Office of The State Attorney, Fifth Judicial Circuit, Florida
Serving the Citizens of Citrus, Hernando, Lake, Marion, and Sumter Counties
Office of The State Attorney, Fifth Judicial Circuit, Florida
Serving the Citizens of Citrus, Hernando, Lake, Marion, and Sumter Counties

Newsroom

HILL SENTENCED TO LIFE FOR SECOND-DEGREE MURDER IN TRAGIC CASE OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY

(Marion County, FL) Shortly after 10 a.m. this morning, the Honorable Judge Willard Pope sentenced 44-year-old Jennifer Sue Hill to Life for Second-degree Murder.

(Marion County, FL) Shortly after 10 a.m. this morning, the Honorable Judge Willard Pope sentenced 44-year-old Jennifer Sue Hill to Life for Second-degree Murder.

“Today’s sentence is a reminder of the irreversible consequences of mistaken identity,” said William “Bill” Gladson, Fifth Judicial Circuit State Attorney. “Hill’s life sentence reflects the impartiality of the law in a case where an individual’s life was cut short due to the carelessness of another.”

Back on December 13, 2023, a jury found Hill guilty of second-degree murder following a roadside shooting in Ocklawaha that resulted in the death of 39-year-old Michael Tron Hofacker.

The incident unfolded on November 28, 2020, around 7:30 p.m. in the 3200 block of S. Highway 314A. Marion County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded to the scene to investigate. Initial reports indicated Hill fatally shot Michael.

Eyewitness accounts suggest that Hill wrongly identified the victim as someone else named Michael. The witness, a friend of the victim, stated that the victim did not pose a threat and was unarmed at the time of the incident.

Hill’s inconsistent statements during the investigation raised further questions, with no evidence discovered to corroborate her statements. Hill was subsequently arrested on November 29, 2020.

Assistant State Attorneys Sasha Kidney and Wynn Vickers successfully prosecuted this case.

 

Published on 03/25/2024.

CARRILLO SENTENCED TO LIFE FOR VIOLENT SEXUAL BATTERY CASE

(Hernando County, FL) After more than a decade in the relentless pursuit of justice, the Fifth Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office is pleased to announce a significant update in a Hernando County sexual battery cold case.

(Hernando County, FL) After more than a decade in the relentless pursuit of justice, the Fifth Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office is pleased to announce a significant update in a Hernando County sexual battery cold case.

Yesterday, 45-year-old Andy Raul Carrillo was found guilty and sentenced to Life in prison for his heinous crime and predatory actions on July 11, 2011.

“This conviction sends a clear message that perpetrators of such despicable acts will face the full force of the law, regardless of how much time has passed,” stated Bill Gladson, Fifth Judicial Circuit State Attorney. “Our office commends the courage and resilience of the survivors who bravely testified to ensure that Carrillo was held accountable for his crimes.”

The case, which remained unsolved for nearly nine years, was finally cracked thanks to a DNA hit in 2020. The victim, who had left a party walking home, was offered a ride by Carrillo, whom she did not know. Instead of ensuring her safe return, Carrillo subjected her to a terrifying ordeal, leaving her battered and sexually assaulted on the side of the road. The victim’s injuries were so severe that she was airlifted to a trauma center for medical treatment.

The breakthrough in the case came when Carrillo’s DNA was entered into CODIS after another aggravated sexual battery that occurred in Tampa just 30 days after the attack in Hernando County. Matching DNA recovered from the victim’s sexual assault exam revealed a chilling pattern, linking Carrillo to both cases.

Despite the challenges posed by the passage of time, diligent detectives from the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office worked collaboratively to piece together the evidence. Both cases shared striking similarities, with victims being targeted while walking alone late at night, subjected to brutal assaults, and left in isolated areas.

Carrillo’s attempts to evade accountability were futile as overwhelming evidence, including testimony from the victims, detectives, medical professionals, and other witnesses, ensured that justice was served. Despite the absence of some key figures from the original investigation, the collective effort of law enforcement agencies and dedicated professionals led to a successful prosecution.

The Fifth Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office extends its gratitude to all those who contributed to the successful resolution of this case, including the law enforcement agencies, medical professionals, witnesses, and courageous survivors.

This case was successfully prosecuted by Assistant State Attorney Angelina Rodeo.

 

Published on 03/08/2024.

CONVICTED FELON RECEIVES PRISON TIME FOR PRIOR FELONY CHARGES AND INTIMIDATING WITNESS

(Hernando County, FL) Just hours ago, 38-year-old Michael Steven Pollard Jr. was sentenced by the Honorable Judge Merritt Jr. to five years in the Florida Department of Corrections for his 2023 arrest, as well as new charges brought against him earlier today.

(Hernando County, FL) Just hours ago, 38-year-old Michael Steven Pollard Jr. was sentenced by the Honorable Judge Merritt Jr. to five years in the Florida Department of Corrections for his 2023 arrest, as well as new charges brought against him earlier today.

Pollard appeared for court this morning, standing trial for felony charges of Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon and Grand Theft of a Firearm, both serious offenses that pose a significant threat to public safety.

In April of last year, Pollard was arrested by Hernando County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) deputies on the charges after it was reported he was in possession of firearms. HCSO initially responded to a citizen’s assist call, where Pollard was attempting to retrieve items from a residence he shared with a previous partner who currently had an injunction against him.

When officials arrived at the home, the witness indicated that Pollard could grab his belongings inside but asked the deputy what was going to happen to a safe Pollard owned that contained firearms since he was a convicted felon. The deputy investigated the witness’s claim, verifying that Pollard had been adjudicated as a felon in the state of Indiana. 

Once questioned by authorities, Pollard indicated that he and the witness had traveled to Indiana to retrieve the safe from his father under the agreement that the witness and his father made. After contacting Pollard’s father, his statements were determined to be false. At the time, Pollard was not allowed to retrieve the safe until further investigation as officials were unable to access the contents inside the safe due to a missing pin pad.

Days later the witness contacted officials and turned over five firearms that were inside the safe. Of the firearms retrieved, one was reported as stolen out of Hendricks County in Indiana. After contacting local authorities there to verify the status of the stolen gun, an arrest warrant was issued for Pollard.   

However, it was recently learned that Pollard messaged a witness in his case on March 3 and March 4, instructing the witness not to show up to testify in the trial on March 6, indicating he would make claims they were involved in illegal activities if the witness did appear.

He was arraigned during an emergency hearing and sentenced on both cases shortly after noon.

“Today’s sentencing of Michael Pollard Jr. for possession of a firearm by a felon and tampering with a witness underscores our unwavering commitment to holding individuals accountable for their actions,” said Bill Gladson, Fifth Judicial Circuit State Attorney. “Pollard, an already convicted felon, further emphasized his disregard for the law and the rights of others when he contacted a witness multiple times and instructed that witness to not show up for the trial.”

The State Attorney’s Office appreciates the collaboration and dedication of the law enforcement agencies involved in the investigation and prosecution of this case, especially that of HCSO Deputies Samantha Lewis and William Harsahyi, as well as the support of the witnesses in this case. We commend the diligent efforts of our prosecution team, Assistant State Attorneys Ben Larison and Lori Ellingsworth, in securing this conviction.

 

Published on 03/06/2024.

FOSTER RECEIVES 13 YEARS FOR FENTANYL AND BATTERY

(Marion County, FL) In the Honorable Judge Herndon’s courtroom earlier this morning, 25-year-old Jordan Lil’Chris Foster pleaded guilty to charges for his 2022 arrests for burglary and trafficking illicit narcotics. He was adjudicated guilty on both cases and sentenced to 13 years in the Florida Department of Corrections.

(Marion County, FL) In the Honorable Judge Herndon’s courtroom earlier this morning, 25-year-old Jordan Lil’Chris Foster pleaded guilty to charges for his 2022 arrests for burglary and trafficking illicit narcotics. He was adjudicated guilty on both cases and sentenced to 13 years in the Florida Department of Corrections.

Foster was charged with Trafficking in Fentanyl, Possession with the Intent to Sell, Manufacture or Deliver Cannabis, Possession of Methamphetamine, Tampering with Physical Evidence, Posses Structure for Trafficking Controlled Substances, Possession of Paraphernalia, and Possession of Firearm and Ammunition by a Convicted Felon for his October 12, 2022, arrest.

Additionally, he was concurrently sentenced for his September 7, 2022, arrest in which he was charged with Burglary of a Conveyance, Interfere with Custody of a Minor, Domestic Battery, and Burglary of a Dwelling.

“Despite repeated interventions and opportunities for rehabilitation, Foster persisted in his criminal behavior, posing an ongoing threat to our community’s safety and well-being,” said Bill Gladson, Fifth Judicial Circuit State Attorney.  “It is imperative that we take decisive action to ensure the protection of our citizens and deter further harm. Foster’s sentencing sends a powerful message – our community will not tolerate the devastating impact of drug trafficking and violence in our neighborhoods.”

Back in April of 2022, Ocala Police Department’s UDEST team responded to an address on the 1700 block of NW 18th Street in reference to executing a narcotics search warrant. After an extensive investigation, it was determined that Foster was in possession of various amounts of illegal drugs that he was selling out of the home. Foster was arrested on scene and transported to the Marion County Jail.

After bonding out, Foster was rearrested months later for domestic battery, when Marion County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) deputies responded to an apartment complex in Ocala. Officials were informed by the victim and a witness that Foster had not only entered the victim’s car to retrieve an item but the residence as well, battering the victim during the incident.

MCSO authorities were able to locate Foster and the child a short while later. He was then arrested and booked into jail on a no-bond status.

The outcome of this case was a result of the diligent efforts of our law enforcement partners, Assistant State Attorney Marissa Meyer, and Assistant State Attorney Kyle Lambert.

 

Published on 03/05/2024.

BURNETT SENTENCED TO TWENTY YEARS FOR TRAFFICKING FENTANYL

(Citrus County, FL) Today, in a brief court appearance, 27-year-old Aljuwan Malik Burnett was sentenced on charges brought against him from his 2023 arrest. As a result of his plea, Burnett was sentenced to a mandatory minimum of 20 years in the Florida Department of Corrections.

(Citrus County, FL) Today, in a brief court appearance, 27-year-old Aljuwan Malik Burnett was sentenced on charges brought against him from his 2023 arrest. As a result of his plea, Burnett was sentenced to a mandatory minimum of 20 years in the Florida Department of Corrections.

Burnett was arrested on May 3, 2023, by Citrus County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) deputies at the conclusion of an undercover narcotics investigation. Officials with CCSO determined that Burnett was selling large quantities of illegal drugs and scheduled several undercover buys.

During the first two controlled purchases, which took place over several days, Burnett sold authorities seven grams of Fentanyl. The final purchase, of roughly 30 grams of Fentanyl, was conducted on May 3rd, after which members of CCSO moved in to arrest Burnett – who fled on foot but was apprehended shortly within the vicinity of the sale.

Burnett was charged with three counts of Trafficking in Fentanyl, Sale of Fentanyl within 1,000ft of a School, three counts of Unlawful Use of a Two-way Communications Device, and one count of Resisting a Law Enforcement Officer without Violence.  

“Today’s sentence marks a significant step towards protecting our community from illicit narcotics dealers like Burnett,” said Bill Gladson, Fifth Judicial Circuit State Attorney.  “We remain steadfast in our commitment to holding individuals accountable, particularly those who pose a deadly risk to our citizens. The outcome of this case sends a clear message drug dealers will face severe consequences under the law.”

The State Attorney’s Office appreciates the collaboration and dedication of the law enforcement officials involved in the investigation.

The successful prosecution of this case was a result of the diligent efforts of Assistant State Attorneys Nicholas Caporicci and Kaitlyn Mannis.

 

Published on March 1. 2024.

LAKE COUNTY MAN FOUND GUILTY OF 2021 SEXUAL BATTERY OF A CHILD

(Lake County, FL) Last week, a Lake County jury found 60-year-old Hezekiah Benjamin Jr. guilty on one count of Sexual Battery of a Victim under 18, and two counts of Lewd or Lascivious Molestation of a Child Under 16. While this case is his first conviction in Florida, Benjamin’s prior out-of-state history details other instances of child exploitation.

(Lake County, FL) Last week, a Lake County jury found 60-year-old Hezekiah Benjamin Jr. guilty on one count of Sexual Battery of a Victim under 18, and two counts of Lewd or Lascivious Molestation of a Child Under 16. While this case is his first conviction in Florida, Benjamin’s prior out-of-state history details other instances of child exploitation.

“Benjamin has a notable history of preying upon young, innocent children,” said Bill Gladson, Fifth Judicial Circuit State Attorney. “Our office is thankful that we were able to obtain justice for the victim in this case, and in some manner, closure for Benjamin’s other victims.”  

Back in May of 2021, it was reported to the Clermont Police Department (CPD) officials that Benjamin had sexually battered a 13-year-old child. Officials received a call reporting this information, where the caller advised the victim texted them, stating Benjamin was abusing them.

The victim was subsequently interviewed at the Child Advocacy Center in Leesburg for further investigation. At the center, the victim confirmed sending the text messages and informed investigators of the abuse committed by Benjamin, relaying vital details of the incidents. The victim further indicated they feared Benjamin.

CPD deputies then attempted to contact Benjamin regarding the allegations. After several unsuccessful attempts, an arrest warrant was issued. Benjamin was then arrested on the warrant and booked into the Lake County Jail.

Benjamin’s sentencing hearing will be scheduled for a later time.

Thanks to the hard work of Detective Wray from the Clermont Police Department during the investigation of this case, Assistant State Attorneys Kati Cosden and Gennady Gusak were able to secure a successful prosecution.  

 

Published 02/28/2024.

MARACEK FOUND GUILTY OF BATTERY ON LEO AND LEO K9

(Citrus County, FL) After a thorough judicial process this week, 50-year-old Robert Joe Maracek has been found guilty on all charges related to a lengthy pursuit by law enforcement back in 2021. The verdict follows extensive investigation and prosecution efforts by law enforcement and the Fifth Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office.

(Citrus County, FL) After a thorough judicial process this week, 50-year-old Robert Joe Maracek has been found guilty on all charges related to a lengthy pursuit by law enforcement back in 2021. The verdict follows extensive investigation and prosecution efforts by law enforcement and the Fifth Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office.

Maracek faced a litany of charges, including Aggravated Battery of a Law Enforcement Officer, Aggravated Assault of a Law Officer, Fleeing or Attempting to Elude, two counts of Throwing a Deadly Object at a Vehicle, Resisting Law Enforcement with Violence, Possessing Amphetamine, Battery of a LEO K-9, Providing a False Identity to Law Enforcement, Driving without a License, and Driving with No Vehicle Registration.

“This verdict reiterates the commitment of law enforcement and the judicial system to uphold public safety and hold individuals accountable for criminal behavior,” said Bill Gladson, Fifth Judicial Circuit State Attorney. “Maracek will face the consequences of his actions as determined by the court.”

The case against Maracek stems from the events of February 1, 2021, when he struck a Citrus County Sheriff’s Office deputy with his vehicle while attempting to evade a traffic stop in Hernando. Additionally, Maracek threw tire spikes from his vehicle’s window to thwart pursuing deputies.

Despite attempts to evade capture, Maracek was apprehended by a K-9 unit after fleeing his disabled Ford Expedition on South Washington Street in Beverly Hills. During the apprehension, Maracek extensively resisted arrest, striking and kicking deputies and their K9.

Maracek’s criminal history dates back to August 27, 2001, when he became a fugitive from Osceola County authorities for failing to appear at his trial for charges of law enforcement battery, resisting law enforcement, and leaving a crash scene. Additionally, Maracek was wanted for absconding from probation following his sentencing in May 2000 for armed burglary and theft charges originating from Broward County in January 1994.

Maracek sentencing hearing is scheduled for April 3, 2024.

This case was successfully prosecuted by Assistant State Attorneys Kaitlyn Mannis and Kevin Davis.

 

Published on 02/23/2024.

STATE ATTORNEY OFFICE’S EXPANDED ANIMAL TASK FORCE SERVES AS A FORCE MULTIPLIER OF JUSTICE

(MARION COUNTY, Fla.) In a landmark collaboration aimed at combating animal cruelty and enhancing animal welfare, the Fifth Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office announces the Ninth Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office is joining its Animal Cruelty Task Force. This strategic alliance represents a significant step forward in ensuring the protection and advocacy of animals within our communities.

(MARION COUNTY, Fla.) In a landmark collaboration aimed at combating animal cruelty and enhancing animal welfare, the Fifth Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office announces the Ninth Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office is joining its Animal Cruelty Task Force. This strategic alliance represents a significant step forward in ensuring the protection and advocacy of animals within our communities.

By consolidating resources, expertise, and jurisdictional reach, the newly expanded task force will possess greater capabilities to investigate, prosecute and prevent instances of animal abuse and neglect. This partnership underscores a shared commitment to upholding justice and compassion for all sentient beings.

“Animal cruelty is a serious offense that demands a concerted effort to address effectively,” Bill Gladson, Fifth Judicial Circuit State Attorney. “Through this collaboration, we are pooling our strengths and resources to ensure that perpetrators are held accountable, while also promoting education and awareness to prevent future incidents.”

The Fifth Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office formed its task force in 2022 to ensure that animals are protected from harm and that their welfare is upheld. The task force is comprised of prosecutors, law enforcement officers, veterinarians and animal welfare experts. The Ninth Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office established an animal cruelty unit within its office for the same purpose back in 2016.

Andrew Bain, State Attorney for the Ninth Judicial Circuit, echoed these sentiments, stating, “We advocate for and seek justice for all victims and that includes innocent animals. While the Ninth Circuit’s existing animal cruelty unit has done great work prosecuting offenders since it started in 2016, this new partnership will allow us to expand our access to more resources and specialized knowledge to help us build even stronger animal cruelty cases which are often complex. We also want to deter future instances of cruelty, fostering a society built on empathy and respect for all living beings.”

The expanded task force will harness a multidisciplinary approach, leveraging the expertise of law enforcement agencies, animal welfare organizations, veterinary professionals, and legal experts. By fostering collaboration and coordination among various stakeholders, the initiative aims to maximize impact and effectiveness in addressing the complex issues surrounding animal cruelty.

In addition to investigating and prosecuting cases of animal cruelty, the task force is working to prioritize outreach and education initiatives to raise awareness about responsible pet ownership, humane treatment practices and the legal consequences of animal abuse. Engaging with communities, schools and advocacy groups, will allow the task force to foster a culture of empathy and respect toward all living beings.

As the expanded task force begins its operations, both offices invite collaboration and support from stakeholders across the region. Together, we can strive towards a future where every animal is treated with the dignity, compassion and respect they deserve.

 

Published 02/22/2024.

KENNEDY FOUND GUILTY AND SENTENCED FOR SEX BATTERY OF CHILD

(Lake County, FL) Yesterday, February 13, 2024, in a Lake County courtroom, jurors found 35-year-old Johnny Lee Kennedy guilty of two counts of Sexual Battery upon a Person under Twelve Years of Age and one count of Lewd and Lascivious Molestation of a Child.

(Lake County, FL) Yesterday, February 13, 2024, in a Lake County courtroom, jurors found 35-year-old Johnny Lee Kennedy guilty of two counts of Sexual Battery upon a Person under Twelve Years of Age and one count of Lewd and Lascivious Molestation of a Child.

Kennedy was sentenced to Life in the Florida Department of Corrections and designated as a Sexual Predator in accordance with Florida statutes.

“This life sentence serves as another overwhelming testament that our office will vigorously pursue and prosecute those who harm our children,” said Bill Gladson, Fifth Judicial Circuit State Attorney. “We will continue to work alongside our law enforcement partners to protect and advocate for the youth in our community.”  

Back in August of 2017, it was reported to Lake County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) officials that Kennedy had sexually battered an 8-year-old victim. During the course of the investigation, the victim revealed to detectives that Kennedy had sexually abused them for the past two years, with the most recent incident occurring just a week prior.

The victim was transported to the local child advocacy center for further investigation. At the center, the victim recounted to authorities numerous instances of Kennedy sexually battering them, disclosing crucial details.  LCSO deputies then attempted to contact Kennedy regarding the allegations. Several attempts were made to locate him without success.

An arrest warrant was issued and Kennedy was eventually arrested on September 10, 2017, in West Virginia where he was later transported back to Lake County

This case was successfully prosecuted by Assistant State Attorneys Shannon Schlarf and Gennady Gusak. A sincere thank you to Master Deputy John Caston of the LCSO for his phenomenal job collecting evidence in this case and then recounting those exhibits while testifying, despite the nearly six-year time difference between the two.

 

Published on 02/14/2024.

COX FOUND GUILTY OF SECOND-DEGREE MURDER IN 2022 CASE

(Marion County, FL) The Fifth Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office announces a significant development in the case involving the shooting incident at a local store on March 25, 2022.

(Marion County, FL) The Fifth Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office announces a significant development in the case involving the shooting incident at a local store on March 25, 2022.

Following a trial of significant evidence involving the tragic death of 23-year-old Jacorie Deaunte McCullough, jurors delivered their verdict yesterday in a Marion County courtroom.

Twenty-year-old Leandre Rashad Cox was found guilty of Second-degree Murder. The verdict comes after diligent efforts by officers with the Ocala Police Department, who collected evidence, interviewed witnesses, and pieced together the events leading up to the fatal shooting.

“The verdict serves as a testament to the unwavering dedication of law enforcement to pursue justice and uphold the safety of our communities. Our thoughts remain with the family and loved ones of Jacorie,” said Bill Gladson, Fifth Judicial Circuit State Attorney. “While nothing can undo the pain of their loss, we hope that this verdict brings some measure of closure and peace.”

According to the investigation, then-18-year-old Cox, along with two other individuals, engaged in a confrontation with the victim. Surveillance footage revealed Cox’s armed confrontation with the victim, which led to the fatal shooting.

Cox was promptly arrested just five days after the incident and has since been incarcerated at the Marion County Jail.

The Fifth Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office extends its gratitude to Ocala Police Department Chief Balkin and the lead detective, Detective Kyle Kern for their diligent work in this case. We also thank the community for their cooperation throughout this investigation and subsequent court proceedings.

Assistant State Attorney Michael ‘Adam’ Smith Jr. ensured the successful prosecution of this case.  

 

Published 02/08/2024.