Victor Manns

JURY VERDICT: Bartow man convicted of 2016 murder, is sentenced to life

When Blake Fitez met Victor Manns Jr. to sell him an iPhone, he had no way of knowing the interaction would end in his friend’s murder.

Victor Manns

Victor Manns

Jurors deliberated about two hours on April 24 before finding Manns guilty of first-degree murder, robbery with a firearm, burglary with a firearm, and unlawful use of a two-way communication device. Judge Harb immediately sentenced Manns to life in prison.

Assistant State Attorney Steven Alamia told jurors that Manns created a fake profile on the application Letgo, a site where you can buy or sell used items.

Manns reached out to Fitez as a Letgo user named Freddy James, stating he was interested in the iPhone Fitez was selling.

Fitez and one of his friends, Jeff Morrow, planned to meet Manns on Sept. 4, 2016 in the parking lot of a Lakeland Family Dollar.

Fitez and Morrow met Manns in the parking lot about 10 p.m., and they showed Manns the phone. Manns reached into the truck, snatched the iPhone from Fitez’s hand, and took off running across the parking lot.

Both Fitez and Morrow jumped out of the truck and began to chase Manns.

By the time Fitez made it to the truck’s rear tire, he heard someone say, “I have a gun.”

Seconds later, Fitez heard multiple shots rang out. He crouched by the tire and saw a bullet ricochet past his leg.

Fitez looked under the truck to see Morrow lying on the ground. He was later pronounced dead from a gunshot wound to the face.

Detectives used the Freddy James Letgo account to link Manns to the murder, as Manns’ Letgo profile photo and Facebook profile photo were identical.

In an interview with law enforcement, Manns admitted to shooting Morrow. He also made repeated statements about the amount of prison time he would potentially be facing.

“He lost his life, now I’m going to lose my life,” Manns told detectives.

“He was obsessed – not with the fact that someone died but that he would go to prison for a long time,” Alamia told jurors in closing statements.

The defense claimed there were too many holes in the case and that Fitez’s description of the suspect didn’t match Manns.

But Alamia pointed jurors back to the photos, reminding them that Manns and Freddy James are the same person.

“All of the evidence in this case points to this defendant,” Alamia said.

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Joshua Miller

SENTENCING UPDATE: Winter Haven man gets 15 years for rape

Joshua Miller’s victim asked the judge to sentence her rapist to the maximum amount of prison time allowed by law.

Joshua Miller

Joshua Miller

At Miller’s sentencing hearing on April 18, Judge Neil Roddenbery did just that in handing down a 15-year prison sentence.

Miller was convicted by a jury of sexual battery, possession of cannabis, and possession of drug paraphernalia on March 13.

On Dec. 6, 2014, the victim woke up to Miller pulling her clothes off and performing a sex act on her. She attempted to stop him by pushing him away and telling him no, but Miller forced himself on the victim instead.

Miller gave law enforcement multiple contradicting statements.

He first claimed not to know the victim but later admitted to performing a sex act on her while she was not fully conscious. Miller then told law enforcement he planned to have vaginal sex with the victim but decided to perform another sex act instead.

At trial, Assistant State Attorney Jessica Embree told jurors that DNA evidence proved Miller was a match.

Embree told the jury that the rape kit results confirmed Miller’s statements about not forcing the victim to have intercourse were false.

Miller was found guilty after only 45 minutes of deliberation.

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PLEA: Teen pleads guilty to rape of 2-year-old girl

Thomas Johnson violently raped a 2-year-old girl and hid bloody bed linens in the woods.

Thomas Johnson, 18, of Bartow.

Johnson pled no contest Thursday to sexual battery on a victim less than 12 and tampering with physical evidence. He is facing up to life in prison and has a two-day sentencing hearing scheduled for August 29 and 30.

Johnson claimed a masked intruder broke into a Bartow home where he was babysitting three children and entered the 2-year-old’s bedroom without his knowledge.

He told law enforcement he woke up to one of the children screaming and found that the intruder sexually assaulted the girl. Johnson claimed he fought with the intruder until he ran out of the house.

Johnson then said he took all three children into his room and called their father, who called 911.

Law enforcement arrived and found the girl screaming and visibly injured. A towel covered in blood was found near her.

The child’s injuries were so severe, she underwent emergency surgery.

While law enforcement was investigating for signs of an intruder, they noticed Johnson’s bed sheet had been removed from his bed. A K-9 unit searching for the alleged intruder found the sheet in hidden in tall grass behind the house.

Johnson confessed to hiding the sheet in the woods behind the house. He said he meant to remove the towel as well but forgot.

“I didn’t want anyone to find my fingerprints on my bed sheet and think that I did anything wrong,” he told deputies.

Johnson confessed he did not call 911 to get medical help for the child. Instead, he admitted to hiding his sheet in the woods and showering before deputies arrived.

Johnson gave law enforcement numerous conflicting statements about the intruder. No evidence was found to support any of those claims.

Law enforcement also found that Johnson’s mattress had been flipped over to conceal a blood stain.

Deputies confronted Johnson about his inconsistent statements and the fact that he hid evidence and showered, all while the child continued screaming. Johnson continuously denied hurting the child.

But when he was detained for tampering with evidence, Johnson told deputies, “all you have is my bed sheet.”

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Alfred Jenkins, 57, of Winter Haven.

JURY VERDICT: Winter Haven man guilty of murdering Lake Alfred softball coach

Alfred Jenkins was fired from his job and arrested for grand theft, and he held Terry Yelvington personally responsible.

Alfred Jenkins, 57, of Winter Haven.

Alfred Jenkins, 57, of Winter Haven.

In the early morning hours of Aug. 11, 2015, Jenkins drove to Yelvington’s home in Lake Alfred, shot him in the head, and stole his wallet.

After two days of deliberation, a jury convicted Jenkins on Monday of first-degree murder, robbery with a deadly weapon, and tampering with physical evidence. Immediately following his conviction, Judge Harb sentenced Jenkins to life in prison.

Yelvington was president of the employee union when Jenkins, who served as the union treasurer, was fired in April of 2009 for misconduct. The union voted not to challenge Jenkins’ termination, and because Yelvington was president, Jenkins blamed him for the loss of his job.

Jenkins held a great deal of animosity toward Yelvington “for not standing up for him,” Assistant State Attorney Paul Wallace said to jurors in opening statements.

After Jenkins was terminated, it was discovered that he stole nearly $5,000 from the union in his role as treasurer and forged checks for his own personal gain.

Yelvington pushed for a criminal investigation against Jenkins. In 2011, Jenkins was arrested for grand theft, causing him to lose a second job.

Jenkins spent over six months in jail following his arrest.

Jenkins repaid the money he stole, and the charges against him were dropped a year later, but Wallace told jurors that Jenkins still blamed Yelvington for his misfortune.

At trial, Jenkins’ ex-girlfriend testified that he’d been trying to figure out what time an unnamed man opened his garage door to leave for work in the morning because he needed to rob him and settle a debt.

A few months later, Yelvington was shot and killed in his driveway.

One of Yelvington’s neighbors was woken up by gunshots around 5:30 a.m. She looked out of her window to see a dark colored Chevrolet SUV pulling out of Yelvington’s driveway.

Although she didn’t see who the shooter was, she gave law enforcement the vehicle description.

Another resident reported that he’d seen a suspicious vehicle in the neighborhood that morning sitting at a stop sign, and surveillance footage from another resident’s home showed the vehicle near Yelvington’s home around 5:24 a.m.

Law enforcement located the suspicious vehicle at Jenkins’ residence.

Jenkins’ cell records were pulled, and they showed his phone pinging less than a mile away from Yelvington’s home at 5:26 a.m., which is in the same time frame that witnesses saw the suspicious SUV.

Cell records also showed that when Jenkin’s cell phone pinged in Lake Alfred on the morning of the murder, it had utilized this cell tower on only three other dates from April 21, 2015, until the day of the murder.

Shell casings from the crime scene were tested, and FDLE determined they were a match for ammunition found to have been in Jenkins’ possession. The firearm was never recovered, as it is still missing.

Jenkin’s ex-girlfriend testified that she became aware that Jenkins disposed of the firearm he kept in his residence within several days after the murder.

At trial, the defense agreed that Yelvington’s death was tragic but that Jenkins was not the one responsible.

But Wallace reminded jurors that all the evidence only pointed to Jenkins.

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