News Update for 06/21/24

Day nine of the Zephen Xaver penalty trial saw a host of experts brought in by the defense team in order to present plausible mitigating circumstances to the jury. The defense is working to help Xaver avoid the death penalty and get life without the possibility of parole. Licensed Psychologists Dr. James Garabino and Dr. Scot Machlus, testified for the defense as well as Neurologist Dr. Mark Rubino, where a number of possible mitigating circumstances were discussed, including a possible brain tumor, medication compliance, and having a mother with diagnosed mental health issues.

Four people are facing charges for the death of a University of South Florida student. The Justice Department announced yesterday that four men from Tampa have been indicted for the overdose death of Patrick Connolly. The 18-year-old died four months ago after taking fentanyl the suspects allegedly sold him. The suspects are charged with conspiracy to distribute fentanyl resulting in death.

As Tropical Depression Alberto lashes the coasts of Mexico and Texas with heavy rain and gusty winds, the National Hurricane Center is tracking another disturbance off the coast of Florida. Forecasters say the system called Invest 92L has a medium chance of developing into a tropical depression as it approaches the northeastern coast of Florida or Georgia this morning. The system is expected to bring showers and thunderstorms along with strong winds to places such as Jacksonville today.

And Governor Ron Desantis signed two pro-veteran bills yesterday. DeSantis says House Bill 725 expands the eligibility for admissions to a veteran’s long-term care facility to include spouses of qualifying veterans. DeSantis also signed House Bill 1329 which revises existing programs and expands benefits to help veterans transition to civilian life. It requires middle and high school students get history lessons on Veterans and Memorial Day and it gives free hunting and fishing licenses to all disabled vets.

A police officer in Pinellas County is accused of stealing from the city he works for. Clearwater Police announced yesterday that Officer Scott Penna was arrested for felony scheme to defraud, pension fraud and grand theft. The 35-year-old allegedly lied about an injury to collect almost 12-thousand dollars in benefits from the city. The city says he was required to return to light duty following surgery for an on-duty incident last year, but he stayed home and received workman’s comp instead. A private investigator, though, kept an eye on Penna and concluded there were no visible indications of pain or injury limitation. Police Chief Eric Gandy says Penna’s behavior was inconsistent with his alleged disability and limitations, and his actions were an affront to officers who might truly need a disability pension. Penna has been with the CPD for over a decade.

Teenagers with Lakeland AeroClub will be competing at the Junior World Gliding Championships in July. The competition will be held in Poland, with progress videos posted to the club’s YouTube channel. This is the first time a high school club from the United States will be competing in this competition. Team captain of the soaring team, Steven Tellmann, has been flying gliders, training and practicing with the Lakeland AeroClub. Tellmann will be one of four pilots representing the U.S. in the Championships next month, competing against nearly 20 different countries.

Hillsborough County is considering what one official calls a monumental opportunity. County Commissioner Harry Cohen and his colleagues discussed a land swap yesterday. The county would give up the Sheriff’s Office Operations Center in Ybor City in exchange for more than two dozen acres in Brandon. The ops center would then move to the Brandon location off Delany Lake Drive at the home of Grow Financial, and the current ops center would turn into a mixed-use development. Sheriff Chad Chronister supports the idea. Cohen tells ABC Action News this would secure the county’s future in terms of investment into public safety for the next two generations.

Gas prices across Florida are starting to trend upward after a three-week decline. Triple-A says fuel costs went up by four-cents overnight, bringing the current state average to three-36 per gallon. That’s a nearly ten-cent jump since this time last week. The auto club says oil prices regained some strength last week, which could cause drivers to continue paying more at the pump.

A Florida judge is getting ready to decide if Special Counsel Jack Smith can remain on Donald Trump’s classified documents case. Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee, will hold hearings today and Monday to determine if Smith can continue to lead the prosecution’s case. Trump’s lawyers say Smith’s appointment is unconstitutional, while Smith claims Trump’s team is trying to delay the case as long as possible. The former President faces 40 charges over his handling of classified documents after leaving the White House.