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A drug trafficker with felony convictions stretching back two decades was sentenced to 20 years in prison and fined $100,000 Thursday, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.
Willie Kacheno Cleveland, 42, was convicted Oct. 7 of Trafficking in Methamphetamine (more than 28 grams) and Possession of Cocaine. Prosecutor Jacob Cook successfully sought to have Circuit Court Judge Brantley Clark designate and sentence the defendant as a Habitual Felony Offender.
Judge Clark sentenced the defendant to 20 years in prison on the trafficking charge, with a minimum-mandatory 7 years and a $100,000 fine. The defendant was given 5 years on the second charge, to be served concurrently with the first sentence.
While out on bond on these charges, the defendant was arrested on additional drug and firearm charges.
“It’s a great feeling when everyone works together to get a major drug trafficker off the streets,” Prosecutor Jacob Cook said. “The Panama City Police Department and Case Agent Austin Brock put together a good case that helped lead to a guilty verdict.”
Cook and co-prosecutor Josh James presented witnesses and evidence showing that Panama City police served a search warrant on a 10th Street home on May 8, 2020, and as a result found over 150 grams of methamphetamine, as well as cocaine.
The evidence showed that the defendant attempted to flee when police arrived but was apprehended after a short foot pursuit. Police ultimately recovered 383 multi-colored pills containing methamphetamine packaged in plastic baggies. They also discovered numerous small baggies containing cocaine.
Basford thanked Panama City police for both their proactive efforts and testimony.
A 6-person jury returned guilty verdicts Thursday against a man charged with rummaging through a vehicle on the Beach and claiming it belonged to a friend, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.
A jury took about 20 minutes to find Bobby Jack Smith, 52, guilty of Burglary, Carrying a Concealed Weapon, and Resisting an Officer without Violence. Circuit Court Judge Timothy Register set sentencing for Dec. 12.
Prosecutor Jae Hee Kim called five witnesses, including Panama City Beach Police Officers Wesley Miller, Sidnie Gulley and Sgt. James Dinse. Miller recorded his encounter with the defendant via his body cam.
The testimony and witnesses proved that the defendant was on Panama City Beach May 4 and witnesses saw him rummaging through a vehicle parked at a condominium. The defendant looked through the Jeep’s middle console, glove box and back seat intending to commit a theft but was spotted and walked away.
Panama City Beach police responded to the call and found the defendant nearby. Both his encounter with police and his attempt to steal from the Jeep were captured on video.
Kim noted that while burglaries are commonly associated with someone “breaking” into a home or vehicle, the actual crime of burglary occurs when someone enters another person’s structure, home or vehicle with the intent to commit a theft. In this case, while the Jeep did not have a top, the burglary was committed when the defendant reached into the vehicle and began rummaging through it.
“Everybody has the right to be free of others meddling with their property whether it be a home or a vehicle or other structures,” Kim said. “The professionalism of the officers in this case, and Officer Miller’s testimony, gave us confidence in this case and that it would be successfully resolved.”
Basford thanked the Panama City Beach Police Department for its quick response to the call for help that day and its handling of the situation, as well as their testimony at trial and the citizens who spotted the burglary in progress and called police.
One of three men convicted of shooting and killing Edward Ross in a 2019 attempted robbery was sentenced to 35 years in prison Thursday, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.
Joshua Emmanuel Campbell, 23, of Panama City Beach, pled no contest in November, 2020, to Second-degree Murder with a Firearm and Home Invasion Robbery as part of a plea that required him to testify truthfully against his co-defendants. Circuit Court Judge Brantley Clark sentenced him to 35 years, with the first 25 years being minimum-mandatory. Clark also ordered that the defendant not be held at the same facility as the co-defendants against whom he testified.
The defendant was one of three shooters in the case who rushed into the victim’s home intending to rob Ross. Instead, all three fired at and struck Ross while his father stood only feet away watching in shock. Kenneth Ross testified at several trials about seeing his son shot to death in front of him, and he spoke again at Campbell’s sentencing.
“I was promised at the very start of the investigation that his murder would be solved and there would be justice for Ed,” Mr. Ross said, directing his words to the defendant across the courtroom. “That promise was fulfilled and here you sit, convicted of his murder. The world is a little safer now that another bad actor is off the streets.”
Testimony from Campbell and others during the co-defendant’s trials showed the men planned to drive to the victim’s house and rob him, but after they went inside it quickly turned deadly as the three co-defendants fired more than 12 shots combined at the victim.
The first defendant through the door, Andre Devon Bivins, was found guilty of Felony First Degree Murder and Attempted Robbery with a Firearm and is serving a Life-without-parole prison sentence. The third defendant in the house, Abel Ortiz, was found guilty of the same charges and is serving two Life sentences. Because he was 17 when the crime occurred, Ortiz’ sentence will be reviewed in 25 years.
A Panama City man was given the maximum sentence of 30 years in prison late Tuesday after a 6-person jury found him guilty of drug trafficking and possession, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.
The jury deliberated less than an hour before finding James Marcus Wakefield, 42, guilty as charged of Trafficking in Methamphetamine and Possession of Heroin. Circuit Court Judge Timothy Register then moved to sentencing.
Lead Prosecutor Frank Sullivan noted that the defendant had 33 previous felony convictions.
Register said he heard the trial testimony and saw the evidence, including the baggies holding more than 50 grams of Methamphetamine.
“In addition to that, I have to consider the criminal history, which does show quite a history of burglaries and grand thefts and tampering and so on,” Register said.
Register said that “as a result” of those factors, he was sentencing the defendant to the maximum – 30 years in prison that include a mandatory-minimum 7 years. The defendant received 5 years on the Heroin Possession conviction, to run concurrent with the first sentence.
Sullivan and Prosecutor Jae Hee Kim presented four witnesses – the three Bay County Sheriff’s Office investigators and deputies who handled the case and an expert from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Prosecutors proved through the evidence and witnesses, including lengthy testimony from BCSO Sgt. Steve Cook, that the defendant was in possession of the Methamphetamine and Heroin on Sept. 21, 2020, when his truck broke down on U.S. 231.
Cook testified that earlier in the day another man under surveillance as part of a narcotics investigation was found in possession of a smaller amount of Methamphetamine after a traffic stop. That man was detained, and while being questioned agreed to cooperate, identifying Wakefield as a large supplier.
Later that day the defendant called the witness, asking him to bring a tool that would unlock the tires on his disabled truck, which was just south of State 20 on U.S. 231.
The witness delivered the tool and confirmed the defendant was in possession of a large quantity of Methamphetamine, Cook testified. Cook, with other deputies close behind, moved in.
Cook testified that when he exited his vehicle and identified himself as a law enforcement officer, the defendant turned around and began to walk away, reaching into the front of his pants and throwing down a large baggie that contained multiple smaller baggies of Methamphetamine and one of Heroin.
The defense alleged the cooperating witness planted the drugs himself under the direction of a “crooked” cop, but the State and ultimately the jury discounted that claim.
Sullivan pointed out to jurors that the defense’s version of events and key witness testimony changed multiple times and simply did not make sense.
“He had to match his testimony to the evidence,” Sullivan said of the witness’ evolving version of events. “Does his testimony agree with the other evidence in this case? Pictures don’t lie. Evidence doesn’t lie.”
Basford said the successful prosecution was indicative of a well-investigated case by the Bay County Sheriff’s Office. He noted it is another example of a pro-active case where an arrest was made and drugs seized before they could reach the streets.
CALHOUN COUNTY – A man facing Sexual Battery charges involving a minor he impregnated was sentenced to 25 years in prison Monday after he pled guilty the morning of his scheduled trial, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.
Jesse Alday, 34, was set for trial Monday but instead pled guilty to two counts of Sexual Battery on a Child (12 years of age or older but less than 18), and one count of Lewd or Lascivious Molestation as part of a plea agreement.
Circuit Court Judge Brandon Young accepted the plea and sentenced the defendant to 25 years in prison on the first two charges, and 15 years on the third charge, with all three sentences running concurrently (at the same time).
Calhoun County Chief Prosecutor William Wright was prepared to present witnesses and evidence, including investigators from the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office and Gulf Coast Children’s Advocacy Center, proving the defendant provided the minor with intoxicants and ultimately caused her to become pregnant.
As part of the plea, the defendant was designated as a Sexual Predator. Under the Florida Sexual Predators Act, if the defendant serves his sentence and is released, he must register with the Sheriff’s Office and supply his address and any electronic mail addresses or internet identifiers. He also must report any vehicles he owns, cell phone numbers, employment status, and register at the Driver’s License Office.
Law enforcement agencies must notify every licensed school and the public within a 1-mile radius of the defendant’s home by supplying his name, a picture, and the nature of his offense. Sexual Predator information, such as areas where they live and information about your neighborhood, is available at https://offender.fdle.state.fl.us/offender.
Basford thanked the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office for its work on a difficult case, as well as the GCCAC, which interviews juveniles victims of sexual assaults.
A Panama City man was given three Life sentences Tuesday after a jury found him guilty of killing one person and robbing two others in 2019, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.
The jury deliberated less than two hours before finding Lagregory Grigges, 25, guilty of Felony First Degree Murder with a Firearm, and two counts of Robbery with a Firearm in the Dec. 7, 2019 shooting death of Eric Lynn Thomas. The defendant was also convicted of robbing two people in the home.
Prosecutor Peter Overstreet asked Circuit Judge Shonna Young Gay for the maximum sentence under Florida’s 10-20-Life Statute – 3 Life sentences to be served consecutively. Gay heard testimony from both the defendant’s and victim’s families before announcing her sentence – the maximum.
“That was my uncle and when he was killed, that was the last of my heart and soul,” the victim’s niece told the judge. “I do forgive (the defendant) … but I don’t feel sorry for him and I want to see justice served because I will never, ever see my uncle again.”
Overstreet and co-prosecutor Jacob Cook presented evidence and witnesses – including several Panama City Police Department detectives and the co-defendant – proving that Grigges was the person who planned the robbery and fired 8 shots at the victim during a struggle in the living room.
Testimony showed Grigges and co-defendant Willie Lewis Whitsett, Jr. went to the victim’s home on East 7th Court intending to rob him of a safe they believed was in the home. The two burst into the home, armed, and demanded money from the victim and two people who were visiting. A woman was robbed of a small purse and another man of his wallet, but the victim ended up in a struggle with the defendants after saying there was no money.
The victim was pistol-whipped by the co-defendant and then, as he held onto the defendant’s leg from the floor, the defendant shot him multiple times in the back and both defendants fled.
Grigges testified on his own behalf, but under cross-examination by Overstreet repeatedly contradicted himself while claiming he was simply giving a friend a ride that day, didn’t go into the home and didn’t shoot anyone. He did, though, admit to Overstreet that he lied multiple times to police in an earlier statement after his initial arrest.
“If you were willing to lie to the police about all of this back then, what would stop you from lying here today?” Overstreet asked the defendant.
“What would I lie for?” the defendant replied.
“I don’t know,” Overstreet said, “You’re on trial for Felony First Degree Murder and two robberies. That’d be a pretty good reason to lie, wouldn’t it?”
“Yeah,” the defendant said.
The co-defendant has pled guilty to Second Degree Murder and Robbery with a Firearm, both punishable by up to Life in prison. He has not yet been sentenced.
CHIPLEY – A Washington County jury Wednesday listened to a woman describe being shot by her husband, then took about an hour to find him guilty of Attempted Second Degree Murder, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.
Dennis Alan Berrigan, 71, of Vernon, was sentenced to 20 years in prison by Chief Circuit Court Judge Christopher Patterson. Under Florida’s 10-20-Life law, the crime was elevated to a first-degree felony and the first 10 years of his sentence are minimum-mandatory.
Washington County Chief Prosecutor Megan Ford called three witnesses for her case – the victim, and Sgt. Duran Harrison and Crime Scene Analyst Gene Wills of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.
Ford told jurors during her closing argument that the evidence clearly showed the Oct. 11, 2021 shooting, which followed an argument over the defendant sending money to women he met online, was intentional. Ford pointed out the defendant admitted to the shooting during a 911 call, the victim testified he was the one who shot her, it happened with his gun, and that he hid the gun outside afterward.
“The question isn’t who shot (the victim), the question is why the gun was shot?” Ford said. “And what was proven today is why he did it. And that’s because he was mad at the victim, he was mad she was going to call Social Security on him and he was going to take care of that.”
The victim testified that the defendant had been spending money on women he met online.
“It upset me, him sending money to women he didn’t know and he was also sending his brother’s (disability) money also,” she testified. “I told him if he continued on doing it I was going to call the Social Security office on him and I guess that’s what triggered him to shoot me.”
The victim said she saw the defendant with a gun, which wasn’t unusual. But she said she looked away for a moment and when she turned back toward him, ‘he already had the gun and hammer pulled back and his finger on the trigger and he shot me.”
Sgt. Harrison testified when he arrived he found the victim sitting on the couch bleeding heavily. He said her arm appeared “deformed” from the bullet and he could tell it had shattered the bone before going into her chest and exiting near her spine. She spent 6 days in the hospital.
Basford thanked the Washington County Sheriff’s office for their investigative work on the case.
A man found guilty of 5 counts of Child Abuse that took place only months after he was released from prison was sentenced to nearly 16 years in prison Monday, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.
Jamal Tykeeon Wodford, 25, of Panama City, was found guilty at trial Oct. 7 of 5 charges of felony Child Abuse, and 3 misdemeanor offenses involving Battery and Assault.
Prosecutor Jennifer Lieb successfully argued that the defendant should be sentenced as a Prison Release Reoffender based on his criminal history. The defendant was released from prison in October, 2021, about three months before these offenses. He was in prison for Felony Battery and Possession of a Controlled Substance.
Circuit Court Judge Timothy Register sentenced the defendant to 69.45 months on one of the Child Abuse charges, and, because of the PRR designation, the maximum of 5 years on each of the 4 remaining Child Abuse convictions.
Judge Register ordered the first three sentences to be served consecutively, or one after the other. The final two sentences will run concurrently with the others.
The defendant was arrested Jan. 24 by Bay County Sheriff’s Office deputies after they received multiple calls that shots had been fired at the victims’ home.
The State presented witnesses and evidence that a disturbance had broken out between the defendant and his ex-girlfriend at her home. During the assault on the adult victim, the evidence showed, the children were endangered and placed in fear.
Two Bay County men were sentenced to prison Thursday in unrelated drug cases – one for Trafficking in Methamphetamine and the other for possessing and selling a drug known as “Scoop” or “Water,” State Attorney Larry Basford announced.
Terrius Eugene Gainer, 46, of Panama City, was sentenced to 20 years in prison by Circuit Court Judge Dustin Stephenson Thursday. Gainer entered an open plea of guilty to Trafficking in Amphetamine (more than 28 grams) and Possession of Paraphernalia on Oct. 12, the day his trial was supposed to begin and after a jury had been selected. A defendant can “open plea” at any time, meaning the defendant admits guilt to the charges but does not accept an offer from the State. The Judge determines the proper sentence after hearing from both the State and the Defense.
“This defendant has been to prison multiple times over the last 20 years and within two or three years of each release he would be arrested on new offenses,” Prosecutor Nicole Reed said. “As the severity of the charges have grown, so have the penalties, and he is now paying a higher price.”
Reed noted that the defendant’s previous prison sentences have ranged from just over 1 year to a 10-year sentence for robbery. He was last released from prison on May 24, 2020, for drug possession charges. He was arrested on the latest charges in December, 2021.
Reed also thanked the jurors who never got to hear the case. “They showed up to do their civic duty, and they were selected to hear this case,” she said. “They returned on the day of trial only to find out the defendant had just decided to plead guilty. That is a lot of their time they willingly gave and it is appreciated.”
Gainer was designated as Habitual Felony Offender for sentencing based on previous convictions.
For trial, Reed was prepared to call witnesses and present evidence showing that Bay County Sheriff’s Office deputies conducted a traffic stop on a vehicle Gainer was driving on Thomas Drive on Dec. 13, 2021. Deputies knew Gainer did not have a valid driver’s license and the vehicle’s registration was expired. When asked if there was anything illegal in the vehicle, the defendant admitted he had about 2 ounces of “Ice,” or Methamphetamine. Deputies then searched the vehicle and found about 52 grams of Methamphetamine in multiple bags.
Also Thursday, John Virgil Murphy, Jr., 46, of Panama City, was sentenced to 7 years in prison by Judge Stephenson for possession of a large quantity of a chemical that the body rapidly converts into GHB. He was found guilty at trial Oct. 13 of Sale or Possession of a Controlled Substance with Intent to Distribute, and Possession of Drug Paraphernalia.
Murphy’s sentence was the result of his April, 2021, arrest following an investigation by the Bay County Sheriff’s Office that led to the seizure of a large quantity of 1,4 Butanediol. The substance – an industrial chemical designed to make floor stripper and paint thinner, as well as some types of plastics and similar materials – is rapidly converted into GHB after it is ingested.
Florida Statutes classify the chemical as a Schedule 1 drug with no acceptable medical use and high potential for abuse.
Prosecutor Dustin Miller, who presented the case Oct. 13, reiterated that authorities will not tolerate “the poison that drug dealers are bringing into our community.”
“And when it comes to the Butanediol, this is a particularly dangerous poison because it not only causes overdoses, it can be used as a ‘date-rape’ drug,” Miller said.
Basford thanked the Sheriff’s Office investigators and personnel involved in the two arrests both for the proactive nature of the investigations and the strength of the cases they put together.
A Bay County jury took about 80 minutes Thursday to return a guilty verdict against a man who struck a woman hard enough to break her nose and damage her mouth to the point that it required corrective surgery, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.
Tony Leon Brown, 58, of Panama City, was found guilty as charged of Felony Battery Resulting in Great Bodily Harm. Circuit Court Judge Brantley Clark set sentencing for Dec. 2 at 1:30 p.m.
Prosecutor Josh James called three witnesses – Bay County Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Procter, Dr. Marie Becker of Tallahassee, and the victim – to prove the defendant committed the crime against a former girlfriend.
“In returning a verdict of guilty, the jury sent a strong message to defendants like Tony Brown: the citizens of Bay County will not tolerate violence,” James said. “Thanks to the hard work of Deputy Jason Procter and the victim’s courage in testifying, the defendant now faces prison and the consequences of his actions.”
Evidence showed that the victim was in Panama City to visit her family and was holding her 6-month-old granddaughter when the defendant showed up at the residence.
An argument ensued, according to testimony, because the victim had broken up with the defendant and would not go out with him that night. The defendant then punched the victim in the face.
“He felt disrespected, so he punished her for that,” James told jurors. “He just got upset because she wouldn’t do what he wanted her to do.”
The defendant fled after 911 was called. An ambulance took the victim to the hospital and within days she had to undergo surgery in Tallahassee to correct the damage. Dr. Becker testified the surgery was medically necessary or there would have been permanent disfigurement.
The victim testified she continues to suffer with pain and difficulty breathing.
The defendant has a previous conviction for Felony Battery in 2008.