Lenard Masten, 26, of Lakeland.

SENTENCING UPDATE: Convicted felon to spend life in prison for armed robbery, kidnapping

Lenard Masten, who has previous violent crime convictions, was sentenced to life in prison on Friday.

Lenard Masten, 26, of Lakeland.

Masten, 26, was found guilty on March 17 of three counts of robbery with a firearm, armed kidnapping, two counts of armed false imprisonment, burglary of a dwelling with an assault while armed with a firearm, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, and tampering with a witness. He was previously convicted of aggravated assault and robbery, which he was on probation for when he was arrested June 26, 2015.

Assistant State Attorney Michael Nutter tried the case in March, securing the additional convictions.

About 9 p.m. on June 24, 2015, Bimalkumar Trivedi locked up his convenience store in Lakeland and went home to his elderly parents. Trivedi parked his car and walked to the door when Masten placed a gun against Trivedi’s head, forcing his way into the residence.

Trivedi’s parents were at the table eating dinner, and Masten took their phones and placed them in the sink under running water. He told Trivedi he needed money while leading him into another room at gunpoint, so Trivedi gave Masten $1,000.
Masten then decided to escort Trivedi and his parents at gunpoint to a closet and force them to lay down. He tried to tie Trivedi up with a belt but was unsuccessful.

After realizing he may be leaving fingerprints in the residence, Masten picked up a pair of dirty socks and placed them on his hands like gloves.

When Trivedi and his parents wouldn’t all fit in the closet, Masten led them to the garage and then to the bathroom, where he forced them to stand in the shower with the water on as he left the residence. After waiting until he was sure Masten was gone, Trivedi retrieved his phone from the sink – which was still working – and called 911.

Witnesses saw Masten’s car near Trivedi’s home the night of the robbery, and law enforcement found a $100 bill on a nearby street. Later, a search of Masten’s car revealed socks matching the ones taken from Trivedi’s home, another $100 bill, and the clothing Masten wore during the robbery. Cell phone records showed that a few weeks before the robbery, Masten followed Trivedi from his business to his home.

In an interview with law enforcement, Masten broke down and admitted to everything, apologizing for what he did.

Max Horton, 92, testifies in court April 14, where he was found guilty of attempted manslaughter with a firearm. He faces up to 15 years in prison and will be sentenced June 6.

JURY VERDICT: Man guilty of attempted manslaughter after grass clipping incident

SEBRING – Max Horton said he’s not the type to get mad – he gets even.

On Sept. 17, 2015, lawn workers at Casa Del Lago in Avon Park blew stray glass clippings on a vehicle in Horton’s driveway. Horton, who believed the act was deliberate, motioned for Robert Hendrix – the owner of the lawn service – to approach him in his driveway.

Horton pulled out a gun and pointed it at Hendrix, who dropped to his hands and knees and begged for his life. While threatening to shoot Hendrix, another lawn worker ran toward Horton, causing him to fire a shot at Hendrix.

Horton missed.

Max Horton, 92, testifies in court April 14, where he was found guilty of attempted manslaughter with a firearm. He faces up to 15 years in prison and will be sentenced June 6.

A jury found 92-year-old Horton guilty April 13 of attempted manslaughter with a firearm. He will be sentenced June 6, where he faces up to 15 years in prison.

Assistant State Attorney Norda Swaby took jurors back to September. Horton had hired a caretaker for his wife, who has severe Parkinson’s and needs help around their house.

Horton complained to the landscape chairwoman at his community about the grass clippings being blown on his caretaker’s car. He was told the clippings would be removed, and they were.

“Horton wasn’t satisfied with that,” Swaby told the jury. “He was angered by the situation.”

He told the chairwoman that something had to be done.

Hendrix was across the street from Horton’s house finishing a lawn when he was motioned over. The two began to talk, and Horton told Hendrix the caretaker talked about quitting because of the grass on her car.

“I’m going to take care of this problem myself,” Horton said, placing an arm around Hendrix’s shoulder.

Horton’s hands started to shake as he reached into a pouch on his hip, pulled out a semi-automatic handgun and pointed it at Hendrix.

“Get on your —– knees, boy. I’ll blow your —– head off,” Horton said.

Hendricks immediately dropped to his knees and began begging for his life, asking Horton not to shoot him because he had children to go home to. When Hendricks looked up at Horton, the gun’s laser sight was shining in his eyes.

Hendrix slowly crawled backward on his hands and knees while yelling for help, hoping the lawn worker across the street would hear him. Each time Hendrix looked up at Horton, the gun was feet away from his head with the laser in his eyes, solidifying Hendrix’s fear that Horton would shoot and kill him.

“It’s done. This is over,” Hendrix said from the witness stand April 12, recalling his thoughts during the incident.

At that point, the other lawn worker saw Horton standing over Hendrix with a gun pointed at his head. The worker ran across the street toward Horton, who fired the shot while turning to look, missing Hendrix.

When Hendrix realized he hadn’t been hit, he jumped up and began fighting Horton for the weapon. The lawn worker saw their scuffle and ran over, tackling Horton and bringing all three men to the ground.

The worker kept Horton restrained while Hendrix ran to call 911. Police and EMS arrived, taking Horton to the hospital to treat injuries he’d received when he was tackled.

As he was being taken away, Horton looked at the community’s lawn chairwoman and said, “…you have to cover for me on this one.”

But when Horton took the stand to testify, he told jurors a completely different story.

He claimed Hendrix approached him in his driveway and head-butted him, causing him to bleed everywhere, which was why he pulled out a gun and pointed it at Hendrix. Horton also said he was beat up by Hendrix and his lawn worker for an entire hour before law enforcement arrived.

Assistant State Attorney Steve Houchin asked Horton why there was no blood in the driveway from the head-butt and why Horton’s glasses were found in the grass – not where Horton claimed the attack happened.

Horton stuttered before backtracking, saying he wasn’t “bleeding like a gusher” and that “anyone could have moved them (the glasses).”

Houchin asked Horton if he remembered the prior testimony that was completely contrary to the statement he was giving to the jury, and Horton claimed he didn’t hear any of it.

In closing statements April 13, Houchin told the jury that in order to believe Horton, they would also have to believe that Hendrix was willing to “kiss his business goodbye” by assaulting a customer at his home, which made no sense at all.

The defense claimed Horton had a right to protect himself based on stand your ground, but Houchin reminded jurors there was no blood or signs of an altercation at the garage door.

“The stand your ground law is a shield to protect the innocent, not an escape hatch for the guilty, and that’s what you’ve got here,” Houchin said. “This is an after-the-fact fabrication … His statement is inconsistent with the evidence.”

Before wrapping up his closing statement, Houchin repeated one of Horton’s statements to police: “I don’t get mad – I just get even.”

“It’s not against the law to be an ornery old man,” Houchin told jurors, “But when you’re an ornery old man with a temper and a gun, things can get out of hand. … Horton knew he had done wrong, and I ask you to find him guilty.”

James Carter, 26, testifies in court March 29. He was convicted of first-degree arson, among other charges, and faces life in prison.

JURY VERDICT: Lakeland man guilty of first-degree arson

Kiera Williams woke up to the smell of smoke.

About 3 a.m. on April 7, 2015, she heard the dog barking and immediately jumped out of bed and ran into the living room of her parents’ home, where smoke filled the air. The car and garage were completely engulfed in flames.

Williams, her parents and their family dog were unharmed.

James Carter, 26, testifies in court March 29. He was convicted of first-degree arson, among other charges, and faces life in prison.

James Carter, 26, was found guilty Thursday of first-degree arson, burglary of a dwelling with $1,000 in damages or more and aggravated stalking. He’s facing life in prison and will be sentenced June 1.

Assistant State Attorney Kristopher Heaton – alongside ASA Randi Daugustinis – told the jury that the incident on April 7 wasn’t the first time something on the Williams’ property had been set on fire.

Williams found a burnt area in the front yard on April 4, 2015 and later received a phone call on a blocked number from Carter – her ex-boyfriend, whom she had an active injunction for protection against – asking how she “put out the fire.” Carter also told her, “If I can’t have you, nobody will – not even your parents.”

In Carter’s initial statements to law enforcement – which were played aloud in court – he consistently denies any involvement in the first fire but wavers on the details of the second fire, eventually saying he set it to “prove a point” to Williams and her family. He later tearfully admits that he jumped the back fence and ignited a water bottle full of gasoline, causing over $250,000 dollars of damage to the house.

Carter said he was trying to create smoke, but the bottle went up in flames. Testimony from a fire marshal and a fire K9 confirm the fire was started in the garage with a liquid accelerant.

In addition to his confession, Carter told law enforcement he went to a lake to cry after starting the fire because he knew he would be in trouble. But when Carter took the stand March 29, he maintained that he did not start either fire.

The defense argued techniques used by detectives in Carter’s first interview coerced him into fabricating details and issuing an untrue statement. Heaton reminded jurors in closing statements Thursday that if Carter truly had been coerced into a false statement, he would have admitted to setting both fires.

Assistant State Attorney Kristopher Heaton addresses jurors during closing statements Thursday.

“He still holds he didn’t set the lawn fire,” Heaton told the jury. “If he’s going along with this, ‘They coerced me, and I’m going to give them everything they want’ mindset, why didn’t he say yes to that?”

Heaton also reminded jurors Carter said he went to the lake to cry and later returned home, where he said he was waiting for law enforcement to arrest him.

“Again, these are more details. This isn’t somebody who’s sitting there going, ‘This is exactly what they want me to say,’” Heaton said. “This is someone reciting what they actually did.”

In Carter’s taped confession, he breaks down into sobs.

“I’m done. My life is over, and I’m so sorry,” Carter said. “I’m gonna sit here and do life for this mistake … I’m gonna do life.”

William McGee, 39, of Lakeland.

SENTENCING UPDATE: Lake Hollingsworth attacker sentenced to 30 years

William McGee, who was found guilty of kidnapping and attempted sexual battery March 3, was sentenced to 30 years in Florida State Prison on March 24.

In the trial at the beginning of March, evidence showed that the 39-year-old McGee attacked a runner near Lake Hollingsworth on May 18, 2015, pulling her off the path and to the ground. He confined the 22-year-old for nearly an hour, attempting to pull her shorts off.

The victim fought him and then reasoned with him to convince him not to hurt her. McGee admitted he could have raped her but changed his mind because she talked him out of it.