5 Tampa Bay court stories to watch in 2023

Of the thousands of cases that make their way through state and federal courts each year, a handful tend to grab the public’s attention. Here are five Tampa Bay-related stories that will play out in state and federal courts in 2023.

Two-month trial in Seminole Heights case

Howell Donaldson III appeared in court in 2018.
Howell Donaldson III appeared in court in 2018. [ Times (2018) ]

In the fall of 2017, a small Tampa community became the center of an intense manhunt that drew international attention as police searched for people they believed to be responsible for four separate fatal shootings.

Five years later, Howell Donaldson III is set to face the largest and longest local criminal trial in recent memory.After years of legal wrangling, a judge earlier this month Donaldson’s trial date set to begin in August. The trial may last up to two months.

Donaldson, 29, was charged with four counts of first-degree murder in the shooting of Benjamin Mitchell, Monica Hoffa, Anthony Neboa and Ronald Felton. The four were shot separately, apparently at random, during nighttime or early morning walks in southeastern Seminole Heights. The 51-day manhunt culminated in Donaldson’s arrest; police say his gun was used in all four killings.

The state and defense attorneys recently discussed with the judge the length of time the trial would take. Jury selection alone could take weeks, as lawyers try to assemble a panel of citizens who can maintain impartiality and commit to up to 10 weeks to try the case.

If Donaldson is convicted, the state will require a jury to recommend the death penalty.

The Ice Cream Man Trial, Part 2

Michael Keetley appears at his first trial of 2020.
Michael Keetley appears at his first trial of 2020. [ OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]

It took almost 10 years for Michael Keetley to stand trial. One trial failed, and two years later he remains behind bars while lawyers and judges prepare for another trial.

Kitley, 52, is accused of shooting several men outside a Ruskin home on Thanksgiving morning in 2010, killing two of them. Keetley, a former ice cream shop owner who sold frozen treats near southeastern Hillsborough County, was said to be on a mission to find the man who shot him while robbing his ice cream truck months earlier.

But the case against him is highly indirect. In his first trial in February 2020, the jury reportedly deadlocked 10-2 in favor of finding him not guilty.

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He may have received a second instance earlier were it not for delays in courts across the state caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. A few months later, Lyann Goudie, Kitley’s lead attorney at the first trial, became a Hillsborough circuit judge.

His new defense team, led by Tampa attorney Rick Escobar, has since worked to expedite the case and conduct pretrial work.

Keetley’s second trial is scheduled to begin in late February.

January 6 Cases keep changing

Rioters break through a police barrier at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Rioters break through a police barrier at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. [ JULIO CORTEZ | AP ]

Two years after the unprecedented assault on American democracy, Florida continues to have the most number of residents — now approaching 100 — accused of participating in the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. They included about 30 people from central and western Florida. While some settled their cases with plea deals, others continued to contest the charges against them.

related: Who were the rioters in Tampa Bay on January 6th, really?

The cases of several local 6 January defendants are set to go to trial.

they include Audrey Southard-Ramsaya well-known singer from Spring Hill, is accused of assaulting a police officer inside the Capitol.

A group of people from the Lakeland and Plant City areas – Joshua Dooling, Joseph Hutchinson, Michael Perkins and Olivia Pollock – will go on trial in March on charges of unruly assault Crowd of police. Fifth person in the group Jonathan Pollock still a fugitive.

Several other locals await sentencing after pleading guilty.They included Mitchell Gardner of Seffner, who Pleads guilty to pepper spray charges against police. His sentencing is scheduled for February.

Pinellas-Pasco Family Murder Trial

Shelby Nealy in court in 2019.
Shelby Nealy in court in 2019. [ “TAILYR IRVINE | TIMES” ]

Shelby Nealy killed his ex-wife Jamie Ivancic in January 2018 and buried her at their Port Richey home, prosecutors said. For months, he pretended she was alive, sending family text messages and photos of their two young children, the state said. After her family became suspicious, prosecutors said Neely traveled to Tarpon Springs, where he Killed her father, Richard Ivancic; her mother, Laura Ivancic; and her brother, Nicholas Ivancic.

Prosecutors are expected to bring Neely to trial in the domestic homicide case in February. His lawyers have previously said he would be willing to plead guilty to murder if the state dropped the death penalty. But prosecutors rejected such an offer.The case has previously been plagued by the following issues Is Nealy in good spirits? to face judgment.

Earlier this year, Neely tried to dismiss the Pasco County case, claiming that he killed his ex-wife in self-defense. The judge rejected that argument.

Abandoned trial in notorious case

Steven Lorenzo appeared at a hearing earlier this month.
Steven Lorenzo appeared at a hearing earlier this month.
[ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Will Steven Lorenzo be on death row in Florida in a year? This is where he seems to want to be.

Lorenzo, 63, who has been suspected for nearly two decades of killing two men in his Seminole Heights home, surprised legal observers this month when he announced that he wanted to plead guilty and be sentenced to death.

Lorenzo has already been sentenced to 200 years in federal prison for convictions related to drug use and sexual assault by several men. In 2017, he was brought back in state court to face murder charges in the deaths of Jason Galehouse and Michael Wachholtz, who prosecutors said were shot before to sexual abuse.

Lorenzo told the judge as he approached his trial date in January that he wanted to waive his right to a jury trial or present evidence that might support a life sentence. His punishment hearing will begin in February.