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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Patrick Rayha

SENTENCING UPDATE: Lakeland man sentenced to life for fatal Christmas shooting

Patrick Rayha was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday for the fatal shooting of Russell Jackson.

Patrick Rayha

Patrick Rayha

After two hours of deliberation Monday, jurors convicted Rayha of first-degree murder, robbery with a firearm, and burglary of a dwelling while armed with a firearm.


During trial, Assistant State Attorney Bonde Johnson walked jurors through the pieces of evidence connecting Rayha to the Christmas Day robbery in 2017.

Phone records show Rayha’s phone pinged in Dade City about 2:45 p.m. on Christmas Day. His phone then pinged off towers as he travelled to Lakeland.

Surveillance video at a business near Jackson’s home shows Rayha’s girlfriend, co-defendant Carla Bolin, exit the passenger side of his green Saturn. A few minutes later, she is shown exiting the store, getting in the driver’s seat, and pulling away.

More footage shows a tall, white male enter Jackson’s trailer on Christmas. The man leaves about a minute later.

Phone records placed Rayha’s phone right in the area of the murder at the time of the murder. By that evening, Rayha’s phone pinged in Dade City.

In addition to cell records and video surveillance, Johnson showed jurors photos from Rayha’s phone where he is holding a gun. A shell casing found in Jackson’s trailer matched the gun Rayha owned.

At trial, Rayha’s attorney claimed there was not enough evidence to convict him of first-degree murder. He tried to convince jurors that the cell phone could have been in anyone’s car – that the white male in the surveillance video could have been anyone.

Patrick Rayha, right, stands in front of Judge Maloney during his sentencing hearing Wednesday morning. He was given a mandatory life sentence for the 2017 murder of Russell Jackson.
Patrick Rayha, right, stands in front of Judge Maloney during his sentencing hearing Wednesday morning. He was given a mandatory life sentence for the 2017 murder of Russell Jackson.

While Rayha’s attorney claimed all of the evidence didn’t matter, Johnson told jurors the Defendant’s argument punctuated just how much evidence there was against Rayha.  

“All of it converges and falls together,” Johnson said, “It’s your phone, your car, your girlfriend, video catching a tall white male, a shell casing matching the gun found in his (Rayha’s) house.”

“It’s statistically impossible for it to be anyone else,” he said.

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Robert Graham, 27, of Lakeland.

JURY VERDICT: Lakeland man guilty of killing child, faces 20 years in prison

Robert Graham told law enforcement he slammed his baby on the bed three to four times and shook him for about four minutes.

Robert Graham, 27, of Lakeland.

Robert Graham, 27, of Lakeland.

After about two hours of deliberation Jan. 23, jurors convicted Graham of manslaughter and child abuse. He is facing up to 20 years in prison and will be sentenced March 21.

Assistant State Attorney Ashley McCarthy told jurors that the defendant admitted he was playing with his son Princeton the evening of Dec. 28, 2014, but was “overly-rough … more so than he has ever been with any of his other three kids.”

The next morning, Princeton was limp and had stopped breathing.

He was taken to the hospital, where doctors found that the child’s brain was swelling and bleeding. The baby was flown to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa, and doctors discovered he had retinal hemorrhages, injuries that are indicative of the baby being shaken.

Princeton died two days later.

McCarthy said the medical examiner ruled out natural causes.

“Nothing but trauma caused the injuries and, ultimately, his death,” she told jurors. “these are inflicted injuries that can only be caused by force.

During trial, Graham claimed that his previous admission to law enforcement about slamming the baby on the bed was overstated.

McCarthy walked jurors back through Graham’s reaction when law enforcement formally interviewed him: He kept his hands over his face and would not look the interviewer in the eyes.

Graham admitted that what he did to the baby hurt him. He agreed it was too much, and he broke down crying.

“It’s the first time he’s telling anybody, that he’s acknowledging it – getting it off his chest about what he did to his child,” McCarthy told jurors in closing arguments. “He’s acknowledging that his hands did this.”

The defense claimed that Graham did nothing wrong in playing with his child. Graham’s attorney said his response was one of grief and sadness, simply because the baby died while on his watch.

But McCarthy reminded jurors that Graham did not call 911 after realizing the baby was limp and that he omitted important facts in his initial interview with law enforcement.

“In order to believe the defense,” she said, “you’d have to think the doctors got it wrong and that the baby died of natural causes.”

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State Attorney’s statement regarding Sebring shooting

State Attorney Brian Haas stood alongside officials in Highlands County this morning to address the media regarding the horrific shooting that claimed the lives of five people in Sebring Wednesday afternoon.

Mr. Haas identified two main priorities: The first is to build the best case possible to ensure prosecution that ends in a successful result while seeking everything that we can – the maximum allowed by law. The second is to be there for the families of the victims, who are hurting in an unbelievable way, and make sure that this next step – the criminal justice process – goes as smoothly as possible.

“I’ll be convening a Grand Jury in the next couple of weeks, where I’ll seek indictments for first-degree murder, and I’ll certainly be meeting with the families of the victims and going over all of these steps with them in detail,” Mr. Haas said.

“This community is hurting unbelievably,” he said, “but if there is a place that can make it through this, it’s Sebring and it’s Highlands County – and we will.”