Florida briefly

Published September 16, 2006

Man who killed wife in state park gets life term

ST. AUGUSTINE - A man convicted of gunning down his wife in a beachside state park and making up a story about a botched robbery was spared a death sentence Friday.

Circuit Judge Edward E. Hedstrom overruled a jury's 8-4 recommendation for death and sentenced Justin Barber to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the August 2002 death of his wife, April Barber, 27, at Guana River State Park.

Barber told deputies he and his wife were shot during a late-night robbery. Prosecutors said he killed her to collect on a life insurance policy worth more than $2.1-million at a time when he was deeply in debt and being accused of infidelity.

He was arrested in July 2004. The jury found him guilty in June.

Ex-Liberian president's son admits passport fraud

MIAMI - The son of former Liberian President Charles Taylor pleaded guilty Friday to lying on a U.S. passport application about his father's identity, but it was unclear whether he would face charges for his role as the head of a security force blamed for murders and other violence in Liberia.

Charles McArthur Emmanuel, 29, admitted he falsified his application for a passport to enter the United States from Trinidad on March 30. He has been in federal custody since U.S. customs agents arrested him upon arrival at Miami International Airport.

The charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, but Emmanuel could serve much less time. Sentencing was set for Nov. 22.

Still uncertain is whether Emmanuel might face international or U.S. charges for heading Liberia's Anti-Terrorist Unit during his father's presidency. Human Rights Watch has described the unit as a paramilitary force involved in murders, extortion, abuse of civilians, torture and recruitment of child soldiers. His father faces 11 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity before a special court in the Netherlands.

Emmanuel, also known as Chuckie Taylor, is a U.S. citizen born in Boston. His mother was a girlfriend of Charles Taylor's while he was a student at Bentley College in Boston. She later married and moved with her husband and Emmanuel to the Orlando area. Emmanuel left the United States for Liberia in 1997.

Woman, 87, sentenced to 31 years in 1975 murder

MIAMI - A judge sentenced an 87-year-old woman to 31 years and six months in prison Friday for killing a 13-year-old boy three decades ago.

Maria Josefa Otero, found guilty in 1976 of second-degree murder for killing Johnny Perez in 1975, was freed on bail to get her affairs in order before sentencing. She fled and spent time in Guatemala, Costa Rica and Puerto Rico before returning to Miami 15 years ago, police said. Alerted by a tip, police arrested her at a Miami apartment in April.

In 1975, Perez and four friends jumped into the pool of an upscale waterfront apartment building owned by Otero. Otero reportedly stood on a balcony and ordered the youths to leave. Perez was shot in the back of the head as he ran away.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge David Young told Otero he would have given her a lesser sentence, but, "You never felt guilty. I did not see any remorse. I hope that sometime you will feel remorse."

Otero, who came into court in a wheelchair, insisted that the shooting of Perez was accidental.

Air Force officer raped them, four men testify

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE - A military court heard testimony Thursday from four men that an Air Force officer drugged and sexually assaulted them.

The hearing was an official inquiry into whether Capt. Devery L. Taylor, 96th Medical Support Squadron chief of patient administration, should be tried on four counts of forcible sodomy, three counts of kidnapping and two counts of attempted sodomy. A decision might take weeks.

An Air Force lieutenant testified that he met Taylor at a beach party and later at an Okaloosa Island bar. He said he thinks Taylor gave him a shot or two spiked with an incapacitating drug and then raped him at Taylor's apartment in June 2004.

Three other alleged victims gave similar accounts, all saying they were given drugs to make then unconscious.

Mosquito control plane crashes in Polk; two killed

FORT MEADE - A Polk County mosquito control plane crashed about 8 p.m. Thursday in a field near Fort Meade, killing the pilot and passenger and sparking a small brush fire.

Chief pilot Richard Wheeler and Clayton Merriett, 62, a mosquito control foreman who was due to retire in two weeks, were killed.

The county-owned plane, a twin-engine Piper carrying a load of insecticide, crashed near the Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation Area next to U.S. 98. Polk County and Fort Meade fire departments contained the fire.

Polk County spokeswoman Cindy Rodriguez said National Transportation Safety Board inspectors would investigate the cause of the crash.

She said Polk's mosquito control planes typically fly at night between 7 and 9.