Man guilty of hiring hitman to kill his wife

JURY VERDICT: Man guilty of hiring hitman to kill his wife

Vincent Madhavath intended to kill his wife the night of Sept. 17, 2014.

Vincent Madhavath, 45, was found guilty as charged by a jury on Thursday, Sept. 29.

Madhavath, 45, of Winter Haven, hired a hitman – who was an undercover Florida Department of Law Enforcement agent – and planned to have him enter their home after midnight for a staged armed robbery where his wife would be shot in the head.

After watching video recordings of these meetings and hearing testimonies from witnesses during a three-day trial that ended Thursday, a jury found Madhavath guilty of attempted first degree murder and solicitation to commit first degree murder.

The undercover agent met with Madhavath multiple times from May 2014 to Aug. 2014 to talk about how the murder would be carried out. In one of the videos the agent took, Madhavath is seen handing the agent $5,000 in cash and a photo of his wife.

“I’ll smack you around a little bit, and then I’m gonna pop her in the head,” the agent told Madhavath in a video recording played in court Tuesday.

“I’ll make it nice and easy,” the agent told him. “Good enough?”

Madhavath’s reply was simple: “Yes.”

Assistant State Attorney Ashley McCarthy holds up the photo Vincent Madhavath gave to the hitman Aug. 6, 2014. The woman Madhavath intended to kill was his wife, and a jury found him guilty of attempted first degree murder Thursday after a three-day trial in front of Judge Yancey.

Assistant State Attorney Ashley McCarthy told jurors in her closing statement that the true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.

“You had the rare opportunity in this case to be a fly on the wall in the life of Vincent Madhavath,” she said. “The real Vincent Madhavath is in those recordings when he thought no one was watching … Those recordings are the most important pieces of evidence in this case because they show that he did it and that he meant to do it.”

Madhavath took the stand and told jurors that he didn’t mean to hire a hitman and that it was all a misunderstanding.

He told the jury he thought he was being targeted by people in his community who wished to drive him out of business. Instead of going to law enforcement – who Madhavath said he believed were corrupt – he hired a hitman from the same group of people he thought were out to get him.

All of the statements Madhavath made about the reason he was going to kill his wife are not consistent with a man who has two masters degrees and has lived in four different countries, McCarthy said.

“He’s too smart to do something that stupid,” she told the jury. “His own background and who he is is absolutely inconsistent with what he is telling you he actually believed. He’s telling you that because he got caught.”

McCarthy reminded jurors Madhavath should still be held accountable for his actions even though he was not the person who would have actually shot his wife.

“The reality of the situation … is that this man hired someone to kill his wife in his home with his children there,” McCarthy said. “He did it because he meant to do it – because he’s guilty.”

Madhavath was taken into custody by Judge Yancey and will be sentenced at a later date.

State Attorney Hill, Assistant State Attorneys honored by MADD

State Attorney Hill, Assistant State Attorneys honored by MADD

State Attorney Jerry Hill, center, stands with Assistant State Attorneys Stephanie Durrance, left, and Melissa Gravitt after accepting awards from MADD.

WINTER HAVEN – State Attorney Jerry Hill and two of our prosecutors were honored Thursday, Sept. 22, at the MADD Polk County Law Enforcement and Prosecutors Recognition Dinner.

Felony Attorneys Melissa Gravitt and Stephanie Durrance were awarded for their work prosecuting DUI cases, and Mr. Hill was given a special award for his dedication to DUI cases and the victims of impaired driving over the past 32 years.

“I’m honored to get the award,” Hill said, “but the people who truly deserve recognition are the ones wearing uniforms and the prosecutors and investigator who were sitting at the State Attorney’s table.”

“It really thrills me when they get the recognition they deserve and so seldom get,” he said.

Man guilty of heroin trafficking

JURY VERDICT: Man guilty of heroin trafficking

A trail of heroin crumbs led deputies to the closet where Gleen Efrain Zayas-Acosta was hiding.

Gleen Efrain Zayas-Acosta

Deputies found 35-year-old Zayas-Acosta behind hanging clothes near a hamper where he’d hidden about a kilo of heroin.

A prosecutor with the State Attorney’s Office laid out all the evidence before the jury in closing statements Thursday, re-enacting the way Zayas-Acosta would have had to run through the Davenport home with the drugs clutched to his chest.

“The 860 grams of heroin did not walk itself from room A to the hamper,” the prosecutor said, pointing to the defendant. “The only person who made that journey is sitting right here: Mr. Zayas-Acosta.”

The jury deliberated for less than 30 minutes and found Zayas-Acosta guilty of trafficking heroin, resisting officers without violence and possession of drug paraphernalia.

A Polk County Sheriff’s Office deputy saw Zayas-Acosta peek through the blinds in a front room of the house. Zayas-Acosta then grabbed a chunk of the heroin and ran to the master bedroom near the back of the house.

“People do not keep the better part of a kilo of heroin sitting in a closet or in crumbles on the ground in the bathroom,” the prosecutor said. “It was obvious he was being cornered. Hiding in the closet was a move of desperation and a move of last resort.”

Deputies obtained a search warrant for the house Zayas-Acosta was staying at after a K-9 alerted to drugs in a package addressed to the Davenport house. They found over a kilo of heroin – which is worth $100,000 on the street – a plate, scale and knife used to weigh and cut the drugs and $32,500 in cash.

This chunk of heroin, weighing 860 grams, was found in the hamper and was entered into evidence by the state. The total weight of heroin confiscated by law enforcement is 1,031 grams, which is worth $100,000 when sold on the street.

Law enforcement also found Zayas-Acosta’s social security card, driver’s license and birth certificate in the room where the drugs were located, and he admitted it was the same room he’d been sleeping in.

The defense claimed that Zayas-Acosta’s proximity to the drugs wasn’t significant enough to link him to them, but the prosecutor reminded the jury that the only places in the house where heroin was found were in the rooms where the defendant was.

It may have been in another person’s home, the prosecutor said, but the evidence was in his bedroom.

Chief Assistant State Attorney Brian Haas said he was pleased with the jury’s verdict, especially since heroin is a serious issue facing the community.

“This case involved $100,000 of heroin and $32,000 in drug money,” Haas said. “I’m proud of the work of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office and the State Attorney’s Office in prosecuting this case to a conviction.”

Zayas-Acosta faces up to 30 years on the heroin charge and will be sentenced Oct. 13 by Judge Yancey.

Man guilty of robbing, beating elderly woman

JURY VERDICT: Man guilty of robbing, beating elderly woman

When Perry Lee Chance walked into the Winter Haven clothing store where 82-year-old Carol Sleeth was working, Sleeth had no way of knowing the same man would return four days later, rob her and beat her.

Assistant State Attorney Steven Alamia points to evidence during closing statements Thursday. The jury deliberated for an hour and a half before coming back with a guilty verdict.

Chance, 55, faces life in prison after a jury found him guilty Thursday of burglary with an assault, robbery, kidnapping to facilitate a felony, aggravated battery and burglary.

Assistant State Attorney Steven Alamia showed the jury surveillance video of Chance walking into the store Sept. 16, 2014, where he took money out of the register and beat the victim with his fists. Chance tied her up, gagged her and left her in the store while he stole her keys out of her purse and drove off in her car.

In addition to the video, the 911 call was played.

Sleeth called police after she broke free from her bonds and removed the gag from her mouth. She told law enforcement how Chance kept “beating and beating” her and how she was “bleeding all over.”

“There’s really no dispute about what happened – that she was robbed, that she was beat, that she bled a horrific amount,” Alamia told jurors during his closing statement on Thursday. “You could hear on the 911 call how distraught she was.”

Perry Lee Chance

The victim identified Chance as her attacker shortly after the incident. She had a stroke about a year later, which led to her death.

Law enforcement began tracking Chance’s cell phone and located him driving up Interstate-75 in the victim’s vehicle. When officers stopped the car, they found the phone they’d been tracking, the backpack Chance wore in the surveillance video and – laid out on the seat – the shirt and shorts that he was wearing.

“It ties it all together,” Alamia said. “He’s found in her car … what’s found in the car puts him in that video.”

But Alamia said one of the most significant facts of the case was that Chance’s cell phone pings within a mile of the store at the time of the crime.

“All the evidence points to the defendant,” Alamia said. “Not only is it undisputed that all of these crimes happened: this defendant beat her, he robbed her, he tied her up and stuffed something in her mouth.”

“He’s the one who did all that, and the state has proven it beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said.

It only took the jury an hour and a half to come back with a guilty verdict. Chance will be sentenced on Sept. 14.