Laster, 43, of Lakeland, gets fingerprinted Monday after being sentenced to life in prison for attempted second-degree murder.

SENTENCING UPDATE: Lakeland man sentenced to life for attempted second-degree murder

Judge Wayne Durden told Tyrone Laster Monday that there wasn’t a single aspect of his case that wasn’t tragic.

Laster, 43, shot his friend Chauncey Rollins in the back of the head over a money discrepancy in a drug deal. Rollins was $20 short after finalizing a deal, and Laster was angry about it.

“You don’t think I’ll shoot you?” Laster asked Rollins on June 10, 2015, placing the gun on the back of his head and eventually pulling the trigger.

Rollins was in a coma for two months, lost the use of his arms and legs and is confined to a wheelchair.

Prior to the sentencing, Laster’s attorney asked Durden to show mercy on him, but Assistant State Attorney Michael Nutter told the judge Laster should be sentenced to the fullest.

Laster’s actions may not have resulted in death, Nutter said, but they did result in a life condemned to a wheelchair.

“He had a life, and it was taken from him,” Nutter said. “The state is asking the court to show no mercy. He (Laster) did not show mercy to Chauncey.”

Laster, 43, of Lakeland, gets fingerprinted Monday after being sentenced to life in prison for attempted second-degree murder.

Durden sentenced Laster to life in prison, adding that the case is an extreme result of drugs and drug use.

“If not for their involvement in drugs, neither would be here today,” Durden addressed both Laster and Rollins. “The defendant has ruined his own life. The victim has significantly diminished the quality of his own life.”

Durden also reminded Laster that he was a habitual offender with a criminal history that spanned 22 years, resulting in a total of 15 felonies and 22 misdemeanors.

“Laster, this is one of the tragic things about this case,” Durden said, referring to his family’s testimony. “It’s amazing to me how much potential you have, and you’ve wasted it.”

James Brady, 62, of Lakeland.

SENTENCING UPDATE: Man gets life for shooting wife with shotgun

James Brady, 62, of Lakeland.

James Brady, 62, was sentenced to life Thursday after a jury found him guilty of attempted second-degree murder for shooting his wife in the arm with a shotgun.

After shooting her, Brady left his wife bleeding on their front porch, yelling that it was her fault he shot her.
Jurors also found Brady guilty of shooting into a dwelling, tampering with a witness and domestic battery.

Brady’s wife had over 25 surgeries on her left arm and lost the use of her hand. She still has over 100 pellets embedded in her arm.

Prior to his sentencing, Brady briefly apologized for his actions.

Benjamin Smiley, center, stands with his attorneys after Judge Harb read his death verdict in court Friday. Jurors unanimously recommended he be sentenced to death for the 2013 murder of Clifford Drake.

Tenth Circuit State Attorney’s Office secures death recommendation under new death penalty law

BARTOW – Polk jurors unanimously recommended the death sentence Friday in what’s believed to be the first death verdict under the new death penalty law signed by the governor last month.

Benjamin Smiley, center, stands with his attorneys after Judge Harb read his death verdict in court Friday. Jurors unanimously recommended he be sentenced to death for the 2013 murder of Clifford Drake.

After deliberating about four hours, 12 jurors unanimously found that convicted murderer Benjamin Smiley should be sentenced to death for the 2013 fatal shooting of 58-year-old Clifford Drake. Smiley will be sentenced by Judge Harb on May 11.
Prior to the new law, jurors needed a majority vote to recommend death.

In order for Assistant State Attorneys Kristie Ducharme and Hope Pattey to secure the death recommendation under this new law, the jurors need a unanimous vote in 4 of the 5 sections on the verdict form. The aggravating factors, their sufficiency, the defendant’s eligibility, and the death penalty itself must be established beyond a reasonable doubt.

The jury found that they were, and they recommended Smiley be sentenced to death.

During the course of the two-week sentencing hearing, Ducharme and Pattey laid out the facts of the Drake case, of which 24-year-old Smiley was convicted in November 2016.

Smiley and an accomplice planned to rob Drake’s safe because they believed he had a substantial amount of money in it. When they arrived at Drake’s house, his stepson intervened before being held at gunpoint and forced to escort Smiley to Drake’s room.

Drake was woken up with a tap to the head from Smiley’s gun and was fatally shot – once in the hip and once in the chest – when he told Smiley there was no money in his safe.

Evidence and DNA recovered from the scene linked Smiley to it, and Drake’s stepson identified him as the suspect from a photo lineup.

As a part of the aggravating factors, jurors were also told of Smiley’s prior murder conviction for the 2013 death of 49-year-old Carmen Riley, of which he was found guilty in November 2015.

Similar to the facts of the Drake case, Smiley robbed Riley and fatally shot her during a home invasion. Unlike the Drake case, there were no witnesses and no evidence found at the scene, with the exception of projectiles from a gun.

The case went cold until February 2015 when the Florida Department of Law Enforcement found that the projectiles from the Carmen case were a match for the ones in the Drake case. Law enforcement also spoke to Smiley’s accomplices, who admitted their involvement in planning both robberies and their knowledge of Smiley shooting both victims.

Following the jury’s unanimous verdict, State Attorney Brian Haas said he was pleased with the outcome.

“While the new law makes it more difficult to obtain a death sentence, my office will continue to follow the law and seek the death penalty in cases where it is appropriate,” Haas said Friday.

“I’m very thankful for the hard work and dedication of Assistant State Attorneys Ducharme and Pattey. I’m also grateful for our partnership with the Lakeland Police Department (LakelandPD),” Haas said. “LPD officers worked very hard on this case and were instrumental in obtaining this verdict.”

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.