Authorities: Body ingarage was alleged shooter

Charlotte Sun (Port Charlotte, FL) – Thursday, June 20, 2013

Hierspiel

Hierspiel

PORT CHARLOTTE — Authorities have confirmed that the remains found in a Port Charlotte home Tuesday belong to the man suspected of burning it down.
Donald Hierspiel, 51, broke into his ex-girlfriend’s home on Riviera Lane early Tuesday morning and threatened her with a gun, according to the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office. He allegedly fired multiple shots and set the house on fire, but the woman managed to escape uninjured and ran to a neighbor’s home to call 911.

A body was found in the garage several hours later, and authorities Wednesday said an autopsy showed it was Hierspiel.

The relationship between Hierspiel and the victim had turned sour in recent months, court records show. The victim could not be reached for comment.

On May 10, she petitioned to have a restraining order against him, because she was worried that his behavior was ‘escalating from verbal abuse to mild physical abuse,’ according to a court document.

The victim had known Hierspiel since 2009 and had taken him into her home when he was released from prison in 2010. He had served 14 months for grand theft and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, records show.

Facebook posts from July 2011 show the couple exchanging banter.

‘Love you lots my crab-stomping, grass cutting, bing bing-fixing UFO!’ she wrote on his page.

‘You better,’ replied Hierspiel.

But Hierspiel, who owned an electronics business, changed after he started taking pain medication for an injury, she wrote in her petition.

The pills make ‘him angry, abusive and destructive because I don’t think he takes them as prescribed,’ she wrote.

After two incidents of what she referred to as ‘mild physical abuse,’ the victim began to fear for her well-being.

‘I know he has at least one gun somewhere,’ she wrote. ‘I don’t know if it is still in the house, and if it is I don’t know if he will get mad enough to use it on me or the dog.’

The restraining order became final on May 21. Hierspiel was barred from contacting the victim or coming within 500 feet of her, according to court documents.

On May 31, the victim posted a hopeful comment on her Facebook page: ‘No more hate and discontent. No more mud wallowing and middle school games. No more looking backward when there’s so much to look forward to!’

According to Kay Tvaroch, executive director of Center for Abuse and Rape Emergencies, about 300 domestic violence offenses are reported to law enforcement each day in Florida.

‘It’s about power, it’s about control, and the threats and intimidation become a useful tool to keep someone,’ she said. ‘The best thing to do is get out, and we are here to help.’

There are 220 to 225 domestic homicides per year in Florida, Tvaroch said, citing Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence statistics.

In this case, she said, the victim did the right thing by taking steps to ensure her safety.

‘She was on the right track and she came out alive,’ Tvaroch said.

Death and destruction

Charlotte Sun (Port Charlotte, FL) – Wednesday, June 19, 2013

SUN PHOTO BY MERAB-MICHAL FAVORITE Authorities are investigating a house fire that occurred early Tuesday morning on  the 700 block of Riviera Lane in Port Charlotte. A man's body was found inside.

SUN PHOTO BY MERAB-MICHAL FAVORITE
Authorities are investigating a house fire that occurred early Tuesday morning on the 700 block of Riviera Lane in Port Charlotte. A man’s body was found inside.

PORT CHARLOTTE — Authorities found a man’s body Tuesday in the garage of a Port Charlotte home that had been the site of an attempted shooting and arson hours earlier.

Donald Hierspiel, 51, allegedly broke into a home on the 700 block of Riviera Lane around 2:47 a.m., threatening a woman with a firearm and firing multiple times, and then set the house on fire, according to the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office.

The woman who owns the home, whom authorities said once had a ‘domestic relationship’ with Hierspiel, was able to escape without injury and ran to a neighbor’s house to call 911, according to Charlotte County Fire/EMS spokeswoman Dee Hawkins-Garland.

Around noon, authorities found the body of white male in the garage but would not say if it was Hierspiel.

‘We still need to identify the body, and until we do that we have to continue to look for Hierspiel,’ said Debbie Bowe, spokeswoman for the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office.

The body was removed from the scene around 1 p.m. Bowe said an autopsy will determine whether the remains are that of Hierspiel.

There was no one else living in the residence at the time of the blaze, according to Bowe.

The fire raged for 30 to 40 minutes before firefighters could extinguish the flames. Hawkins-Garland said the house was destroyed. The blaze is being investigated by the State Fire Marshal’s Office.

Neighbors Gerald and Fe Glatt, who live adjacent to the home, said their dog awoke them by barking in the middle of the night. When they looked outside their window and saw the house, a single-story stucco structure built in 2000, engulfed in flames. They fled, fearing the fire would spread to their home.

‘We congregated in the street trying to figure out what to do,’ Gerald said. ‘The police told us to go back inside, but the fire was so close we said no thanks, we will stay here.’

Initially, authorities thought Hierspiel may have been inside the home with a gun, so emergency personnel had to wait for the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office to clear the scene before firefighters could enter.

‘We had to make sure the perimeter was safe before anyone could enter,’ Bowe said. ‘That includes firefighters, because we did not want to risk lives over property.’

While emergency personnel fought the fire, the CCSO Major Crimes Unit began a manhunt for Hierspiel, bringing in K-9 units to help with a search.

‘All I know is the SWAT team and K-9 units were involved,’ said John Ramaglia, who lives one house down. ‘They were all around the neighborhood early (Tuesday) morning.’

The search crossed county lines and extended into North Port during the night.

At the request of the CCSO, the North Port Police Department responded to a residence in the 3300 block of West Price Boulevard at about 3:37 a.m., surrounding the house in case Hierspiel was inside, according to Lt. Gary Aresenault of the NPPD. Hierspiel was not there.

The victim has had a temporary domestic violence injunction against Hierspiel since May 10, court records show. Hierspiel was not notified that the injunction had become permanent until June 7.

Ramaglia said Hierspiel lived at the residence but moved out about a month ago.

On May 31, the victim posted on her Facebook page: ‘No more hate and discontent. No more mud wallowing and middle school games. No more looking backward when there’s so much to look forward to!’

Hierspiel is a convicted felon, according to the Florida Department of Corrections, and has been incarcerated on and off since 1995 in Broward and Volusia counties, serving prison time on charges ranging from grand theft to possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, to driving with a suspended license.

According to his Facebook profile, Hierspiel owned an electronics company and had studied at Charlotte Technical Center.

About 12 hours before the fire occurred, Hierspiel posted an e-card that read, ‘I hope you choke on all the (expletive) you talk.’ A few hours later, his last post included the message, ‘A best friend is there when you have nothing and more importantly, when you feel like nothing.’

Staff writer Drew Winchester contributed to this report.

Email: mfavorite@sun-herald.com

PORT CHARLOTTE — Authorities found a man’s body Tuesday in the garage of a Port Charlotte home that had been the site of an attempted shooting and arson hours earlier.

Donald Hierspiel, 51, allegedly broke into a home on the 700 block of Riviera Lane around 2:47 a.m., threatening a woman with a firearm and firing multiple times, and then set the house on fire, according to the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office.

The woman who owns the home, whom authorities said once had a ‘domestic relationship’ with Hierspiel, was able to escape without injury and ran to a neighbor’s house to call 911, according to Charlotte County Fire/EMS spokeswoman Dee Hawkins-Garland.

Around noon, authorities found the body of a white male in the garage but would not say if it was Hierspiel.

‘We still need to identify the body, and until we do that we have to continue to look for Hierspiel,’ said Debbie Bowe, spokeswoman for the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office.

The body was removed from the scene around 1 p.m. Bowe said an autopsy will determine whether the remains are those of Hierspiel.

There was no one else living in the residence at the time of the blaze, according to Bowe.

The fire raged for 30 to 40 minutes before firefighters could extinguish the flames. Hawkins-Garland said the house was destroyed. The blaze is being investigated by the State Fire Marshal’s Office.

Neighbors Gerald and Fe Glatt, who live adjacent to the home, said their dog awoke them by barking in the middle of the night. When they looked outside their window and saw the house, a single-story stucco structure built in 2000, engulfed in flames. They fled, fearing the fire would spread to their home.

‘We congregated in the street trying to figure out what to do,’ Gerald said. ‘The police told us to go back inside, but the fire was so close we said no thanks, we will stay here.’

Initially, authorities thought Hierspiel may have been inside the home with a gun, so emergency personnel had to wait for the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office to clear the scene before firefighters could enter.

‘We had to make sure the perimeter was safe before anyone could enter,’ Bowe said. ‘That includes firefighters, because we did not want to risk lives over property.’

While emergency personnel fought the fire, the CCSO Major Crimes Unit began a manhunt for Hierspiel, bringing in K-9 units to help with a search.

‘All I know is the SWAT team and K-9 units were involved,’ said John Ramaglia, who lives one house down. ‘They were all around the neighborhood early (Tuesday) morning.’

The search crossed county lines and extended into North Port during the night.

At the request of the CCSO, the North Port Police Department responded to a residence in the 3300 block of West Price Boulevard at about 3:37 a.m., surrounding the house in case Hierspiel was inside, according to Lt. Gary Aresenault of the NPPD. Hierspiel was not there.

The victim has had a temporary domestic violence injunction against Hierspiel since May 10, court records show. Hierspiel was not notified that the injunction had become permanent until June 7.

Ramaglia said Hierspiel lived at the residence but moved out about a month ago.

On May 31, the victim posted on her Facebook page: ‘No more hate and discontent. No more mud wallowing and middle school games. No more looking backward when there’s so much to look forward to!’

Hierspiel is a convicted felon, according to the Florida Department of Corrections, and has been incarcerated on and off since 1995 in Broward and Volusia counties, serving prison time on charges ranging from grand theft to possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, to driving with a suspended license.

According to his Facebook profile, Hierspiel owned an electronics company and had studied at Charlotte Technical Center.

About 12 hours before the fire occurred, Hierspiel posted an e-card that read, ‘I hope you choke on all the (expletive) you talk.’ A few hours later, his last post included the message, ‘A best friend is there when you have nothing and more importantly, when you feel like nothing.’

Staff writer Drew Winchester contributed to this report.

Report: Man knocked down door with ax

Charlotte Sun (Port Charlotte, FL) – Tuesday, June 18, 2013

PUNTA GORDA — A man who had recently been released from Charlotte County Jail showed up at his former residence with an ax and demanded the current tenants leave, according to the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office.

One of the victims told authorities he was asleep on his couch at his home on the 27300 block of Aloha Drive around 6 a.m. Saturday when he was awakened by a loud banging on the front door. He said the door ‘busted open’ and a man stood there with a lumber ax. The suspect, later identified as Maclain Ray Brement, 27, had a black chow dog at his side, the report stated.

Brement, who is listed as living at the Aloha Drive address on the CCSO website, demanded both occupants get out of his house while holding the ax in a threatening manner, according to the report. The victims told authorities there were no other exits. Brement eventually left.

One of the victims told authorities Brement had been in jail for a few weeks and had lived at the residence prior to his incarceration. Brement was adjudicated guilty of petty theft May 10, court records show.

Deputies located Brement on Sunday. He was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon without intent to kill. He was taken to Charlotte County Jail, where he remains on $50,000 bond.

Four arrested in connection with boat thefts

PORT CHARLOTTE — Four teens were arrested over the weekend in connection with three boat thefts that occurred on the 700 block of Ellicot Circle on Friday night, according to the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office.

Patrick Howell Cairns, 18, 21900 block of Haines Ave., Matthew Francis Becker, 18, 300 block of Springlake Blvd., Kenneth Wade Harbin, 18, 2500 block of Linton Lane, and Kamil Jan Kozik, 17, 1300 block of Karin Terrace, all of Port Charlotte, were each charged with grand theft and two counts of grand theft of a motor vehicle after authorities said they stole two boats from area docks and one from a boat lift nearby, according to the report.

On Saturday morning, CCSO deputies responded to three reports of boat thefts in the same area. The missing vessels included a 14-foot Lowe aluminum Jon boat, a 14-foot Myers V-hull boat and a 9-foot Jon boat, all taken from homes on Ellicott Circle. Two of the boats were equipped with outboard motors and a variety of fishing and safety gear aboard, the record shows.

The CCSO marine unit searched the area the next morning and spotted the 14-foot Lowe boat tied up to a dock behind Becker’s residence, with a different outboard motor attached to the stern, the report states.

Becker, Kozik and Harbin were standing outside near the boat, according to the report.

The marine unit found the 14-foot Myers boat on a nearby island. The suspects had allegedly switched out the motors on the two boats, the record shows.

Both boats were towed to Spring Lake Park boat ramp and identified by their owners, according to the report.

CCSO deputies found the 9-foot Jon boat leaning against Harbin’s home later the same day.

Becker, Harbin and Cairns were taken to the Charlotte County Jail, where they were each released on $7,500 bond. Kozik was released to the custody of an adult.

Report: Three stole appliances outside store

PORT CHARLOTTE — Two men and a woman were arrested Monday morning after a business owner caught them taking used appliances from his parking lot, according to the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office.

Keith Joseph Carmello, 44, Tiffany Marie Carmello, 26, and Joseph John Ventre, 28, all of the 3500 block of Pinetree Street in Port Charlotte, each face a charge of grand theft. Keith Carmello and Ventre both face an additional charge of violation of probation.

Around 9 p.m. Sunday, the owner of A+ Action Appliance, 2600 block of Tamiami Trail, told authorities he saw a vehicle in the parking lot of his business after hours. The owner pulled up behind Tiffany, Keith and Ventre, who were loading used appliances from an unenclosed storage space onto a trailer, according to the report.

The three suspects apologized and started unloading the appliances, but the owner reported the incident to the CCSO, according to sheriff’s spokeswoman Debbie Bowe.

Surveillance footage showed the suspects made two trips, the first around 8:15 p.m., in which two refrigerators, two microwaves and a dryer were taken, a report stated. They reportedly came back with a different trailer and loaded more items. The total value of the items was $600, the owner told authorities.

The business owner told detectives he wanted the suspects charged. Keith Carmello told authorities the first trailer of items was in his front yard, a report stated.

All three were arrested and taken to Charlotte County Jail. Tiffany Carmello was released on $5,000 bond. Keith Carmello and Ventre were each held on $5,000 bond.

Father in gun case sentenced

Englewood Sun (FL) – Saturday, June 15, 2013

SUN PHOTO BY MERAB-MICHAL FAVORITE Chris Davis hugs the friends and family that wrote character letters on his behalf and came out to support him on Friday. His attorney, Russell Kirshy, can be seen in the background.

SUN PHOTO BY MERAB-MICHAL FAVORITE
Chris Davis hugs the friends and family that wrote character letters on his behalf and came out to support him on Friday. His attorney, Russell Kirshy, can be seen in the background.

PUNTA GORDA — More than a dozen people, occupying about half the courtroom at the Charlotte County Justice Center, held one another close and wiped tears from their eyes Friday as they awaited the sentence of the father of a 2-year-old boy who shot and killed himself with an unsecured firearm in November.

Christopher C. Davis, 24, of Port Charlotte, scrubbed his own tears away as he pleaded no contest to culpable negligence, a third-degree felony, for leaving his Glock .40-caliber handgun unsecured in his closet.

His son, Christopher Eli Davis, grabbed it and accidentally shot himself.

Nearly everyone present in court teared up when 20th Circuit Judge Amy Hawthorne withheld adjudication and sentenced Davis to two years of probation and 50 hours of community service, with the stipulation that Davis would spend his time teaching others about child and gun safety.

Davis also must forfeit the firearm to the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office, pay court costs, and donate to a children’s advocacy group.

Withholding adjudication means there will be no finding of guilt in the case, provided Davis complies with all of the conditions of his sentence.

‘The public-speaking aspect is going to be hard for him,’ said Jessica Vets, Davis’ first cousin, who acted as a spokeswoman for the family. ‘It will mean that he has to relive that night over and over again, but if it saves even one child, then it is worth it.’

Davis and other family members declined to comment Friday.

At about 3 a.m. Nov. 18, 2012, the Sheriff’s Office responded to Davis’ then-home on the 21300 block of Hubbard Avenue in Port Charlotte. Deputies were responding to a medical call related to a small boy who was not breathing and reportedly had blood on him.

When the deputies arrived, the child’s mother, Lisset Elias, 23, was standing in the driveway with the child wrapped in a blanket, according to a sheriff’s report. The child, Christopher Eli, did not have a pulse, and was taken to Peace River Regional Medical Center in Port Charlotte, where he was pronounced dead. He was just shy of his 3rd birthday.

The elder Davis’ arrest came Jan. 24. He cooperated fully with authorities and had been released on his own recognizance after his booking, the Sun previously reported.

Russell Kirshy, Davis’ defense attorney, told the judge that Davis and his son shared a ‘special bond’ and were ‘inseparable.’

‘They looked alike, they acted alike, and they did everything together,’ he told the judge.

Kirshy said Davis relied on him to review all the evidence because he was too emotional to view it.

Hawthorne said she had received numerous letters from family and friends of Davis asking her to consider the plea deal, which did not include jail time for Davis. Attorneys for both sides agreed on the deal in May.

Kirshy said Davis was a devoted father and worked hard to be the primary provider for the family so Elias, now his fiancee, could stay home and care for their child.

‘Sometimes things of this nature can tear a couple apart,’ Vets said of the incident. ‘But since the tragedy, they have grown closer together.’

Hawthorne asked Elias, who is pregnant, if the sentence was what she wanted. Elias nodded yes from across the courtroom. Vets said the couple are expecting a baby girl in September.

Vets said the family was more than relieved when they heard Hawthorne’s ruling.

‘Chris will spend the rest of his life asking himself ‘what if,’ and that is a life sentence in itself,’ Vets said.

Jail deaths draw attention

Charlotte Sun (Port Charlotte, FL) – Sunday, June 16, 2013

PUNTA GORDA — An inmate at the Charlotte County Jail has come forward with accusations of mistreatment by jail authorities in connection with the death of a jailed homeless man.

The death occurred the morning of June 9 at the facility, while the homeless man was strapped to a ‘restraining chair.’

Prior to his death, Thomas Robert Andreasen, 48, may have been sprayed with a chemical agent before being put in the chair and left for hours without a shower to wash off the chemicals, despite complaints that he ‘was burning,’ according to a letter written by inmate Damien Deleon Jones, a 34-year-old Fort Myers resident who has been incarcerated since April 12.

The letter states Jones was just a few cells down when the death occurred. He wrote a detailed account of the events leading to Andreasen’s death.

Andreasen, who had been arrested on a panhandling charge, was found unresponsive in his cell around 10 a.m., according to the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office. The cause of death is currently under investigation, according to sheriff’s spokeswoman Debbie Bowe.

Andreasen was the second inmate to die at the jail in less than two weeks. On May 29, Victor Hope Akers, 56, of Port Charlotte, was found dead after authorities said he dove headfirst off the second floor of a housing pod, according to a report. His death also remains under investigation, Bowe said.

Jones said Andreasen was placed in the chair because he was acting erratically due to going through detox.

Bowe confirmed that both Jones and Andreasen were confined in a section of the jail for inmates with medical issues at the time of Andreasen’s death.

Jones, a registered sex offender, is being held on charges of possession of cocaine, giving false identification to a law officer, possession of a weapon by a violent career offender, possession of drug paraphernalia and driving while license is suspended or revoked. During his time at the jail, he also has been charged with battery by a prison or jail detainee. Following that latest charge, he is being held without bond.

Capt. Norman A. Wilson, assistant jail commander, said that it is common practice for corrections officers to use a chemical agent on inmates when they become too unruly to be restrained safely. He said officers try to allow the inmates to shower as soon as they are sprayed, but often they can’t get them to settle down enough to remove them from the chair and get them into the shower.

‘It comes down to the safety of the officer,’ Wilson said. ‘People who are placed in the chair are going through a personal crisis; they are mentally unstable and they are out of control.’

Sometimes that means using a Taser to subdue them, Wilson said, and in some cases, those inmates are fitted with a ‘spit mask,’ or a mesh mouth cover that is not intrusive to breathing, to prevent them from spitting. After they are restrained, a nurse does a physical inspection and they are ‘cared for continuously’ until they have settled down enough to be removed from restraints.

Wilson said he wishes the county had a more humane way to allow the inmates to ‘hash it out,’ like a padded room where they could be placed until they settled down.

Despite its reputation, restraining-chair treatment is commonplace in state correctional facilities.

In February the family of an Ohio man settled in court with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office after Nick Christie, then 62, died in jail in 2009 from circumstances similar to the ones in the Andreasen case, according to a WINK News report.

The lawsuit alleged individual deputies and nurses at the Lee County Jail were guilty of assault and battery, the use of excessive force, and deliberate indifference to Christie’s medical condition when they strapped him naked to a restraining chair, fitted him with a spit mask and used pepper spray on him more than a dozen times, WINK reported.

While CCSO authorities declined to comment on whether Andreasen had been sprayed or masked, as his death is an open investigation, Sheriff Bill Prummell said he has no plans to change any jail procedural policies until the investigation is complete.

‘I don’t want to jump to any conclusions …,’ Prummell said. ‘(The chair) is not meant to punish anyone; it’s just meant to control them to keep them from hurting themselves, as well as my deputies.’

Fallen corrections officer remembered

Charlotte Sun (Port Charlotte, FL) – Thursday, June 13, 2013

SUN PHOTO BY MERAB-MICHAL FAVORITE Col. Darryl Collins, chief of security at the Charlotte Correctional Institution, and other deputies from across the county took a few moments Tuesday evening to remember Darla Lathrem, a corrections officer who was killed in 2003.

SUN PHOTO BY MERAB-MICHAL FAVORITE
Col. Darryl Collins, chief of security at the Charlotte Correctional Institution, and other deputies from across the county took a few moments Tuesday evening to remember Darla Lathrem, a corrections officer who was killed in 2003.

PUNTA GORDA — Lightning struck all around the perimeter of Charlotte Correctional Institution Tuesday evening. There was no lapse in time before the thunder arrived. The storm was already there.

Thunder roared as Gerald Burns, a former corrections officer at the facility, related the horrific murder scene he witnessed at the prison a decade ago.

‘I saw something that night that I hope none of the rest of you will never see,’ Burns said. ‘Something I will take with me to my grave. I feel like it happened yesterday.’

Burns was speaking at a memorial service for Darla Lathrem, a corrections officer who was just 38 years old when she was murdered at the Charlotte County prison on June 11, 2003. Each year, the prison holds a memorial service on the anniversary of her death.

Rain began pouring down when Nancy Behrens, another former corrections officer on duty at the time of Lathrem’s death, came forward to speak about her co-worker. Behrens said she will never be the same after what she saw that night. Her face was soaked with rain and tears as she spoke.

‘I’ve never seen anything so horrible in my life,’ she choked. ‘They didn’t have to do that to her; they didn’t have to take it that far.’

Lathrem was supervising five inmates on a construction detail inside the facility when she and inmate Charles Fuston were attacked and killed during a botched escape attempt by three inmates, Dwight Eaglin, Stephen Smith and Michael Jones. Eaglin and Smith are now on death row. Jones took a plea deal in exchange for life in prison, and later died while incarcerated.

The dozens of people in attendance Tuesday could barely hear Lathrem’s father, David Lathrem, a Baptist minister, over the rumble of the thunder as he delivered an invocation.

Darla Lathrem was the first officer to be killed at CCI, and the first female correctional officer killed in Florida.

Burns said he made a promise to David the day after Darla’s murder: He would make sure a memorial was put in front of the prison in her honor.

That memorial, a marble bench with Darla’s name engraved on it, was covered in fresh flowers, and someone had placed a rosary and a cross on it. All the items were soaked with rain during the ceremony.

While the droplets poured, no officer in attendance made a move for shelter. They just stood there, soaked to the bone, while honoring their fallen friend.

Richard Johnson, assistant warden at the prison, apologized to guests for the weather. Darla’s family, however, seemed to see the stormy weather as a good omen.

‘It was like this the night she died,’ Lindsay Best, Darla’s older sister, said. ‘I remember because lightning was dancing across the sky, just like tonight.’

Best said she took it as a sign her younger sister was looking down on the remembrance.

‘You know she really loved her job,’ Best said. ‘She loved the prisoners, called them by their names instead of by their numbers, and she felt sorry for them.’

Darla’s other sister, Carol Miller, said their mother tried to convince Darla that she shouldn’t take the position, but Darla didn’t listen.

‘She had a great work ethic,’ Miller said. ‘She really enjoyed working there.’

Miller said inmates at the prison called Darla, who stood at 6 feet, 3 inches tall, ‘The Gentle Giant.’

‘You know, even after she was killed, they would ask for her and ask where she was,’ Miller said.

All of Darla’s family seemed to be in good spirits during the event.

‘It still hurts,’ David said. ‘I think about her every day, but I know she is in a better place. It seems like she is talking to us from up there tonight.’

Convicted rapist sentenced to life

Charlotte Sun (Port Charlotte, FL) – Thursday, June 13, 2013

Roberts

Roberts

PUNTA GORDA — The Fleming Island, Fla., man found guilty in April of raping an 11-year-old girl was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday at the Charlotte County Justice Center.

Twentieth Circuit Judge George Richards sentenced Christopher Maurice Roberts, 37, to a mandatory term of two life sentences — one for each count of sexual battery on a victim younger than 12 — plus 15 years in prison for the charges of lewd or lascivious battery on a victim younger than 16 and lewd or lascivious exhibition. All of his sentences are concurrent.

Roberts maintained his innocence prior to the sentencing, painting himself as a family man.

‘I’m not a sexual predator,’ Roberts said. ‘I’m not a monster. That’s not me.’

During his trial, Roberts claimed the charges were a case of mistaken identity by the victim, who told authorities she walking to a gas station to buy a soda when Roberts offered her a ride. He then took her to a home in Port Charlotte where both he and his father — Christopher James Roberts, 54, of Jacksonville — allegedly committed sex acts with her.

During the trial, the victim testified that the younger Roberts had propositioned her to work as a prostitute.

The elder Roberts has not gone to trial yet on his one charge of sexual battery on a victim younger than 12. His next court appearance is scheduled for Aug. 15.

In addition to prison time, Richards said the younger Roberts is barred from contacting the victim, and will have to register as a sexual predator and pay court costs.

The defendant’s attorney, Steven Burch, said he filed a written appeal in the case Wednesday.

The younger Roberts has several charges pending against him from two other cases, including living off the earnings of a prostitute, driving with a suspended license, possession of drug paraphernalia and two counts of possession of a controlled substance.

Richards told Burch and prosecutor Stephanie Powers that he wants to see the other cases resolved as soon as possible, before the younger Roberts is transferred from the Charlotte County Jail to a state prison facility.