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After 23 arrests, is prison next?

Michael Gurrola's history of avoiding prison will be challenged as he faces burglary and abuse charges in Marion County. If found guilty, he could face a life sentence.

By CARRIE JOHNSON, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 30, 2002


INVERNESS -- The voice on the 911 call sounded desperate. Her stepson was threatening to kill her. Could they send someone right away?

When Inverness police arrived at the Mediterranean-themed duplex with the Spanish tile roof, they found 41-year-old Michael Gurrola grappling on the floor with his older brother, knocking over furniture as they wrestled.

Gurrola's stepmother, Circuit Judge Barbara Gurrola, would later report Michael Gurrola appeared to be intoxicated the afternoon of June 9. He screamed at his young sons and threatened the lives of both his father and stepmother.

"I am afraid of him and request that he have no contact with me and not be allowed to come to my home," Judge Gurrola wrote in a request to have her stepson legally barred from coming within 500 feet of her.

But despite the judge's allegations -- and the fact he has two pending charges, one of them a felony -- Michael Gurrola wasn't arrested that day. Inverness police Chief Lee Alexander said he doesn't know why.

It was another stroke of luck for the construction worker. Although he has been arrested 23 times in the past 18 years, Gurrola has never been sentenced to state prison, according to Florida Department of Law Enforcement records.

But there are hurdles ahead, both legal and personal.

His stepmother -- who has always sought to distance herself from her troubled relative -- made a very public break earlier this month when she sought, and received, the injunction that bars Michael Gurrola from coming near her house or workplace.

He was kicked out of his residence at the Cove Campground last week after managers discovered his lengthy criminal record.

And Gurrola's talent for avoiding prison could be sorely challenged within the next few months.

He is scheduled to be tried in Marion County on charges of burglary with battery, resisting arrest and aggravated abuse stemming from a Jan. 8, 2000, incident in Ocala. If found guilty, he could face life in prison.

Justice and rules

According to court records and other documents, Michael Gurrola appears to be a man of many contradictions.

He is a convicted felon with enough reverance for the law to name his sons "Justice" and "Rules." While he filed for total bankruptcy in 1994, he now drives a gray Mercedes-Benz 300 SE, albeit a 1989 model.

Gurrola could not be reached for this article. Employees at the Cove said they did not know where he had moved, and neither his father nor stepmother returned multiple calls for comment left at their home and the judge's office.

An employee at the public defender's office in Marion County said she was uncertain whether a lawyer had yet been assigned to Gurrola's case.

Most of Michael Gurrola's early arrests involved possession of drugs, altercations with law enforcement officers or both, records showed. Adjudication was withheld in most of the cases, which means the judge did not make a formal finding of guilt. Other charges were simply dropped.

His most serious conviction came in 1996, when he was arrested in Marion County on one count each of possession of cocaine and tampering with evidence. Court records showed Gurrola pleaded no contest and was sentenced to six months in jail.

After his release in 1997, the nature of Gurrola's arrests changed. The drug charges were gone. Now there were accusations of domestic violence.

'Help me. He's choking me!'

The relationship between Gurrola and his live-in girlfriend, Patricia Ann Fletcher, was stormy, to say the least.

The couple had two sons together, one in 1996 and the other in 1999. But by November 2000, Fletcher had been granted a restraining order that prevented Gurrola from coming within 500 feet of her or her residence.

The protection order was granted the day after Inverness police were called to the couple's residence at 729 Magnolia Ave.

In an arrest report, Inverness police Officer James Gallina said he could hear an argument inside the home as he approached, with the defendant yelling obscenities at his girlfriend.

At one point, Gallina wrote, he heard Gurrola tell Fletcher, who uses a wheelchair, that she "would die tonight."

Fletcher and her older son, age 4, told Gallina that Gurrola at one point smacked and pushed the child. They said Gurrola also had locked them in a bedroom and wouldn't let them out.

Later, Fletcher said she was lying in bed when she heard her child yell for her, "Help me. He's choking me."

The girlfriend said she climbed into a wheelchair and went into the living room where she saw Gurrola with his hands around the child, the report showed.

Gurrola was arrested and charged with child abuse. But he wasn't the only member of his family to end the night in handcuffs.

While Inverness police were investigating, Gurrola's father, Rudolph Gurrola, 67, showed up at the house and demanded to know what was happening.

When he was told he needed to back up, that officers were conducting an investigation, he repeatedly demanded to know who was in charge, according to his arrest report.

The officer wrote that Rudolph Gurrola was drawing attention away from the investigation and hurled insults at the officers.

As police attempted to handcuff the older Gurrola, the arrest report indicates he tried to pull his arms away and two officers were needed to restrain him.

The charge against Michael Gurrola was dropped a month later when Fletcher recanted and said he had been playing "Power Rangers" with their son and the roughhousing had just gotten out of hand.

Charges of breach of the peace and resisting arrest without violence against the older Gurrola were dropped two months later after the State Attorney's Office ruled his actions didn't constitute a crime.

Rudolph Gurrola frequently helped his son, according to court documents. It was the older Gurrola who paid the $150 a week child support to Fletcher after she and his son split. He also paid her rent and electric bill.

In addition, Rudolph Gurrola was asked to transport the children between Fletcher and his son for visitation. If it appeared his son had been drinking, it was up to the older Gurrola to cancel the visit.

Rudolph Gurrola also gave his son a job as a sales manager in a business he owned. However, the younger Gurrola later found work with Stanley Construction, according to court records.

It's difficult to say why Michael Gurrola avoided serving more time in jail. Most of his charges were misdemeanors, and many of them occurred in different jurisdictions. He frequently pleaded no contest, which frequently indicates a plea agreement has been struck.

While Judge Gurrola said she has known her stepson since 1972, it does not appear she used her influence to help him. Records show she has never presided over any of his Citrus County cases.

In an interview with the Citrus Times after the 2000 arrest of Michael and Rudolph Gurrola, police Chief Alexander, then a lieutenant, said the judge had insisted her family receive no special treatment.

"She had made it clear to us and had even made it clear to the chief that if we do have any contact with Michael that he is to be dealt with like everyone else," Alexander said.

Pizza delivery

Gurrola is scheduled to appear in Marion County court Tuesday, where he will face his most serious accusations yet.

Assistant State Attorney Jerry Burford said he did not want to discuss the facts of the case, but according to an Ocala Police Department arrest report, the incident sprang from a Jan. 8, 2000, altercation with Fletcher.

In the report, Fletcher accused Gurrola of ordering her a pizza from Hungry Howie's, then asking the delivery man to call her for the address.

"He was going to be riding with the delivery man, and I told them (Hungry Howie's) that he was not allowed on the property," she wrote.

Restaurant employees threw Gurrola out as he cursed them and said he planned to kill Fletcher.

Gurrola then went to Fletcher's Paddock Park apartment and burst through the door, casting aside the couch his ex-girlfriend had used as a barricade, the report said.

"He barged in and knocked me to the floor and bit me in the eye and hit me," Fletcher wrote. "He pulled my hair and started pounding on me."

Gurrola started running when police arrived at the apartment. One officer tackled him by the side of the building, the report said.

But that wasn't the end of Gurrola's tangles with the law. His most recent arrest was in May, after he was pulled over by a Citrus County sheriff's deputy who saw him weaving from the extreme left to the extreme right of Watson Road outside of Inverness. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence.

That charge will also be heard in Marion County, Burford said.

Gurrola's next court date is a status conference; a trial date has not been set.

-- Crime reporter Carrie Johnson can be reached at 860-7309 or cjohnson@sptimes.com.

ARREST RECORD

The following is a list of Michael Gurrola's arrests in Florida, according to Florida Department of Law Enforcement records. The records did not provide full dispositions of all the cases.

1984

June: Boca Raton Police Department, possession of cannabis under 20 grams.

1988

June: Winter Park Police Department, resisting an officer without violence; pleaded guilty.

1990

June: Ocala Police Department, aggravated assault on a police officer and battery; sentenced to two years probation and $200 fine.

1992

March: Marion County Sheriff's Office, robbery; charges were dropped.

1994

December: Marion County Sheriff's Office, battery; charges were dropped.

1995

September: Lake County Sheriff's Office, driving under the influence; no action taken.

1996

January: Marion County Sheriff's Office, possession of cocaine; sentenced to six months in jail and $895 fine.

September: Lady Lake Police Department, resisting officer without violence; charges were dropped.

December: Lake County Sheriff's Office, probation violation on cocaine charge.

1997

January: Marion County Sheriff's Office, probation violation on cocaine charge.

June: Lake County Sheriff's Office, probation violation on cocaine charge; no action taken.

October: Lady Lake Police Department, domestic battery; sentenced to one month in jail and $100 fine.

1998

March: Pasco County Sheriff's Office, domestic battery; charges were dropped.

March: Crystal River Police Department, shoplifting and trespassing; pleaded no contest and sentenced to six months probation and $5 fine.

June: Lake County Sheriff's Office, probation violation; no action taken.

September: Tarpon Springs Police Department, robbery; pleaded no contest to petty theft and received a suspended sentence.

December: Osceola County Sheriff's Office, selling drugs.

1999

May: Bartow Police Department, larceny; pleaded no contest, sentenced to six months probation.

August: Inverness Police Department, disorderly intoxication; pleaded no contest.

2000

January: Ocala Police Department, burglary with battery, resisting arrest and aggravated abuse; case is still pending.

November: Inverness Police Department, child abuse; case was dropped.

2001

April: Citrus County Sheriff's Office, violation of protective injunction; no action taken.

2002

May: Inverness Police Department, driving under the influence; case is still pending.

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