Strong guilty of killing fellow inmate, given Life sentence

BONIFAY – An inmate accused of stabbing and killing another prisoner in Holmes Correctional Institution was found guilty of murder Thursday and sentenced to Life in prison without the possibility of parole, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.

Raymond Strong, 38, was found guilty as charged of Second Degree Murder after about 90 minutes of deliberation by a Holmes County jury. At the sentencing hearing immediately following the two-day trial, Circuit Court Judge Russell Roberts sentenced the defendant to Life in prison.

 

The 10 witnesses and evidence, including video of the attack from the state prison, presented by Holmes County Chief Prosecutor Ben Keown proved that Strong repeatedly stabbed Kevin Parker after chasing him up a set of stairs. Medical Examiner Dr. Jay Radtke testified Parker, who was unarmed, was stabbed 11 times. One of the wounds severed his aorta, which Radtke said would cause death in minutes.

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The defendant, representing himself, admitted stabbing the victim but claimed it was self-defense. That was rejected by Keown and Co-counsel Megan Ford as well as the jury.

“When someone flees – especially when they’re unarmed – you can’t use deadly force and you can’t kill an unarmed man when he is running away from you,” Keown said. “Kevin Parker may have been in prison, but he had a life to live, that he deserved to live, and that was cut short by the choice of Raymond Strong.”

Evidence showed the victim initiated an unarmed confrontation with the defendant and co-defendant Quants Johnson the night of April 19, 2020. The victim, however, disengaged from the fight and was fleeing up a set of stairs when the defendant and co-defendant chased and caught him.

Evidence showed the defendant, armed with a shank, or homemade knife, was on top of the victim stabbing him repeatedly. Correctional Officers were at the scene within minutes, rushing the victim to the infirmary and then the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Investigators recovered a bloody shank nearby and DNA analysis showed the defendant’s DNA on the handle, blade and a clip attached to the knife.

Basford thanked the Holmes Correctional Institution staff, the Inspector General and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for their work on the case that led to key evidence.

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

Murderer who videotaped himself with body sentenced to Life

A collage of scenes from the defendant’s Sept. 8-9 Murder trial.

PANAMA CITY – Jonathan Lozada, found guilty earlier this month of killing Justin Reyes with two shots to the head, was sentenced to Life in prison without the possibility of parole Thursday, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.

Circuit Court Judge Brantley Clark sentenced the defendant under Florida’s 10-20-Life Statute. A jury Sept. 9 found him guilty of Second Degree Murder for the Dec. 17, 2019 shooting death of 20-year-old Justin Reyes in his Panama City home.

During the two-day trial, Prosecutors Peter Overstreet and Josh James presented testimony from 18 witnesses and videos the defendant took of himself at the victim’s Panama City home just prior to and just after the shooting.  One video showed the defendant and others, including the victim, talking and joking at 11:20 p.m. A second video 20 minutes later showed the defendant boasting about killing the victim with the body visible behind him.

“This was a thorough, well-done investigation by the Bay County Sheriff’s Office and the other law enforcement agencies,” lead Prosecutor Peter Overstreet said after the verdict. “This killing was the picture of evil based on the defendant recording himself after essentially executing the victim by shooting him in the head twice at close range.”

Jonathan Lozada

Testimony and evidence showed the defendant took some items and returned home, where he showed one roommate the video he made, and a second roommate saw part of it as well. They called police and the resulting investigation led to the Bay County Sheriff’s Office identifying the defendant.

A search warrant for the defendant’s phone led to the discovery of the videos.

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

Heather Errede, Morgan McAfee sworn in as newest SAO prosecutors

Left to right: Heather Errede, State Attorney Larry Basford, Morgan McAfee

State Attorney Larry Basford welcomed two new prosecutors to the 14th Judicial Circuit Tuesday with the swearing-in ceremonies of Heather Errede and Morgan McAfee.

Errede and McAfee join a team of prosecutors who handle misdemeanor cases in Bay County, and both hit the ground running.

Errede studied Law at Florida State University College of Law and served an internship at the 2nd Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office prior to taking a position here in the 14th Judicial Circuit. McAfee studied at the Belmont College of Law in Nashville, Tenn., and served as a legal intern at the Rutherford County District Attorney’s Office there.

Both were drawn here to pursue their passion for the law by the people of the area and the impression it made on them.

Heather Errede studied at FSU College of Law
Morgan McAfee studied at Belmont College of Law in Tennessee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Being a prosecutor, you’re in a better position to make a positive change,” Errede said. “I’ve wanted to do juvenile law and it was really the programs here and the whole area, the people, that drew me. The people here, when you stop and have a conversation with them, they actually care and want to talk and help make a difference. And I want to carry that over into being a prosecutor.”

McAfee was in law school with a current prosecutor in this circuit who helped her decide this was more than a good place to be a prosecutor, it was a good place to live.

“I always knew I wanted to do something to carry out justice for the community, I just didn’t know where that would be,” McAfee said. “I was that person who always said, “Yes, but what about the principle of the matter?’ So I knew what I wanted to do and I just prayed and asked God to open a door for me and show me where I should be. The answer was here.”

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

Ortiz guilty in Beach murder, faces up to Life in prison

Prosecutor Mark Graham, left, makes a point to jurors before they deliberated and found the defendant, far right, guilty of First Degree Felony Murder.

A jury Thursday took about 4 hours to return guilty verdicts against a man charged with First Degree Felony Murder and Attempted Armed Robbery in the 2019 killing of 30-year-old Edward Ross, according to State Attorney Larry Basford.

Jurors found that Abel Ortiz, 19, was armed when he and two others rushed into Ross’ house in an attempt to rob him Dec. 29, 2019, and that he actually killed or was attempting to kill the victim when he shot him. Those special findings mean the defendant, a juvenile at the time of the shooting, faces a sentence ranging from 40 years (with the first 25 years being served day-for-day), up to Life in prison. Circuit Court Judge Shonna Young Gay set sentencing for Nov. 8.

Bay County Chief Prosecutor Mark Graham thanked jurors for their time and attention to the case, as well as the Bay County Sheriff’s Office for its intense 6-week investigation that led to the arrests of 5 people and the SAO staff for the work that went into preparing the case.

“This was not a simple case to for the Sheriff’s Office to put together, it was not a simple case to prosecute, and we are very grateful to everyone who worked for this outcome,” Graham said. “Justice was served today both for the victim’s father and the community.”

Two co-defendants who admitted to their roles in the case have entered pleas and both testified against Ortiz. A fourth defendant was sentenced to Life in prison after being found guilty of Felony First Degree Murder.

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Graham presented evidence and witnesses proving that a plan was hatched in December, 2019, for the defendants to go to the victim’s home and rob him of money and marijuana.

The defendant, armed with a .22-caliber pistol, knocked on the victim’s door, then followed two armed co-defendants as they rushed into the home. There was a confrontation between the first gunman and the victim, who had just left the shower and was wearing a towel, and witnesses said the first shot was fired.

The evidence showed all three men fired a total of 11 shots, with seven of them coming from Ortiz’ .22-caliber pistol. The final shot was a .22-caliber bullet into the victim’s back as he lay on the floor.

The gunmen ran to waiting vehicles and fled the area. Sheriff’s Office investigators pieced together the case over a 6-week period, traveling across the Panhandle, before arresting Ortiz and the co-defendants in February, 2020.

In addition to the testimony of two co-defendants, evidence showed that before his arrest the defendant told a teacher he had killed a man on the Beach and when she didn’t believe him he provided details. The defendant also told another witness what had happened, as well as giving a statement to Sheriff’s Office investigators admitting what he had done.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time,” 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.”

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

Guilty: Possession of Meth at jail brings 5-year sentence

A man found in possession of Methamphetamine while he was being booked into jail on his fourth felony charge in 18 months has been sentenced to 5 years in prison, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.

William Michael Creamer, 47, of Panama City Beach, was found guilty this week of Introduction of Contraband into a County Detention Facility (Drug or Controlled Substances). A Bay County jury took just 13 minutes to return the verdict after Prosecutor Jacob Cook presented the State’s case.

William Michael Creamer

Circuit Court Judge Timothy Register handed down the sentence following the trial.

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The defendant has a long history of convictions and was recently released from the Department of Corrections in 2020.  Between December, 2020, and May 4, 2022, he was arrested four times. The most  recent was by Panama City Beach police who charged the defendant with felony theft.

According to testimony and evidence Cook and co-counsel Ali Elsagga presented at trial, when the defendant was being booked into the jail on the most recent charge a small plastic baggie containing drugs was found hidden in his underwear.

The substance, which weighed 1.6 grams, tested positive for Methamphetamine.

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

25 years in prison, $150,000 in fines for convicted drug trafficker Friday

A case that started when Bay County Sheriff’s Office deputies serving a search warrant found syringes, scales, heroin and methamphetamine, ended with a 25-year prison sentence for the defendant Friday, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.

Christopher Goldsby was found guilty of Trafficking in Amphetamine (more than 28 grams but less than 200 grams) and Trafficking in Illegal Drugs (heroin, 4 grams or more) during a 1-day trial Friday. Jurors considering the testimony and witnesses put on by Prosecutors Dustin Miller and Nicole Reed took about 2 hours to return their verdict.

Prosecutor Dustin Miller, right, shares documents with the defense before trial opened Friday. Defendant is seated to the left.

Chief Circuit Court Judge Christopher Patterson then sentenced Goldsby, who has a history of drug-related offenses, to 25 years in prison on each charge, with the sentences to be served concurrently. The first charge carries a 7-year minimum-mandatory requirement and a $100,000 fine. The second charge carries a 3-year minimum-mandatory requirement and a $50,000 fine.

“It’s a good day for Bay County and we got a lot of drugs off the street,” Prosecutor Miller said, noting the 34 grams of methamphetamine and 6.6 grams of heroin sheriff’s investigators found during the search. “Sgt. Jeremy Head not only put together a great case, but was a great witness for the State and a key to the victory today that led to this defendant heading to prison for 25 years.”

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Co-counsel Reed added this was not the defendant’s first brush with the law.

“This defendant had a history of drug sales and possession and dealing in narcotics, and he was providing it to at least one drug user,” she said. “Today’s verdict shows that the Sheriff’s Office and State Attorney’s Office do not take these cases lightly.”

Evidence and testimony showed that when the search warrant was served on the Youngstown residence in May 2020, syringes and paraphernalia were quickly found. But Lt. Doug Smith “conducted a very thorough search,” Reed said, and found a quantify of narcotics hidden in a vitamin supplement bottle in the kitchen.

Neighbors and others had complained and reported that the residence was being used to sell drugs, which led to the Sheriff’s Office’s investigation.

Basford thanked the Sheriff’s Office for both its proactive approach and thoroughness in putting the case together.

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

35-year sentence for man who opened fire on deputies

A man who opened fire on two deputies responding to reports of someone shooting a gun Feb. 2, 2019, was given sentences Friday totaling 35 years in prison, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.

William Kiefer Bradley Egan, 30, was sentenced by Circuit Court Judge Timothy Register to 15 years each on two convictions of Aggravated Assault on a Law Enforcement Officer, and 5 years for Possession of a Bulletproof Vest during the crime. Register ordered that the sentences be served consecutively, or one after the other.

The defendant with his attorney at sentencing Friday.

Both deputies who were shot at that day testified at sentencing about how the experience affected them. They said the full repercussions of nearly being shot took time to sink in, but it brought home the reality that there really might be a day they do not return home from a day on the job.

Prosecutor Barbara Beasley, in asking for the maximum sentence, pointed out that the defendant was the one who chose not to seek treatment for his emotional issues and knew what he was doing that day when he armed himself, put on a bulletproof vest, walked out the door “and started shooting up the neighborhood.”

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She said that was reinforced by calls the defendant made to his family from jail that were recorded and played in court Friday. They included the defendant making sure people knew what to say and, most importantly to Beasley, included the defendant mocking the deputies he shot at and the Sheriff’s Office.

“When you listen to these jail calls, you hear how he really feels about this case,” Beasley said. “He had no remorse. He was mocking the deputies, he was mocking the Sheriff’s Office, he took no responsibility for his crimes.”

Before publishing his sentence, Judge Register addressed those in court, which included the two deputies who were fired upon as well as family members of the defendant.

“You have all been affected by what happened that day and I’m sorry you were affected the way you were,” Judge Register said to them.

But Register said while the defendant had a troubled youth that was not of his doing and emotional issues, “here you have two law enforcement officers who are confronted by a very angry and upset man with a bulletproof vest on and firing at them.”

Register agreed with Beasley’s statement that law enforcement officers are the community’s frontline defense and that people must be held accountable for their actions.

“Other than someone actually getting shot, I don’t know who if it could’ve been any worse,” he said before handing down his sentence.

Basford thanked the Sheriff’s Office both for its handling of a volatile and potentially deadly situation as well as the case deputies and investigators put together.

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

 

Hutchinson, Chavez, headed to prison for roles in attempted murders

Two Bay County men convicted last month of attempting to kill three people they shot at during a chase across Northwestern Bay County received prison sentences Friday, according to State Attorney Larry Basford.

Jordan Hutchinson was sentenced to three concurrent 20-year sentences for his three convictions on Attempted Second Degree Murder with a Firearm, plus 5 years for Shooting into an Occupied Vehicle and Aggravated Assault. The three 20-year sentences will be served at the same time, but under Florida’s 10-20-Life law, the 20 years must be served day-for-day. The 5-year sentences also will run concurrent to each other, but will not begin until the 20-year sentence is served.

Prosecutor Frank Sullivan addresses the jury in the defendants’ August trial.

Circuit Court Judge Timothy Register sentenced Co-defendant Chase Chavez to three 15-year terms, to be served concurrently, for his three convictions of Attempted Second Degree Murder With a Firearm. The first 10 years of that sentence is minimum-mandatory. He also was sentenced to 3 years for Shooting into an Occupied Vehicle and that will not start until he finishes the first sentence under Florida’s 10-20-Life law.

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A jury convicted both men Aug. 26 after a two-day trial, but found that while Chavez possessed a firearm during the July 4, 2019 offenses, he did not fire it.

Prosecutors Frank Sullivan and Jae Hee Kim presented evidence and witnesses, including the three victims and investigators from the Bay County Sheriff’s Office, proving that the defendants were in a confrontation with the victims and chased them at high speeds while firing shots into the truck in which they were traveling.

“But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter which one of the defendants pulled the trigger each time and which was the driver,” Sullivan said to jurors at trial. “They both participated, and they both wanted this to happen. They are principals.”

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

Man who shot victim twice and videotaped himself with body found guilty of murder

A jury took about 30 minutes Friday to return a guilty verdict against a Panama City Beach man who shot his victim twice in the head and videotaped himself boasting about it from the crime scene, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.

Jonathan Lozada, 22, was found guilty as charged of Second Degree Murder Friday for killing Justin Reyes, 20, on Dec. 17, 2019. Under Florida’s 10-20-Life Statute, Lozada faces a minimum-mandatory 25 years and up to life in prison at his Sept. 29 sentencing before Circuit Judge Brantley Clark.

Prosecutor Peter Overstreet, right, questions former Bay County Sheriff’s Office investigator Matthew Cutcher about the murder weapon (on screen to the left).

Prosecutors Peter Overstreet and Josh James presented testimony from 18 witnesses over two days and videos the defendant took of himself at the victim’s Panama City home. The videos included one of the defendant and others, including the victim, talking and joking at 11:20 p.m.– and one at 11:40 p.m. of the defendant videotaping himself boasting about killing the victim with his body visible behind him.

“This was a thorough, well-done investigation by the Bay County Sheriff’s Office and the other law enforcement agencies,” lead Prosecutor Peter Overstreet said after the verdict. “This killing was the picture of evil based on the defendant recording himself after essentially executing the victim by shooting him in the head twice at close range.”

Testimony and evidence at trial showed Reyes was most likely sitting at his computer desk when he was shot twice in the head from close range: once in the face and once in the back of the head.

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Lozada took some items from the home and returned home, where he showed one roommate the video he made, and a second roommate saw part of it as well. They called Panama City Beach police, but Lozada was not there when they arrived.

Beach police returned at 5:55 a.m. when Lozada returned home and they found blood-stained clothing and several rounds of 9mm ammunition on the defendant’s bed. Beach police determined that the defendant had obtained a ride from a friend, who, when located, said he had been with the defendant earlier and gave police that address, which was in unincorporated Bay County.

Sheriff’s deputies checking that house found the victim. A search warrant for the defendant’s phone led to the discovery of the videos. And the friend admitted he had been at that residence with the defendant earlier but left before the shooting took place. He later admitted the defendant contacted him after the shooting asking for a ride and help in getting rid of evidence.

“As a result of the tireless work and dedication of the Bay County Sheriff’s Office, justice was served today and the jury reached the correct verdict,” Prosecutor James said. “Although nothing will ever bring Justin Reyes back, I hope and pray that today’s verdict will provide some solace to his family. The citizens of Bay County are made safer by the conviction of Jonathan Lozada.”

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

Life without parole for Altha man who sexually abused child

BLOUNTSTOWN – An Altha man who pled no contest to sexually assaulting a young girl will spend the rest of his life in prison, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.

Shane Whitfield, 53, entered an open plea of No Contest to Lewd and Lascivious Molestation and Lewd and Lascivious Conduct. The defendant admitted to sexually assaulting the child over a 2-year-period in 2019-20. An open plea means there was no agreed-upon sentence.

Calhoun County Chief Prosecutor William Wright, standing, with the defendant, seated at right, during a court proceeding earlier this year.

Thursday, based on the evidence Calhoun County Chief Prosecutor William Wright was prepared to present from the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office and the Department of Children and Families’ Child Protection Team, Chief Circuit Court Judge Chris Patterson sentenced the defendant to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He was also designated a Sexual Predator.

 

 

The defendant, his attorney, mother, and sister all asked the court for leniency, saying the defendant pled in part to spare the victim from trial and that his parents suffer serious health issues.

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The victim’s mother, however, asked for more. In her prepared statement, she said her child is afraid to go outside, afraid to use a restroom by herself in public, has frequent nightmares and remains “terrified.”

“She has severe anxiety from the trauma that he caused,” she said. “She has frequent nightmares that affect her sleep and her daily living. Hearing her cry at night because of the nightmares breaks my heart.

“(She) will get through this because she is a strong child,” the mother continued. “But the limits he has put on her, at times are so severe, that there are days that I don’t know if she will make it.”

Prosecutor Wright argued that while he understood Judge Patterson must consider those things, that the defendant’s previous history and the damage done to the 7-year-old victim in this case were more serious considerations.

“Judge, to look at the damage done to this child … it’s just horrible,” Wright said. “He needs to be sentenced and placed somewhere where he doesn’t have access to any children for the rest of his life.”

Basford thanked the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office and Inv. John Scheetz for their work on the case, as well as the Department of Children and Families’ Child Protection Team.

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