panama City
    Beach, tampering with evidence.

    Panama City Beach police responded to a call at 1 a.m. of reported gunshots at The Club apartment complex off Richard Jackson Boulevard in Panama City Beach.

    When police arrived, they found Brooks on the ground in the parking lot with multiple gunshot wounds. EMS transported Brooks to a local hospital, but he was pronounced dead 35 minutes later.

    After a day-long investigation, police pieced together what happened.

    Police said Watford contacted Brooks to arrange to buy 2 ounces of marijuana from him. However, Jackson and Smith planned to rob Brooks.

    At the same time, investigators said Brooks and Cannizzo planned to rob Smith when Smith arrived to buy the marijuana.

    They met in The Club parking lot, where Cannizzo and Brooks, while armed, tried to rob Smith, police said. Brooks then approached Jackson, who shot Brooks several times. Smith fled and Jackson drove away, while Cannizzo shot Jackson’s vehicle before also fleeing. All were arrested later at their residences.

    “This is the first homicide we’ve had in four or five years,” said Panama City Beach Police Chief Drew Whitman.

    J.R. Trotter, a Club resident, believes he may have crossed paths with the victim just moments before the shooting occurred.

    “It’s weird that I was right near it,” he said.

    Trotter had the night off from his job as an overnight stocker at Walmart. He said he got bored and walked to the nearby Chevron to buy a Red Bull.

    On the walk home, Trotter noticed a young male sitting in a vehicle parked in front of the gated complex’s leasing office. He noticed the interior lights on inside the car, but thought nothing of its presence.

    In the same moment, Trotter passed a male and female on foot headed in the direction of the parked car. He nodded “hello” to the couple and continued to walk to his apartment in the back of the complex.

    “I never heard the gunshots,” Trotter said. He was listening to music with earbuds as he walked home from the store.

    He said he finally realized something had happened when he later heard a helicopter circling the vicinity.

    Panama City Beach police were assisted by a Bay County Sheriff’s Office helicopter and K-9 unit to search for suspects. 

    A couple hours after his first trip, Trotter decided to walk to the store again. This time, he walked past the same parking lot barricaded with police cars and yellow tape. An officer approached Trotter as he passed to ask if he’d seen anything prior to the shooting. Trotter described his earlier encounter, unaware at the time that someone had died from the incident.

    Trotter said he was asked by an investigator to identify a male suspect.

    “It’s one of them shockers,” he said, seeming unphased by what happened. He described The Club as a “calm and peaceful” place to live, but said he saw homicides “all the time” where he is originally from in Rome, Ga.

    “I don’t care what the situation was, I feel bad for whoever got shot,” he said. “A couple more minutes, and it could have been me.”

     

    An earlier version of this report is posted below:

     

     

    PANAMA CITY BEACH — A 23-year-old man was shot to death early Friday in what police said was a drug deal gone bad.

    The victim was identified as Ryan Brooks.

    Three people were in custody Thursday night, but had not been charged, police said.

    Panama City Beach police responded to a call at 1 a.m. of reported gunshots at The Club apartment complex off Richard Jackson Boulevard in Panama City Beach.

    When police arrived, they found Brooks on the ground in the parking lot with multiple gunshot wounds. EMS transported Brooks to a local hospital, but he was pronounced dead 35 minutes later.

    “This is the first homicide we’ve had in four or five years,” said Panama City Beach Police Chief Drew Whitman.

    The homicide is believed to be drug-related, since narcotics were recovered at the scene. Brooks was previously arrested in 2012 for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, to which he pleaded no contest and was sentenced to probation last month. 

    “We have three people of interest we have detained that we are questioning,” Chief Whitman said. Police have also obtained warrants to search the residences where they were located. Identities of the three were not released.

    J.R. Trotter, a Club resident, believes he may have crossed paths with the victim just moments before the shooting occurred.

    “It’s weird that I was right near it,” he said.

    Trotter had the night off from his job as an overnight stocker at Walmart. He said he got bored and walked to the nearby Chevron to buy a Red Bull.

    On the walk home, Trotter noticed a young male sitting in a vehicle parked in front of the gated complex’s leasing office. He noticed the interior lights on inside the car, but thought nothing of its presence.

    In the same moment, Trotter passed a male and female on foot headed in the direction of the parked car. He nodded “hello” to the couple and continued to walk to his apartment in the back of the complex.

    “I never heard the gunshots,” Trotter said. He was listening to music with earbuds as he walked home from the store.

    He said he finally realized something had happened when he later heard a helicopter circling the vicinity.

     Panama City Beach police were assisted by a Bay County Sheriff’s Office  helicopter and K-9 unit to search for suspects. Two men who are being questioned were picked up in two locations in Panama City, one on 17th Street and another on Arthur Avenue. Police also have a female in custody.

    A couple hours after his first trip, Trotter decided to walk to the store again. This time, he walked past the same parking lot barricaded with police cars and yellow tape. An officer approached Trotter as he passed to ask if he’d seen anything prior to the shooting. Trotter described his earlier encounter, unaware at the time that someone had died from the incident.

    Trotter said he was asked by an investigator to identify a male suspect.

    “It’s one of them shockers,” he said, seeming unphased by what happened. He described The Club as a “calm and peaceful” place to live, but said he saw homicides “all the time” where he is originally from in Rome, Ga.

     “I don’t care what the situation was, I feel bad for whoever got shot,” he said. “A couple more minutes, and it could have been me.”

     

     

    An earlier versuion of this story is posted below:

     

    PANAMA CITY BEACH — One person is dead and a two persons of interest are being questioned after an early morning homicide in the parking lot of an apartment complex, police said.

     

    Police aren’t identifying the victim yet until his next of kin are identified.

    Panama City Beach Police Chief Drew Whitman said police believe the motive of the shooting is “a drug deal gone bad.”

    “We did recover narcotics on the scene,” he said.

    Police responded to a call just before 1 a.m. Thursday of shots being fired at The Club apartment complex off Richard Jackson Boulevard in Panama City Beach.

    Officers arrived a few minutes later and found a white male in his early 20s on the ground in the parking lot with multiple gunshot wounds. EMS transported him to the hospital, but he was pronounced dead 35 minutes later.

    For about an hour police, with the assistance of the Bay County Sheriff’s Office, used a helicopter and K-9 unit to search for suspects. The men who are being questioned were picked up in two locations in Panama City, one on 17th Street and another on Arthur Avenue.

    Check back later for updates


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    PANAMA CITY — A man on death row for the rape and murder of a 13-year-old girl has asked for a chance at life, though he previously requested his execution be expedited.

    Matthew Caylor, 38, has been on death row since being convicted in 2009 of raping and killing 13-year-old Melinda Hinson in a Panama City motel room. Caylor strangled the girl with a phone chord, then hid the body under his bed, placing the bed frame on her head.

    In letters to his attorney and Judge James Fensom, Caylor said he was ready to give Hinson’s family “what they want,” he wrote. However, Caylor said Friday he has changed his mind and wants to live to appeal his case.

    “I need help,” Caylor told the court. “I can’t explain when I go into these mood swings; it’s almost like I can’t help how I’m feeling.”

    Caylor said he wanted to continue to appeal his sentence of death and his attorney requested he be prescribed appropriate mood-stabilizing medication for the process.

    During one of his “mood swings” in April, Caylor wrote Fensom to say he wanted to dismiss his attorney, waive his right to post-conviction appeals and be executed.

    “I ask that you consider my request and allow me to move on to whatever is next,” Caylor wrote. “It has to be better than the last 38 years here.”

    At that time Fensom ordered a psychiatric evaluation for Caylor to determine his competency to make such a decision, according to court records. The psychiatrist testified Caylor wrote the letter from the depths of a depressed state.

    “He was not competent, but at the same time he did state he did not want to waive his right to appeal,” said Barry Crown, a psychologist. “He only did that when he was depressed and wanted to end things by state suicide.”

    The court granted Caylor’s request to retain counsel, continue with his appeal and suggested a mood-stabilizer regiment to address his mood swings.


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    PANAMA CITY BEACH — Police arrested a sixth suspect Friday in connection to the shooting death of a 20-year-old Panama City Beach man.

    The Panama City Beach Police Department and Bay County Sheriff’s Department Criminal Investigative Division arrested 34-year-old Clinton Robert Allen at his residence Thursday night. Allen was charged with being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm and providing false information during the investigation into Ryan Brooks’ death at The Club apartments off Richard Jackson Boulevard early Thursday.

    Allen was booked at the Bay County Jail on Friday, where four of the five other suspects are currently being held.

    The five other suspects face various charges:

    - Joshua Smith, 22, Panama City, first degree murder and attempted armed robbery;

    - Randy Jackson, 24, Panama City, first degree murder, attempted armed robbery and felon in possession of a firearm;

    - Alyssa Watford, 17, Panama City, conspiracy to commit armed robbery;

    - Joseph Cannizzo, 25, Panama City Beach, attempted armed robbery, tampering with evidence;

    - Nicole Philbrook, 26, Panama City Beach, tampering with evidence.

    Police said the slaying appears to be a drug deal gone bad. Authorities said Watford contacted Brooks to arrange to buy 2 ounces of marijuana, but Jackson and Smith intended to rob Brooks. However, investigators said, Brooks and Cannizzo planned to rob Smith when he arrived to buy the marijuana.

    They met in The Club parking lot, where Cannizzo and Brooks, who were armed, tried to rob Smith, police said. Brooks then approached Jackson, who shot Brooks several times. Smith fled and Jackson drove away, while Cannizzo shot Jackson’s vehicle before also fleeing.

    Allen received the gun from Joseph Cannizzo, police said in a news release, after it was used to shoot at Randy Jackson’s vehicle as he fled the scene.

    Police found Brooks on the ground in the parking lot with multiple gunshot wounds. Brooks died at a hospital soon after.

    Panama City Beach Police Chief Drew Whitman said no other suspects are being saught in the case at this time.

    “These are the main players,” Whitman said. “We’ve got it with these six.”

     

    News Herald Writer Jennifer Harwood contributed to this report.


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    PANAMA CITY — Community organizations and leaders put their heads together Saturday to brainstorm potential solutions in response to the alarming rise in gun violence.

    “Our aim today was to find out how you stop the violence and construct conflict resolution,” said Greg Dossie of the Bay County Rainbow Push Coalition.

    Dossie said in the past 30 days there have been seven gun-related homicides and one suicide in the Panama City area.

    The meeting at the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center attracted a small crowd of concerned residents.

    Frances Rios told the panel about her struggle to find activities to keep her children, who are interested in music and singing, busy during the summer.

    “We need to come up with programs that bring out these gifts,” Rios said.

    One success of the forum was that Rios and others learned that such programs actually are abundant in the community. The issue is that well-known programs fill up quickly while smaller organizations get little turnout even when they use radio, social media and fliers to advertise.

    The panel and visitors agreed that better communication in both directions is needed to take advantage of the community’s resources.

    Panama City Commissioner Mike Nichols said he would like to see more specialized programs for children and more jobs to keep teens busy during the summer.

    Dossie said the partnering organizations at the meeting would work with the city to implement solutions and solve problems with existing programs. For example, they are working with lawmakers on an idea to grant amnesty to convicted felons who risk being arrested if they show up to turn in a firearm at a gun buy-back event.

    The discussion occurred on the heels of the shooting death of a 20-year-old Panama City Beach man early Thursday.

    The event’s organizers challenged the public to “get their hands dirty” to deter gun violence by getting involved in the life of a child or neighborhood, no matter how small the effort.

    While they are there to support the community, Panama City Commissioner John Kady said solutions to the problem do not really lie with the government.

    “It’s in this community,” he said.


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    PANAMA CITY — Officers’ off-duty work has not been without controversy.

    In this case, though, it was the mere presence of an officer that became an issue recently, when a business in St. Andrews accused another of using off-duty police officers as an intimidation tool.

    Yvette Pavone, owner of the Purple Grape at 1121 Beck Ave., said the patrol cruiser which has been stationed in a parking lot across the street for months had hurt business because the additional police presence caused a perception of being monitored.

    “When we had police looking directly at our window, we could see our sales decline rapidly,” Pavone said. “Words were being used by our customers like, ‘intimidated,’ and ‘threatened.’ ”

    Pavone said the police presence put about a $1,000 dent weekly in revenues.

    The Captain’s Table, across the street at 1110 Beck Ave., hired police to watch over their parking lot, which is reserved for patrons of the restaurant.

    Mitch Holman, owner of the Captain’s Table, said Purple Grape customers using his parking lot hurt his business because potential customers interpret the full parking lot to mean the restaurant is filled. He denied using police for any further means.

    Holman argued Panama City had more of a role in the business feud than its commissioners were willing to recognize.

    “When the city doesn’t provide parking, it doesn’t put businesses on an even playing field,” Holman said in an interview. “I’m getting punished for owning my own parking lot when it should be an asset to my business.”

    Although police are present at the Captain’s Table Tuesdays through Saturdays, the two businesses have since met a compromise.

    “Since we’ve come to an agreement, they move; we don’t have an issue at all,” Pavone said. “They’ve moved [the officer] closer to the Captain’s Table sign and we saw an immediate effect on our sales.”


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    PANAMA CITY — The trial of an Alabama man facing the death penalty for the torture and strangling death of a 90-year-old Lynn Haven man began Monday.

    Jurors were selected in the murder trial of Kevin Jeffries, 29, of Hartford, Ala., one of three people implicated in slaying Wallace Reid Scott in April 2013. Police discovered Scott’s body bound, beaten and strangled at his Lynn Haven home, initiating a manhunt for three suspects that spanned three states. Jeffries and an accomplice face the death penalty if convicted.

    Jeffries also faces charges of armed robbery and burglary of a dwelling while armed, each of which can carry life sentences.

    The trial will continue Tuesday.

    A grand jury charged Jeffries and David Challender, 28, with premeditated murder in the case. A third person, Ashley Griffin, 29, also of Hartford, admitted to driving the two men to Scott’s home to coerce bank account information from him.

    Officials said Scott was bound and beaten when he refused to provide personal identification numbers, and there was evidence of torture.

    Griffin pleaded to a reduced charge of second-degree murder, armed robbery and burglary of a dwelling while armed in June. Part of the agreement, prosecutors said, is contingent on her cooperation. Her sentencing is in October, following the two murder trials, and a maximum penalty of life in prison is still on the table. Challender’s trial is scheduled for September.

    Police records indicate each of the three were found with stolen items belonging to Scott in their possession.

    Griffin was located in Donalsonville, Ga., on April 13, nine days after Scott was killed, and brought back to Bay County. She was wearing a ring that belonged to Scott, authorities said. Investigators developed her, Jeffries and Challender as suspects the previous day.

    Jeffries and Challender, both of Vernon, were arrested later the same day; Jeffries was in Holmes County and Challender was in Caryville. 

    Sherri Mercer and Deborah Cupp, two women Scott employed as caretakers, were arrested on suspicion of credit card fraud for allegedly using Scott’s credit cards without authorization. Challender is Mercer’s son and Jeffries is her nephew.

    Investigators told The News Herald that Scott learned of the fraud and had an appointment to remove Mercer as a beneficiary in his will. She has been cleared of suspicion of being in the house at the time of the killing. 


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    ALTHA — The lifeless body of a 19-year-old man was found floating in the Chipola River Saturday.

    The man was identified by the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office as one of several FSU students that visited the Chipola River. He was from Kuwait, officials said, but his name has not been released pending notification of his family.

    CCSO reported receiving a call of a drowning on the Chipola River at Johnny Boy Landing, about three miles west of Altha off County 274. Upon arrival, deputies met with two people at the landing who told them they found the man in about 10 feet of water. Capt. Emory Godwin boarded a boat with the witnesses and went to the area where the two said they discovered the body. Once there, officials determined the 19-year-old was dead and recovered the body.


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    PANAMA CITY — A Panama City police officer has been demoted and suspended for misusing police software to scan confidential documents of citizens for personal reasons.

    Mark Aviles was suspended without pay and demoted from major to captain in June after he misused his rank and authority to access the driver and vehicle information database (DAVID) files of multiple citizens for personal reasons. The search was conducted while Aviles was off-duty and was not for law enforcement purposes, internal investigators found, which opened PCPD up to penalties that could’ve affected their law enforcement capabilities, city records state.

    Aviles told internal investigators he was concerned an ex-boyfriend of his neighbor could have a history of nefarious activities. His daughter had stayed the night while the ex-boyfriend was in the neighbor’s home before the couple separated. Once his neighbor told him she suspected her ex recently placed a tracker on her car, Aviles became suspicious and checked into the ex’s background for red flags.

    “If at the time, I thought that this was a misuse of the DAVID system, I wouldn’t have done it,” Aviles told internal investigators. “… What was occurring in my mind was there was an issue, I’m a cop, let me see what I can find out.”

    Aviles requested a subordinate officer run the ex-boyfriend’s name through the program, since he was off duty and only certain terminals have access to DAVID. He then accessed 34 confidential reports on at least six people connected to the ex-boyfriend.

    Each time DAVID is started, the system explicitly notes that use for personal reasons could result in civil or criminal proceedings against any person involved. When the program questioned Sgt. Phil Himes about the purpose of his search, Aviles told him it was to verify an identity.

    Himes said he assumed the request was legitimate and obliged.

    “In my mind, I believed it was,” Himes said. “I would hope my peers above me would understand the use of the system and so I personally took it on his word that’s what it was for, but I did not ask him.”

    Aviles was unable to find any records substantiating his concerns and told investigators he didn’t realize until later he made a mistake.

    “I just wasn’t thinking about it,” Aviles told investigators. “It didn’t occur to me … .”

    Aviles’ letter of suspension and demotion, dated June 13, said his misuse of the PCPD computer systems opened the agency to civil litigation. His actions also could have jeopardized the entire department’s access to confidential records through DAVID adversely affecting law enforcement throughout the city, according to Police Chief Scott Ervin.

    “This conduct certainly is not reflective of the rank of major, the goals and objectives of this agency, as well as the professionalism that the organization works hard to maintain,” Ervin wrote.

    Aviles was suspended for five days without pay and demoted to captain. His employee records do not indicate a history of similar incidents. The demotion reduces Aviles’ salary from $62,175 a year to $59,214. Aviles also was removed from access to all external privileged computer databases until further notice. 


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    HILAND PARK — Two men, a juvenile and a dog were taken into custody after a man was attacked on a dead-end road, fracturing his eye socket and jaw last week, according to Bay County Sheriff’s Office records.

    Dustin Howell, 35, was not able to remember anything after two adults punched him at the same time causing him to go limp and fall to the ground, then continued to attack him. He was still bleeding from his face and head when officers arrived to the dead end on Vera Lane just after 7 p.m. Wednesday. BCSO initially was responding to a reckless driver call before arresting three people for felony battery.

    The three kept beating Howell once he was on the ground, Kristy Howell, 26, told deputies afterward.

    It started when a white Ford truck sped down Ormond Avenue as the Howells were pulling out of a driveway. Dustin Howell pulled into the road in an attempt to slow the truck, driven by Thomas Lee Hutchinson, 17. The Howells and the owners of the truck have a long history of problems, Kristy Howell told officers.

    Once they reached their Long Street home, Kristy Howell went inside to call police. When she came back out, Dustin Howell and Hutchinson were yelling and cursing at one another at the dead end, she told officers.

    William Charles Hutchinson, 45, and Jimmy Ray Hutchinson, 65, of Ormond Avenue, then hopped out of a nearby truck and struck Dustin Howell, causing him to fall.

    When Kristy Howell tried to separate the men, she said, two women — Carmen Hutchinson, 45, and Lindy Peoples, 34 — appeared, grabbed her by the hair and threw her to the ground. Kristy Howell told officers the Hutchinsons’ dog escaped from the family’s yard and chased her before biting her hip, puncturing the skin.

    Deputies saw video surveillance from the Howells house of the truck fishtailing down the dirt road. Neighbors also saw the two men on top of Dustin Howell continually hitting him.

    Dustin Howell was taken to a local hospital with a fractured eye socket and jaw fracture that will require surgery, BCSO noted.

    The three Hutchinson males were arrested on felony battery charges. No charges were brought against the women of Ormond Avenue, but the case has been forwarded to the state attorney’s office to determine whether more charges will be filed.

    The dog was taken by Animal Control and quarantined.


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    ALTHA -- Officials have identified the Florida State University student found dead in the Chipola River over the weekend.

    Saud Alajmi, 19, of Kuwait, was one of several students visiting the river near Altha, according to the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office.

     Two passersby alerted authorities to the body they found Saturday in about 10 feet of water near a bridge west of Altha.


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    PANAMA CITY -- The Bay County Bar Association and the Bay County League of Women Voters are sponsoring a forum Wednesday for the judicial candidates for the 14th judicial circuit judgeship.

    The candidates will speak to the public and answer questions from the league and the bar at 11:30 a.m. at the Bay County Courthouse,

    300 E. Fourth St., Panama City
    , on the second floor in the jury pool room.

    The candidates for the judicial position are Judge Jim Fensom, attorney Shalene Grover and attorney Gerard Virga. The election for the judicial position will be Aug. 26. 


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    PARKER -- An Investigation Discovery TV show will feature a local homicide case when it airs Wednesday night at 9 p.m.
     
    One of two cases in tonight’s segment of the show “Dark Temptations” will be about the murder in 2011 of Parker resident Jacob Hendershot.

    According to Investigation Discovery, the show features interviews with Detective Aaron Wilson and Lt. Dennes Hutto of the Parker Police Department, among other people.


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    PANAMA CITY BEACH -- A Panama City woman was arrested Monday and charged with giving false information to authorities investigating a weekend homicide, Panama City Beach  police said Tuesday.

    Arrested was Meredith Renee Laflin, 31, 1104 Arthur Ave.

    She becomes the seventh person arrested in connection with the shooting death of Ryan Christopher Brooks, 20, of Panama City Beach.

    Police said Laflin lied to investigators to protect her boyfriend, Randy Jackson, who is charged with murder. She was arrested at her job and booked into Bay County Jail on a charge of providing false information to law enforcement during the course of a felony investigation.


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    PANAMA CITY — After the death of a 90-year-old Lynn Haven man, one of his assailants doused his body with bleach — also filling his mouth — to conceal evidence of a robbery gone horribly wrong, an accomplice to the crime testified Tuesday.

    And while the witness denied that Kevin Jeffries — who is standing trial for first-degree murder — was present at the time the victim was strangled to death, DNA from Jeffries dominated the crime scene, evidence showed.

    Witness Ashley Griffin, 29, told jurors the story leading up to the April 2013 death of Wallace Reid Scott in his Lynn Haven home. Griffin is one of three people implicated in Scott’s death and has pleaded to second-degree murder in exchange for her cooperation in the case.

    Griffin denied Jeffries, her boyfriend, was present at the time Scott was strangled to death. She instead said David Challender, the third suspect in the homicide, was in the room at the time and was bitten by Scott while trying to coerce banking information from him before his death.

    “So [Challender] went back in the room and poured bleach all over Mr. Scott,” Griffin said. “… He poured bleach in his mouth and all over his body, because he had bit him and he didn’t know if he had any DNA on him.”

    All three suspects knew Scott prior to his death, according to court documents.

    Jeffries, 29, and Griffin met eyes occasionally during her account of a methamphetamine-filled drive from Atlanta to Scott’s home on April 4. The plan was for Griffin to drop the two men off for a week and return when they secured “the big lick” of Scott’s debit card and PIN number, she said.

    Challender and Jeffries are first cousins. Griffin said the group had heard of Scott’s wealth from Sherri Mercer, Challender’s mother, who was employed as caretaker at one point by Scott.

    Challender had even stayed at Scott’s home and gave Griffin directions on the trip, she said.

    “I knew they were going to steal money,” Griffin said. “I asked specifically if anybody would get hurt and they said no.”

    But after about 20 minutes of dropping them off blocks away from Scott’s home, she was called back to the house by Challender. Scott was bound and covered by a sheet when she returned, and Griffin said she overheard Challender threatening to cut off Scott’s genitalia with a pair of scissors if he refused to cooperate.

    Three hours later, Scott was dead.

    Defense attorney Robert Thirston did not attempt to deny Jeffries played a role in Scott’s slaying. Instead, the defense also angled to shift blame onto Challender.

    “This case starts with Jeffries’ DNA but ends with Challender,” Thirston told jurors. “Jeffries was merely a pawn in this plan.”

    However, prosecutors highlighted video of Jeffries and Griffin buying blue latex gloves from the Lynn Haven Wal-Mart in anticipation of the crime. Prosecutors used DNA evidence from a torn tip of one of the gloves left at the scene and belts fused with electrical chords, fashioned into ligatures, to show — with certainty of 1-in-140-million — Jeffries alone handled items used to bind Scott before his death.

    A pair of Jeffries’ blue jeans and a T-shirt, recovered from Griffin’s trunk, also had Scott’s blood on them, though DNA analysts could not determine how the blood got there.

    Challender’s DNA was present on items at the scene but in less concentrated amounts.

    The trial continues today.


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  • 07/15/14--17:32: 3 arrested after man injured
  • HILAND PARK — Two men, a juvenile and a dog were taken into custody after a man was attacked on a dead-end road, fracturing his eye socket and jaw last week, according to Bay County Sheriff’s Office records.

    Dustin Howell, 35, was not able to remember anything after two adults punched him at the same time causing him to go limp and fall to the ground, then continued to attack him. He was still bleeding from his face and head when officers arrived to the dead end on Vera Lane just after 7 p.m. Wednesday. BCSO initially was responding to a reckless driver call before arresting three people for felony battery.

    The three kept beating Howell once he was on the ground, Kristy Howell, 26, told deputies afterward.

    It started when a white Ford truck sped down Ormond Avenue as the Howells were pulling out of a driveway. Dustin Howell pulled into the road in an attempt to slow the truck, driven by Thomas Lee Hutchinson, 17. The Howells and the owners of the truck have a long history of problems, Kristy Howell told officers.

    Once they reached their Long Street home, Kristy Howell went inside to call police. When she came back out, Dustin Howell and Hutchinson were yelling and cursing at one another at the dead end, she told officers.

    William Charles Hutchinson, 45, and Jimmy Ray Hutchinson, 65, of Ormond Avenue, then hopped out of a nearby truck and struck Dustin Howell, causing him to fall.

    When Kristy Howell tried to separate the men, she said, two women — Carmen Hutchinson, 45, and Lindy Peoples, 34 — appeared, grabbed her by the hair and threw her to the ground. Kristy Howell told officers the Hutchinsons’ dog escaped from the family’s yard and chased her before biting her hip, puncturing the skin.

    Deputies saw video surveillance from the Howells house of the truck fishtailing down the dirt road. Neighbors also saw the two men on top of Dustin Howell continually hitting him.

    Dustin Howell was taken to a local hospital with a fractured eye socket and jaw fracture that will require surgery, BCSO noted.

    The three Hutchinson males were arrested on felony battery charges. No charges were brought against the women of Ormond Avenue, but the case has been forwarded to the state attorney’s office to determine whether more charges will be filed.

    The dog was taken by Animal Control and quarantined. 


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    PARKER — The same 12-year-old boy that stole a school bus last month was arrested for stealing another school bus Wednesday morning.

    “We found out the bus was stolen when a Carrabelle police over in Franklin County actually pulled the bus over for erratic driving and found that same 12-year-old boy, Michael Propst, the one that stole one from us three weeks ago,” said Mike Jones, safety and security officer at Bay District Schools.

    “He just got out of (the Department of Juvenile Justice) yesterday on the last case where he stole the bus from us,” he said.

    The juvenile had located a hidden key left in a school bus at Parker Elementary after the bus driver completed his bus route, Jones said, noting that hiding a key in a parked bus is a temporary standard procedure, so the bus driver was not penalized. Jones said school officials are working a new permanent procedure.

    Propst drove the bus to Franklin County, where a Franklin County Sheriff’s Office deputy stopped the bus and arrested him.

    “It sticks out like a sore thumb — a Bay County bus in a rural area like that,” Parker Police Department’s Lt. Dennes Hutto said.

    No injuries were reported and no passengers were on the bus, Jones said.

    Unlike June’s incident, during which the youth fabricated a story about a man named “Constantine” telling him to gas-up the bus, the juvenile “invoked his Fifth Amendment right by saying nothing to anybody” after his initial arrest Wednesday, Hutto said.

     

    Parker police escorted Propst to the police station Wednesday afternoon.

    He was charged with trespassing on school property, grand theft auto and burglary of a conveyance by Parker police, along with other charges pending from Springfield Police Department.

    June’s incident resulted in charges including grand theft of an item worth more than $100,000, felony criminal mischief and grand theft for a missing student recognition device worth about $2,000.

    Stolen truck

    Propst had allegedly stolen a truck the night before, according to the 12-year-old child’s aunt Kerry Shoute of Springfield.

    “When I come back, my truck wasn’t in the driveway,” Shoute said, recounting Tuesday night’s incident. When they went to bed he obviously took my truck sometime between 10:45 p.m. to 12 a.m.”

    The reddish 1998 Mitsubishi Montero is still missing.

    Parker Police confirmed the child had stolen the vehicle Tuesday night and the juvenile has refused to reveal the truck’s location.

    “I’m pressing charges,” Shoute said.

    By about 7 p.m. Shoute said the family was waiting on Propst’s call from the detention center. And the first question she wanted to ask him was regarding the location of her truck.

    The juvenile is generally a good kid, Shoute said, and it’s unclear why he has stolen the vehicles.

    “I really couldn’t tell you why; I really couldn’t,” Shoute said. “I’d take him where he’d want to go, and he knows that.

    “But, he’d rather take then ask,” she said. 

     

    An earlier version of this story is posted below:

     

     

    PARKER — The same 12-year-old boy who was charged with stealing a school bus last month was arrested for stealing another school bus Wednesday morning.

    Wednesday’s joyride that ended in Franklin County started off with a car theft in Springfield, according to Parker Police Department’s Lt. Dennes Hutto. Michael Wade Propst apparently used the vehicle to travel near Parker Elementary where he took a Bay District school bus shortly after 7:30 a.m.

    The juvenile has been arrested and hasn’t spoken to officers, Hutto said.

    As of 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Parker Police Department was transporting the juvenile back to the department’s headquarters for questioning, Hutto said. Police expect the juvenile to reveal where the first stolen vehicle is located.

    The child will be charged with trespassing on school property, grand theft auto and burglary of conveyance by Parker’s police department. Other charges are pending from Springfield Police Department, Hutto said.

    Check back later today for more details


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  • 07/16/14--14:22: Anti-violence rally planned
  • PANAMA CITY -- The Concerned Citizens of Bay County with the Bay County Sheriff’s Office and the Panama City Youth Movement will hold a Stop the Violence Memorial March and Peace Rally Saturday, July 26, to remember the people who have been killed due to violence and to help local youth find means of conflict resolution other than violence.

    March participants will gather at 7 a.m. at Glenwood Community Center, 722 E. Ninth Court, and stop off for Tommy Oliver Stadium at 8 a.m. The rally will be held from 4-8 p.m. at Tommy Oliver Stadium, corner of 13th Street and McKenzie Avenue in Panama City, and will feature motivational speakers and local community and religious leaders. 


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