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No trial date is set in hotel rampage case


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 26, 2000

TAMPA -- Winnie Stephens pushed out of a crowded Hillsborough County courtroom Thursday, the anger and frustration plain on her face.

Stephens, whose fiance was killed in one of Tampa's worst mass shootings, had hoped that a trial date would be set for Silvio Izquierdo-Leyva.

It was not.

At a brief hearing, defense attorneys said they were not yet ready to schedule a trial for Izquierdo, who is accused of killing five people and committing numerous other crimes Dec. 30 in a rampage that started at the Radisson Bay Harbor Hotel on the Courtney Campbell Parkway.

In response, Circuit Judge Robert Simms said he was not inclined to rush them.

"I've always had a philosophy that these cases have a life of their own, and you can't push them," Simms said. "If you push them, you end up trying them again."

Attorneys have statements from about 200 witnesses to consider and must sift through 700 photographs to prepare for Izquierdo's first-degree murder trial. But that did little to ease Stephens' pain at losing her fiance, 44-year-old George Jones.

"I feel like George has died and we ain't seeing nothing done," she said outside the courtroom. "He died Dec. 30, and now it seems like it'll be December again before they bring him into court."

Simms scheduled a pretrial hearing for July 31 and said he would review the status of the case with attorneys then.

Izquierdo, a 36-year-old Cuban refugee, is accused of killing four co-workers and injuring three others.

Police say that after the shootings Izquierdo fled the Radisson in a stolen car and abandoned it in West Tampa, where he killed a motorist who refused to give up her car. He stole another car and was captured minutes later at MacDill Avenue and Spruce Street near MacFarlane Park, three miles from the Radisson.

Besides five murder charges, he faces multiple counts of attempted murder with a firearm, aggravated assault with a firearm, carjacking with a firearm and attempted carjacking. He is being held at the Hillsborough County jail without bail.

Relatives of the victims have attended the hearings to show that they will not forget what happened and to provide a visible reminder that they want to see justice done in the case. But the time the process takes is trying, they said.

"When he walks in the courtroom, it becomes very quiet," said Ramona Powell, whose husband John is the nephew of victim Barbara Carter. "It's hard to see him sitting there smiling."

Jones' stepdaughter, 28-year-old Sylvia Freeman, said she recently quit her housekeeping job at the hotel. Since the shootings, she said, several managers at the hotel have left and been replaced, and the feelings that she once felt about the place are no longer there.

"It was like a family out there, and now it's all destroyed," she said.

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