Jonathan Diaz Fundora

SENTENCING UPDATE: Man given two life sentences for sexually abusing 10-year-old

Jonathan Diaz Fundora groomed a 10-year-old Lakeland girl he met online and drove over four hours to sexually batter her.

Jonathan Diaz Fundora

Jonathan Diaz Fundora

Days before Diaz Fundora was supposed to go to trial, he pled no contest to 13 charges, including sexual battery on a victim less than 12, kidnapping, traveling to meet a minor, and use of a computer to seduce a child, among other charges.

Judge Durden sentenced him to mandatory life in prison on Jan. 30.

Diaz Fundora met the victim online and communicated with her for about a month, sending sexually explicit content to the girl. He then made a plan to drive from his home of Miami to Lakeland, where he told the child they would spend a few days at a motel.

He told the victim to write a letter to her grandmother, telling her she would be at a motel with a friend, and pack a bag. Diaz Fundora arranged to pick her up down the road from her house.

On March 27, 2018, Diaz Fundora drove 4 ½ hours to pick the girl up and take her to a Motel 6, where he sexually battered her.

The victim was reported missing by her grandmother, and Polk County Sheriff’s Office deputies traced the girl’s cellphone to the motel. When deputies arrived, Diaz Fundora answered the door in his underwear and said he had a young girl with him.

Deputies found the child hiding in the bathroom with the lights off.

Nearly four months after Diaz Fundora kidnapped the girl and molested  her, she took her own life.

At Diaz Fundora’s sentencing hearing, a letter from the girl’s grandmother was read aloud in court during the hearing.

She told the judge that the girl was bullied in school and on the internet and often questioned if anyone loved her.

“He preyed on the innocence and immaturity of a child,” the letter said. “(Diaz Fundora) violated our precious baby and changed her short life forever.”

She said the damage Diaz Fundora did ran deeper than anyone could have imagined, causing the girl to take her life in July of 2018.

“Her small, young heart could not handle this world anymore,” the grandmother wrote.

At the hearing, Assistant State Attorney Randi Daugustinis reminded Judge Durden that Diaz Fundora admitted to every detail of the incident.

“The defendant had a calculated plan that he executed,” she said, adding that Diaz Fundora said he knew the girl was young but ignored it and drove to Lakeland anyway. “He knew she had a rough childhood and was in a very vulnerable state.”

She asked the judge to sentence Diaz Fundora to the max on count two, which was also punishable by life. Durden agreed and imposed a second life sentence to run concurrently.

At the end of the grandmother’s letter, she wrote that the victim’s family has found some solace in knowing the girl is in a better place.

“I know she is with God now,” the letter said, “and that eases my pain.”

Rescued dog that was being abused

JURY VERDICT: Lakeland man guilty of animal cruelty, abandonment

Donald Black left his dogs in cages outside for multiple weeks without food or water.

Donald Black

Donald Black

When animal control located the dogs on Oct. 25, 2017, all five were in poor health and two were severely malnourished and underweight. Of the two dogs that were severely emaciated, veterinarians determined that one dog’s condition was so severe it needed to be euthanized.

Jurors deliberated for 90 minutes and found Black guilty Feb. 27 of aggravated animal cruelty and animal abandonment. He is facing up to five years in prison and will be sentenced on April 26.

Assistant State Attorney Ian MacAlister told jurors that it was an anonymous caller who first noticed the dogs were left outside in cages and reported it to law enforcement. They appeared to have been left there for a number of weeks.

Polk County Sheriff’s Office deputies found four dogs locked in cages and covered in their own filth while the fifth dog, Bella, was lying on the ground next to the other dogs bec

ause she was unable to stand.

Bella weighed in at 21.7 pounds and tested positive for multiple parasite infestations. She also had an open sore on her hip from constant contact with the ground, as her legs were too weak to stand and she had been dragging herself across the yard.

Veterinarians determined that Bella’s severe condition was a result of neglect and decided she needed to be euthanized due to the extensive injuries she’d sustained.

Deputies determined Black was the dogs’ owner and took him into custody because his failure to care for the animals “resulted in the excessive and repeated infliction of unnecessary pain and suffering,” according to the arrest affidavit.

PCSO Animal Control was able to rescue this dog and three others from the deplorable conditions Black left them in. The fifth dog was in extremely poor condition and had to be put down by veterinarians.

At trial, the defense argued that the dogs were not Black’s and that they had been left there by someone else.

But MacAlister told the jury that Black was the only listed resident at the address where the animals were found.

“The evidence showed that he was the resident,” MacAlister said. “He had a responsibility to take care of those dogs that he failed to live up to.”

Johnathan Alcegaire, 30, of Miami.

SENTENCING UPDATE: Alcegaire sentenced to death for 2016 triple homicides

Johnathan Alcegaire stood still as Judge Jalal Harb handed down three death sentences for each of the lives he claimed.

Johnathan Alcegaire, 30, of Miami.

Alcegaire was convicted on Sept. 27, 2018, of three counts of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, burglary of a dwelling with an assault or battery while armed with a firearm, conspiracy to commit armed robbery, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, tampering with physical evidence, and armed robbery.

He was one of three men who traveled to Lakeland for a drug-related home-invasion robbery and murdered 24-year-old David Washington, 31-year-old Stacy Branch, and 23-year-old Angelica Castro.

The same jurors who convicted Alcegaire in September then recommended that he should be sentenced to death. Judge Harb imposed those three death sentences Friday morning, along with the maximum amount for Alcegaire’s additional convictions.

Alcegaire is the second defendant in the Tenth Circuit to be sentenced to death under the new death penalty law, which requires jurors to have a unanimous vote instead of majority.

Former Assistant State Attorney Hope Pattey and ASA Mark Levine prosecuted both the trial phase and penalty phase of this case. State Attorney Brian Haas said Friday that he is pleased with the outcome and that he is thankful for the hard work put in to the Alcegaire case by both Pattey and Levine.

Jerry Salter Jr.

JURY VERDICT: Tennessee man faces mandatory life for sexually abusing Polk County teen

Jerry Salter Jr. started abusing his victim at the age of five.

Jerry Salter Jr.

Salter groomed the boy to perform sexual acts by using food.

A jury deliberated for about 90 minutes Thursday and convicted Salter of three counts of capital sexual battery on a victim less than 12 years of age. Salter is facing mandatory life imprisonment, which will be handed down on April 12.

Assistant State Attorney Lauren Randall told jurors how Salter slowly groomed the child and repeatedly abused him.

“This became his normal,” she said, “and it continued for over a decade.”

After every act, Randall said, Salter told the boy not to tell his mother. And because the child was fearfully protective of his mother, he complied.

In May of 2017, the victim came forward. He told law enforcement Salter had been abusing him for years and that he wanted the abuse to stop and for the defendant to be out of his life.

Polk County Sheriff’s Office detectives conducted a controlled phone call between Salter and the victim.

The teenager asked Salter when he planned to have sex with him again.

“When we see each other,” Salter said.

Randall told jurors the strongest part of the controlled call was when the victim then asked Salter why he liked having sex with him.

“You’re big. You’re strong. You’re like milk chocolate,” Salter told him.

He was then arrested by law enforcement and taken in to custody.

At trial, the defense said the victim only came forward with the allegations because he wanted a cash settlement. They claimed the evidence in the case had not been corroborated.

But Randall reminded jurors that the victim remembered powerful details spanning back more than a decade.

“You do not tell a child that he’s like milk chocolate,” she said, adding that Salter’s incriminating statement on the controlled call was woven in with discussion about school and the victim’s mother’s health like it was normal.

“This was long-term abuse,” Randall said. “It’s because of his (Salter’s) own admissions that the state has proven his to you beyond a reasonable doubt.”

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