October 29, 2010

Jury recommends death sentence for Gonzalez, Jr.

Posted: 06:15 PM ET

 Pensacola, Florida (CNN) - A jury has recommended that a Florida man be sentenced to death, a day after he was convicted of first-degree murder for leading a crew of masked men dressed as ninjas to ambush a Florida home.

Ten members of the 12-person Escambia County jury voted to recommend the death penalty for Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Jr., with two dissenting.

On Thursday night, the same jury found Gonzalez guilty on two counts of murder for the execution-style murder of Byrd and Melanie Billings. He was also found guilty of armed home-invasion robbery.

The penalty phase began Friday morning, with the jury delivering the sentence - after about an hour and ten minutes of deliberation - just before 2 p.m. (3 p.m. ET).

A formal sentencing hearing for Gonzalez is scheduled for December 9. Until then, he will remain behind bars.

Full Story

Filed under: Breaking News • Death penalty • Trials

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October 28, 2010

Gonzalez found guilty in Billings murder case

Posted: 10:12 PM ET
Pensacola, Florida (CNN) - The penalty phase begins Friday for a man convicted of leading a team of masked men dressed as ninjas to ambush a family in a Florida home.

Leonard Gonzalez Jr. was convicted Thursday for the murder plot. The penalty phase starting at 10 a.m. ET will determine whether he will get the death penalty.

An Escambia County, Florida, jury determined that Gonzalez fatally shot Byrd and Melanie Billings in the couple's master bedroom as one of their nine special-needs children looked on. 

He was also found guilty of armed home-invasion robbery. Full Story


Filed under: Breaking News • Trials • Verdict!

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Both sides rest in Gonzalez murder trial

Posted: 01:07 PM ET

Pensacola, FL - The prosecution has wrapped up its case and the defense called no witnesses before resting today in the trial of Leonard Gonzales, Jr.  Gonzalez is accused of the 2009 murders of Byrd and Melanie Billings, a Florida couple known for adopting special needs kids.

After the defense told the Court it would not put forth a case, the judge addressed the defendant.  Gonzalez told the judge "the evidence speaks for itself."

Two men involved in the home invasion testified for the prosecution that Gonzalez was the ringleader and trigger man who shot the Billings.

If he’s convicted, Gonzalez Jr. faces the death penalty.

Stay with In Session for LIVE coverage of Florida v. Gonzalez Jr. and don't forget is also streaming the trial. Click on and select Leonard Gonzalez trial.

Filed under: Breaking News • Death penalty • Trial Updates • Trials

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October 5, 2010

Verdict: Steven Hayes found guilty of capital murder

Posted: 01:30 PM ET

New Haven, CT – After 4 hours and 15 minutes of deliberations, the jurors in the Connecticut v. Steven Hayes trial came back with a guilty verdict for 16 of the 17 counts against him. Hayes has been convicted of capital murder, kidnapping, burglary and sexual assault. Jurors found him not guilty of the arson charge.  

Here is a breakdown of the counts:

1  Murder - intentional killing of Jennifer Hawke-Petit  – GUILTY

2  Murder - intentional killing of Hayley Petit – GUILTY

3  Murder - intentional killing of Michaela Petit – GUILTY

4  Capital murder - intent to cause the deaths of two or more persons in the course of a single transaction (all three victims) – GUILTY

5  Capital murder - intent to cause the death of Michaela Petit, a person under the age of sixteen – GUILTY  

6  Kidnapping, 1st degree abduction of William Petit in the course of a larceny in the first degree – GUILTY 

7  Kidnapping, 1st degree abduction of Jennifer Hawke-Petit in the course of a larceny, 1st degree – GUILTY

8  Kidnapping, 1st degree abduction of Hayley Petit in the course of a larceny, 1st degree – GUILTY

9  Kidnapping, 1st degree abduction of Michaela Petit in the course of a larceny, 1st degree – GUILTY

10  Capital Murder - intent to cause the death of Jennifer Hawke-Petit in the course of a kidnapping – GUILTY

11   Capital Murder - intent to cause the death of Hayley Petit in the course of a kidnapping – GUILTY

12   Capital Murder - intent to cause the death of Michaela Petit in the course of a kidnapping – GUILTY

13   Sexual Assault, 1st degree – compelled Jennifer Hawke-Petit to have sexual intercourse – GUILTY

14   Capital Murder - intent to cause the death of Jennifer Hawke-Petit in the course of a sexual assault, 1st degree – GUILTY

15   Burglary, 3rd degree - entered a building with the intent to commit larceny - GUILTY

16   Arson, 1st degree - burned an occupied building – NOT GUILTY

17  Assault, 2nd degree - injured Dr. William Petit – GUILTY

Steven Hayes was charged with capital murder, kidnapping, sexual assault, burglary and arson for the killings of Jennifer Hawke-Petit, Hayley Petit and Michaela Petit in 2007. Hawke-Petit was strangled, while her daughters; 17-year-old Hayley and 11-year-old Michaela died of smoke inhalation when their captors set their home on fire.

The penalty phase for Steven Hayes is scheduled for October 18, 2010. Stay with In Session for continuous coverage and updates!

- In Session's Elizabeth Chmurak and Michael Christian contributed to this report

Filed under: Breaking News • Verdict!

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September 14, 2010

3 New attorneys join Casey Anthony's defense team

Posted: 12:47 PM ET

Dorothy Clay Sims and Jose Baez


– Casey Anthony's defense team adds three new attorneys

– Two of them will join Anthony's criminal defense team, one will join her civil defense team

– "I would rather be accused of being over prepared than under prepared," lead attorney says


Orlando, FL - Casey Anthony's defense team is now six attorneys strong.  At a news conference held outside Anthony's lead defense attorney's

office in Kissimmee, Florida, on Tuesday, Jose Baez introduced three new members to its "dream team."

Baez and fellow defense attorney, Cheney Mason, said Dorothy Clay Sims and Ann Finnell will now represent Anthony at her criminal trial.  Charles Green of Orlando will take over Anthony's civil case.

When asked by reporters how many lawyers are needed, Baez quickly responded that he would "rather be accused of being over prepared than under prepared."

"You can't buy this type of dream team," Mason said.  "Well, Bill Gates can buy it."

Baez said building the team has been no easy task.  In March, a Florida judge ruled Anthony was indigent, despite having been paid $200,000 for her personal photographs by ABC News. 

 "It takes a lot to ask a lawyer to sign on," Baez said. "Many times they believe in the cause and that has been the one driving factor ... [we] all

believe in the cause for justice."

Mason, a prominent Orlando attorney, said another hurdle has been the location of the murder trial.  He said Florida is "probably the toughest state to try criminal cases."  

"We're up against the State Attorney's office," he said.  "They have a law firm of 150 people."

Casey Anthony is charged with capital murder in the death of her 2-year-old daughter Caylee. The girl was reported missing in July 2008, and

investigators found her body after five months of intense searches and speculation.

Anthony's murder trial is set for May 2011.

Adam Blank , In Session staff

Filed under: Breaking News • Case Updates • Casey and Caylee Anthony • Death penalty

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September 3, 2010

Love triangle killer gets 27 years in prison

Posted: 04:05 PM ET

(CNN) –  A Florida judge sentenced Rachel Wade, the 20-year-old woman convicted of second-degree murder for fatally stabbing her romantic rival in a fight last year, to 27 years in prison Friday.

While acknowledging there are mitigating factors, primarily Wade's youth and lack of criminal past,  the judge in the case said Wade's actions were not "unaggravating." "The murder was no accident," Judge Joseph Bulone said.

Wade went to trial in July, accused of second-degree murder in the stabbing death of 18-year-old Sarah Ludemann. The two women, only teenagers at the time, had fought for months via voicemails, text messages and MySpace postings over their relationship with the same man, Joshua Camacho. The feud culminated in a fatal confrontation in the early morning hours of April 15, 2009.

After a three-day trial and only two and a half hours of deliberation, a jury of five men and one woman convicted Wade of second-degree murder. Wade had claimed self-defense and hoped for an acquittal or no more than a manslaughter conviction.

A life sentence was recommended by Florida prosecutors. The defense had recommended 15 years, followed by 15 years of probation.

"In Session" correspondent Beth Karas from the truTV network spoke to Wade days before her sentencing. "I think about it every day, regardless if they give me five years or 20 years more than they could give me," Wade said.  "I never meant to do it, and I'm still gonna have to live with it, no matter if I'm home or if I'm in prison."

In Session Correspondent Beth Karas contributed to this report.

Filed under: Breaking News • Sentencing

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August 18, 2010

Blagojevich attorney says he'll ask for President Obama to testify in retrial

Posted: 04:53 PM ET


Chicago, IL -  Aaron Goldstein, Rod Blagojevich's Attorney, has just confirmed to In Session that assuming the government retries his client, the defense will renew their motion for President Obama to be a witness in the United States of America v. Rod and Robert Blagojevich.  The defense will also renew their motion for mistrial as well as their motion to dismiss.

In Session has also confirmed that no plea deal is in the works at this point.

Goldstein says to expect the renewal of those motions in court next week, in addition to the possible scheduling of a retrial.  U.S. District Judge James Zagel could sentence Blagojevich before any retrial takes place. The defense could then proceed with its appeal, but the government could then proceed with a retrial on the other counts.

Another option would be for the judge to hold off on sentencing for now while the retrial goes forward. Blagojevich would then be sentenced at the same time for any and all counts he was convicted on.

Goldstein says the defense would hope the government would undertake a cost/benefit analysis when deciding whether to retry the case. He told In Session correspondent Jean Casarez, that several hundred letters were sent out to potential jurors back in March 2010. Finally a panel of 100-200 came to court for the voir dire jury selection process; the three to four day jury selection led to a two month trial.

Goldstein, who was in the courtroom with Blagojevich yesterday, told In Session that when it was announced there was a verdict, the jury said they were hung on 23 of the 24 counts. Judge Zagel made them exit and then declared a mistrial, but also recommended the next court date be September 6, 2010.

The government then announced, Goldstein said, they absolutely will retry the case and would retry “tomorrow” if possible. At that point the judge set the next court date for August 26th.  

Rod Blagojevich faced a total of 24 counts in U.S. District Court in the Northeastern District of Illinois. His brother Robert was charged with four counts in the indictment. The jury only found the former governor of Illinois guilty of count 24, making a false statement. Judge Zagel declared a mistrial on all the other counts.

-Jean Casarez, In Session Correspondent

Filed under: Breaking News • Case Updates

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July 23, 2010

Florida woman involved in love triangle guilty of murder

Posted: 04:18 PM ET

CLEARWATER, FL (CNN) – A 20-year-old Florida woman who was involved in a love triangle was found guilty Friday of second-degree murder for fatally stabbing a romantic rival.

Rachel Wade burst into tears a the foreman of the jury read the verdict, which carries a sentence of 20 1/2 years to life in prison.  The six-person jury returned its verdict after just 2 1/2 hours of deliberation.

Wade had said she stabbed Sarah Ludemann in self defense. Sentencing is set for September 3.

Full Story

- "In Session's" Lena Jakobsson and Beth Karas contributed to this story

Filed under: Breaking News • Verdict!

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July 20, 2010

Lindsay Lohan surrenders for jail

Posted: 12:16 PM ET

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) - Actress Lindsay Lohan showed little emotion as a deputy put her in handcuffs in a Beverly Hills, California court Tuesday morning to take her to jail. The actress quickly walked to a nearby side door to leave the courtroom as four deputies surrounded her.

Superior Court Judge Marsha Revel had ordered Lohan to report to her courtroom at the Beverly Hills, California, courthouse to begin serving a sentence for probation violation. Revel ordered that Lohan not be allowed to leave jail on a work-release or house-release program during her sentence.

The judge said, however, she has no control over how many of the 90 days Lohan will be kept in jail. Lohan must enter a court-ordered substance abuse rehab program within 24 hours of leaving jail, Revel said. "I would like the transition be sooner rather than later," she said. Revel placed tight restrictions on what the public would be able to see at the hearing.

While the world watched as Lohan, 24, broke down in tears at her sentencing July 6, the public was not able to see the actress handcuffed and taken into custody Tuesday. Cameras stopped rolling when the judge announced that Lohan was to be taken into custody. The judge also ordered that photos of Lohan must be restricted to when those that showed her at the counsel table.

The actress was ordered to serve 90 days in jail for missing alcohol counseling sessions in violation of her probation. She was also sentenced to spend 90 days in a drug and alcohol rehab program after her jail term is completed.

Filed under: Breaking News • Case Updates

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July 8, 2010

BREAKING NEWS: Judge denies motion to release Drew Peterson

Posted: 12:15 PM ET

Joliet, IL - Will County Judge Stephen White has denied a motion from Drew Peterson's defense attorney for immediate release. Peterson will remain in jail on a $20 million bond as the prosecution appeals the judge’s ruling on hearsay evidence. Peterson has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the death of his third wife, Kathleen Savio.  He is also a suspect in the 2007 disappearance of his fourth wife, Stacy Peterson. He has denied any involvement.

-Beth Karas, In Session Correspondent

Filed under: Breaking News • Case Updates • Trial tracker

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 This is your online home for In Session on truTV’s up-to-the minute, comprehensive coverage of legal issues, trials and news from America’s courtrooms.  Our anchors, analysts and producers are teaming up here to give you updates on the stories that matter to you.

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