Court hears from Uncle Ugly

Published September 14, 2006

When Joshua Singletary and Charles "Chuck" Rock first began arguing Aug. 9, 2003, the guy people in Riverview and Gibsonton know as Uncle Ugly broke it up and told them to leave each other alone.

Singletary didn't listen. Early the next morning, he doused Rock with gasoline, inflicting fatal injuries.

So Uncle Ugly came to court Tuesday to testify against the woman prosecutors accuse of orchestrating Rock's death.

Uncle Ugly is actually John Michael Meek. He's 51, a retired wrestler with a thick mop of silver hair who made jurors laugh with his straightforward, country boy demeanor.

When the prosecutor asked Meek what he meant by saying Singletary was "pounded," Meek answered, "He was loaded."

"Josh was drunker than Cooter Brown," he added on cross examination.

When the defense attorney asked a vague question, Meek told him he wasn't making a bit of sense. And he chastised the attorney for beating the same horse with his repetitive questions.

As for Meek's nickname? Years ago, his brothers in a motorcycle club tagged him "Ugly."

"First, I didn't like the idea of being called 'ugly,' " he told a reporter. "Then the kids added 'uncle,' and I loved it."

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Folks around the courthouse have been a wee bit curious about a $9,141 charge on defeated judicial candidate Catherine W. Real's campaign account.

The Aug. 21 bill came from the law firm of Smith, Tozian & Hinkle, the same group representing Real in her fight against violations alleged by the Florida Bar. The listed purpose of the expenditure: "consulting."

According to attorney Scott Tozian, that consulting related to "absolutely legitimate campaign issues," not Real's personal legal fight.

Tozian said his firm, which specializes in representing lawyers and judges, has in the last five years also advised judicial candidates on what they can and cannot do to avoid trouble later with the Judicial Qualifications Commission.

One of the firm's recent clients, John Renke III, learned the hard way, getting booted from the Pasco County bench earlier this year for campaign missteps.

Tozian wouldn't say which other candidates have consulted with the firm. Real lost in the Sept. 5 primary to Circuit Judge Robert Foster.

"She was in constant contact with us during the campaign to make sure that she ran the campaign properly," Tozian said.

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Eric Tate is accused of raping and fatally injuring a 2½-year-old girl last month.

But school disciplinary records released by the State Attorney's Office on Wednesday indicate nearly a decade's worth of smaller troubles.

The Hillsborough school district's rap sheet on Tate, 18, begins nearly nine years ago, when he refused to comply with discipline imposed by a teacher at Miles Elementary School. Five months later, his noncompliance earned him in-school suspension.

More suspensions followed at Buchanan Middle School. Tate's transgressions: He put a mouse in his mouth, used profanity, threw orange juice, yelled at a teacher, hit another student with a ruler and threw sand during physical education class.

He earned detention at Gaither High School in 2003 for being disrespectful and cursing, records show.

Things didn't get much better at the Bowers-Whitley Career Center, where last year Tate admitted to being under the influence of marijuana and officials found drug paraphernalia in his car.

None of those trespasses, of course, will count against Tate if he is convicted of his current charges of first-degree felony murder, aggravated child abuse and capital sexual battery.

Got a tip? For cops news, contact Abbie VanSickle at vansickle@sptimes.com or 813 226-3373. For courts news, contact Colleen Jenkins at cjenkins@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3337.