JURY: Drinkard guilty of murder

Prosecutor Peter Overstreet, left, questions Bay County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Jason Daffin.

A four-day trial ended Friday evening with a guilty verdict for a Southport man charged with Second-Degree Murder, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.

The jury deliberated for 2 ½ hours before finding Justin Isaac Drinkard, 38, guilty on the murder charge, and trespassing in an occupied building while armed. Circuit Court Judge Shonna Young Gay set sentencing for May 6. The defendant faces up to Life in prison.

Prosecutor Peter Overstreet during closing arguments.
Defendant Justin Drinkard

Drinkard was arrested for the Nov. 25, 2018 beating death of Jerry Dee Benefied, Jr., 20, in the victim’s Lynn Haven home.

Prosecutor Peter Overstreet said he hopes the verdict will help the victim’s family find closure.

 

 

“I’m happy for the family of the victim.  This was a brutal beating death,” Overstreet said. “We had a defendant who repeatedly struck someone in the head with a baseball bat even after they were unconscious, then hours later tells investigators he would do the same thing again.”

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Overstreet presented evidence and witnesses, including victim’s then 16-year-old girlfriend who witnessed the beating and tried to save him, that proved the defendant showed up unannounced at the victim’s home trying to buy methamphetamine. Drinkard admitted he had already consumed over 12 large beers and smoked crack cocaine. After using meth with the victim, Drinkard began to make inappropriate sexual comments to the young girl. The victim attempted to get Drinkard to leave peacefully. Testimony showed he refused to leave and instead followed the girl into a bathroom and shut the door.

The defendant watches as a video of his statement is played for jurors.
A BCSO bailiff keeps an eye on the defendant as the attorneys speak with the judge.

The girl began screaming for help. The victim got the door open and became engaged in a struggle with Drinkard who ultimately grabbed a baseball bat and began beating the victim in the head, even after he lay unconscious.

 

 

The girlfriend testified she did everything she could to stop the attack – hitting the defendant in the head with two different frying pans, the ceramic top from the toilet, whatever she could find – but that it did not seem to faze the defendant.

She was able to get away and run to a neighbor’s house who called 911. The defendant was still in the house when Bay County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrived.

In ensuing interviews with detectives, the defendant at times said he did not remember what happened and then admitted to hitting the victim with the bat – “I smashed him in the face a couple of times” – including after he was unconscious.

Basford thanked the Bay County Sheriff’s Office for its work on the case, which occurred just a month after Hurricane Michael hit and while the county was in a state of emergency.

For more information, contact Mike Cazalas at mike.cazalas@sa14.fl.gov, or call 850-381-7454.

Killer’s girlfriend sentenced to prison

A woman who drove her boyfriend away from the scene of a murder – with her young daughter in the vehicle – and lied to authorities about it has been sentenced to 75 months in prison, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.

Kim Marie Whaley, 43, of Southport, pled guilty Tuesday to Accessory After the Fact to Second-Degree Murder, Neglect of a Child, and Child Abuse. Circuit Court Judge Dustin Stephenson accepted the plea and sentence. Whaley was charged with helping her boyfriend, Jeremiah Beazley, flee the scene so he could dispose of the weapon after he shot and killed Bryan T. Anderson in the residence the three shared on March 31, 2021.

Upper left: The car the defendant used after the shooting. Bottom left: The residence where the shooting occurred. Bottom Right: Closer view of entry to residence. Center: Defendant Kim Marie Whaley.
Prosecutor Peter Overstreet at Jeremiah Beazley’s trial
Jeremiah Beazley

Beazley was found guilty of Second-Degree Murder with a Firearm and Felon in Possession of a Firearm after his July, 2023 trial. He was sentenced to Life in prison under Florida’s 10-20-Life Statute.

At Beazley’s trial, Prosecutor Peter Overstreet proved to jurors that Beazley was living in a Southport residence with Whaley and the victim, Anderson, at the time of the shooting. Jurors found that Beazley shot the victim twice in a bedroom during an argument. Whaley and her 7-year-old daughter were in the residence at the time.

 

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Overstreet was prepared to call witnesses, including deputies from the Bay County Sheriff’s Office who handled the investigation, and present evidence proving Whaley helped the defendant afterward and ordered her daughter not to tell anyone what she had seen or heard.

The evidence would have shown that Whaley, with her 7-year-old daughter in the car, drove the armed defendant away from the home and dropped him off at a park. When sheriff’s deputies served a search warrant at the residence, they found evidence of open drug use and syringes, as well as unsanitary conditions.

Basford thanked the Sheriff’s Office and Gulf Coast Children’s Advocacy Center for their work on the case that led to two successful prosecutions.

For more information, contact Mike Cazalas at mike.cazalas@sa14.fl.gov, or call 850-381-7454.

Prison releasee guilty of using his truck as a weapon facing 15 years under enhanced sentencing law

BONIFAY – A Westville man was found guilty Thursday of intentionally driving his truck into an ATV, injuring the driver of the ATV when it flipped over, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.

A Holmes County jury deliberated just over 20 minutes before finding Jesse David Hicks, 31, guilty of Aggravated Battery and Leaving the Scene of an Accident with Injuries. Judge Colby Peel set sentencing for next month.

A Second-Degree felony is normally punishable by a maximum of 15 years in prison, but Holmes County Chief Prosecutor Jacob Cook is seeking to have Hicks sentenced as a Prison Releasee Reoffender, meaning he will have to serve a mandatory 15-year sentence.

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The defendant was released from prison in October, 2022, about 6 months before his arrest in this case.

Cook called four witnesses and presented evidence gathered following the by the Florida Highway Patrol and the Holmes County Sheriff’s Office showing that the victim was stopped on Arrant Road at County 181 when they saw the defendant approaching in his truck.

Testimony showed the defendant ran into the ATV and pushed it into a ditch, where it overturned. The evidence showed that the victim had never met the defendant and the victim was out with his wife and 2-year-old granddaughter to take her swimming at Lake Cassidy when he was struck.

The defendant fled, but later was spotted near the scene and taken into custody by the FHP and Holmes County Sheriff’s Office deputies.

Basford thanked the FHP  and Holmes County Sheriff’s Office for their work and collaboration on the case.

For more information, contact Mike Cazalas at mike.cazalas@sa14.fl.gov, or call 850-381-7454.

 

Sex offender faces prison for failure to report change in vehicles

BONIFAY – A jury took about 25 minutes Wednesday to find a registered sex offender guilty of failing to report a chance in vehicle registration, State Attorney Larry Basford announced

Brian T. Wise, 44, of Bonifay, was found guilty as charged of Failure of a Sex Offender to Report Change in Vehicles Owned. Circuit Court Judge Russell Roberts set sentencing for April 17.

Holmes County Chief Prosecutor Jacob Cook is seeing to have the defendant sentenced as a Habitual Felony Offender, which would double the maximum penalty from 5 years in prison to 10 years. Cook provided the court records of previous convictions for escape and burglary of a structure. The defendant has served prison time for a number of offenses included Lewd and Lascivious Indecent Assault on a Child Under the age of 16, Possession of Methamphetamine and felony Littering (more than 500 pounds).

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Wise was last released from prison Oct. 5, 2022 on a burglary charge. He was arrested on the latest charge in March, 2023, by the Holmes County Sheriff’s Office.

During the one-day trial, Cook called two witnesses and entered evidence proving that when Holmes County sheriff’s deputies encountered him on March 13, 2023, he had a vehicle that had was not registered as required.

Florida law requires sex offenders to meet a number of conditions for public safety, including notifying law enforcement within 48 hours of changing addresses, email addresses, home and cellphone numbers and any changes in vehicles registered in their name.

Basford thanked the Holmes County Sheriff’s Office for its work on the case.

For more information, contact Mike Cazalas at mike.cazalas@sa14.fl.gov, or call 850-381-7454.

Jackson jury finds man guilty of molesting teen

MARIANNA – A 6-person jury took about 25 minutes Wednesday to find a Marianna man guilty as charged of Lewd and Lascivious Molestation, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.

Nathan Robbert Johnson, 49, was arrested in February 2022 by the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office on a charge of molesting a girl older than 12 but younger than 16. Circuit Court Judge
Ana Maria Garcia set sentencing for May 7 at 2:30 p.m.

Jackson County Chief Prosecutor Shalla Jefcoat called 5 witnesses – including the victim and 3 Sheriff’s Office deputies – and presented evidence proving that the victim was molested by
Johnson in early 2022. The act was discovered when a parent saw a diary entry made by the victim.

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When deputies questioned the defendant, he made admissions to having committed the act, according to testimony.

Lewd and Lascivious Molestation is a Second-Degree Felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Basford thanked the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office for its handling of the case and the victim for taking the stand and testifying.

For more information, contact Mike Cazalas at mike.cazalas@sa14.fl.gov, or call 850-381-7454.

10-year sentence for career criminal who fled Holmes deputy

BONIFAY – A man with a lengthy criminal history was found guilty by a Holmes County Jury of leading deputies on a high-speed chase has been sentenced to 10 years in prison and designated a Habitual Felony Offender , State Attorney Larry Basford announced.

Franklin Pierce Smith III, 54, of Bonifay, was found guilty of Fleeing or Attempting to Elude (High Speed or Reckless) on Feb. 27 by a Holmes County jury that deliberated for 15 minutes.

Holmes County Chief Prosecutor Jacob Cook sought to have Smith designated as a Habitual Felony Offender, as the Defendant has been to prison six times over the last 25 years. Circuit Court Judge Russell Roberts agreed to the designation last week and sentenced Smith to 10 years in prison. “To protect the citizens of Holmes County it is important that career criminals be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Career criminals need to know that Holmes County is not a place they need to live if they continue breaking the law.” stated Prosecutor Jacob Cook.

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At trial, Cook called Holmes County Sheriff’s Office deputies Rodger Young and Wade Strickland, and presented evidence proving the defendant fled after Young pulled him over for a traffic violation.

Testimony showed the defendant pulled over initially, but when asked to exit his vehicle, he instead drove off at a high rate of speed, almost hitting Deputy Roger Young in the process. The defendant ended up driving into a field before abandoning the vehicle and running into the woods, where he was captured a short time later.

Florida Department of Corrections records show the defendant most recently served a 4-year prison term and was released in October, 2021, about 15 months before his arrest in this case. He previously served prison terms for crimes ranging from grand theft and armed burglary, to sale of methamphetamine and resisting arrest with violence.

Basford thanked the Holmes County Sheriff’s Office for its work on the case.

For more information, contact Mike Cazalas at mike.cazalas@sa14.fl.gov, or call 850-381-7454.

 

PC man guilty of trafficking in 6,000+ grams of GHB

The defendant outside his camper as deputies await a search warrant.

Sentencing is set for May 8 for a Panama City man found guilty of having more than 6,000 grams of GHB, commonly known as “Scoop,” hidden under the bed of his camper, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.

Darren Scott Tyrell, 54, was found guilty Thursday of Trafficking in GHB (more than 5kg, less than 10kg), and Possession of Paraphernalia. Circuit Court Judge Shonna Young Gay ordered the defendant held without bond.

Prosecutors Zachary VanDyke and Jackson White called three witnesses and presented evidence to jurors that on March 25, 2021, Bay County Sheriff’s Office investigators served a search warrant at 1210 Oak Ave. The search warrant included a “free-air sniff” around the camper in the backyard by Inv. Dwight Cummings’ K-9, Fila.

The 6+ kilos of GHB were found in the gray “bag/container” seen in the bottom right photo. The container is next to security camera boxes.

Fila “alerted” to the presence of narcotics in the camper. Inside, deputies found the defendant in the bed. In a compartment under the bed they found a large plastic jug which contained 6.12 kilograms of a “clear oily liquid” right next to the boxes from the security cameras that were installed on the property to protect the illicit operation. The liquid tested positive for GHB, which was later confirmed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

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On the street GHB is measured and sold by pouring it in a bottle cap. This is thousands of doses.

GHB is known as a date rape drug and its use at “raves” and clubs. It goes by street names like “Scoop,” “Georgia Home Boy,” and “Water.” It affects the body’s central nervous system. One of the dangers it poses is that users do not know the strength or potency of the drug they are consuming.

The amount seized weighed about 6.12 kilograms, or about 6,120 grams. Under Florida’s enhanced drug laws, trafficking in more than 6 kilograms of GHB is a First-Degree Felony punishable by a minimum-mandatory prison term of 7 years with a maximum possible sentence of 30 years.

Basford thanked the Bay County Sheriff’s Office for its work on the case and for proactively seizing a large amount of GHB before it could be sold on the street.

For more information, contact Mike Cazalas at mike.cazalas@sa14.fl.gov, or call 850-381-7454.

Craven sentenced to 65 years in Lynn Haven murder

(Prosecutor Peter Overstreet (at left and right) during the trial of Savien Craven (center)

A 65-year prison sentence was ordered today for a 17-year-old found guilty last month of chasing down and stabbing to death another teen after a drug deal turned violent, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.

Savien Thaniel Craven, of Panama City, was found guilty as charged Feb. 14 of Second-Degree Murder in the Dec. 5, 2021, stabbing death of Jacob Revis, 14, of Panama City. Circuit Court Judge Dustin Stephenson sentenced Craven to 65 years in prison and probation for Life Thursday at the end of a hearing that included members of the victim’s family speaking about their loss.

“Savien, I’ve waited over 2 years for this moment,” Jacob Revis’ mother, Crystal Revis, during sentencing. “I have spent many nights lying in bed awake thinking of this day and what I’m going to say to you. I have not been able to function normally for a long time. You stole something so precious to me and I will never get that back.”

At trial, Prosecutor Peter Overstreet called 16 witnesses proving that Craven chased down and stabbed the victim to death after a small amount of marijuana was stolen from him during a drug deal at a Lynn Haven park.

Prosecutor Peter Overstreet during closing arguments

Testimony showed a scuffle broke out during the robbery attempt and one juvenile, who survived, was stabbed multiple times by the defendant in the restroom. Revis ran away and made it about 110 yards with Craven chasing him before tripping and falling in a ditch, where the defendant fatally stabbed him.

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Crystal Revis said the defendant showed no remorse and deserved the maximum sentence. “Your demeanor was cold and heartless during the trial and even then, you continued to lie,” she said. “I feel in my heart you do not feel any remorse for murdering my son.”

She also said while she will never forget what the defendant did to her son, she did forgive him.

“The pain of losing a child is almost unbearable and you dang near killed me,” she said. “You didn’t though because I know that Jacob may not still be with me physically, he is still with me in spirit. And his spirit will live on in us and through us.”

Basford thanked the family for its strength, as well as the witnesses who testified at trial and the Lynn Haven Police Department for its investigation of the death.

For more information, contact Mike Cazalas at mike.cazalas@sa14.fl.gov, or call 850-381-7454.

Man guilty in bar shooting that left innocent bystander dead

A man who fired two shots in a bar after being punched in the head, striking and killing an innocent bystander in 2021, was found guilty of multiple charges Wednesday night, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.

Deerik Marquis Bell, 38, of Panama City, was found guilty of Manslaughter with a Firearm, Attempted Second-Degree Murder with a Firearm, and Felon in Possession of a Firearm by a jury after about three hours of deliberation Wednesday night. He was charged in the Sept. 3, 2021, shooting death of Tracy Eckman at the Outrigger Lounge, 1623 15th St.

Major Crimes Prosecutor Peter Overstreet
Defendant Deerik Bell
Assistant State Attorney Frank Sullivan

Manslaughter with a Firearm and Attempted Second-Degree Murder are both First-Degree felonies. Bell faces a maximum of Life in prison on the first two charges – the first for being a Habitual Felony Offender and on the second for being a Prison Releasee Reoffender. He faces a maximum of 30 years on the third charge as a Habitual Felony Offender.

Circuit Court Judge Shonna Young Gay set sentencing for May 15.

Major Crimes Prosecutor Peter Overstreet cross-examines the defendant

Major Crimes Prosecutor Peter Overstreet and Assistant State Attorney Frank Sullivan called about a dozen witnesses and presented evidence showing that the defendant had ongoing friction with LeQuentin Williams over a woman that came to a head when Williams spotted the defendant in the bar that night.

Evidence, including security footage from the bar, showed that Williams ran up and punched Bell in the head. Bell, who has 16 prior felony convictions and was last released from prison in March 2021, ducked from a second punch while pulling a pistol and firing two shots in the crowded bar.

SAO Investigator Shannon Mitchell, Overstreet and Sullivan discuss strategy during a recess

One shot hit Eckman, who had been playing darts and had no involvement with the other men. The second hit the back of a chair a woman was sitting in but did not injure her. The video showed Eckman saying he had been hit. The bullet severed an artery and he was pronounced dead at the hospital.

The defendant fled the scene and was captured about 5 months later.

“No one’s asking you to like LeQuentin Williams,” Overstreet told jurors in his closing argument. “But what is being asked of you is to follow the law … to announce with your verdict that it is not OK for a convicted felon to be punched in the head one time and pull out a gun and begin shooting.”

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Sullivan told jurors Bell acted with “complete indifference to everybody on the other end of that firearm when he fired,” and should be held accountable.Basford thanked the Panama City Police Department and case agent Cpl. Matthew Kelly for their work on the case.For more information, contact Mike Cazalas at mike.cazalas@sa14.fl.gov, or call 850–381–7454.

Life in prison on 25 child porn charges

Life in prison was ordered Monday for a man convicted last month of 25 counts of Possession of Sexual Performance of a Child, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.

Arthur O. Sauls, 71, was found guilty of all charges Feb. 27 after Bay County Chief Prosecutor Mark Graham presented evidence and witnesses proving the defendant was in possession of child porn, some involving very young children. Additionally, jurors agreed that Graham proved that more than 10 of the images contained either a child under the age of 5, a child involved in sadomasochistic acts, or sexual battery. That enhanced the crimes to Second-Degree Felonies with a stiffer penalty.

The defendant, upper left and bottom right, was sentenced to life in prison Monday by Circuit Court Judge Timothy Register, upper right. Chief Bay County Prosecutor Mark Graham, left center aned bottom left, prosecuted the case.

Circuit Court Judge Timothy Register Monday ordered Sauls to serve Life on each charge, with the sentences running concurrently, or at the same time. The defendant was also designated a Sexual Offender.

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The Bay County Sheriff’s Office investigation began in May, 2023, when Inv. Jacob Roberts received information the defendant was in possession of child pornography and ultimately traveled to the defendant’s Harrison Avenue apartment. The defendant gave deputies his phone, admitting the pictures on it were his.

“They found multiple images and searches for websites that Inv. Roberts knew to be related to child pornography,” Graham said at trial. “They found pornographic images of juveniles, and when we say juveniles in this case, we are talking about some children under 5 years of age.“

Basford again thanked the BCSO for its work on the case.

For more information, contact Mike Cazalas at mike.cazalas@sa14.fl.gov, or call 850-381-7454.