Julio Aponte

Frostproof man who robbed clerk at knifepoint sentenced to life in prison

Julio Aponte

Julio Aponte

A 33-year-old Frostproof man who robbed a Lake Wales convenience store clerk at knifepoint has been sentenced to life in prison.

Julio Aponte robbed the store on Oct. 30, 2018, only 15 days after he had escaped from a halfway house at the end of a five-year federal prison sentence for possession of heroin with intent to deliver.

Assistant State Attorney Jessica Fisher prosecuted the case. She told jurors during the trial that blue latex gloves found outside the Lake Wales Food Mart matched the DNA of Aponte. Aponte was seen on a store video wearing the gloves and holding a large knife when he stole money and cigarettes from the convenience store on State Road 60.

Circuit Judge Larry Helms sentenced Aponte to two separate life sentences for the charges of robbery with a deadly weapon and burglary while armed. Since Aponte committed the crime soon after escaping from the halfway house, he was classified as a prison releasee reoffender and must carry out a full life sentence in prison.

During the robbery, Aponte pointed the knife at the clerk as he demanded her to open the cash register. He emptied the register then took nine packs of Newport cigarettes from the rack before leaving the store with an accomplice.

Aponte was arrested after a second armed robbery occurred at another store a week later. Charged with armed robbery, Aponte’s trial date has not yet been scheduled in that case.

When Polk Sheriff’s Office detectives searched his home following the second robbery, they found a blue hoodie sweatshirt, dark sweat pants, and black and white Under Armour sneakers. It was the same outfit he was wearing when he robbed the convenience store a week earlier. A DNA test was then conducted and months later results showed that it matched the gloves collected at the crime-scene.

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


website footer badge



Ismael Bragin

Georgia man convicted of trafficking meth between Atlanta and Polk County

Ismael Bragin

Ismael Bragin

Ismael Bragin explained to jurors that he never thought about questioning why two random people outside of Atlanta offered him money to deliver a heavy orange Nike shoe box to Davenport.

Through an interpreter, Bragin, 71, of Cartersville, Ga., said he thought that men had just given him important documents to deliver to Florida.

Six jurors didn’t believe his story.

They deliberated earlier this month for an hour before convicting him of two first degree felonies, conspiracy to traffic methamphetamine and trafficking methamphetamine. Bragin, who is scheduled to be sentenced in November, faces up to 30 years in prison.

Instead of documents inside the Nike box there were two large plastic bags filled with two kilograms of of methamphetamine, which has a street value of more than $50,000.

Assistant State Attorney Lauren Randall prosecuted the case. She questioned Bragin’s veracity during cross-examination.

“Your telling me these people gave you papers drive all the way down from Atlanta, Georgia to Polk County,” Randall said.

“You are aware that things exist like FedEx and a postal service,” Randall asked. “You can get a box full of papers delivered to you sometimes in a day.”

Bragin said looking back, he should have been more suspicious. But he said he was simply pleased he was receiving $500 for his trip to Miami.

Bragin was arrested in October, 2016, during a sting by Polk County Sheriff’s Office detectives. Detectives, posing as drug buyers, were expected to pay $36,000 for the meth. Once the deal was made, Bragin was arrested in a parking lot at Posner Park. When questioned, he told detectives someone he met while fishing in Georgia asked him to bring the shoe box to Florida since he was already traveling there. The man also gave Bragin a cell phone to carry and told him they will call him and direct him where to go once he arrived in Florida.   Upon delivering the box of drugs to undercover detectives, Bragin immediately began asking for the money.

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


website footer badge


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.


website footer badge

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.



website footer badge