2 Life sentences for repeat felon who opened fire in bar, killing innocent bystander

Prosecutor Peter Overstreet (seated, left, by bailiff) during Deerick Bell’s (in orange) sentencing Wednesday.

A man who opened fire on a person who punched him in a bar, striking and killing an innocent bystander, was given 2 Life sentences Wednesday, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.

Prosecutor Peter Overstreet successfully argued for Deerik Marquis Bell, 38, of Panama City, to be given consecutive sentences enhanced by designating him as a Prison Releasee Reoffender, designating him a Habitual Felony Offender, and sentencing him under Florida’s 10-20-Life law.

Prosecutor Peter Overstreet (right), and Circuit Judge Shonna Young Gay wait while the defendant talks to his attorney.

With these designations, Circuit Court Judge Shonna Young Gay sentenced Bell to Life in prison for both Manslaughter (while armed) and Attempted Second-Degree Murder (with discharge of a firearm) and ordered the sentences to run consecutive to each other.

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The defendant previously served 5 prison sentences and had been released from the latest less than 6 months before the Sept. 2021, shooting death of Tracy Eckman at the Outrigger Lounge. He was found guilty at trial March 20.

“With today’s two life sentences, the family of Mr. Eckman finally have closure from this senseless killing,” Overstreet said. “It is a reminder that our law enforcement partners and the State Attorney’s Office will continue to seek justice for our victims and hold those who break our laws fully accountable.”

Overstreet noted Eckman was a popular and friendly customer. He was minding his own business that night with friends when shots rang out. The defendant, “a convicted felon who shouldn’t have had a gun in the first place,” was punched by another man, and responded by “immediately pulling his gun and firing.”

A Bay County Sheriff’s Office bailiff stands by with the defendant.


Both shots missed the man who threw the punch: 1 bullet struck and killed Eckman while the other bullet buried itself in the back of a chair in which a female patron was sitting.

“It was crowded, it is only by the grace of God nobody else was struck by gunfire by Mr. Bell,” Overstreet said.

Noting the defendant’s 16 prior felonies and prison sentences, Overstreet said there “was nothing left the system can do” and asked for the Life sentences.

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.

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Prison releasee gets maximum sentence for intentionally ramming ATV, injuring driver

BONIFAY – A Westville man who was only out of prison about 6 months before picking up charges for intentionally ramming an ATV has been sentenced to 15 years in prison, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.

Holmes County Chief Prosecutor Jacob Cook successfully argued to have Jesse David Hicks, 31, sentenced as a Prison Releasee Reoffender. Judge Colby Peel ordered the mandatory sentence of 15 years. The defendant, as a Prison Releasee Reoffender, will have to serve every day of that sentence with no gain time.

Jesse David Hicks

“In order to keep our communities safe, it is critical to seek enhancements on criminals who have been recently released from prison,” Cook said. “Based on this defendant’s criminal history he presented a danger to the community and our circuit is now a safer place with him spending the next 15 years behind bars.”

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A jury deliberated for about 20 minutes in March before finding Hicks guilty of Aggravated Battery and Leaving the Scene of an Accident with Injuries for the April 2023 incident.

At the trial, Cook called four witnesses and presented evidence gathered by the Florida Highway Patrol and the Holmes County Sheriff’s Office. It showed the victim was stopped on Arrant Road at County 181 when he saw the defendant approaching in his truck.

Testimony showed that 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 was later spotted near the scene and taken into custody by 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.

“Scoop” trafficker sentenced to 15 years

A man found guilty of trafficking in more than 6,000 grams of GHB, commonly known as “Scoop,” has been sentenced to 15 years in prison, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.

Circuit Court Judge Shonna Gay sentenced Darren Scott Tyrell, 54, to 15 years in prison Wednesday and levied a $100,000 fine. The charge carries a minimum/mandatory 7 years in prison under Florida’s enhanced drug trafficking statutes.

Prosecutors Zachary VanDyke and Jackson White called three witnesses and presented evidence to jurors at the March 21 trial proving the defendant was in possession of more than 6,000 grams of GHB in 2021 when he was arrested by Bay County Sheriff’s Office investigators.

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Deputies were serving a search warrant based upon a “free-air sniff” around the camper Tyrell lived in behind an Oak Avenue home by Inv. Dwight Cummings’ K-9, Fila.

Fila “alerted” to the presence of narcotics in the camper and a second search warrant was obtained. Inside, deputies found the defendant in the bed and a large plastic jug with 6.12 kilograms of a “clear oily liquid” under the bed. The substance tested positive for GHB, which was later confirmed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

GHB is known for its use as a “rave” or “club” drug that 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.

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.

13-years in prison for Jackson man who molested teen

MARIANNA – A man guilty of molesting a teenager has been sentenced to 13 years in prison, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.

A jury found Nathan Robbert Johnson, 49, guilty March 25 of Lewd and Lascivious Molestation.

Nathan Robbert Johnson

At sentencing Tuesday, Circuit Court Judge Ana Maria Garcia denied a defense motion for a lesser sentence and ordered the defendant to prison for 13 years. Judge Garcia also designated the defendant a Sexual Offender and ordered that he have no contact with the victim or her father.

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At trial, Jackson County Chief Prosecutor Shalla Jefcoat called 5 witnesses – including the victim and 3 Jackson County 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.

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

Basford thanked the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office for its handling of the case, the Gulf Coast Children’s Advocacy Center, 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.

Feitz guilty of sex offenses against child

Prosecutor Frank Sullivan, center, addresses jurors as bailiff and Circuit Judge Brantley Clark observe.

A May 23 sentencing date is set for a Panama City man found guilty Wednesday of three sex offenses against a child, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.

Local Podiatrist Dr. Daniel E. Feitz, 61, was found guilty as charged Wednesday of Sexual Battery Upon a Child Less Than 12 Years of Age, Lewd or Lascivious Exhibition, and Lewd or Lascivious Molestation. The penalty for the sexual battery charge is Life in prison.

Prosecutor Frank Sullivan during his opening statement to jurors.
Defendant Daniel Feitz faces Life in prison at his sentencing.

Circuit Court Judge Brantley Clark Jr. ordered the defendant held without bond until his sentencing.

Lead Prosecutor Frank Sullivan and Prosecutor Morgan McAfee called 7 witnesses, including the victim, during the 2-day trial to prove that the defendant committed the acts against the child when she was 10 years old.

The jury deliberated for a little over a hour and a half before returning its verdict.

“The jury’s verdict in this case not only brings justice to the victim, but also gives her closure and the opportunity to move forward with her life in a meaningful way,” Sullivan said.

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Basford thanked the Bay County Sheriff’s Office, the Gulf Coast Children’s Advocacy Center, and Florida Department of Law Enforcement for their work on the case.

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

Man who sexually abused child for years found guilty, sentenced to Life in prison

A Panama City man who sexually abused a child for years was found guilty of two capital felonies Wednesday and given 2 consecutive Life sentences, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.

David Lee Searcy, 61, was found guilty Wednesday afternoon of two counts of Sexual Battery on a Child Under the Age of 12. The charge is a Capital Felony, meaning it carries a mandatory Life sentence. Circuit Court Judge Dustin Stephenson ordered the Life sentence on each charge to be consecutive, or one after the other.

Prosecutor Dustin Miller gives his opening statement as Circuit Court Judge Dustin Stephenson observes.

The defendant was charged with sexually abusing the victim over a period of years, starting when she was about 2 years old.

“Given the circumstances and facts of this case, even if I had the discretion of a lesser sentence, this is the appropriate sentence in this case,” Judge Stephenson told the defendant.

After lead Prosecutor Dustin Miller and Prosecutor Josh James presented evidence and testimony, including from the victim, the 6-person jury reached its verdict in about 30 minutes.

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Miller praised the casework by the Bay County Sheriff’s Office and the Gulf Coast Children’s Advocacy Center. He especially cited the victim’s courage in testifying.

“She had to live for years knowing that any day might be another one where she would get abused,” Miller said. “She had no one she knew of to turn to for a lifeline.

“Today she took the power back into her own hands when she told her truth on the stand,” he continued. “She’s the reason the State was able to get a guilty verdict and get justice for her.”

Testimony and evidence showed the victim was sexually abused repeatedly by the defendant and was too terrified at the time to say anything.

The defendant on the opening day of the 2-day trial.
The defendant after the verdict was read.

“I was scared,” she testified. “I was scared he was going to hurt me.”

Basford thanked the Bay County Sheriff’s Office and GCCAC for their work on the case and assistance in holding the defendant accountable.

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

Man guilty of sexually battering teen sentenced to Life in prison

Bay County Chief Prosecutor Mark Graham obtained a guilty verdict against Thomas Moses Thursday.

A man accused of sexually battering a teenage girl over a 2-year period was found guilty Thursday and sentenced to consecutive Life sentences, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.

Thomas Lamonte Moses, 55, of Panama City, was found guilty of two counts of Sexual Battery on a Child 12 Years of Age or older but Under 18, as well as Lewd and Lascivious Molestation. The 6-person jury reached the verdict Thursday afternoon in about 35 minutes after Bay County Chief Prosecutor Mark Graham presented his case in the 1-day trial.

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Circuit Court Judge Timothy Register then sentenced Moses to Life in prison on each of the sexual battery charges, plus 15 years for the Lewd and Lascivious Molestation, with each charge running consecutively. Judge Register also designated the defendant as a Sexual Predator.

Graham and Co-Prosecutor Jeffrey Moore called witnesses, including the victim and the lead Bay County Sheriff’s Office detective, to prove their case.

“The victim showed tremendous courage and strength in testifying against her attacker,” Graham said. “Her testimony, along with the work of the Gulf Coast Children’s Advocacy Center and Bay County Sheriff’s Office, helped ensure this defendant will never again harm a child.”

The testimony and evidence showed that the defendant sexually battered the victim over a two-year period from 2020 to 2022.

Basford thanked the Bay County Sheriff’s Office and Gulf Coast Children’s Advocacy Center for its work on the case.*-

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


Hicks, Mitchell join SAO as prosecutors

State Attorney Larry Basford and Keria Hicks
State Attorney Larry Basford and Jake Mitchell

The 14th Judicial Circuit has two new Assistant State Attorneys.

Keria Hicks and Jake Mitchell, who were notified last week they passed the Florida Bar exam, have been sworn in as prosecutors by State Attorney Larry Basford.

Hicks and Mitchell did not have to travel far for the ceremony, both were already employed at the State Attorney’s Office since last Fall.


Hicks began working at the SAO in Panama City last August as a Paralegal Specialist. She will be handling misdemeanor offenses in Bay County.

She grew up in a small Mississippi town but always had her eyes on becoming an attorney or a journalist. She completed four grades of high school in three years, then went to the University of Mississippi where she took only three years to earn her four-year degree. While in high school and college she also devoted 400 hours to Americorps and took an internship with the state’s U.S. representative.

Keria Hicks with Circuit Judge Devin Collier (right) and her husband Lamont Henderson.

At the beginning of her third year of law school at University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law, she was offered a job as a prosecutor at a different judicial circuit in Florida.

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“Then I met someone who had worked both in this circuit and the circuit where I had the job offer, and after reading my resume she told me she thought I’d like Panama City a lot more,” she said, adding that an interview was set up. “In the interview, Mr. Basford asked me about my family and that’s something no one else had done. At the time I was a new mother and that meant a lot to me.

“My husband thought I was making this place up but when we flew down and met everyone and saw the area, he was like, ‘I get it, I totally get it.’”

Hicks believes that as a prosecutor she can help make the community a better place to live.

“If there’s anything that identifies my life, it’s that I’m trying to be the change I want to see in the world,” she said.

Mitchell joined the SAO’s Marianna Office in August as a Paralegal Specialist and will temporarily handle misdemeanors in Bay County before shifting back to Jackson County.

Mitchell is returning to his roots as a Marianna High School graduate who went on to attend both Chipola College and Florida State University, where he graduated with a B.S. in Criminology. He received his law degree from the Jones School of Law at Faulkner University in Montgomery, Ala. He worked as an assistant at the Montgomery County, Ala., District Attorney’s Office, and was a legal intern for County Judge Wade Mercer in Marianna.

Circuit Court Judge Ana Maria Garcia swears in new Prosecutor Jake Mitchell.

His inspiration to practice law, he said, came from his grandmother.

“My grandma always had a dream of me and my brother opening our own law firm together,” he said. “I stuck with my end of the deal and my brother decided to go to medical school.

“Even though the chance of ‘Mitchell and Mitchell’ law firm is gone, I know my grandmother and grandfather are looking down and smiling.”

Mitchell’s grandmother lived long enough to see him graduate from law school.

Mitchell worked and lived in Alabama for about two years working both in private and state practice when he heard about an opening that would bring him home. He took it.

“Justice is a universal concept, but I like being on this side of the law,” he said. “We, as prosecutors, are here to be fair but firm. It creates a great responsibility to the community in helping to keep it safe while treating everyone fairly and respectfully.”

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


Prosecutor Frank Sullivan honored by GCCAC

State Attorney’s Office Prosecutor Frank Sullivan was honored with the “Making the Difference” award by the Gulf Coast Children’s Advocacy Center, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.

The award was given Friday at the GCCAC’s Panama City Appreciation Luncheon recognizing Bay County agencies that support and work closely with the GCCAC.

GCCAC Executive Director Lori Allen and SAO Prosecutor Frank Sullivan.

GCCAC Executive Director Lori Allen said Sullivan was chosen for the honor based on his consistent, continuing and successful prosecutions of child abusers.

“I’m extremely grateful to be recognized for the hard work that our office does, in conjunction with law enforcement and the GCCAC, to help protect our community’s children from some of the most heinous crimes we see,” Sullivan said after accepting the award at Emerald Coast Fellowship on Jenks Avenue.

The luncheon was one of a number of events hosted by GCCAC during Child Abuse Prevention Month highlighting its work and the collaboration with its partner agencies across Bay, Jackson, Gulf, Washington, Holmes and Calhoun counties.

There are still a number of planned community events for those wanting to show their support.

Wednesday is #DenimDay, where employees at participating agencies and businesses contribute $5 to wear blue jeans to work. Also Wednesday is the Marianna is the Walk in My Shoes 2024 event. (https://tinyurl.com/2va6n62d)

Saturday is Panama City’s Walk in My Shoes, along with a Community Day Celebration from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m . at the GCCAC, 210 E. 11th St. (https://tinyurl.com/4w445x58)

Investigators and staff from the SAO and BCSO

Basford said the GCCAC not only works to protect and serve victims of child abuse, but is invaluable to the prosecution of cases involving child abuse. Victims of child abuse are interviewed by professionals at the GCCAC with training in dealing with juvenile victims.

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

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.