Friday, May 4, 2012

Robert Taylor's arrest report

By Laura C. Morel
Crime/Immigration Reporter

For four days now, I've been reporting the second-degree murder trial of Robert Taylor, an ex-deputy accused of killing his 63-year-old wife.

Both the defense and state have questioned homicide detectives on the factors that made them suspicious of Pamela Taylor's sudden death in September 2008.

Factors include the existence of two life insurance policies that Taylor failed to mention to detectives early on in the investigation, possible domestic abuse at the Taylor home and the changes Taylor made in his story as detectives continued to grill him with questions.

If you're interested in more information, here's the February 2011 arrest report:

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Retired Manatee deputy on trial in wife's slaying

Laura Morel is covering the trial this week of Robert Taylor, a retired Manatee corrections deputy accused of killing his wife nearly four years ago. Today's update brings more testimony from prosecution witnesses.

Read more here:

If found guilty, he could face life in prison. Check back here and in Friday's Bradenton Herald for the latest.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

DEA nationwide take-back is this month

By Laura C. Morel
Crime/Immigration Reporter

Got prescription drugs? The DEA will take them off your hands.

The Drug Enforcement Administration will hold its fourth National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day throughout the country April 28.

People with unwanted prescription drugs will be able to turn them into law enforcement at different locations for free. No questions will be asked and they can remain anonymous.

Since the DEA launched this initiative, nearly 1 million pounds of prescription drugs have been collected.

Fun fact: more Americans abuse prescription drugs than the number of those using cocaine, hallucinogens, and heroin combined, according to a media release.

There are Take-Back locations in Manatee and Sarasota counties. To find one near you, click here.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

From crime scenes to cookoffs

By Laura C. Morel

From Tuesday through Friday, I'm the crime and immigration reporter for the Bradenton Herald.

But Saturday is my wildcard. I cover, well, everything else, including parades, festivals, fairs, rallies, contests, and the list goes on.

Food fests are also a big chunk of my Saturday coverage.

Today, I was the lucky reporter who covered the Gulf Coast Rhythm & Ribfest, which includes a barbecue ribs cookoff with both local and out-of-state cooks. I interviewed barbecue enthusiasts about their secrets to a good rib and a tasty sauce. Time and patience seemed to be key ingredients.

After two hours of interviews, I smelled like barbecue.

Earlier this month, I covered the annual Seafood Festival.

In late February, I covered the Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival. Food for sale included squid fries (delicious!) and smoked mullet.

And in the beginning of the year, I was among 12 teams of cooks who whispered to their team members so their opponents wouldn’t hear their beef brisket secrets.

The irony of it all? I can't even cook.
Read more here:

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Bradenton deputy chief walking into sunset

By Laura C. Morel
Crime/Immigration Reporter

Bradenton police Deputy Chief Jeffrey Lewis
at the luncheon on Tuesday.

Earlier this year, I interviewed Bradenton police Deputy Chief Jeffrey Lewis about his 27-year career at the department.

His retirement was coming up and he hoped to exit without much fuss from his colleagues.

“I would just like to say my goodbyes and take one good look around and just walk off into the sunset,” Lewis told me during the interview.

On Tuesday, the department held a small luncheon for the veteran police officer at the Kingdom of Life Church in Bradenton. 

Among those attending were Bradenton's police chief Michael Radzilowski and mayor Wayne Poston.

Lewis will walk into the sunset Saturday, March 31, his last day at the department.

Read more here:

Statement by missing Bradenton woman's family

By Laura C. Morel
Crime/Immigration Reporter

After the DNA from a severed leg that washed ashore in St. Petersburg matched that of Kelly Moriarty, a missing Bradenton woman, her family released a statement to the media.

Moriarty's disappearance is a case that crosses several counties and includes another missing woman, her girlfriend, Plant City resident Doris Carter.

Authorities are now focusing on the "missing pieces of this puzzle," as Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office spokesman Det. Larry McKinnon described the case Wednesday. The pieces include: authorities haven’t found a crime scene, the location of the rest of Moriarty’s remains is unknown, and Carter is still missing.

I'm now trying to find out as much as I can about the two women. If you are friends with either Moriarty or Carter, please give me a call, 941-745-7041, or email me at

Here's the full statement released by the Moriarty family:

Moriarty Statement

Friday, March 16, 2012

Facts about Florida prisons

By Laura C. Morel
Crime/Immigration Reporter

While working on my story about Bradenton Bridge inmate Dianna Love, I conducted some research to learn more about Florida prisons.

I only used one statistic in my story, fearing I'd bog it down with numbers. But in case you're interested, here are some other stats that didn't make it into the story:
  • Eighty-eight percent of inmates will one day be released.
  • About 12,000 inmates will return to prison in three years.
  • About 66 percent of Florida inmates need substance abuse treatment.
  • Between 2007 and 2008, 82 percent of inmates were released without receiving any substance abuse treatment. 
  • Between 2007 and 2008, about 1,800 inmates received their GEDs.
For the full "Recidivism Reduction Strategic Plan" report, click here. 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Blaine Ross re-trial scheduled for May

By Laura C. Morel
Crime & Immigration Reporter

Mark your calendars: Blaine Ross's murder re-trial is coming up May 14, according to the Manatee Clerk of Courts website.

Ross, 29, is accused of beating his parents to death with a baseball bat in January 2004. In 2007, he was convicted of first-degree murder and robbery and was sentenced to death.

He was the first person in nearly 20 years sentenced to death in Manatee County.

But the Florida Supreme Court later ordered that Ross have a new trial after "justices ruled that Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Detective William Waldron violated Ross’ Miranda rights by taking him through several hours of grueling questioning without reading him his rights first. Miranda outlines a person’s right to remain silent and to obtain an attorney," a 2010 Bradenton Herald article reads.

Read more here:

Three dissenting judges pointed out that Ross signed a waiver of his rights just before confessing to the slayings, the article said.

Here's Ross's 2004 arrest report (to view in full screen, click on the toolbar's first button):

Blaine Ross PCA

Read more here:

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Troopers watching out for impaired drivers on St. Patrick's Day

By Laura C. Morel
Crime/Immigration Reporter

Drunk drivers shouldn't bet on their luck this St. Patrick's Day.

Florida Highway Patrol troopers will be vigilant during the week leading up to the Irish holiday from March 10 to March 17, a media release said.

"We have a zero tolerance for impaired driving. Having a designated driver and planning ahead will make your trip safer," said FHP director Col. David Brierton in the release.

There were 18,000 alcohol-related traffic crashes in 2010, where more than 12,000 people were injured and nearly 800 were killed.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

New trial dates for Taylor, Jenkins trials

By Laura C. Morel
Crime/Immigration Reporter

New dates have been set for two high-profile trials coming up at the Manatee County Judicial Center this year.

The trial for Robert Taylor, a retired Manatee County Sheriff's Office corrections deputy accused of killing his wife in September 2008, was rescheduled for April 30.

Taylor, 56, was arrested and booked into the Sarasota County jail early last year. He is charged with second-degree murder. If convicted, he faces life in prison, according to Manatee court records.

The trial for Jared Jenkins, 24, accused of kidnapping and sexually assaulting several girls, was rescheduled for April 9.

He is charged with three counts of kidnapping, two counts of attempted sexual battery and one count of sexual battery, according to Manatee court records. If convicted on the kidnapping charges, Jenkins could face life in prison.

For live tweets from the courthouse during these and other trials, follow me on Twitter @lauracmorel.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Story leads to identification of Bradenton hit and run victim

Former Miami Herald crime reporter Edna Buchanan once said, "Putting it in the newspaper works."

That held very true on Saturday when I was out covering a minor crash on the DeSoto Bridge. I had just started my shift, heard about backed up traffic ("like a parking lot," an officer said) on the scanner, and headed over to check it out.

Bradenton police Sgt. Eddie Weldon filled me in on the details of the collision. He then told me about a fatal hit and run in the early hours of Saturday in the 1700 block of 17th Avenue West.

There were no witnesses. No description of the car. And what's more, the victim, pronounced dead at the scene, couldn't be identified. Police couldn't find an I.D. on him and his fingerprints didn't come up on their database, Weldon said.

But the unknown man had several tattoos. Weldon sent me photographs of the victim's inked arms and chest. I described the most unique ones -- a heart with the name "Cathy" and a skull wearing a cowboy hat -- in the brief that ran the next day.

The man's family read the brief, called Weldon, and identified the victim as 46-year-old William Ray Perri. 

Buchanan knows what she's talking about. She has a Pulitzer Prize to prove it.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Bradenton Herald story on 'buy-back' suspect goes viral

By Laura C. Morel
Crime/Immigration Reporter

Today, I was bursting with pride for the Bradenton Herald as one of our stories made national headlines.

On Thursday before I left work, night metro editor Jim DeLa said my story about the armed robber who asked to buy his own gun back would make national headlines.

"Really?" I told him.

But he was right. The Miami Herald, our sister paper, had it posted on their homepage in the morning.

The news website,, also featured it in their array of quirky stories.

And last, but definitely not least, MSNBC had our story on its homepage this afternoon. But they made one mistake: they credited the Miami Herald instead of our paper because they grabbed the story from the South Florida paper's website.

I called and e-mailed MSNBC. Within about an hour, the correction was made. And our paper, the one and only Bradenton Herald, was credited.

Click here to see the MSNBC write-up.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The story behind the story

By Laura C. Morel
Crime/Immigration Reporter

Knocking on the door of a person who just lost a loved one never gets easier.

I’ve covered shootings, drownings, traffic crashes, the list goes on, during my very short career as a reporter. But talking to grieving relatives always gives me goose bumps.

It happened today after I spoke to Toni Dunbar about her slain son on the doorsteps of her Bradenton home.

After identifying myself as a reporter and saying that I just wanted to learn more about her son, she stepped outside and took the time to chat with me for a few minutes.

She spoke of her 26-year-old son’s favorite foods, hobbies and the last words he said to her before leaving home and driving to his death in Palmetto.

One tear rolled down her cheek. “I really wasn’t expecting for them to tell me that he died.”

I walked away with goose bumps on the back of my neck.

Reactions of grieving relatives vary. Sometimes, I sparingly ask questions, letting the person talk uninterrupted. Other times, I carefully nudge them with questions. Some will cry and feel comfortable enough to hug me at the end of an interview. Others will hold their tears and barely glance at me.

Whenever a relative takes the time to open up and talk about their lost loved one, I’m eternally grateful. Because of relatives who decide to talk, reporters are able to tell better, more well-rounded stories.

Those are the stories that matter the most: the ones that not only tell what happened to someone, but also provide a glimpse into a life just lost.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A warning to Florida's aggressive drivers

By Laura C. Morel
Crime/Immigration Reporter

Here's hoping Florida's road rage drivers get this memo:

The Florida Highway Patrol will be keeping an eye out for aggressive car and truck drivers between Feb. 27 and Feb. 29 during its education and enforcement campaign.

Among the violations: following another car too closely and unsafe lane changing and speeding, a media release said.

Violators will be ticketed.

Drivers' actions are the cause of 88 percent of crashes, according to the release, and 12 percent are caused by road conditions, car defects or weather.

The campaign also includes billboard and radio messages promoting safe driving, and the Florida Trucking Association will also visit schools and community centers statewide to educate drivers on how to drive safely near trucks, the release said.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

News magnet

By Laura C. Morel
Crime/Immigration Reporter

Friday was a wet, cold night. I was doing a ridealong with a Manatee County Sheriff's Office sergeant.

We were heading down a rain-slicked 14th Street West when we spotted two cars and a tow truck stopped at the light on 49th Avenue West.

I kept a few steps back as the sergeant got to work. As I walked closer, I saw a small man face down on the pavement. The sergeant held onto the man's neck to keep it in place and feel his pulse.

Witnesses said the man was kicked out of the Hooters restaurant on the corner and wandered into oncoming traffic. He was struck by the tow truck.

Moments later, an ambulance arrived and paramedics placed the man in a stretcher, carried him into the back, and bolted to Blake Medical Center.

With notepad in hand, I jotted down all the details and called Richard Dymond, our night cops reporter, to read him the information for the website.

As a reporter, I spend every day chasing the news.

But on Friday night, I guess it found me.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Reporting from the Manatee courthouse next week

By Laura C. Morel
Crime/Immigration Reporter

The trial of Gregory Kennon, charged with first-degree murder and armed robbery, begins next week.

On Monday, Feb. 13, jury selection will begin and the trial should start Tuesday.

On July 11, 2009, Kennon and two others allegedly barged into an apartment in DeSoto Village Apartments and fired shots. One gunshot struck Crystal Johnson, who was six months pregnant, in the chest. She and her unborn baby died.

Johnson's boyfriend fired at the gunmen before they ran away. Blood found at the scene matched Kennon's DNA.

Visit the Bradenton Herald for trial coverage. You can also look for the hashtag #KennonTrial on Twitter.

For regular updates on Manatee crime and immigration news, follow me @lauracmorel

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Florida Highway Patrol to drivers: Move over!

By Laura C. Morel
Crime/Immigration Reporter

"Law enforcement officers will be out in force, issuing citations for violations, so drivers beware!"

That was the message the Florida Highway Patrol released Friday as the agency joins forces with two other states to keep an eye out for Move Over law violators.

The Move Over law, established about 10 years ago, requires drivers to move to the next lane when there is an officer or any other emergency vehicle with flashing lights on the side of the road. If the driver can't switch lanes, then they must drive 20 miles per hour below the speed limit in that area.

Fun fact: Washington D.C. and Hawaii are the only areas that don't have this law.

Since 1999, more than 170 officers have died in the United States after being struck by a car, the release said, and thousands have been injured.

The Alabama Department of Public Safety and the Georgia State Patrol are also part of the month-long initiative.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Warehouse fire was false alarm

By Laura C. Morel
Crime/Immigration Reporter

Seconds after entering the newsroom today, editor Marc Masferrer sent me out to a warehouse fire in the 6400 block of 14th Street West.

I jumped back into my car and bolted to the scene, hoping to catch the battalion chief to fill me in on details.

When I arrived and speed-walked to where the firefighters were chatting, they all looked up and smiled.

It was a training exercise, they said.

At first, I thought they were pulling my tail. But it was true. Fifteen firefighters, from districts such as Cedar Hammock Fire Rescue, Southern Manatee Fire &; Rescue, and West Manatee Fire &; Rescue, were involved in the training exercise that began at 9 a.m. on Thursday.

"We do everything we normally do," said Battalion Chief and training officer Leigh T. Hollins.

And on Thursday, they'll be training at the warehouse again.

So if you live nearby the warehouse and see puffs of smoke, don't be alarmed. It's just a few firefighters learning the ropes.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The solution to sexual abuse: Education

By Laura C. Morel
Crime/Immigration Reporter

A registered sexual offender raping a 3-year-old girl.

An elected official allegedly sexually abusing three children.

That's what the Bradenton Herald reported this week. The police reports for those two cases had some of the most gruesome, gritty details I've ever read.

So when I interviewed Lauren Book, a child sexual abuse survivor and advocate, her visit in Bradenton could not have been more timely. For six years, Book was beaten and raped by a nanny.

As she spoke during the official announcement of the new Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners Center in Bradenton on Saturday, Book repeated sexual abuse statistics:

One in three girls and one in five boys are sexually abused by the time they are 18. There are 39 million sexual abuse survivors in the United States.

But the most motivating one: 95 percent of sexual abuse can be prevented through education.

Books' organization, Lauren's Kids, created an abuse prevention curriculum called "Safer, Smarter Kids," that aims to do just that: educate.

The curriculum will be implemented in elementary schools statewide this year. It includes a DVD and teachers will explain to students what a "good touch" and a "bad touch" feel like.

Sexual abuse "is an epidemic and a pandemic in this country," Book said on Saturday.

Here's to hoping education changes that.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

How we got Nikki's story

Laura C. Morel
Crime/Immigration Reporter

As journalists, we get caught up with wanting to know what's going on. It's our job, after all. But sometimes, it's good to pause for a moment during a chaotic news day and think beyond the "what" factor.

When the Bradenton Herald reported that a 29-year-old woman's body was found in a ditch on University Parkway last month, one paragraph in a story piqued my interest:
In Sarasota, Scott has a history of drug-related arrests and has been convicted several times, according to Sarasota County court records.
In 2008, Scott was convicted of robbery by sudden snatching in Sarasota. She had several convictions for drug-related charges in 2009 and 2010, according to Sarasota court records.
But why? I searched her name on Facebook. Maybe she had a public profile. Sure enough, there was a Nicole Rose Scott memorial page. It showed photographs of Nicole, known as Nikki by loved ones, with her children. Friends left comments on the wall. One reads, "I know you were trying to turn your life around."

I left a post on the wall. The next day, I got a call from Nikki's close friend. The story launched after that. That friend put me in touch with other loved ones. Those loved ones knew others who would be willing to talk to me.

In about a week, I had the first draft of today's article that tells the story of a young girl whose life began and ended tragically. Nicole Rose Scott's story is not just about what happened to her. It's not just about her criminal record.

It is also about who she was and what parts of her short life led her to a troubled path.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

News drove onto the Bradenton Herald's doorstep

Laura C. Morel
Crime/Immigration Reporter

The news came to the Bradenton Herald on Friday night -- literally.

At about 9 p.m., a woman driving a gray Taurus crashed into a red Volkswagen heading north on U.S. 41 near Manatee Avenue West.

The Taurus then took off, crossed over the median and drove into the wooded area on the east side of the Bradenton Herald’s property.

The 26-year-old woman got out of her car and fled, said Bradenton police Lt. Josh Cramer. Officers responding to the accident scene searched for the woman, who was located in the 400 block of Third Avenue West.

She had leaves in her hair, Cramer said.

The woman first told authorities she was the passenger in the vehicle, but later admitted she was the driver.

She was arrested and charged with fleeing the scene of an accident and police will conduct a DUI investigation.

The driver of the Volkswagen was taken to Manatee Memorial Hospital, Cramer said.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Panties case not closed

Laura C. Morel
Crime/Immigration Reporter

Last month, the Bradenton Herald reported that charges against a man accused of robbing panties from his neighbor's home two years ago were dropped.

I called Ernest Kendler's defense attorney and the State Attorney's Office, but with the holidays, it can be dicey getting a call back right away.

Assistant State Attorney Julie Binkley returned my call today and had this to add to the story:

Charges against Ernest Kendler, 63, will be refiled this month.

The case was dropped because an expert witness was unavailable due to mandatory, out-of-state training, she said.

On Nov. 6, 2010, a man allegedly entered a house on the 100 block of Neptune Lane. A woman said she found him in her sister’s bedroom rummaging through a drawer full of panties, an arrest report said.

The man walked out and left when the woman said, “Hello?” 

Kendler, 63, told police he was not in his neighbor’s home, according to the report.

Read the Bradenton Herald for updates on the case.