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Former Pinellas Park City Manager Jerry Mudd's suicide note is part of an investigation and can be withheld, a judge rules after the Times sues.
By ANNE LINDBERG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 23, 2003
PINELLAS PARK -- A judge allowed the city to keep secret Jerry Mudd's suicide note after officials claimed there is an open criminal investigation into the city manager's death.
Although the city attorney seemed to hint during a hearing Friday that murder is a possibility, Pinellas Park officials stopped short of saying they think Mudd's death was a result of foul play.
The St. Petersburg Times sued Pinellas Park, asking the city for a copy of the note and all reports from Feb. 11, the day Mudd died of a stab wound in his chest.
"Some of the citizenry don't feel Mr. Mudd would do something like this," City Attorney Ed Foreman said. Foreman said he also was shocked "if indeed it is a suicide."
Although the Pinellas County medical examiner ruled that Mudd committed suicide and even entered it on the death certificate, Foreman said the city wanted to wait until the written autopsy and toxicology reports were available before deciding finally if suicide was the cause of death.
Foreman referred repeatedly to the possibility of drugs in Mudd's blood. Mudd had undergone gall bladder surgery the week before his death and was known to be in severe pain.
"There are many, many cases that appear to be one thing and turn out to be another. . . . There is no question this is an open criminal investigation," Foreman said.
Later, Foreman described what he meant by his terminology: "If it may result in an arrest . . . then it's an open criminal investigation. . . . it could happen depending on the toxicology and, to a lesser extent, the autopsy report."
It's necessary to keep the alleged suicide note private so police can question witnesses or suspects about it if the need arises, Foreman said. Such questions could include the length of the note and its phrasing.
"If somebody were to confess, the content and length of the note would be the first thing you use to verify (their truthfulness)," the attorney said.
Foreman referred several times to the possibility of doing handwriting analysis on the document, even saying at one point that releasing it to the Times would allow the paper to hire its own handwriting experts to compare the writing to Mudd's signature on city documents.
After the hearing, Pinellas Park spokesman Tim Caddell said he did not think Mudd had been murdered. He said the police were doing what they do with all unnatural deaths: waiting to get all the evidence in before deciding what happened.
"Nobody is saying one way or another what their theory is," Caddell said. "They did say that it was an apparent suicide. I think people are still of that mind, (but) they're checking to see if there were any other contributing factors or anything else."
Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge John Lenderman ruled that the note would remain secret until the investigation is finished or until he releases it.
"I will assume this is a legitimate criminal investigation up to this point," Lenderman said.
But after reading the note, which fit onto one 8 1/2-by-11 inch piece of paper, the judge said, "I honestly don't know what to make of this. . . . I sure wish this, for the public's sake, can be released fairly quickly. . . . I can see how this would be part of a criminal investigation related to the death of Mr. Mudd."
Lenderman did order the city to release portions of the report filed by one of the first officers on the scene, Donna Saxer.
Those notes, combined with a transcript of the 911 calls give a keener picture into the events of that morning.
Saxer estimated the time of death between about 3:30 a.m. and 8 a.m., the approximate time the county received the first emergency call from a man.
The caller said a woman was outside calling that her husband was in need of help. The man said he didn't want to open the door. The emergency system connected the man to the Pinellas Park Police Department.
The second caller to the county emergency system was a woman, who also said a woman was screaming that her husband needed help. The caller asked that an ambulance be sent. This caller knew Mudd's name and that he had been in the hospital.
Saxer's report said that the person who called for help said there was a woman in his front yard dressed in a nightgown calling for help.
When Saxer arrived, Mudd was dead in the master bathroom. Saxer secured the area as a "crime scene," but she classified it as a suicide.