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.

Chaldon Sanon, 20, of Haines City.

JURY VERDICT: Haines City man convicted for sexually battering 9-year-old girl

Chaldson Sanon told law enforcement he had sex with a little girl, admitting he knew it was wrong.

Chaldon Sanon, 20, of Haines City.

At the end of a two-day trial, a jury found 20-year-old Sanon guilty of sexual battery Thursday. Sanon faces a mandatory life sentence that will be imposed May 18.

Assistant State Attorney Mikaela Perry called the victim to the stand to testify about the October 2015 incident.

The little girl, who is now 10, took the stand Wednesday to tell the jury how Sanon lured her upstairs to his bedroom and away from other children she was playing with. He threatened her, demanding she take her clothes off, and forced himself on her.

The girl said she finally convinced him to stop after lying about how she needed to use the restroom. She immediately left his bedroom and went downstairs to where the other children were.

Later that evening, the girl’s mother noticed a mark on the victim’s neck, prompting her to ask where she’d gotten it. The victim told her mother what happened and how Sanon said she had to keep it a secret.

During interviews with law enforcement, Sanon said he wrongfully engaged in sexual activity with the girl.

Assistant State Attorney Mikaela Perry addresses jurors during closing statements Thursday. Sanon was found guilty of sexual battery and faces a mandatory life sentence.

The defense argued that because there was no DNA, there was no proof to prove Sanon had actually committed the crime. But Perry reminded jurors in closing statements that Sanon admitted to battering the victim, and that was proof enough.

“You know because she (the victim) told you here,” Perry said, pointing to the witness stand. “And you know because he (Sanon) told you himself.

Lake Wales man guilty of lewd molestation

JURY VERDICT: Lake Wales man guilty of lewd molestation

Charles Bailey

When Charles Bailey found out he was going to be arrested for molestation in 2013, he fled from his Lake Wales home and left the state of Florida.

Bailey, 73, evaded law enforcement for more than a year before he was apprehended by US Marshalls in Virginia. On March 15, a jury convicted him of lewd molestation.

Assistant State Attorney Ashley McCarthy told jurors law enforcement began investigating Bailey in 2013 when a victim came forward to say she’d been molested by him. When the girl was between the ages of 9 and 11, Bailey would touch her inappropriately and perform sexual acts on her.

The defense claimed the victim lied about the allegations so she’d get attention, but McCarthy brought in a witness who had also been molested by Bailey.

The woman, who is now in her 30s, testified in court that she was living at the same address as the current victim and was also between the ages of 9 and 12 when Bailey performed sexual acts on her.

Bailey took the stand March 16 and denied ever touching them inappropriately, saying both victims were lying. But McCarthy reminded jurors that when they looked at the evidence, testimony from the witness and the fact that Bailey fled the state, it was clear to see the victims’ assertions weren’t made up.

“The victims were done covering up for him for so many years, and he knew it,” McCarthy said in her closing statement. “That’s why he ran.”