On December 29, 2013, in Escambia County, five people--four adults, two white and two Black, and one white juvenile--robbed a house they believed had marijuana and money. The case received regional attention because when the robbers left the house disappointed with only $16 in cash and no marijuana, they took two pit bull puppies in a cage. News outlets like NBC Miami featured a lovable little puppy underneath the headline to highlight the story. Essentially, they were the "puppy robbers."
The sentencing of the four perpetrators is so disparate, that it would appear that the Escambia County Sheriff's Office and the State Attorney's office for Florida's 1st Judicial Circuit have a special black box of favors that they dispense without apparent rhyme or reason. One defendant received such favorable treatment that it appears to be a sweetheart deal with an unknown quid pro quo.
Let's Go To The Court Records
According to court records, Mr. Tyler Raley (white) pleaded guilty to the charge of "home invasion robbery with firearm (without discharge)." He was sentenced to five years in prison with credit for 173 days.
Mr. Demetri Ranaldson's court records indicate that he pleaded "no contest" to the reduced charge of "aggravated assault with a deadly weapon without intent to kill." He received a five-year sentence.
Mr. Demontre Russell's court records also indicate that he pleaded "no contest" to the reduced charge of "aggravated assault with a deadly weapon without intent to kill" and received a five-year prison sentence.
But, Mr. Jordan Dustin Michael Rowell (to distinguish him from his father, Mr. Dustin Michael Rowell), pleaded "no contest" to "home invasion robbery with firearm or other deadly weapon."
But, Mr. Rowell received a sentence of probation and community supervision and total restitution in the amount of $700.00. In fact, while Mr. Jordan Rowell's court record provides the restitution amounts for each victim, the additional favoritism is shown by the actual "Order of Judgment and Sentence" for Case 2013 CF 006324 B instrument number 2015019072. That sentencing document shows that he pleaded "no contest" to "home invasion robbery with a firearm" and was assigned to the "Youth Offender Program." Mr. Jordan Rowell was 19-years old at the time of the robbery.
In other words, like Mr. Raley, he pleaded to a higher charge of "home invasion" and received four years of supervised probation and two years of community control. On the other hand, Mr. Russell and Mr. Ranaldson pleaded "no contest" to a reduced charge of "aggravated assault" and received five-years in prison.
Why did Mr. Jordan Rowell receive such a light sentence?
Let's Compare the Court Records
Putting all four court records for the four defendants side-by-side reveals some rather interesting points.
All four defendants had their cases heard by Chief Judge Terry D. Terrell. But, due to different arrest dates, the judge assigned date differed. Mr. Rowell's and Mr. Raley's were assigned on December 30, 2013, the day after their arrest. Mr. Russell's assignment date was January 10, 2014, two days after his arrest date. And, Mr. Ranaldson's assignment date March 27, 2014, two days after his arrest date.
Initially, three of the defendants had their bail bond set at either $20,000 (Ranaldson) or $25,000 (Rowell and Raley). Mr. Russell's bail bond was set at $150,000 for some unknown reason. His bond was reduced to $25,000.
Their "not guilty" pleas were entered on different dates: Mr. Rowell (January 22, 2014); Mr. Russell (January 23, 2014); Mr. Raley (January 31, 2014); and Mr. Ranaldson (April 16, 2014).
However, their pleas of "guilty" or "no contest" differ significantly.
Mr. Raley pleaded "guilty" to "home invasion robbery" on July 24, 2014.
Mr. Ranaldson pleaded "no contest" to the reduced charge of "aggravated assault" on November 21, 2014.
Mr. Russell pleaded "no contest" to the reduced charge of "aggravated assault" on November 24, 2014, just three days later before the same judge.
Mr. Rowell entered his plea of "no contest" to "home invasion robbery" on December 1, 2014.
And, their sentencing dates were also spread out: Mr. Ranaldson (January 8, 2015); Mr. Russell (February 12, 2015); Mr. Raley (February 25, 2015); and, Mr. Rowell (March 6, 2015), though his restitution order was prepared four days earlier.
Now, some of the differences in dates can be attributed to different dates lawyers being assigned, dismissed, and another lawyer reassigned. Some could possibly be due to different lawyers filing more or less motions.
But, throughout the judicial process, Mr. Rowell always lags behind the other defendants.
The Lawyers Involved in the Cases
All four defendants appeared to have highly competent lawyers, but from the start of the judicial process, it appears that Mr. Rowell came from a family of money and was represented by a very reputable law firm in Pensacola.
Mr. Demontre Russell was initially represented by Mr. Paul John Hamlin, Jr. of The Hamlin Law Firm which specializes in criminal defense cases including weapons cases, robbery, drug cases, and assault cases. Mr. Russell then was represented by Mr. Randall J. Etheridge, a law firm specializing in "aggressive criminal defense," "aggressive and savvy defense," and "highly skilled in drug offense defense and racketeering charges," according to their website.
Mr. Demetri Ranaldson initially had a Public Defender; then a Criminal Conflict Counsel lawyer for indigent clients; then a Mr. Spiro Kypreos, a criminal lawyer with no apparent presence on the Internet and no known reputation; and, finally, the court assigned Mr. Gene Edward Mitchell, a board certified criminal trial lawyer.
Mr. Tyler Raley initially, on December 30, 2013, the day after his arrest, was represented by Mr. Ralph Parnell of the Morris Parnell & Ellis law firm. Due to an apparent conflict of interest, by January 23rd of the following year Mr. Raley was looking for another lawyer and on February 3, 2014, the court assigned him a Public Defender. One month later, the court assigned him a Criminal Conflict lawyer, an entity created by the state of Florida in 2007 to represent indigent clients.
Mr. Jordan Rowell, on the other hand, was represented by a top law firm in Pensacola, the Morris Parnell & Ellis law firm, the same one that initially represented Mr. Raley on December 30, 2013, the day after both men had been arrested.
Mr. Rowell's Sweetheart Deal in Exchange for Fingering Two Black Suspects
To piece together the Escambia County Sheriff's Office and the State Attorney's Office sweetheart deal with Mr. Rowley, it requires reviewing three arrest reports.
Mr. Rowell's arrest report, ECSO13ARR025503, was written by Deputy Sheriff Amanda Kelly. Deputy Kelly, however, interviewed only the victims, not Mr. Rowell. In Mr. Rowell's arrest report, she reported interviewing six victims. In Mr. Raley's arrest report, also written by Deputy Kelly, only five victims' interviews are reported--the girlfriend of Mr. Nicholas Snelson, Ms. Baile Lauren Davis, at the time of the incident unemployed, but previously employed as a dancer at Sammy's Gentlemen's Club, Diamond's, and Babe's Show Club is omitted, perhaps by the mistake of failing to cut and paste properly.
Mr. Russell's arrest report, ECSO13ARR025546, was written by Deputy Sheriff Michael Deerman, a member of the Gun Response Team. Deputy Deerman's interview with Mr. Rowell took place on the morning of December 29, 2013, right after the arrest in the interview rooms. Mr. Rowell was given his Miranda rights and signed the statement. He then gave a statement that two of the robbers were "Dimitry" and "Demontre." Deputy Deerman then "presented a photo lineup to S/Rowell and he immediately circled and indicated S/Demontre Lakesse Russell as one of the suspects with whom he had committed the home invasion and who had possessed the firearm." In the same arrest report, Mr. Tyler Raley "would not identify S/Russell as having been involved in the home invasions and denied knowing S/Russell at all."
So, the first Black suspect, Mr. Demontre Russell, was identified by Mr. Rowell.
Mr. Ranaldson's arrest report, ECSO14ARR004864, was written by Deputy Sheriff Joshua Rasmussen, another member of the county's Gun Response Team. It provides a second interview with Mr. Rowell. However, this arrest report is copied directly from Mr. Russell's arrest report written by Deputy Deerman. With the exception of adding two commas, the paragraph describing the results of the interview with Mr. Rowell are identical. So, who actually interviewed Mr. Rowell?
In Mr. Ranaldson's arrest report, Deputy Rasmussen interviewed Mr. Rowell at the "law offices of Boyles & Boyles" and Mr. Rowell's attorneys "Tray Parnell and Brandon Morris" were there.
Now, it is important to note that Boyles & Boyles has only two lawyers, presumably father and son, Mr. Karl W. Boyles and Mr. Joseph W. C. Boyles, respectively. This law firm specializes in business and corporate law. In other words, they were probably the law firm for whatever business Mr. Dustin Rowell and/or Mrs. Tiffani Rowell were engaged in.
I say whatever business they are engaged in because a Google search and a search of Florida business records reveals they have no easily identifiable businesses that they own. Mr. Dustin Rowell's name is connected to a company called Southern Star Auto Group via a Florida Department of Environmental Protection document, but business records filed by the company with Florida's Secretary of State never mention him in their annual reports. Mr. Dustin Rowell may very well own the company, but his link to any business requiring the services of Boyles & Boyles is difficult to find.
In fact, searches of public records, however, indicates that they have a great deal of unpaid public debts and other disparaging information.
In August 1997, Mr. Dustin Rowell was found guilty of seven counts of credit card fraud and given six months of community control under the supervision of the Florida Parole Commission (see Instrument 1997418093).
On June 17, 1998, though the record is not publicly available, both the Florida Department of Revenue and a Ms. Brandy E. Jordan were apparently successful in Paternity Order 97 1915 CJ (Instrument 1998493666). See also Support Order CJ 97 1915 (Instrument 1998502862).
On August 29, 2000, the State of Florida issued a Civil Restitution Lien Order in favor of Escambia County for $1500 (see Instrument 2000769700).
On August 14, 2001, though the record is not publicly available, the State of Florida and Ms. Denise Wilson were successful in winning Juvenile 01 2073 (see Instrument 2001872410). Ms. Wilson was Mr. Dustin Rowell's ex-wife. However, the Escambia County court records indicate that Ms. Wilson was successful in proving paternity--roughly three years after Mr. Dustin Rowell had married his current wife, Tiffani Deann (Kelly) Rowell. On December 31, 2001, Ms. Wilson filed a Certificate of Delinquency Support (see Instrument 2001916511).
On January 2, 2002, Ms. Brandy E. Jordan filed a Certificate of Delinquency in case 97 0001915 CJ--the case she and the State of Florida had apparently won in June 1998.
In October 2002, the Florida Department of Revenue filed a "warrant for collection of delinquent sales tax" in the amount of $1,625.92 regarding their jointly owned Prell Auto Parts and Sales, a company that apparently no longer exists, according to the lack of a record.
In November 2002, the West Florida Regional Medical Center was awarded a judgment of $18,249.50 plus an initial interest award of $2,245.50, plus an interest rate of 9 percent per year (see Instrument 2002031118). In February 2005, the West Florida Regional Medical Center won an additional final judgment for $2,581, costs of $290, and prejudgment interest of $164.34, and interest rate of 7 percent (see Instrument 2005341670).
Also in February 2005, the Florida Department of Revenue issued a "warrant for the collection of delinquent sales and use taxes" totaling with tax owed, penalties, and interest $90,793.06 (see Instrument 2005342448). In June 2005, the Florida Department of Revenue issued another warrant for unpaid taxes totaling $1,827.32 (see Instrument 2005384892).
In May 2014, the federal Internal Revenue Service filed a notice of a Federal Tax Lien for tax year 2010 in the amount of $62,080.49 (see instrument 2014031589). On June 5, 2014, a public notice was issued that their home would be "sold to the highest bidder at public auction" on July 7, 2014. And, for tax year 2013, the Rowell's owed Escambia County $1,717.69 for real estate taxes.
So, the Boyles & Boyles business law firm, apparently retained by Mr. Dustin Rowell, hosted the two principal partners of the criminal defense law firm of Morris Parnell & Ellis. That firm specializes in criminal law and state trial practice with specialties in burglary, drug possession/trafficking, robbery, and assault/battery. The "Tray Parnell" in the arrest report is actually Mr. Ralph Wallace 'Trey' Parnell III.
At this meeting of high-powered lawyers, Mr. Jordan Rowell stated that after he was released on the $25,000 bond he returned to his residence where he had allowed Mr. Raley to reside. While cleaning up with Mr. Raley's belongings "he found a driver's license belonging to the fifth suspect who had previously not been identified. S/Rowell stated that this suspect, S/Demetri Ranaldson, was friends with S/Tyler Raley and must have left the Florida driver's license at the residence while visiting S/Tyler Raley."
According to this second interview, Mr. Rowell,with his lawyers present, then "positively identified S/Ranaldson as the fifth suspect involved in the home invasion. S/Rowell stated that during the home invasion, S/Randalson had possessed a firearm, had worn a mask, had pointed the firearm at victims inside the home, and had taken items from the home and fled with them in the getaway vehicle. S/Rowell stated that on the drive from his residence to the Tiffany Drive location, he had been seated next to S/Ranaldson."
So, the only "positive identification" of the two Black suspects, Mr. Russell and Mr. Ronaldson, came from Mr. Rowell who from the first interview with the Gun Response Team on December 29, 2013, was identifying previously unidentified and/or unknown suspects.
It should be noted that the charge of using a mask during the home invasion was dropped for all four suspects due to lack of probable cause.
The Internal Contradictions of the Victims Statements
What kind of residence is 1204 Tiffany Drive?
According to the real estate website Trulia.com, it is a single-story dwelling of 1,814 square feet with two and one-quarter bathrooms in a neighborhood where the average price of a home in zip code 32514 is $184,635. Homes.com suggested that its retail value was $132,600. According to PropertyShark.com, the dwelling has five total rooms, including three bedrooms. However, there is no layout of the dwelling depicting where the rooms are.
The only Deputy Sheriff to interview all six victims was Deputy Amanda Kelly. Based on a review of the arrest report, we can state the following the regarding which victims were in which rooms and what they saw.
In the probable living room, sitting on a couch, were Mr. Branden Hoffman and his cousin Mr. Christopher Mason. The doorbell rang at some time prior to 0409 hours (when the Sheriff Office's was responding to shots fired from the getaway car on Davis Highway) and both men answered the unlocked door. Mr. Hoffman stated that "a bunch of people with guns pushed through the door." This "bunch" made Mr. Mason lay down on the floor. They also made Mr. Hoffman lay face down on the floor.
Mr. Mason told Deputy Kelly, that "three white males and two black males" "rushed in" and "all had guns." The statement continued, "So me and Brandon hit the ground and laid down....Had a gun to my head the whole time."
Deputy Kelly then interviewed Mr. Mike Gann. Mr. Gann was in a bedroom with his two small boys. He stated that he "walked out of my room" and "two guys with guns" told him to get on the floor and give them his money. Mr. Gann then laid face-down on the floor. He then stated, "They took Brandon into Nates room and got him out of the bed and made him get on the floor....One guy staid [sic] with Nate and myself at gun point as we laid on the ground face down." Mr. Gann thought he "saw four people all with guns in the house."
So, Mr. Gann has Mr. Hoffmann being taken into Mr. Nathaniel 'Nate' Phillips' room. Mr. Hoffman stated that he was on the ground, presumably in the living room, with a "gun to my head the whole time." Not only that, but Mr. Gann states that after Mr. Phillips got out bed, they made him "get on the floor" right next to him where he was guarded by one armed intruder.
Ok, what did Mr. Nathaniel 'Nate' Phillips tell Deputy Kelly?
Mr. Phillips stated, "My brother's friend woke me up saying people were in the house with guns. I went and laid down on the living room floor until they left." Mr. Phillips only saw a "white male with a mask on carrying a gun" and a "Black male with orange shoes...also carrying a gun." Mr. Phillips then "allowed a few minutes to pass then I left the house to follow them."
Deputy Kelly apparently never asked Mr. Phillips who had actually woken him up. If Mr. Gann statement is true, then Mr. Hoffman is the "brother's friend."
But, Mr. Gann has Mr. Hoffmann being taken into Mr. Phillips' room and Mr. Phillips lying down on the floor in his bedroom. Mr. Phillips is woken up by a person unknown to the Sheriff's Office and Mr. Phillips walking into the living room where he presumably sees a "white male" and a "Black male."
But, Mr. Hoffmann stated that he never moved from the living room where he was guarded and never stated that he woke up Mr. Phillips.
Deputy Kelly took Mr. Phillips to the location where the suspect's vehicle was stopped at the intersection of Brent and Davis Highway. Based on the clothing they were wearing he identified only three white suspects, Mr. Tyler Raley, Mr. Jordan Rowell, and Mr. Brandon Raley, Tyler's brother and a juvenile.
Deputy Kelly interviewed another victim, Mr. Nicholas Snelson, who was located in a bedroom with his girlfriend, Ms. Bailie Davis, a former dancer.
Mr. Snelson told Deputy Kelly that he was in bed with his girlfriend when one white male and one Black male came into the room with guns. They took his phone, $16 from his girlfriend, and two puppies. He then claimed, "Throughout all of this happening, two more males (one white, one black) entered my room, searched around, then walked out. Every suspect had a gun to someone's head at one point."
What did Ms. Baile see? She told Deputy Kelly that "four masked men, two black, two white, busted through the door pointing their guns at us and telling us to give them everything we had."
Another contradiction. Mr. Snelson has two males (one white, one black) entering the room, demanding money, tossing the room, and taking the cash, a phone, and two puppies. Ms. Baile has four males entering the room at once (two white, two black) toss the room, take her cash and the two puppies.
Let's see if we can make sense of these mutually contradictory stories that make each statement not credible.
First, Mr. Phillips is woken up by Mr. Hoffmann, according to Mr. Gann's statement. But, Mr. Gann has Mr. Hoffmann being escorted to Mr. Phillips' bedroom by one of the intruders. As he told Deputy Kelly, "They took Brandon into Nates room...and made him get on the floor."
Mr. Phillips's claimed that he was woken up by an unnamed person that Deputy Kelly wrote was Mr. Phillips' "brother's friend." Mr. Phillips does not describe this person as being escorted into his room. Deputy Kelly did not bother to decipher who this "brother's friend" actually was.
Second, Mr. Hoffman claimed he was lying face down on the floor the whole time with a gun to his head, near the front door, presumably in the living room. If Mr. Hoffmann's statement is true, he could not possibly have been taken to wake up Mr. Phillips in the latter's bedroom.
Third, the only victim who claimed that he was able to walk around the house un-escorted by an armed intruder was Mr. Phillips. Mr. Phillips claimed that after being woken up by his "brother's [unidentified] friend" that he walked into the living room and laid down "until they left." But, his claim is contradicted by Mr. Gann's statement that an intruder "staid [sic] at the door with Nate and myself at gun point."
Well, if Mr. Phillips is on the floor in his bedroom, presumably at gun point, how did he manage to walk sight unseen through the house and lay down in the living room?
Fourth, if Mr. Phillips walked into the living room, and if the living room is close enough to the front door that both Mr. Hoffmann and Mr. Mason could get off the couch to answer the doorbell, then why didn't Mr. Phillips see Mr. Hoffmann and Mr. Mason? Why didn't Mr. Hoffmann and Mr. Mason report seeing Mr. Phillips come into the probable living room? And, since both Mr. Hoffmann and Mr. Mason were being held at gun point, why wasn't Mr. Phillips also held at gun point?
Fifth, Mr. Snelson, cuddling up with his girlfriend Ms. Davis in bed, saw only two males enter the bedroom with guns--one white and one Black. Ms. Davis, in the same bedroom, saw four males enter the room with guns--two white and two Black.
If Ms. Davis's statement is correct, four intruders are in her bedroom while cuddling with Mr. Snelson.
That leaves only one armed intruder guarding Mr. Hoffmann and Mr. Mason near the front door.
But, Mr. Gann reported that one armed intruder was guarding him and Mr. Phillips.
Mr. Gann also reported that "they," meaning two or one armed intruders, went to go get Mr. Phillips.
So, Ms. Davis's statement cannot possibly be correct in terms of how many armed intruders burst into the bedroom she shared with Mr. Snelson.
If Mr. Hoffmann's statement is correct, he and Mr. Mason, were in a room near the front door, presumably a living room which is quite common in American homes, with a gun to his head and never saw Mr. Phillips walking around and laying down on the floor.
This all sounds like a hastily constructed six-part story of a robbery in which every narrative contradicts another narrative.
The only thing that matched the story was that the two puppies were stolen and two puppies were found in the suspects' car.
Out of all these mutually contradictory stories, the Escambia Sheriff's Office and the State Attorney's Office brought "home invasion robbery with a deadly weapon" against four suspects.
There was no trial by jury with a cross-examination of the witnesses. All the hearings were conducted by deposition--no doubt smoothed out to sound credible, since their initial stories are a hodgepodge of contradictions. Their credibility was never put to the test. In fact, given the quality of at least two of the defense firms involved in the case, it is difficult to believe that the six alleged victims' testimony would not have fallen apart on the witness stand.
My source told me that Mr. Russell took the "no contest" plea to a reduced charge of aggravated assault because he did not want to take his chances with an all-white jury. My source told me that Mr. Russell had never entered the house; neither had Mr. Ranaldson. Both Mr. Russell and Mr. Ranaldson had merely gone along with the three others to get some marijuana. They did not learn of the robbery until the three white men came out of the house with the two puppies and told them they had robbed the house. At the first available moment, Mr. Russell and Mr. Ronaldson exited the get-away vehicle and walked on foot away from the real criminals in this case. Their exiting the vehicle is corroborated by Mr. Phillips' statement to the Sheriff's Office that he observed one or more persons exiting the get-away vehicle he was following.
Mr. Russell had no need to rob anyone. According to his 2013 W-2 form from the Grocery Outlet where he worked as a stock clerk, he earned $10,848.22. He was also working for a delivery business. He had graduated high school one year behind his class because of an earlier injury in a car accident that kept him out of school. Mr. Russell had graduated with mostly As and Bs from the S.L. Jones Christian Academy. He had already been accepted to Pensacola State College where he was going to train to become an air conditioning and coolant technician.
Mr. Demontre Russell graduating from S.L. Jones Christian Academy
For some unknown reason, Mr. Rowell, from an apparently well-off family involved in unknown business dealings, but retaining the notable Boyles & Boyles business law firm, and hiring a top notch criminal law firm, Morris Parnell & Ellis, was able to get a sweetheart deal based on his family's money and possible connections. He was sentenced as a youth offender, given a modest restitution penalty, and probation and community supervision.
What is fairly clear is that Mr. Rowell was given a sweetheart deal by Escambia Sheriff's Office and the State Attorney's Office in exchange for convicting the two Black suspects who, at worst, were accessories to a crime they did not know was occurring. One of the suspects, Mr. Tyler Raley, did not identify Mr. Russell. And, despite the fact that Mr. Rowell claimed that Mr. Ranaldson's Florida driver's license had been left at his house because Mr. Ranaldson had visited Mr. Raley, the latter never mentioned Mr. Ranaldson.
His lesser-well off defendants were not so fortunate. Despite pleading "no contest" to a reduced charge of "aggravated assault with a deadly weapon without intent to kill," Mr. Russell and Mr. Ranaldson, both Black, were given five years in prison. Coming before the very same judge, Chief Judge Terry D. Terrell, they were never offered the opportunity to make restitution to the alleged victims. Mr. Raley, an indigent client, pleaded guilty to "home invasion robbery with a firearm (without discharge). He has a five-year prison sentence. He was not offered the opportunity to plead to a lesser charge and make restitution.
This was a sweetheart deal in order to convict two Black suspects. Both of these suspects have family ties to Mr. Doug Baldwin Sr. who is now running for Sheriff.
Tell me that this did not figure into the equation.