Sympathy comes from all corners
By SUE CARLTON and SUSAN CLARY
© St. Petersburg Times, published June 3, 1998
he mailbox at Tampa police headquarters has been filled with tender cards and letters to a department suffering the loss of two of its own: detectives Randy Bell and Ricky Childers. Though most were condolences from citizens and law enforcement officials, a few stood out among the rest.
Consider a handful of mail received by Lt. George McNamara, who gave the eulogy at the funeral, and Sgt. Dan Grossi, who supervised both men -- the kind of letters they never expected to receive.
One came from former TPD Officer Javier Willie Guzman, who is serving 11 years in federal prison for turning in undercover DEA agents to the Cali cartel. He wrote to offer his sympathy.
Two more came postmarked from the Hillsborough County Jail.
Tiffany McKinney, who is charged with murder and is also the younger sister of infamous juvenile defendant Sedrick McKinney, wrote to say she didn't believe Childers threatened Hank Carr to coerce a confession, as Carr had claimed after killing Bell and Childers.
Another inmate told McNamara he was fond of Childers. The inmate also allowed that he is in jail under an assumed name.
Those who enjoy their freedom also wrote to express sympathy.
One woman affectionately said she was so moved by McNamara's eulogy that it interrupted her weekly bridge game.
"It brings tears and laughter all at the same time," McNamara said. "I know that it comes from the heart."
The Los Angeles Police Department homicide squad sent a card signed by each of its detectives. And Grossi said he was most moved by a Redington Beach man who wrote to say he didn't have enough money to travel to Tampa for the funeral, but he could afford a stamp and wanted to write.
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CONFLICT OVER A CONFLICT: Hillsborough Public Defender Julie Holt boasts of saving big taxpayer money by being particularly selective about taking her attorneys off of cases because of conflicts of interest and not automatically "conflicting off" cases so that private lawyers have to be appointed.
But last week, her office quickly announced a conflict in representing Bernice Bowen, the girlfriend of a man who killed her son, Tampa detectives Randy Bell and Ricky Childers and Highway Patrol Trooper James Crooks before shooting himself. Bowen is now charged with child abuse.
Privately, some judges and lawyers have said it is the job of a public defender to take on even the most difficult cases -- even as difficult as representing a woman some say could have helped prevent the murders of two accomplished veteran detectives by revealing her boyfriend's real name to them. Courthouse talk on the subject is further complicated by the longtime rumor that Holt might run for state attorney.
And some lawyers who knew and liked the detectives and even attended memorial services say they still would have been able to represent Bowen.
"The specific crime she was charged with was not one against Rick Childers and Randy Bell, two fine officers who I knew well," said attorney Brian Donerly. "I could represent Bernice Bowen, even ifI couldn't represent Hank Carr."
"I think in a purely emotional sense, she (Holt) is correct," said lawyer Robert Fraser. "In a legal sense, she isn't."
Holt is on vacation this week. Her chief assistant, Joe Registrato, who said that his boss cried at the news of the murders of men she knew well and that employees raised money for the officers' families, bristled at any suggestion of ducking a sensitive case. He noted the office recently represented a man who shot a sheriff's deputy with the deputy's own gun, and, several years ago, a white man accused of setting a black man afire in a racial attack.
Registrato, who said he led an employees' march to the officers' memorial, said Bowen "has a right to an independent lawyer free of any hint of a conflict of interest."
"We could not have gone into court with a clear conscience," he said.
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PINCH HITTER: Circuit Judge Robert Simms, lately of the Plant City courthouse, will return to Tampa to fill in for Circuit Judge Bob Anderson Mitcham, Chief Judge F. Dennis Alvarez said Tuesday. Mitcham has been indefinitely sidelined with a broken hip he suffered at a bailiffs versus judges softball game last week.