Daniel Pelham, 35, of Arcadia.

SENTENCING UPDATE: Habitual offender gets 20 years after leading cops on high-speed chase

After officers attempted to stop Daniel Pelham for running a stop sign, he led them on a high-speed chase for nearly an hour.

Daniel Pelham, 35, of Arcadia.

Daniel Pelham, 35, of Arcadia.

Pelham, who is a prison releasee reoffender and a habitual felony offender, was convicted in December of fleeing to elude involving high speed and no valid driver’s license. On Jan. 11, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison, followed by five years of probation.

Assistant State Attorney Michael Nutter tried the case and told jurors that on Oct. 17, 2017, a Hardee County Deputy was driving through Wauchula and saw Pelham turn his head to the side as he passed. This raised the deputy’s suspicions, so the deputy followed Pelham and observed him run a stop sign.

When the deputy attempted to pull Pelham over, he sped away, leaving the city of Wauchula and heading toward Polk County.

Pelham drove on the wrong side of the road and through residents’ yards orange groves in Hardee County. He drove upwards of 100 MPH and ran multiple stop signs and red lights, all in an attempt to avoid deputies.

Pelham drove his vehicle in a reckless manner that put law enforcement and members of the community at risk.

The hour-long chase ended in a GEICO parking lot in South Lakeland when Polk and Hardee deputies were able to stop Pelham’s vehicle and surround him.

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Jose Baez-Ortiz,

SENTENCING UPDATE: Janitor receives 15 years for touching student inappropriately

Jose Baez-Ortiz was sentenced to 15 years in prison Friday for putting his hand up the skirt of a 6-year-old girl.

Jose Baez-Ortiz

Jose Baez-Ortiz

Prior to the sentence being handed down, Baez-Ortiz tearfully asked Judge Sites for leniency. Sites gave Baez-Ortiz the maximum sentence of 15 years, adding that the lewd conduct occurred in a school and that the defendant preyed on a young, vulnerable child.

Baez-Ortiz also received 15 years of probation to follow his prison sentence.

Jurors convicted Baez-Ortiz Nov. 15 of lewd conduct after he admitted he had an urge to touch the child like a woman.

Assistant State Attorney Lauren Randall told jurors that Baez-Ortiz worked as a school janitor and had already been chastised twice by the school’s principal for being overly-friendly with students. Baez-Ortiz was specifically instructed not to touch the children and to stay out of the cafeteria while they ate lunch.

On April 17, 2017, Baez-Ortiz walked into the cafeteria and sat down next to a 6-year-old girl. A worker in the cafeteria saw him sitting next to the girl with his hand up her skirt, rubbing her thigh.

Security cameras in the cafeteria caught Baez-Oritz sitting down next to the girl and putting his hands under the table. The cafeteria worker immediately reported the incident, and law enforcement was called.

Baez-Ortiz told detectives that he thought the girl was beautiful and he wanted to touch her. He also admitted to putting his hand up the girl’s skirt.

“The two of us were sitting, and I put my hand on her little thigh,” Baez-Ortiz said. “I had the urge to touch her.”

The defense claimed the only reason Baez-Ortiz said these things is because he was scared of authority figures and decided to parrot back what the detective said.

But Randall told the jury it was not reasonable for a man to admit putting his hand under the skirt of a 6-year-old just to appease an authority figure.

“If the defendant is so subservient and scared of offending an authority figure, why do we have clear evidence of him thumbing his nose at the principal, who is his authority figure at work?” Randall asked jurors.

“Under what moral code is it OK for a man to make himself feel better by touching a little girl? What he did was a crime,” Randall said in her closing arguments. “His hand was somewhere it had no business being.”

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State Attorney Brian Haas

State Attorney Brian Haas announces Inaugural Citizens Academy

State Attorney Brian Haas announced Friday that he will be launching the Inaugural State Attorney’s Citizens Academy.

State Attorney Brian Haas

State Attorney Brian Haas

“Understanding the criminal justice system is vital, as it plays an important role in all of our lives. This nine-week program was designed to give citizens in our circuit a behind-the-scenes look at the criminal justice system and the work that goes into the prosecution of a case,” Haas said.

“Those who are selected from a competitive application process will have the opportunity to hear from the top prosecutors in our circuit about how cases are built – from the crime scene all the way to jury selection and a trial – and how this office works with law enforcement to pursue justice for our victims.”

After nine weeks of teaching, Citizens Academy participants will then try their own mock case in a courtroom. For more information about the program or to apply, please visit: www.sao10.com/about-us/citizens-academy

“This is an incredibly unique experience,” Haas said, “and I’m excited to share it with our community.”

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Karen Hughes

JURY VERDICT: Lake Wales woman convicted of trafficking meth, receives 20 years

Karen Hughes purchased of a kilogram of methamphetamine in a reverse sting and admitted she’d done it before.

Karen Hughes

Karen Hughes

After about 20 minutes of deliberation, a jury found Hughes guilty Thursday of trafficking in amphetamine and possession of drug paraphernalia. Following the verdict, Hughes was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Hughes has been previously convicted of armed trafficking in amphetamine, trafficking in methamphetamine, and two counts of possession of methamphetamine.

Assistant State Attorney Jennifer Swenson told jurors that on Aug. 31, 2016, Hughes spoke to a confidential informant on the phone regarding the purchase of methamphetamine.

Hughes agreed to bring a down payment for the drugs and an owed debt from a previous drug purchase with the CI’s relative in exchange for one kilogram of meth.

About 6:25 p.m., Hughes met the CI and an undercover officer in the parking lot of a Winter Haven Walmart, where they discussed prices.

Hughes told the officer she’d previously purchased a pound of meth for a little over $10,000. The officer told her the kilo was worth $18,000, and she agreed.

Hughes then negotiated the timeframe and amount she would pay the officer back for the drugs. She also gave him $2,400 of “owed debt” from previous deals.

When Hughes took possession of the drugs and placed the container on her lap, law enforcement arrested her.

At trial, Hughes claimed she was pressured into the deal because of the money she owed to another dealer. She also testified that she believed the undercover officer was from a cartel and would have killed her if she didn’t go through with the deal.

Swenson reminded Hughes that she admitted to willingly buying drugs from the CI’s relative less than a month before the reverse sting.

Hughes also claimed that the drugs were forced on her even though she tried to shove them off of her lap.

But Swenson told the jury that Hughes took the time to negotiate prices and payment options with the undercover officer before willingly taking the meth from him.

“She’s a willing participant in this and has clearly bought drugs before,” Swenson said, adding that Hughes said a lot of untrue things after being arrested in order to stay out of trouble.

“Hughes’ testimony in court contradicted what really happened,” she said.

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