Ray Gravitt

Man, 19, convicted of beating his mother with a baseball bat

Ray Gravitt

Ray Gravitt

A 19-year-old Lakeland man was convicted Thursday of severely beating his mother with an aluminum baseball bat inside their home after she told him he could no longer speak with his girlfriend.

Ray Gravitt, who was 16 when he struck Kelly Rayn, was convicted of attempted first degree murder. Gravitt is expected to be sentenced by Circuit Judge Larry Helms on Nov. 8.

Jurors took 55 minutes to convict Gravitt.

Assistant State Attorney Bill Beaver prosecuted the case.

He described to jurors how on April 3, 2016, neighbors heard Rayn scream for help. When they ran next door, they assumed a dog was attacking the woman. Instead, they saw Gravitt pulling Rayn, bloodied and beaten, by her hair.

Gravitt admitted to the neighbors that he hit his mother with a bat.

“I snapped,” Gravitt confessed. “It’s all my fault.” Later, he told Polk Sheriff’s deputies he struck his mother with the bat approximately 12 times.

Days later in the hospital, Rayn acknowledged that her son beat her with the bat after an argument, telling deputies that he tried to kill her.

After she had finished dinner, Rayn was sitting on the couch watching television when she felt a stinging sensation on the back of her head. When she realized she had been hit, Rayn attempted to run, only to be grabbed around the neck by Gravitt.

During the trial, Gravitt and Rayn changed their stories.

Rayn, a witness for the defense, said she was heavily medicated on painkillers and didn’t remember speaking with deputies after she was struck.

Gravitt told jurors that he was in his room when his mother was attacked and he later found her beaten.

During cross-examination, Beaver asked Gravitt who beat his mother if it wasn’t him. “Did your 9-year-old brother do this?”, Beaver asked.

Gravitt said it wasn’t his brother, adding that he didn’t know who attacked his mother.

State Attorney Brian Haas thanks Assistant State Attorney Beaver and Polk Sheriff’s detectives for their work on the case.


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Jose Vargas, right, with his lawyer, Kevin Cox.

Lakeland man guilty of sexually assaulting 12-year-old girl

Jose Vargas, right, with his lawyer, Kevin Cox.

Jose Vargas, right, with his lawyer, Kevin Cox.

It only took jurors 80 minutes to find a 39-year-old Lakeland man guilty on Thursday of sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl.

Jose Vargas is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 18. He faces life in prison.

Assistant State Attorney Courtney Durden prosecuted the case. She told jurors that DNA evidence linked Vargas to the assault.

The case broke in September, 2016 when the victim told her teacher about repeated sexual assaults. The teacher then notified the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.

During the trial, the victim, who is 15 now, testified to jurors about the assault.

State Attorney Brian Haas thanks Assistant State Attorney Durden and Polk County Sheriff’s detectives.



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Jose Sanchez

Sebring man sentenced to life for sexually assaulting girl

Jose Sanchez

Jose Sanchez

A Sebring man convicted in May of sexually assaulting a girl has been sentenced to life in prison.

Jose Angel Sanchez, 53, was found guilty by a jury of two counts of sexual battery after jurors deliberated for about an hour.

County Court Judge Anthony Ritenour recently sentenced Sanchez to two separate life sentences for each count.

Assistant State Attorney Courtney Lenhart prosecuted the case. During the trial Lenhart told jurors how the victim reported the sexual abuse by writing a letter to a teacher. The victim

said the abuse began when she was seven-years-old and continued until she was 14.

State Attorney Brian Haas thanks ASA Courtney Lenhart and the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office for their work on the case.

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Brenda Nelson

Former bus attendant convicted of abusing special needs child

Brenda Nelson

Brenda Nelson

A former bus attendant for the Polk County School District was convicted Thursday of abusing a special needs student by pulling her hair, hitting her on the head and sitting on her.

Brenda Nelson is expected to be sentenced Nov. 1 by Circuit Judge Donald Jacobsen  for the child abuse conviction. Jurors deliberated for about 30 minutes before returning with the conviction.

Nelson, 67, faces up to five years in prison.

Assistant State Attorney Monica Smith prosecuted the case.

Smith told jurors during closing arguments that the 95-pound, 12-year-old student was helpless when Nelson abused her.

“I’m not here to say that Miss Nelson is a bad person, but I’m here to tell you that she went too far that day,” Smith said.

A video Smith played for jurors showed the abuse.

On Nov. 8, 2017 the girl and other special needs students were riding home on the bus from the Doris Sanders Learning Center. When the girl, who was strapped into a harness,  began yelling, Nelson warned her to be quiet. The girl continued making noise, Nelson whacked her on the head and walked to the rear of the bus.

Nelson was then heard telling the girl she planned to “slap the tongue out of your mouth” before yanking her hair back and forth repeatedly.

At one point, Nelson said to the girl, “I’m not playing.” Finally, Nelson returned to the girl’s seat and sat on her, lunging into the girl with a knee.

Smith said Nelson, of Polk City, took the discipline too far, describing how the girl could have been seriously injured because of a recent surgery she underwent.

“There was nothing that would have been accomplished by doing that,” Smith said.

State Attorney Brian Haas thanks ASA Smith and the Polk County Sheriff’s Office for their work on the case.


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