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Man, 24, found not guilty in armed burglary case

Ralph Governor's defense attorney celebrates their victory on the courthouse steps.

By MOLLY MOORHEAD
Published May 15, 2007


DADE CITY - Ralph Eugene Governor stood accused of armed burglary in a 2005 home invasion in Meadow Pointe. His accuser: William Chavis, the homeowner who led authorities to Governor and Ronald Donovan, both of whom he knew in high school.

But Chavis, 23, first said his attackers were two black men in masks whom he didn't know.

With little evidence besides Chavis' conflicting testimony, a jury took just 45 minutes to find Governor, 24, not guilty Monday.

In his closing argument, defense attorney Daniel Ciener said the state's other evidence - video and photographs of the home on Ox-Eye Court, testimony from law enforcement - did nothing to tie Governor to the crime.

"The only evidence the prosecution has is from a man who said, 'I lied to the police, ' " Ciener said.

Testifying last week, Chavis said Governor and Donovan, both of Merritt Island, showed up at his door and asked him to go out. Chavis, who was under a curfew for felony probation, declined but handed them a phone to call for a ride.

He waited inside, he said, and when he got up to peer through his front door, he saw the two walking up with guns.

Chavis got a shotgun from his bedroom and shot Donovan in the back, but not before Donovan allegedly fired a bullet into Chavis' chest. As Chavis lay bleeding, he told a deputy his attackers wore masks. He created that false story because, he said, he thought of retaliating on his own.

Later he named the assailants as Governor and Donovan, whose trial is set for August.

The jury never heard statements Governor made to detectives upon his arrest, admitting he was there with a gun. They were previously ruled inadmissible.

Chavis was not in court Monday.

After the verdict, Ciener walked outside and let out a loud whoop on the courthouse steps. His feisty style - lengthy monologues and exaggerated facial expressions - frequently won him the rebuke of the prosecutor and judge during the trial.

But afterward, he said he felt great relief for Governor, who sat in jail 11 months before a judge set bail.

"It's been a lot of stress for a long time, " Ciener said.