St. Petersburg Times
Special report
Video report
  • For their own good
    Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
  • More video reports
Multimedia report
Print Email this storyEmail story Comment Email editor
Fill out this form to email this article to a friend
Your name Your email
Friend's name Friend's email
Your message

Judge's firing cited in motion

Because he was later deemed unfit, defense in a murder trial wants evidence tossed.

Published February 2, 2007


NEW PORT RICHEY - The Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender's Office plans to argue today that the evidence in the first-degree murder case against Lawrence Kenneth Tener - the body, the weapon, the confession - should all be excluded.

Among several arguments, the defense says that the search warrant should be thrown out because of the signature on it:

John Renke III.

As in former Circuit Judge John Renke III, unceremoniously kicked off the bench last year by the Florida Supreme Court.

Renke "lacked legal authority to sign the search warrant," the motion says, because he was "unfit to hold office."

"It's novel," was all Assistant State Attorney Mary Handsel would say about that particular defense argument.

Renke's controversial 2002 campaign led the state's highest court to fire him after 3 1/2 years on the job. He was the 16th judge removed since 1970.

In the Tener court file is the Supreme Court's scathing May 25, 2006, opinion declaring that Renke's campaign "perpetrated a fraud on the electorate" by making "flagrant misrepresentations" about his experience and using an illegal $95,800 contribution.

The motion says that before Renke signed the Dec. 17, 2004, warrant in the Tener case, he had already agreed with the Judicial Qualifications Commission that he had broken campaign rules.

"Such a person holding judicial office following such admissions is, therefore, unfit to hold office as a matter of law," the motion says.

Does this mean public defenders intend to challenge every warrant ever signed by Renke? A call to Public Defender Bob Dillinger was not returned Thursday.

But if everything a fired judge did was erased because he was fired, a legal expert told the Times, there would be chaos.

"Every case that a removed judge was involved in would be thrown open for re-litigation," said Stetson University College of Law professor Robert Batey. "Appellate courts seek to avoid that kind of result."

Batey said there is ample precedent that lets the actions of deposed judges stand after they're gone.

The defense motion also argues that the search warrant should be suppressed because the informant who implicated Tener is unreliable and because the Pasco County Sheriff's Office misidentified the property on the warrant and tricked the defendant's mother into allowing the search.

But last year a judge denied a similar defense motion in a drug case related to the murder investigation.

Authorities say Tener, 24, confessed to killing 43-year-old Tammy Lee Bowles with an axe handle to the head because she tried to leave his home with his marijuana.

Her body was found Dec. 18, 2004, according to authorities, buried under a foot of dirt near the Moon Lake trailer of Tener's mother.

Jamal Thalji can be reached at or 727 869-6236.

[Last modified February 2, 2007, 00:04:00]

Share your thoughts on this story

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Subscribe to the Times
Click here for daily delivery
of the St. Petersburg Times.

Email Newsletters