Man guilty of pulling gun on officer

Prosecutor Nicole Reed discussing Habitual Felony Offender and Prison Release Reoffender status with the defendant and his attorney.

A Panama City man who had been out of prison for less than a year has been found guilty of Aggravated Assault on a Law Enforcement Officer and is set for sentencing June7, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.

Theodore Storey was found guilty of that charge and being a Felon in Possession of a Firearm after about 90 minutes of deliberation by a Bay County jury Wednesday. Circuit Court Judge Dustin Stephenson also found that Storey violated his probation when he pulled a gun on a police officer July 30, 2020.

Prosecutor Dustin Miller makes a point during closing arguments.

“The defendant made a choice that night to pull a weapon on a law enforcement officer,” Prosecutor Nicole Reed told jurors during closing arguments. “Instead of complying (like the other occupants of the vehicle), what did he do? He pulled a gun.”

“And that choice has consequences,” Reed continued. “He needs to be held accountable for what he did.”

Reed and Co-Prosecutor Dustin Miller presented witnesses and evidence showing that the defendant was one of four men sitting in a car in a high-crime area that night when former Panama City Police Officer Jordan Hoffman encountered them.

Hoffman, who later left law enforcement to become a full-time pastor, testified he was on “proactive” community patrol that night when he spotted the men. He said he was walking to the car to see what was going on, and the closer he got the stronger the smell of marijuana coming from the vehicle.

Prosecutor Nicole Reed shows jurors the gun recovered at the scene.

He engaged the men, still in the car, in conversation about the marijuana smell. Testimony showed the defendant handed Hoffman a small baggie of marijuana.

Knowing that he needed to search the car but also concerned about officer safety, Hoffman testified he called for backup while the four men remained in the car and continued talking to them until officer Steven Clayton arrived.

When he attempted to help the defendant out of the car, Hoffman testified, the defendant kept reaching for his back pocket, telling the officer to “chill out.”

“He said, ‘I put my cellphone in my pocket, don’t worry about it’,” Hoffman testified. “At that point I see a gun and he’s bringing it up and around.”

Hoffman testified he was in immediate fear for his life and took the defendant down, while at the same time hearing a “thud” that he believed to be the gun hitting the ground. Another backup officer arrived and found and secured the pistol, which was within reach of where Hoffman was holding the defendant to the ground.

The gun found at the scene is shown on an overhead projector during testimony.

The defendant had been released from prison in August, 2019, after serving a 20-year sentence for armed robbery in Jackson County.  The State is seeking to have the defendant sentenced as a Habitual Felony Offender and Prison Rerelease Offender, both of which call for enhanced penalties.

Basford thanked the Panama City Police Department for its handling of the case and former officer Hoffman for his actions that night.

For more information, contact Mike Cazalas at mike.cazalas@14sa.fl.gov, or call 850-381-7454.

 

Convicted murderer sentenced to Life

Granting the requests of both the victim’s family and the prosecutor, a judge sentenced David Donaldson to Life in prison Tuesday for the 2020 murder of Gordon McKinney during a dispute, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.

Prosecutors Peter Overstreet and Jacob Cook proved at trial in April that the defendant provoked a confrontation with Mr. McKinney and then shot him twice – once in the back – at a construction site on 23rd Street. A jury took just over 2 hours to find him guilty as charged of Second Degree Murder and Aggravated Assault.

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Prosecutor Peter Overstreet, right, looks on as the victim’s widow (center, light-colored top), speaks to Circuit Judge Timothy Register at sentencing. The defendant is to the left with his attorney.

At Tuesday’s sentencing before Circuit Court Judge Timothy Register, Overstreet said the only just sentence would be for the defendant to spend the rest of his life in prison.

Gordon McKinney’s family put together a montage of family pictures for the judge to consider during sentencing.

“Mr. Donaldson armed himself with a gun and summoned the courage to call out a man older than him … he called the man out knowing he had a gun, and he ended a life over nothing,” Overstreet said to Register, asking for a Life sentence. “His family will be able to visit him wherever he’s incarcerated, they will be able to hear his voice, talk to him about what’s going on in their lives.

“That can never happen again with Mr. McKinney’s family.”

Judge Register handed down the Life sentence for Second Degree Murder and a 5-year consecutive sentence for Aggravated Assault after family members of both the victim and the defendant spoke.

“My dad and mom gave us a magical childhood,” said Cortney McKinney, Gordon McKinney’s daughter, as a power point presentation showed family pictures of Mr. McKinney on courtroom monitors. “It was magical because my dad and mom gave us constant love, praise, affection, support, guidance, and education, everything children need to flourish.”

Cortney McKinney said her father was a loving and humorous man. She said he sacrificed himself over the years to provide for the family.

 

One picture of her with her father, she noted, was taken Feb. 29, 2020, “the day I got married and the last time I ever saw my dad alive.”

She said being walked down the aisle by her dad is a memory she is grateful to have, “but for the rest of my life and my husband’s, our wedding anniversary will also always be the last day I saw my dad alive because he was taken from us by the murderer. The murderer who has demonstrated a complete absence of respect for the value of human life.”

Gordon McKinney’s daughter is comforted by Victim Advocate Lisa Lea Humpich as she tells Circuit Judge Register how the loss of her father has affected her family’s life.

Sherri McKinney, Gordon McKinney’s widow, said her world shattered when her husband was killed. “Before his murder, I felt safe knowing he would be there to help me with anything I needed, to help raise and guide our kids, to grow old with and now that is all gone.”

She too asked for the maximum sentence of Life in prison.

“His murderer has not shown one iota of remorse and does not deserve leniency,” she told Judge Register. “He shot an unarmed man in the back, a gray-haired – 15 years his senior – unarmed man. I hope his fellow prisoners hear those details so they know what kind of coward will be living among them.

“He will not have his gun to pull out in prison.”

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

Man who fought, attacked deputy sentenced to 25 years

A man who attacked a deputy and later said he “wanted to beat him to death,” was deemed a Habitual Felony Offender Friday and sentenced to 25 years in prison, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.

Circuit Court Judge Devin Collier sentenced Jourdan Daniel Parks, 36, of Panama City, for Fleeing to Elude a Law Enforcement Officer, Resisting an Officer with Violence, and two counts of Battery on a Law Enforcement officer.

Assistant State Attorney Jacob Cook had already picked a jury to hear the charges against the defendant on March 21, but on the eve of trial the Defendant changed his mind and entered an “open plea,” meaning the Defendant admitted guilt and the judge would determine the sentence, and the jury was dismissed.

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At the defendant’s Habitual Felony Offender (HFO) and sentencing hearing Friday, Prosecutor Cook proved that the defendant qualified as an HFO through expert fingerprint testimony, with previous convictions of Aggravated Battery, Resisting Arrest with Violence, and Driving While License Suspended or Revoked (Habitual Offender). The defendant has a lengthy criminal history dating back to 2005. Designation as an HFO doubled the maximum penalty the defendant faced on the most serious charge from 15 years to a maximum of 30 years.

Cook presented testimony at sentencing regarding the severity of the crime against Bay County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Thomas Evans, as well as a phone call the defendant made from jail where he was recorded saying, “You should of seen the fear in his eyes when I picked him up and slammed him on that table.” Cook also presented video of the attack, shot by a witness.

The evidence showed that Deputy Evans responded to a complaint June 25, 2020. The defendant was spotted in a vehicle but fled from the deputy at a high rate of speed before exiting his vehicle and running into a residence, the evidence showed.

The pursuing deputy found the defendant trying to hide in a pantry. The defendant exited the pantry and attacked the deputy. During the attack, evidence showed, the deputy was slammed onto a table and choked before he and Deputy Kip McKenzie were able to subdue the defendant.

Basford thanked the Sheriff’s Office for its work on the case, and Deputy Evans for his efforts.

For more information, contact Mike Cazalas at mike.cazalas@fl14.gov, or call 850-381-7454.

Guilty verdict, life sentence for convicted child molester

A Panama City man was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison Thursday after a jury convicted him of Lewd & Lascivious Molestation on a child, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.

A jury found Darrel Fred Swearingen, 48, guilty after 17 minutes of deliberation. Circuit Court Judge Tim Register then imposed the life sentence.

Prosecutors Frank Sullivan and Jae Hee Kim proved that Swearingen committed the offense against the victim in 2010 when he was left alone with her. Testimony showed that the victim reported the molestation to an adult family member, who did not report it to authorities.

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The Gulf Coast Children’s Advocacy Center was made aware of the allegations in 2020 and began an investigation. Bay County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Christian Williams, the case agent, took statements from both the victim and the defendant. He arrested the defendant in January, 2021.

During the trial, testimony from the victim was consistent with what she had previously disclosed to family and law enforcement. Her sister also testified for the State.

The defendant took the stand and Sullivan noted inconsistencies in his initial statement to law enforcement and his trial testimony. It was also disclosed that the defendant was a 6-time convicted felon and was previously convicted of giving false information to law enforcement.

Basford thanked both the Bay County Sheriff’s Office and GCCAC for their work on the case, and Sullivan for his strong presentation of it to jurors.

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

 

Man who provoked confrontation found guilty of murder

A Bay County jury took about two hours Wednesday to find a man guilty of Second-Degree Murder for provoking a fight at a worksite and then shooting the man he challenged, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.

David Allan Donaldson, 42, was found guilty as charged of Second-Degree Murder and Aggravated Assault with a Firearm in the Oct. 27, 2020, death of Gordon McKinney at a 23rd Street construction site. Circuit Court Judge Timothy Register set sentencing for May 10.

Prosecutor Peter Overstreet, right, asked the defendant to re-enact the shooting during his cross examination.
Prosecutors Peter Overstreet and Jacob Cook wait while the defendant, with his attorney, reviews his statement to police.

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Prosecutors Peter Overstreet and Jacob Cook proved to jurors that the defendant was culpable for the death, with evidence showing he challenged the victim to a fight and then shot him as they tussled. They told jurors that the defendant’s claims of self-defense were baseless and that he knew he had the upper hand from the beginning – with his pistol tucked into his pants.

“He shot an unarmed man after provoking a fight,” Overstreet told jurors. “Ladies and Gentlemen, the simple truth is that you can’t invite someone to fight you, and then use that as a justifiable excuse to pull out a gun and kill them.”

Witnesses testified that both men were on a 23rd construction site for a business set to open the next day, and the victim was not happy with the work the defendant had performed. McKinney notified his supervisor of the issues, and the defendant engaged in “trash talking” with the victim.

The defendant was asked to leave but continued the argument, telling the victim they could take the dispute across the street to settle it. Instead, there was a confrontation by the defendant’s truck and he  pulled a pistol from his waistband and shot McKinney twice, including once in the back.

“I submit the defendant is a man who bit off more than he could chew,” Overstreet told jurors. “And when he bit off more than he could chew, he had that gun and he knew who was going to win that fight.

“He shot an unarmed man after provoking a fight.”

During closing arguments, Overstreet pointed out to jurors the inconsistencies in the defendant’s claim of self-defense. He noted that despite the defendant’s claim that he was taking a beating and had to shoot to protect himself, he did not have a single scratch, scrape, bruise or red mark on his body.

As far as the defendant’s testimony, he told jurors, “You may discard it in the trash where it belongs.”

“Mr. McKinney is dead. Your verdict will not change that,” Overstreet told jurors. “But your verdict will define forever what happened that day.”

State Attorney Larry Basford took note of the Panama City Police Department’s response to the scene and the evidence that was quickly gathered, including the statement from the defendant.

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

Ortiz guilty of first-degree murder

The first defendant to go to trial in the 2019 Shooting death of Edward Ross has been found guilty of first-degree murder and attempted armed robbery, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.

A 12-person jury returned the verdict against Abel Ortiz, 19, Wednesday evening after about four and a half hours of deliberation. Circuit Court Judge Shonna Young Gay set sentencing for Aug. 15.

Five people are charged in the case. Two defendants have entered pleas and both testified against Ortiz. Two others are awaiting trial.

Prosecutor Marg Graham addresses jurors during closing arguments.
Prosecutor Frank Sullivan shows jurors a package containing a bullet fired into the victim’s back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I’ve been doing this for a long time,” Prosecutor Mark Graham told jurors in in his closing argument. “And I’ve never had a case where I had not one, not two, but three confessions from the defendant. If you look at the admissions, this defendant admitted to intimate details of this crime. How would he know, it wasn’t out to the public? Because he was there.”

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Graham and Prosecutor Frank Sullivan presented evidence and testimony showing that Ortiz agreed to participate in a plan to rob Ross, 30, in his home on Dec. 29, 2019. What started as a planned robbery “went south,” according to testimony, and the victim was shot multiple times.

The victim’s father testified he was at his Sunset Drive home when three armed men burst through the door looking for his son. When the victim, unarmed, walked down the hall toward them to see who was there, the gunmen opened fire.

Witnesses said Ortiz fired a number of those shots. Medical Examiner Jay Radtke said a bullet recovered from the victim’s back was the same caliber as the gun the defendant used in the attempted robbery.

The defendant, center, reacts as the guilty verdict is read.

Bay County Sheriff’s Office investigators began a complicated investigation, with hundreds of hours spent tracking down leads and travel across Northwest Florida before making the arrests two months later.

One of the big breaks came when a teacher at Ortiz’ school reported that Ortiz told her he had killed a man on the beach. When she didn’t believe him, he told her she could look it up and at the same time gave her details about the crime that were not public knowledge. The teacher testified that she was a mentor to the defendant and told him, “I just pray you’re not telling the truth,” but Ortiz insisted it was true.

Sheriff’s Office investigators put together evidence ranging from the types of vehicles used and video of them meeting at a nearby store moments before the shooting, to a taped confession from the defendant.

Prosecutor Sullivan told jurors that while the initial plan only involved a robbery, under Florida’s Felony Murder law all those involved were accountable for what happened, even if they didn’t fire the fatal shot.

“He wasn’t just going along for the ride,” Sullivan said of the defendant. “He was a willing participant in this armed robbery plan. He was excited about it.”

Basford thanked the Bay County Sheriff’s Office for the lengths it went to in putting together the evidence needed to arrest the defendant and the quality of the evidence provided to prosecutors.

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

WWII Veteran hopes prison teaches attacker a lesson

A 95-year-old World War II veteran who was the victim of a home invasion took the news of his attacker’s prison sentence with the same calm reaction as his 911 call when he reported the original crime.

“Maybe he’ll learn a lesson in those 17 years,” the victim said of Michael E. Smith, 47, who was sentenced to 17 years in prison for the Dec. 5 attack and two subsequent offenses. “It takes all kinds of people to make up this world, but there are some of them I believe we can do without.”

Michael Smith

The defendant pled no contest to Home Invasion Robbery, Grand Theft-Auto, and two counts of Introduction of Contraband into a Correctional Facility.

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The victim said he was happy with both the sentence and the speed of the case through the courts.

“To be honest, I figured he’d drag it out for a year longer, so I was glad of it when (the State Attorney’s Office) told me he’d taken the plea and was going to prison,” he said. “He won’t be fooling with nobody else for a while.”

The victim was in his Hiland Park area home Dec. 5 when he reported being grabbed from behind and choked by a man later identified as the defendant. It happened so fast, he told Bay County Sheriff’s Office deputies and investigators, that he didn’t see the attacker at first.

The victim called 911 as soon as his attacker fled with his money and truck, sounding calm and collected as he gave them his name, address, and said, “my truck has been stolen and all my money.”

State Attorney Larry Basford commended the Sheriff’s Office for solving the case quickly and Assistant State Attorney Barbara Beasley for bringing the case to a speedy conclusion for the elderly victim.

Sheriff’s Office investigators and deputies canvassed the neighborhood and found the stolen truck abandoned about a mile away, no suspect in sight, according to Inv. Christopher Coram. However, after speaking with neighbors and reviewing surveillance videos from the neighborhood, investigators were able to determine that the defendant was staying at a nearby hotel. The defendant was arrested on the home invasion charge Dec. 5. The following day, Bay County Jail staff developed information that the defendant was in possession of contraband, which led to the final two charges.

 

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

 

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ASA Nicole Reed honored for work with child abuse victims

Assistant State Attorney Nicole Reed has been recognized by the Gulf Coast Children’s Advocacy Center as one of this year’s dedicated professionals in child protection work.
Reed and Bay County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Jeremy Mathis were surprised with the honor at the GCCAC’s law enforcement and child protection staff appreciation luncheon.
The State Attorney’s Office works closely with  both law enforcement like the Bay County Sheriff’s Office and GCCAC, which provides key services not just for the prosecution of child abuse cases, but also for the victims themselves.
April is #ChildAbusePreventionMonth and although many are involved in preventing abuse when possible and stopping it when it is discovered, State Attorney Larry Basford appreciates the work done by the GCCAC and its recognition of Reed.

U.S. Attorney: Combine resources with SAO to fight crime

U.S. Attorney Jason Coody makes a point as Assistant State Attorneys (left to right) Kara Bremer, Josh James, Jae Hee Kim, Peter Overstreet and Calie Overstreet listen in.
State Attorney Larry Basford, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District Jason Coody (hands folded in lap) and prosecutors from the SAO listen to a presentation Friday.

State Attorney Larry Basford and his staff met with U.S. Attorney Jason Coody Friday to discuss ways they can continue working together to make the most effective use of their resources to prosecute crimes involving firearms, drugs, violence, and human trafficking.

Assistant U.S. Attorney James A. McCain discussed with State prosecutors the strengths of both federal and state laws, and what kinds of cases best fit in each category.

Coody fielded questions from prosecutors and investigators while saying that above all else, communication is the key.

“We all want to compare, see which is the best way to go,” Coody said of federal versus state prosecution in any particular case. “If there are things we could be doing better, tell us, that’s why we’re here.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney James A. McCain reviews criminal penalties under federal law compared to state law with staff from the SAO.

25-year prison sentence for woman who shot two “guests”

A woman convicted of shooting and injuring two people will spend the next 25 years in prison, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.

Alana Annette Savell, 37, who lived in the Hiland Park area where the shooting took place in 2016, was found guilty of two counts of Aggravated Battery Feb. 23 following a two-day trial.

The defendant was sentenced to 25 years in prison this week under Florida’s 10-20-Life Statute.

Tuesday, Circuit Court Judge Shonna Young Gay sentenced the defendant to 25 years in prison on both charges, to be served concurrently, under Florida’s 10-20-Life statute. Under that law, the defendant will not receive any gain time and must serve the full sentence.

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Prosecutors Barbara Beasley and Jacob Cook presented witnesses and evidence at the trial showing that both victims were invited guests at the home the night of the shooting and were either in or near the doorway, or attempting to leave, at the time they were shot from behind by the defendant.

 

The male victim testified a group got up as if to go outside to smoke, but instead he was told they wanted him and his girlfriend to leave. He testified he was in or near the doorway trying to let his girlfriend know it was time to go when he was shot from behind in the calf by the defendant, who was inside the home. His injuries required three surgeries and two weeks in the hospital.

 

The female victim testified she was still inside the home when she heard shots, and her then-boyfriend yelling to her that he had been shot and they needed to leave. She said she was shot from behind in the left leg and right hell as she tried to leave.

“I didn’t hear any arguing before the first gunshot,” she testified. “I don’t know what went wrong, why it went wrong. Everything was going fine and then, ‘Pop, pop, pop, pop,’ and (the male victim) yelling, ‘Let’s go, I’ve been shot.’”

Prosecutor Jacob Cook questions a witness during the February trial.

Basford thanked the Bay County Sheriff’s Office and Florida Department of Law Enforcement for their work in investigating the case and gathering key evidence, as well as prosecutors Beasley and Cook for their presentation of it to jurors.

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