Ross Convicted of Sexual Battery

Press Release

The Office of State Attorney Larry Basford announced that on December 1, 2021, a Bay County Jury found Ramon Ross guilty of two counts of Sexual Battery. The jury took just 40 minutes to convict Ross of sexually battering the victim, who was babysitting for him at the time. The case was investigated by the Bay County Sheriff’s Office with assistance from the Gulf Coast Sexual Assault Advocacy Center.

The defendant was immediately sentenced to 15 years in prison followed by 15 years of Sex Offender Probation by Chief Judge Christopher Patterson. The case was prosecuted by Assistant State Attorneys Peter Overstreet and Josh James.

For additional information, contact Public Information Officer Mike Cazalas.

Howard Convicted of Trafficking in 200 Grams or More of Methamphetamine, Firearms Offenses

Press Release

The Office of State Attorney Larry Basford announced that a Bay County Jury found Justin Michael Howard guilty as charged on November 30, 2021, for Trafficking in Methamphetamine 200 or more grams, Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon, and Carrying a Concealed Firearm.   On August 15, 2020, the Defendant was the subject of a controlled buy operation conducted by the Bay County Sheriff’s Office.  Investigators through text message had the defendant agree to deliver over 200 grams of methamphetamine.  The Defendant had believed he was dealing with another dealer he had dealt with.  When the defendant arrived at the residence, investigators were present to greet him and take him into custody.  The defendant was found to have a firearm concealed in his pocket and 240grams of Methamphetamine in a black plastic bag.  The encounter was captured on BCSO’s body camera.

The defendant was immediately sentenced by Chief Judge Christopher Patterson to 30 years in prison with a $250,000.00 fine.  The case was prosecuted by Assistant State Attorney Peter Overstreet.

For additional information, contact Public Information Officer Mike Cazalas.

Barnes Convicted of Multiple Counts of Sexual Battery and Lewd and Lascivious Behavior

Press Release

The Office of State Attorney Larry Basford announced that on November 30, 2021 a Jackson County Jury deliberated approximately 30 minutes before returning finding the defendant, Buckie O’Neil Barnes, age 32, guilty as charged of Sexual Battery on a Child less than 12 years of Age (two counts), Lewd or Lascivious Molestation, Lewd or Lascivious Battery, Lewd or Lascivious Exhibition, and Child Abuse. Assistant State Attorney Shalla Jefcoat presented the jury with evidence detailing the defendant’s ongoing sexual abuse of the child.

This case was investigated by the Sneads Police Department and the Child Advocacy Center. Circuit Judge James J. Goodman, Jr. adjudicated the defendant guilty and scheduled sentencing for January 20, 2022. The defendant could be sentenced to life in prison for committing these crimes.

For additional information, contact Public Information Officer Mike Cazalas.

Gov. DeSantis appoints veteran Bonifay prosecutor Brandon Young to Circuit Judgeship

Brandon Young, Chief Assistant State Attorney for Holmes County in the 14th Judicial Circuit, has been appointed as a Circuit Court Judge by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Young, who has served in that capacity for the State Attorney’s Office since 2009, was notified of the appointment Friday and is one of two new judges named to this circuit.

“I know Brandon Young to be a Godly man, who has the courage, the experience, the integrity, and the patience to be an excellent judge,” State Attorney Larry Basford said. “Brandon has had a distinguished career as a prosecutor and will be greatly missed.”

Young, in announcing his plans to take office Jan. 1, 2022, said he was grateful for the support and encouragement he received from Basford and his co-workers over the years and that he is leaving with a “heavy heart.”

“It has truly been the honor of my lifetime to serve as an Assistant State Attorney in this Circuit,” Young said. “Along with working with wonderful fellow prosecutors and support staff, I have been privileged to be employed by absolutely the finest State Attorneys through the years.”

OTHER NEWS: Convicted murderer given life sentence

The 14th Judicial Circuit’s other new judge will be Russell Roberts of Marianna. Roberts is a partner at Roberts, Roberts & Roberts Attorneys at Law since 2001. Both are filling new judicial vacancies created by the Florida Legislature for the 14th Circuit. With the two appointments there will be 13 Circuit Court judges.

Young received his law degree from the University of Florida, Fredric G. Levin College of Law, in 2001. He was admitted to the Florida Bar in 2002. He worked for the State Attorney’s Office from 2002-2004 in Bonifay before going into private practice.

In 2006 he returned to the SAO part-time, assisting with cases in Holmes County, before returning full-time in 2009.

He has also worked as General Counsel of the Holmes County Board of County Commissioners since 2017.

For addition information contact Mike Cazalas at mike.cazalas@sa14.fl.gov or (850) 381-7454.

Convicted murderer given life sentence

Asher Martin was sentenced to life in prison Friday for second-degree murder and principal to arson in the 2020 stabbing death of Christopher Whaley, whose body was left in a burning van after he was killed, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.

Circuit Court Judge Dustin Stephenson agreed with Prosecutor Devin Collier’s assessment that while the 22-year-old defendant may have been a good kid at one time, what he did as an adult April 27, 2020, when he killed Whaley with a sword demanded a harsh sentence.

Although family members and friends testified at Martin’s sentencing Friday that he was a kind person growing up, and Martin himself read a letter to the court and family of the victim apologizing for taking a life, Collier said it amounted to an attempt by the defendant to “hoodwink” the court into a lighter sentence.

 

Prosecutor Devin Collier gestures towards the defendant during his closing statement Friday.

“He may have been a nice kid, but that’s not who’s sitting in the courtroom before the court,” Collier told Stephenson. “Sitting at the defense table is an admitted murderer. What we heard today was not the defendant on that day, because immediately after he committed this murder in cold blood, he was smiling from ear to ear.”

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Collier detailed the severity of Whaley’s injuries and asked for a life sentence.

“He is dangerous, and he is the very definition of a menace to society, and there is a place for someone like that, and it’s in the Florida Department of Corrections,” Collier told Stephenson.

The defendant glances at his family in the audience after being sentenced to life in prison.

Stephenson, in handing down his sentence, agreed that whatever Martin might have been before, the evidence presented by prosecutors Collier and Frank Sullivan showed the need for a severe punishment.

“At the end of the day, the Legislature has given us a directive, and that is to punish, it is called the Criminal Punishment Code for a reason,” Stephenson said. “And the crime and the circumstances of the crime here call out for a significant punishment.”

Stephenson then sentenced Martin to serve a life sentence for the murder and 15 years for the arson.

The defendant’s father took the stand Friday seeking a lesser sentence for his son.

A jury deliberated only 13 minutes last month before finding Martin, 22, guilty. Co-defendant Raven Gladin was sentenced to 10 years in prison for her part in the crime.

Basford attributed the fast verdict to the strong case put together by the Bay County Sheriff’s Office’s Criminal Investigation’s Division and presented by prosecutors. Sheriff’s Office Capt. Jason Daffin attended Friday’s sentencing.

Basford thanked the Sheriff’s Office, the Bureau of Fire, Arson and Explosives, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for their efforts.

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

 

Mission accomplished, Frank McKeithen retires as Chief Investigator

Career lawman Frank McKeithen, who came out of retirement to assist with the transition for the man he supported for State Attorney during the 2020 election, accomplished that and more and is now retiring as Chief Investigator for the 14th Judicial Circuit.

McKeithen, Bay County’s Sheriff for 13 years until his 2016 retirement, said there wasn’t much that could have pulled him back into fulltime work. But being there for his longtime friend and peer Larry Basford as he transitioned from Chief Assistant State Attorney to the top job as State Attorney was enough.

“The plan was not a long-term plan to begin with, we both knew that and talked about that,” McKeithen said. “I felt the same passion in me that I saw in him, and I’ve been in charge before and I know how difficult that can be sometimes when you’re first taking over, and I thought maybe I could help.”

State Attorney Larry Basford, left, and Chief Investigator Frank McKeithen shared memories and smiles Monday in Basford’s office on McKeithen’s last day.

“What I got to see, the really, really good thing, is to see him go from an elected State Attorney to what I consider The State Attorney, he has earned that job,” McKeithen continued. “It really didn’t take me long to see that he had it, he had control of it, and it was very, very impressive.”

OTHER NEWS: Prison awaits woman convicted of smashing cinder block into man’s head

OTHER NEWS: Life in prison for Chipley man who sexually assaulted a child

McKeithen’s law enforcement career spanned 43 years before his Aug. 1, 2016, retirement from the Bay County Sheriff’s Office, and included serving as sheriff in both Bay and Gulf counties.

“Frank McKeithen is a living legend,” Basford said. “His passion to seek justice in every situation is evident and has been an inspiration for all of us at the State Attorney’s Office. Frank’s positive outlook, his way of showing people he cares, and his wisdom will be truly missed.”
“I am forever grateful for the advice and the help Frank has given me during my career and this transition period,” Basford continued. “I wish him, Diane and their family the very best.”

McKeithen started at the Panama City Police Department in 1973 and worked as a patrolman in Gulf County before joining the Bay County Sheriff’s Office in 1976 for what would be a 19-year tenure and lead him to the rank of Captain of the Criminal Investigations Division.

In 1995 he was appointed Gulf County Sheriff, a position he held until he returned to Bay County as Sheriff in 2003. He retired in 2016.

State Attorney Larry Basford, left, and Chief Investigator Frank McKeithen in court Oct. 6 for a resentencing hearing on convicted murderer Roderick Michael Orme.

McKeithen and Basford have worked together for over 40 years, developing a mutual respect and friendship.

And that’s what brought McKeithen out of retirement in January, he said.

“When Larry took over, to be very honest, that’s what prompted it,” McKeithen said. “I thought he was going to be a great State Attorney and my premonition was absolutely correct: he is a great state attorney.”

“My exit was like the entrance, the only thing I had on my mind was working for him and trying to help where I could.”

McKeithen’s last day was Monday.

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

 

Life in prison for Chipley man who sexually assaulted a child

A Chipley man found guilty in September of sexually battering a 6-year-old will spend the rest of his life in prison, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.

Circuit Court Judge Timothy Register sentenced Christopher Duffy, 36, to life in prison without the possibility of parole Monday for Sexual Battery on a Child under the age of 12.

Prosecutor Megan Ford, Chief of the State Attorney’s Washington County office, presented evidence through a series of witnesses that the defendant sexually assaulted the child on multiple occasions.

The victim reported the abuse to a trusted adult in June 2019 and the adult contacted the Bay County Sheriff’s Office. Investigators there asked for assistance from the Gulf Coast Children’s Advocacy Center, and it was determined the offenses had occurred in Washington County. The case was turned over to the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and Investigator Daryl White.

White, who testified at trial and who is now an investigator with the Bay County Sheriff’s Office, interviewed the defendant and others, worked with the GCCAC and a warrant was issued June 25, 2019.

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Duffy was found guilty at trial Sept. 29.

State Attorney Basford wants to thank all the agencies involved for their work across county lines to present a solid case for prosecution. The GCCAC was crucial in this case, particularly the testimony of Victoria Hamilton who interviewed the victim.

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

 

Prison awaits woman convicted of smashing cinder block into man’s head

A woman seeking leniency after being found guilty of hitting her victim in the back of the head with a cinder block, was instead sentenced to 7 years in prison Tuesday after the judge said the state’s case and jury’s verdict showed the assault could have been avoided, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.

Rachel Dianne Ladner, 34, who had been living in Marianna prior to the July 2017 attack, was found guilty of Attempted Second-Degree Murder after a one-day trial Sept. 30.

The defendant’s father, hand in suit jacket, leaves the courtroom after testifying at her sentencing.

The defendant was found guilty of hitting the victim in the back of the head with a cinder block outside his home, leaving him there, and returning inside to spend the night in his bed.

At Tuesday’s sentencing before Circuit Court Judge Chris Patterson, Prosecutor Elizabeth Magee, who presented the case at trial, asked for a sentence of between 6 ½ and 10 years.

“Sitting here today, it struck me as somewhat frustrating Ms. Ladner’s lack of remorse and refusal to accept the jury’s verdict,” Magee said. She noted the blow was severe enough that in addition to the physical injuries – a large cut on the back of the victim’s head behind his right ear, which was split open, a swollen eye and bruises – it knocked out and broke the victim’s dentures.

Prosecutor Elizabeth Magee, right, delivers her sentencing statement.

The defendant’s father and two friends spoke on her behalf, asking for leniency. The defendant also addressed the court, seeking a lesser sentence.

Defense attorney Dana Morris and the defendant contended she was trying to get away from the victim because he had become aggressive.

OTHER NEWS: Meth trafficker hit with 25-year sentence Tuesday

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But Judge Patterson found the state’s case was clear, as were Ladner’s actions that night.

Patterson said the defendant, who worked at a club in Panama City while living in Marianna, essentially invited herself into the victim’s home on a night she was not working.

“Now, whatever happened inside, the jury does not believe your version of events,” Judge Patterson said. “But the crux of it is this: that you were leaving that house and the testimony that you gave was that the victim fell down and you struck him once with the cinder block.

“And instead of dropping that cinder block and running away, you struck him a second time while he was down and unable to defend himself,” Judge Patterson continued, noting the defendant went back inside after the attack and slept in the victim’s bed.

“I recognize that most people who come before this court have had a real bad day,” Patterson said. “But that real bad day has a consequence.”

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

Meth trafficker hit with 25-year prison sentence

A defendant found guilty of trafficking in more than 200 grams of Methamphetamine was sentenced to 25 years in prison Tuesday, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.

Reggie Gathers, 40, will also have to pay a $250,000 fine as part of the sentence handed down Tuesday by Circuit Court Judge Dedee Costello.

Prosecutor Peter Overstreet presented evidence at trial Oct. 28 that the defendant was a passenger in a vehicle pulled over for a traffic violation on Oct. 5, 2018, by the Bay County Sheriff’s Office. The driver had a revoked driver’s license and BCSO Sgt. Raymond Scott said there was the odor of marijuana coming from the vehicle. The State, through Sgt. Scott, also introduced a video from a convenience store that captured the driver and Gathers attempting to conceal the methamphetamine.

Deputies searched the vehicle and found the defendant in possession of more than 200 grams of methamphetamine.

Prosecutor Overstreet called Scott from the Special Investigative Division of the BCSO and a chemist from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to testify.

A jury deliberated for only 5 minutes before returning the guilty verdict.

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

Callaway man sentenced to 7 years for Lewd and Lascivious Exhibition

A Callaway man found guilty of Lewd and Lascivious Exhibition following his September trial was sentenced to 7 years in prison and designated as a sexual offender Thursday, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.

Anthony Charles Chancellor, 49, was found guilty Sept. 21 after about four hours of deliberation by the jury. Circuit Judge Ana Maria Garcia sentenced him Thursday, and as a designated sexual offender he will not be allowed any unsupervised contact with children upon his release from prison.

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Prosecutor Barbara Beasley presented evidence at trial that in 2019 the defendant exposed himself to the teenaged victim and then ejaculated. The case was worked by the Bay County Sheriff’s Office and Cpl. Jacob McGowin, who also testified.

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