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Robber gets life; his lawyer wants out

The attorney appointed to defend a man described as a habitual criminal admits fear of attack in dealings on unresolved charges.

By CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 29, 2000


NEW PORT RICHEY -- Defense attorney Keith Hammond put the best face on his client's crimes.

Convicted robber Carl Petz didn't deserve life in prison, he argued Friday, because he used a BB gun during the holdup of the Dollar General Store. And a previous conviction for aggravated stalking? A domestic matter, Hammond said.

Circuit Judge Craig C. Villanti wasn't biting. He called Petz a danger to society, deemed him a habitual criminal, and gave him life for the May 1998 armed robbery.

With that over, Hammond had one more thing to say:

My client scares me, your honor.

"I feel uncomfortable going to the jail at this point to meet with him," Hammond said. "If he were to attack me, there's no way help could get to me for at least a minute or so."

Having been appointed to represent Petz on four other charges of armed robbery that are still outstanding, Hammond now wanted Villanti to take him off the case.

During a recent lawyer-client meeting, Hammond said, Petz had made threatening insinuations and invoked the name of Michael Tewell, the Pasco public defender who police say was brutally beaten earlier this month by a client facing a murder charge.

Assistant State Attorney Scott Andringa objected to Hammond's request. "Unfortunately, inmates in the jail are getting the impression that all they have to do is hit their lawyer to get a new lawyer," Andringa said. "I want to avoid that."

Villanti did not rule on Hammond's request Friday.

Petz, 40, of Hudson was found guilty in June of the robbery at the Dollar General Store on State Road 52, and police say he is a suspect in at least 17 other robberies in Pasco, Pinellas and Hernando counties.

Hammond said what happened to Tewell -- who suffered two black eyes, a broken nose, and a broken bone behind the eye during the attack at the Pasco County Jail -- has sharpened defense lawyers' concerns about possible violence from their clients.

Petz grumbled through the sentencing hearing Friday, saying he was "tired of being railroaded."

Pointing to Petz's criminal record, Andringa told the judge, "The only thing you can do with a menace like Mr. Petz is lock him away."

Under the law, Petz must serve at least 15 years of his life sentence.

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