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Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 12, 2001

Public records conviction of ex-official reinstated

Public records conviction of ex-official reinstated

TALLAHASSEE -- An appellate court reinstated a former Escambia County School Board member's conviction for violating Florida's public records law.

Vanette Webb of Pensacola had served seven days of a 30-day jail sentence in 1999 when a new judge threw out her conviction on grounds that prosecutors failed to admit into evidence or adequately identify the records she was accused of withholding from one of her critics.

A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal disagreed Tuesday, noting that Webb admitted that the files she withheld were public records and that other witnesses identified them as such.

Webb, who lost a re-election bid last year, was sentenced by County Judge Pat Kinsey, who withdrew from the case after post-conviction motions were filed. The case then was assigned to County Judge William White, who released Webb after making the evidence ruling.

Abortion doctor convicted of extortion denied retrial

OCALA -- An abortion provider convicted of trying to extort millions of dollars from Marion County will not get a new trial, a federal judge ruled.

In their motions, lawyers for Dr. James Scott Pendergraft and his real estate consultant, Michael Spielvogel, argued that the government failed to prove its case and that comments by federal prosecutor Mark Devereaux in his closing argument were inappropriate and prejudicial. U.S. District Judge William Terrell Hodges rejected the motions last week.

Pendergraft was convicted in February of conspiracy, attempted extortion and mail fraud for trying to extort money from Marion County by falsely accusing a county official of threats and intimidation. He could get up to 30 years in prison. Spielvogel was convicted of the same charges, plus lying to the FBI and filing a false statement. He could get up to 40 years.

Sentencings are set for May 24.

Weighty stolen Buddha pins unsuspecting buyer

FORT MYERS -- A stolen 6-foot, 2,000-pound stone Buddha was recovered Wednesday when a rescue crew recognized it as the one that nearly crushed a man.

Paramedics and firefighters responded late Monday to a report that a man was pinned down by a large statue. Wednesday, a paramedic and firefighter who helped free the man saw a news story about a stolen Buddha, recognized it and told police.

The man who bought the Buddha, and wound up temporarily trapped under it, didn't know it was stolen, police said. They were looking for the man who sold it.

Police were uncertain how thieves made off with the Buddha, which was among several large items stolen from the Mogul Gallery. It took six men to lift it onto a truck to return it to the gallery.

Another guard is arrested in inmate Valdes' death

GAINESVILLE -- A corrections officer was arrested Tuesday on charges that he lied, falsified records and failed to get medical assistance for death row inmate Frank Valdes, who was allegedly beaten to death in 1999.

Dewey Marce Beck, 53, was charged with manslaughter by culpable negligence, official misconduct, accessory to murder after the fact and perjury. Released from Alachua County Jail on $20,000 bail, he refused to comment on the charges.

Four prison guards -- Timothy Alvin Thornton, Charles Austin Brown, Robert William Sauls and Jason Patrick Griffis -- are scheduled for trial July 16 on charges of second-degree murder in the death of Valdes, who prosecutors say was beaten to death in his cell on X-wing at Florida State Prison on July 17, 1999.

Another guard, Montrez Lucas, 31, was acquitted on charges of assault and coercion in October.

Beck was assigned to the X wing on the day of Valdes' death. According to the charges filed March 30, he lied under oath during a Feb. 1, 2000, deposition when he said he saw Valdes inflict wounds upon himself. He is also accused of falsifying a prison report and failing to summon medical help.

Jury sides with father who fired gun in school yard

WEST PALM BEACH -- A father was acquitted of firing a gun on a Belle Glade school campus after he told jurors he shot once in the air to scare away bullies who were beating his son.

After three hours of deliberations, the six-person jury on Tuesday found Artis Hardwick, 43, innocent of aggravated assault with a firearm and other charges. He had faced up to 20 years in prison.

Hardwick's son, also named Artis, was being beaten by other teens at Glades Central High School on March 30, 2000. Hardwood tried to pull the teens off his son, then got the gun from the car.

"He fired it, and they dispersed," said Marie Kendall, his attorney. "It's the only thing that worked."

The youth was treated at a hospital for a head injury. His attackers were charged with aggravated battery and pleaded guilty to lesser charges under a plea deal.

"None of us want firearms on school grounds, but it came down to self-defense for his son," juror Joseph Colpack said.

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