Man found guilty of sexual battery of a child, sentenced to life in prison

A Bay County man accused of sexually battering a child was found guilty at trial Tuesday and sentenced to life in prison, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.

Ashden Pippins, 25, was found guilty as charged of the capital offense of sexual battery on a child under the age of 12. The 6-person jury took less than 30 minutes of deliberation on the case presented by prosecutor Barbara Beasley, joined in court by prosecutor Jacob Cook.

Prosecutors Jacob Cook, seated, and Barbara Beasley, right, prepare in Circuit Judge Ana Maria Garcia’s courtroom.

Circuit Judge Ana Maria Garcia sentenced Pippins to life in prison without the possibility of parole and designated him as a sexual predator.

Beasley presented evidence that the defendant not only sexually battered the child but admitted it to the victim’s mother and Bay County Sheriff’s Office investigator Christian Williams, who both testified at the trial.

The mother testified that the victim had missed her menstrual cycle for two months in July 2020 and she felt something was wrong, so she administered a home pregnancy test on the girl. It returned “invalid” results, according to testimony, and the mother was going to get another one. But when the defendant found out he made a statement about his contact with the child that caused the mother to seek help from law enforcement.

Defendant Ashden Pippins, right, was sentenced to life in prison Tuesday.

“I submit to you that’s when the defendant got scared,” Beasley told jurors in her closing argument. “He was going to be found out.”

The Gulf Coast Children’s Advocacy Center conducted a “forensic” interview with the child and Pippins was then questioned by Investigator Williams. Beasley played an audio of that interview for jurors in which the defendant told Investigator Williams he and the victim “fornicated,” and gave details of the sexual battery.

Other testimony showed the defendant later contacted the child’s mother asking if the victim was pregnant because he wanted to know “if he had ruined her life.”

“I said, ‘You ruined her life the last time you ever touched her,’ “the mother testified. “And that’s the last time I ever spoke to him.”

Pippins, represented by public defenders Seth Killion and Ashlin Morgan, took the stand and said he never had sex with the victim. He said he was either confused from being tired or from snorting pain killers when he gave his taped statement admitting to the crime. The defense waived its right to a closing argument, sending it to the jury.

For additional information contact Mike Cazalas at mike.cazalas@sa14.fl.gov.

Second defendant in murder case sentenced to prison

The second of three defendants in the July 4, 2020 shooting death of a Holmes County man has been sentenced to prison while the third awaits trial, according to State Attorney Larry Basford.

Lauren Wambles, 24, pled No Contest to one count of Accessory After the Fact to Second Degree Murder with a Firearm in connection with the killing of Raul Ambriz Guillen and was sentenced to 10 years in prison by Circuit Judge Timothy Register. Upon her release she will begin serving a 5-year felony probation sentence.

On July 4, 2020, Guillen was shot and killed in Holmes County, Florida. Mr. Guillen’s body was taken to a remote location in Holmes County and buried.

After a long investigation and important tips from the public, Mr. Guillen’s body was discovered on Aug. 25, 2020, by the Holmes County Sheriff’s Department with the assistance of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The 14th Circuit Medical Examiner’s office determined that Mr. Guillen died from a single gunshot wound to the back of his head.

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On June 24, after a 4-day trial, a Holmes County jury agreed with prosecutor Brandon Young and found co-defendant Jeremie Odell Peters guilty of Accessory after the Fact to Second Degree Murder with a Firearm and Conspiracy to Commit First Degree Tampering with a Witness. Judge Register sentenced him to 20 years in the Florida Department of Corrections.

Awaiting trial is William Shane Parker, who is charged with Second Degree Murder with a Firearm.

Wambles testified on behalf of the State against Peters at his trial and has agreed to testify at Parker’s trial.

The 14th Circuit State Attorney’s Office and State Attorney Larry Basford would like to thank the Holmes County Sheriff’s Department, Houston County,  Alabama Sheriff’s Department, Jackson County Sheriff’s Department, Bay County Sheriff’s Department, Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Medical Examiner’s Office for their invaluable assistance in the successful prosecution of the individuals involved.

For additional information contact Mike Cazalas at mike.cazalas@sa14.fl.gov.

Jury takes 13 minutes to return guilty verdict in murder trial

A Bay County jury took less than 15 minutes Thursday to find Asher Martin guilty as charged in the 2020 murder of Christopher Whaley after three days of testimony, according to 14th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Larry Basford.

Martin, 22, was found guilty of second-degree murder and principal to arson for nearly severing the victim’s head and placing the body in a van which was then set on fire in the woods about 4 miles from co-defendant Raven Gladin’s Ivydell Road home in Fountain, based on evidence presented by prosecutors Devin Collier and Frank Sullivan.

“The evidence of guilty in this case was overwhelming, as indicated by the jury’s speedy verdict,” Basford said.

Basford said the jury’s verdict was a “direct result” of the strong case put together by the Bay County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigation’s Division and presented by Collier and Sullivan.

Martin and Raven were arrested on April 27, 2020, after smoke from the burning van brought in firefighters, who discovered a body, later identified as Mr. Whaley, in the van. An autopsy by the Medical Examiner’s Office indicated the victim’s throat had been cut and he had multiple stab wounds in the upper torso and back area that penetrated his heart and lungs.

Testimony revealed that in addition to using methamphetamine with the victim that day, Martin had smoked synthetic marijuana. Martin and Gladin were passengers in a van driven by the victim in search of more drugs when, according to the prosecution, they pulled over in a wooded area. While still in the van, Martin struck a blow to Whaley from behind with a machete-like weapon and continued the attack outside of the van.

The co-defendants returned in the van, with the victim’s body in the back, to Gladin’s home for a short period before Martin left for about an hour and came back without the vehicle.

Gladin, 26, faces a 10-year-prison sentence after pleading No Contest to Accessory After the Fact to Second Degree Murder and Second Degree Arson in exchange for her truthful testimony at Martin’s trial. Her sentencing is set for Oct. 29.

Circuit Court Judge Dustin Stephenson set Martin’s sentencing for Nov. 19. Martin faces up to life in prison.

State Attorney Larry Basford thanked the Bay County Sheriff’s Office and its Criminal Investigations Division, the Bureau of Fire, Arson and Explosives, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for their efforts.

For additional information contact Mike Cazalas at mike.cazalas@sa14.fl.gov.

 

Long-time Jackson County lawman joins SAO investigative team

Rory Jackson, a 24-year law enforcement veteran in Jackson County, is now an investigator for the 14th Judicial Circuit, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.

Jackson began his career with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office in 1997. It was a stint in then-Circuit Court Judge Bill Wright’s courtroom as a bailiff early in his career that hooked him into the idea of working within the court system.

“Some people think of being a bailiff as not being exciting, but I really liked it, I found it fascinating how you really got to see a different side of law enforcement,” Jackson said. “It intrigued me.”

Jackson, 51, would leave the courtroom duties and serve as a corporal in patrol before moving into Criminal Investigation in 2003.  He also spent time on a multi-agency drug task force but the desire to work on the prosecutorial side of the law never left.

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He remembers that in the first murder case where he testified as a witness, Basford was the prosecutor, and he liked his style in court.

“Then it got to a point in time where I was just wanting to try a little something different and got this opportunity,” he said.

Jackson earned his degree in Criminology at Florida State University and has additional training in homicide investigations, active shooter/emergency response and narcotics.

For additional information contact Mike Cazalas at mike.cazalas@sa14.fl.gov.

Mike “Caz” Cazalas, career journalist, switches gears to join State Attorney’s Office

Longtime former News Herald editor and columnist Mike “Caz” Cazalas has joined the State Attorney’s Office as its public information officer.

Larry Basford, State Attorney for the 14th Judicial Circuit, said Cazalas is filling a blend of two positions to both prepare and disseminate information to the media and to interact with the community while raising awareness of the office’s involvement with the people it serves across the circuit.

“I’ve always held a fascination with the law and court proceedings, going back to my early days as a police and courts reporter,” Cazalas said. “To have a chance to work on this side of the process, with people I’ve written about or known professionally for decades, is a dream fulfilled. My hope is to help people understand not just what the office does, but for them to get to know more about the people behind those actions and how they affect the community.”

Cazalas will continue his participation, on behalf of the SAO, in signature events like serving as a judge for the Bay District Schools’ Teacher of the Year award and helping lead the annual Empty Stocking Fund campaign to benefit the Salvation Army, where he serves as a board member. The campaign has raised more than $4 million over the years for area families in need of assistance.

Cazalas joined The News Herald in 1983, working his way into management before taking a job at the Macon Telegraph in 1999. He returned to Bay County, and the paper, in 2001 and served in various positions ranging from editor and a regional editor to the director of engagement for the region.

Cazalas, whose 18-year-old son is a senior at Bay High, joined the State Attorney’s Office Oct. 4.

New prosecutor Kara Bremer begins SAO career

Kara Bremer, a Mitchell Hamline School of Law Dean’s List Recipient, is officially the newest prosecutor for the 14th Judicial Circuit, State Attorney Larry Basford announced Monday.

Bremer was sworn in as an ASA by Basford, and sworn in as a member of the Florida Bar, at her request, by Bay County Chief Mark Graham at a ceremony attended by other SAO employees and a number of Bremer’s family members who came for the event.

“I cannot imagine myself ever wanting to leave,” Bremer said in applying for the Assistant State Attorney position. “The teamwork and the mutual respect that you all showed for one another are enviable and admirable qualities for any work environment, and I would love to be a part of that.”

Bremer is active in her church and community and spent time as a teacher as well as watching cases in this circuit and working for a private attorney in Marianna.

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“Kara has an extremely strong work ethic that is not only exhibited in her work life, but in her personal life as well, Shalene Grover wrote in a letter of recommendation. “The tenacity and discipline that she exhibits in her life is rare.”

Bremer will work misdemeanor cases in Bay County.

For additional information contact Mike Cazalas at mike.cazalas@sa14.fl.gov.

Josh James sworn in as new Assistant State Attorney

Josh James, who joined the 14th Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office in August assisting with misdemeanor cases, is formally the office’s newest prosecutor after being sworn in Sept. 29.

State Attorney Larry Basford made the announcement that James, a recent graduate of Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., will handle misdemeanor cases in Bay County under Assistant State Attorney Nichole Pieper, Misdemeanor Supervisor.

James served as Head Intern at the Rutherford County District Attorney’s Office in Tennessee while finishing college, supervising interns and representing the state in routine hearings as well as helping prosecutors prepare for trial.

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Through that experience, James said, he “developed a passion for protecting the innocent and ensuring that justice is done.”

Prior to attending Belmont, James earned his B.A. in International Studies at the University of Arizona.

For additional information contact Mike Cazalas at mike.cazalas@sa14.fl.gov.

Investigator Dave Edmondson Retires After 30 Years of Law Enforcement Service

MARIANNA – A childhood dream fueled by his love of the TV show “Adam 12” played out as crisply as one of the episodes for Dave Edmondson, who Monday celebrated his 30-year law enforcement career – the last 13 with the State Attorney’s Office – with a retirement luncheon.

Edmondson, 55, emphasized he was blessed to fulfill his career dreams and encouraged the 30-plus people at the luncheon to do the same.

“I found a way to make my dream come true,” he said. “Find your way.”

Larry Basford, 14th Judicial Circuit State Attorney, presented Edmondson with a plaque commemorating his service and a framed picture of the two of them in court, while thanking him for his service to both his country and community.

“I’ve found Dave to be honest, hard-working, knowledgeable, dependable and loyal,” Basford said.  “He sees the big picture and that’s very important … and he’s also a team player and all of these things are very important in the type of work that we do.

“When I asked people if they had one word they could say to describe him, I heard ‘diligent,’” Basford continued. “He could find almost any witness to be found in Jackson County.”

Edmondson began his law enforcement career in 1991 with the Sneads Police Department, moving from there to the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office before joining the State Attorney’s Office about 13 years ago, working out of the Marianna office.

“The last couple of weeks have been kind of overwhelming … it’s hard to wrap your mind around leaving what you’ve been doing for 30 years,” Edmondson said. “I can’t believe it’s been 30 years.”

Edmondson began his career as a patrolman, worked property and sex crimes as an investigator, was part of a multi-agency task force for more than 10 years and worked undercover as well. His “favorite,” he said, was when he served as a tactical officer.

“I’ve had a great career, I’ve had the opportunity to do exactly everything that I wanted to do in police work,” he said.

Basford pointed to two major cases as highlights of Edmondson’s work.

One was the horrific murders of Danielle Baker, 19, and her three sons – ages 3, 1 and 3 weeks – in her apartment in 2005. Basford said Edmondson’s work on that complex case helped lead to a successful prosecution and conviction in 2009. Williams is serving four life sentences.

The second was the murder of a 19-day-old infant in Graceville in 2017.

“I want you to know how hard Dave worked on that,” Basford said. “I was there that night, it happened up in Graceville, you start thinking about that case and I get emotional, I know Dave does too.

“Dave was one of the lead investigators on that case, it was cold, it was long, and he did a fantastic job on that case. He worked closely with Mark Graham and helped see it through to a successful prosecution.”

The mother, Lisette Taylor, was convicted of aggravated manslaughter in February and is serving a 23-year sentence.

Other speakers included former State Attorney Glenn Hess, retired Circuit Court Judge and current Assistant State Attorney Bill Wright, Assistant State Attorney Shalla Jefcoat, and former Jackson County Sheriff’s Office coworker Jeff Snell

For additional information contact Mike Cazalas at mike.cazalas@sa14.fl.gov.

Ladner Convicted of Attempted Second-Degree Murder with a Weapon

The Office of the State Attorney Larry Basford announces that on Thursday, September 30, 2021, a Bay County Jury found Rachel Dianne Ladner guilty as charged of Attempted Second-Degree Murder with a Weapon.

Evidence presented at trial proved that on July 27, 2019, Corporal Curtis Bland of the Panama City Police Department responded to a call regarding an injured person. After investigation, Panama City Police Detective Matthew Kelly arrested Rachel Dianne Ladner for hitting a local homeowner with a cinder block causing severe lacerations to the victim’s ear and head. Ms. Ladner claimed the act was committed in self-defense, however, Corporal Bland found her still on scene, in bed with the victim, who was unconscious and covered in blood, over ten hours after the incident.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant State Attorneys Elizabeth P. Magee and Jae Hee Kim. The Defendant will be sentenced by the Honorable Christopher Patterson on October 12, 2021. Attempted Second-Degree Murder with a Weapon is a first-degree felony, punishable by a maximum of 30 years in the Department of Corrections.

For more information, contact State Attorney Larry Basford.

Stanfill Found to be a Sexually Violent Predator and Ordered Confined

The Office of State Attorney Larry Basford announces that this week in Bay County Circuit Court a jury of 4 men and 2 women found that Larry Stanfill met the criteria under the State’s Sexually Violent Predator Act.  Stanfill was originally convicted of Lewd and Lascivious Acts on a Child and sentenced to prison in 2014 after violating his probation for a prior felony.  The State’s experts testified Stanfill posed a significant threat to society if not confined to a secure facility to receive treatment for his various sexual disorders – including pedophilia.

Judge Elijah Smiley deemed Stanfill a sexually violent predator under Florida law and ordered him confined in the Florida Civil Commitment Center in Arcadia, Florida for further treatment and control.  The case was prosecuted by Assistant State Attorney Zachary Taylor.

For additional information, contact State Attorney Larry Basford.