Local News

Highlands courtrooms will be busy with big cases

— Child molestation, dog fighting, credit card theft, and two parents accused of letting their children die. Those five are among the dozen circuit court cases scheduled for trial next week in Highlands County.

Jury selection begins Monday; all may not go to trial, though. Some could be moved to another date, some defendants may accept pleas and forgo trials.

Sandra Jackson’s case was explained in Saturday’s Highlands Today. Jackson, 27, is accused to allowing her 10-month-old son, Milo Rupert, to die of malnourishment in an apartment with thousands of cockroaches. Kyle Lee Marsh Rupert, 23, Jackson’s boyfriend, pled guilty last year and was sentenced to 24.5 years in prison.

Her three-day trial before Circuit Court Judge William Sites is expected to start Wednesday. Assistant District Attorney Richard Castillo is prosecuting, Assistant Public Defender Robert Gray is defending.

Christopher Eiland, 23, Fort Meade, was a Polk County deputy when he was arrested in June 2013. He is accused of spending two hours in his air-conditioned car with Adriana Espinosa, 24, 3521 State Road 70, Lake Placid, while her 18-month-old daughter sweltered in Espinosa’s car. The child arrived at the hospital with a 104-degree temperature and died later.

Eiland reportedly told authorities they’d met at least five times at the motel and that he and Mrs. Espinosa had sex.

He is charged with failure to report suspected child abuse. She is still being held in the Highlands County Jail in lieu of $300,000 bond; Eiland resigned after he was released on a $50,000 bond.

She first claimed her baby became sick in an air-conditioned car outside a doctor’s office, but authorities concluded that the married mother and her boyfriend “were more concerned with concealing the ongoing affair than the welfare of the victim.”

Assistant State Attorney Steve Houchin preferred to try both together this spring, but knew their attorneys would push for separate trials. Assistant District Attorney Richard Castillo is prosecuting, Assistant Public Defender Karen Meeks is defending.

Clarence Gordon Thorpe, 60, 1036 Jonquil Ave. Sebring, is charged with four counts of sexual battery of a minor, and lewd and lascivious behavior.

According to an arrest warrant from Deputy Robert Livesay, Thorpe’s wife Marsha turned over letters in which he admitted he had molested a 5-year-old girl when he was 46.

In subsequent interviews at Polk County Jail, however, Thorpe said he had used a vibrator and had oral and anal sex with the girl over the years at her request. He videotaped the events, according to the arrest warrant.

“He did not force the girl to do anything,” Livesay said Thorpe stated. The girl, who he claimed was sexually precocious for her age, would enter his room while he was watching pornography and would want to watch it with him.

Assistant District Attorney Richard Castillo is prosecuting, Assistant Public Defender Robert Gray is defending.

James Reed will be back in court on more dogfighting charges.

In December 2011, Deputy Brett Hinkle witnessed a dog fight at 4807 High Ave., Sebring. James Reed was convicted by a jury in December 2013 of being there too and resisting an officer. Sixteen dogs, mostly pit bulls, were seized the first day and three dozen more later.

Next week, Reed will be tried on 11 more counts of animal cruelty and 11 counts of possessing an animal to fight or bait, all stemming from the original arrest. Assistant District Attorney Courtney Lenhart will prosecute, Attorney McCoy is defending.

Susan Elizabeth Moore, 51, 2 Kristin Terrace, Lake Placid, is accused of grand theft, fraudulent use of a credit card, three counts of forgery, three counts uttering a forged instrument, and six counts of criminally using a personal ID.

Two victims claimed to the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office that Moore, an acquaintance, stole their credit cards and purchased gasoline and cigarettes six times totaling $330. Three times, she signed the name of the male victim.

Kenneth Cooper, the arresting deputy, found videos at several of the convenience stores, and identified Moore in the tapes.

Assistant District Attorney Peter Brewer is prosecuting, John Kromholz is defending.