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

Death Penalty Recommendation for Man Who Admitted to Killing his Wife and Four Children

A Marion County jury has unanimously recommended that Michael Wayne Jones, the man who admitted killing his wife and four children in 2019, should be sentenced to death. The nine men and three women announced the recommendation just shy of five hours after they started discussing the case.

In November 2022, Michael Jones pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the deaths of Cameron Bowers, 9; his brother, Preston Bowers, 4; and sisters Mercalli Jones, 2; and 11-month-old Aiyana Jones. He also pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree murder in the death of his wife, Casei. The girls belonged to the couple, while the boys were from Casei Jones’ previous marriage.

Jones was detained in Georgia after he was involved in a single-vehicle crash in September 2019. Upon questioning, Jones told law enforcement officials that his wife’s remains were inside the vehicle. Jones later admitted to killing his wife and the four children. He said he killed his wife by hitting her repeatedly with a metal baseball bat. He said he killed each child at different days and times by strangling or drowning them. Authorities believe the murders occurred between July 10 and August 30, 2019.

 

Fifth Judicial Circuit Establishes Animal Cruelty Task Force

State Attorney Bill Gladson has established an Animal Cruelty Task Force for Citrus, Hernando, Marion, Lake, and Sumter counties. The goal of the task force is for law enforcement, animal services, and other animal protection organizations to work together to effectively investigate and prosecute animal cruelty crimes throughout the Fifth Judicial Circuit.

Florida law affords some of the best protection to animals in the United States. The state currently ranks 7th in the nation in terms of the strength of its anti-cruelty legislation, according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund. It takes the cooperation of the community and all related agencies for these laws to be effectively enforced.

The task force includes the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, county animal services, and local law enforcement agencies. Members of the community will also play an essential role as the task force’s most powerful ally, alerting police and animal services when animal neglect and abuse are suspected. 

In tandem with the newly created task force, State Attorney Gladson has created an animal cruelty unit within the State Attorney’s Office. The unit is composed of Assistant State Attorneys with the interest, experience, and knowledge necessary to bring justice to animal victims.

“My office is committed to aggressively prosecuting animal cruelty cases, and I am grateful for the team which shares our commitment,” said State Attorney Gladson. “The reach of these crimes goes beyond harm to innocent animals; these criminals pose a risk to the entire community.”

Animal cruelty is commonly linked with violence against people, domestic violence, and criminal enterprises. Nearly 70% of animal abusers have criminal records and animal abusers are five times more likely to commit violent crimes against people, according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

For more information regarding the link between animal abuse and other forms of violence, visit https://aldf.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/Animal-Legal-Defense-Fund-Link-Factsheet.pdf.

Life in Prison After Guilty Verdict for Sexual Battery

Arnez Ali was found guilty of Sexual Battery by Familial or Custodial Authority on a child over 12 and less than 18. Ali was found guilty by a Hernando County jury in less than 15 minutes. He was sentenced to life in prison on December 21, 2022.

This case began when the victim ran into a McDonalds after the defendant, her father, had struck the victim several times. When law enforcement officers arrived, she disclosed the defendant had been sexually battering her since she was 15. Upon investigating the allegations, the defendant’s DNA was found on the victim. Healthcare professionals took the stand and testified regarding the substantial physical evidence supporting the victim’s claims.

This case was prosecuted by Assistant State Attorney Angelina Rodeo. 

Guilty Verdict for Third-Degree Murder Trial

Anthony Nepoleon Brown was found guilty at trial of Third-Degree Murder, Leaving the Scene of an Accident Involving Death, Fleeing to Elude Law Enforcement Causing Death, Driving While License Suspended, Resisting Law Enforcement without Violence, and Possession of Methamphetamine on August 31, 2022. He was determined to qualify for sentencing as a Habitual Felony Offender and sentenced to life in prison.

On August 22, 2017, at approximately 1:45pm, Anthony Brown was driving a white BMW sedan with an unknown passenger and was spotted by a Wildwood police officer speeding in a residential area. The officer attempted a traffic stop on Brown at which time Brown fled at a high rate of speed. Brown fled from law enforcement downside streets while heading towards State Road 44. Brown ran through the stop sign at County Road 219 and State Road 44 at a high speed while attempting to turn west bound on State Road 44 and collided with a Honda SUV driven by Laura Price. The crash killed Ms. Price almost instantly as Brown fled from his vehicle on foot into the wood-line on the north side of the busy road. A Sumter County Deputy assisted Wildwood officers in apprehending Brown nearby. Brown had a suspended driver’s license and was also found to have methamphetamine in the trunk of the car.

The Honorable Judge Mary Hatcher sentenced Brown to life in prison for Leaving the Scene of a Crash Involving Death, a concurrent life in prison sentence for Aggravated Fleeing to Elude Law enforcement Causing Death, concurrent 30 years in prison for Third-Degree Murder, 5 years in Prison for Possession of Methamphetamine, and credit time served for Driving While License Suspended and Resisting Law Enforcement without Violence. Assistant State Attorneys Dan Geraghty and Stephen Fern prosecuted the case.

Life in Prison for Habitual Violent Felony Offender

Joshua Lusby was found guilty at trial of Second-Degree Murder on June 10, 2022, and Possession of a Firearm by a Felon on October 21, 2022, in Sumter County. He has been sentenced to life in prison.

 

In 2015, Lusby and another individual approached a canopy in Sumter County. Under the canopy was a group of people, including the victim, Rhea Moore, enjoying a barbeque. Lusby had been there the previous evening and had a dispute with a man at the canopy over a faulty window tint job. Lusby declared that he would “come back and shoot the place up” before he left. On October 17, 2015, Mr. Lusby approached the canopy from the woods armed with an AK-47 style rifle and semi-automatic pistol. They opened fire on the people under the canopy, causing everyone to scatter. Victim, Rhea Moore, was shot as she ran away and died from her gunshot wound an hour later at the hospital. The weapon was later found at Lusby’s apartment and the shell casings were matched to the firearm used. The AK-47 style rifle was never recovered. After thorough investigation by the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office, Lusby was arrested on August 22, 2017, and charged with Second Degree Murder and Possession of a Firearm by a Felon.  

 

The Honorable Judge Mary Hatcher sentenced Lusby to life in prison for Second Degree Murder as a Habitual Violent Felony Offender and 30 years in prison for Possession of a Firearm by a Felon also as a Habitual Violent Felony Offender. Assistant State Attorneys Joe Church and Shelby Senn prosecuted the case.

 

Consecutive Life Sentences for First Degree Murder and Armed Burglary

Valentine Russ, 76, was found guilty by a Hernando County jury of First-Degree Murder and Armed Burglary for shooting his son to death.  He was sentenced to consecutive life sentences. At a sentencing hearing, Assistant State Attorney Rob Lewis played a 15-minute victim impact video of the victim with his young daughters. Afterward the defendant stated that his son was mean to him and got what he deserved for disrespecting him. 

On February 9, 2022, Russ went to his son’s house on 7379 Robb Road and waited 9 hours for his estranged son to return home.  When he did return home, Russ confronted his son as he walked out of his bedroom, shooting at him three times, killing him.  Hernando County Sheriff’s Office Deputies Arnold, Weber, Martin, and Saverino responded to the Robb Road address in Brooksville and immediately took Russ into custody. 

Forensic Specialist Shannon Durling photographed the crime scene, processed and collected all relevant evidence.  While every deputy and forensic specialist played a key part in in this case, jurors were especially impressed with the Faro Technology used by Forensic Specialist Jordan Burchardt to give the jurors a three-dimensional walk of the crime scene, putting into perspective the key pieces of evidence collected by Specialist Durling.  This is the first time that the 3D component of Faro Technology has been used in a Hernando County courtroom for a crime scene walk in addition to the measurements obtained by the scans.

Sheriff’s Office Conducts Largest Fentanyl Bust in Lake County History

Lake County Sheriff’s Office undercover narcotics detectives, in collaboration with multiple local and federal law enforcement agencies, recently wrapped up a four-month investigation that targeted high-level traffickers of dangerous drugs operating throughout Lake County. The investigation, dubbed Operation Sneak-A-Peek, required detectives to travel throughout the state of Florida, and as far away as Georgia. Detectives learned that a lot of these drugs were originating in Mexico, crossing the borders into Texas and California, and were then either transported to Florida, or shipped to our area via various parcel services.

The investigation resulted in drug-related charges for 27 people and 3 search warrants being served. Detectives seized 4 vehicles, 13 firearms (3 of which were stolen), $12,000 cash, over 3 pounds of Fentanyl (street value of $116,000), 22 pounds of methamphetamine (street value $110,000), 15 pounds of marijuana (street value $21,000), 2 pounds of cocaine (street value $40,000), and over 5 ounces of heroin (street value of $12,000), as well as smaller amounts of other drugs. Detectives also confiscated three presses that enabled the suspects to more efficiently process and package trafficking amounts of the drugs.  

This is the largest amount of Fentanyl ever confiscated in the history of Lake County. The operation would not have been possible without the hard work, dedication, and inter-agency cooperation between the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, partners of the County-City Investigative Bureau, to include the Clermont, Leesburg, Eustis, and Mount Dora Police Departments, as well as the US Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations, and the Office of the State Attorney for the Fifth Judicial Circuit.

ASA Janine Nixon graduates from the Florida Criminal Justice Executive Institute Senior Leadership Program

On May 27, 2022, Assistant State Attorney Janine Nixon graduated from the Florida Criminal Justice Executive Institute’s Senior Leadership Program.

The goal of the Senior Leadership Program is to prepare Florida’s criminal justice leadership for the challenging and changing demands of the future. Participants met for seven weeks over a 10-month period. They studied the trends and events that will challenge criminal justice professionals and the state in the new millennium and examined the leadership skills necessary to create and lead the changes that lie ahead.

The Florida Criminal Justice Executive Institute was established in 1990 by the Florida Legislature to address the need for an innovative and multi-faceted approach to the education and training of criminal justice professionals.  The Florida Criminal Justice Executive Institute is house within the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and is affiliated with the State University System.

ASA Nixon was part of the 24th graduating class and one of 29 graduates representing criminal justice agencies from across the state.

National Crime Victims’ Rights Week

April 24-30, 2022 the Fifth Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office joined organizations across the country to celebrate National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. It is a time to renew our commitment to serving all victims of crime and to remember crime victims and survivors. In honor of the victims whose lives we have lost across the circuit, we created a virtual ceremony and invited family members and friends to view the video in honor of their loved ones.

On the last day of the work week, employees of the Fifth Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office wore the color purple to honor National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. Purple is known as a unifying symbol of courage, survival, honor and dedication to ending domestic violence. As Marsy’s Law has been enacted across the country in an effort to shore up the rights of victims, they have adopted the color purple to represent these qualities of the courage and survival of all victims of crime. 

State Attorney Files Motion to Dismiss Indictments, Set Aside Judgments and Sentences and Correct Record in “The Groveland Four” Case

Today, State Attorney for the Fifth Judicial Circuit of Florida, William “Bill” Gladson, filed a Motion to Dismiss the Indictments of Ernest Thomas and Samuel Shepherd, Set Aside the Judgments and Sentences of Charles Greenlee and Walter Irvin, and Correct the Record with Newly Discovered Evidence in the case known as “The Groveland Four.”

In December of 2018, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi directed the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) to conduct a review of the 1949 criminal case in which Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas were charged with the rape of a seventeen-year-old woman in Lake County, Florida. The men were subsequently pardoned by Governor Ron DeSantis on January 11, 2019.  In July of 2021, FDLE referred their investigation to State Attorney Gladson as the prosecuting authority for Lake County.

“Even a casual review of the record reveals that these four men were deprived of the fundamental due process rights that are afforded to all Americans” Gladson wrote in his motion. “The evidence strongly suggests that a sheriff, a judge, and prosecutor all but guaranteed guilty verdicts in this case. These officials, disguised as keepers of the peace and masquerading as ministers of justice, disregarded their oaths, and set in motion a series of events that forever destroyed these men, their families, and a community…I have not witnessed a more complete breakdown of the criminal justice system.”

The motion details the procedural history of the case, investigation by FDLE, the State Attorney’s review of the matter and the newly discovered evidence that forms the legal basis for the motion. The motion will be heard by Lake County Circuit Court Administrative Judge Heidi Davis.

To read the full motion, click here. The review the exhibits, click here.

For a copy of the press release issued by the Fifth Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office, click here.