Devonte Termaine Ocasio, 23, of Reddick faces six felony charges – first degree murder; attempted first degree murder; and four counts of aggravated assault with a firearm, according to records. Each of these charges carries a maximum penalty of life in prison, because he is believed to have used a firearm – specifically a .45 caliber pistol.
Devonte Termaine Ocasio arrives at the Levy County Jail's receiving area in April of 2013 after being arrested as a suspected murderer. The rapid-fire clicking sound heard in the background is from a single-lens reflex camera that has an automatic fire mechanism. That camera sound is from some daily newspaper photographer who was at this scene at the time. There was at least one TV camera rolling as well as this film being shot by HardisonInk.com.
Ocasio has remained in jail since his April 29, 2013 arrest with a bond of $1.5 million. Therefore, although he is presumed innocent, he has served in excess of two years in the county jail, according to records. Assistant State Attorney William R. “Bill” Ezzell was one of the prosecutors when the first attempt at a trial started some time ago, but that former top prosecutor in Levy County became a defendant in a criminal trial. He resigned and reached a plea-negotiated agreement to resolve that issue.
Assistant State Attorney Darla Whistler is the prosecutor on these six cases who has been most involved with them since they began. Eighth Judicial Circuit Assistant State Attorney Brian Kramer is the lead attorney in these cases as he and Whistler are working on behalf of the people of Florida as they are both in the office of Eighth Judicial Circuit State Attorney William Cervone. This photo was taken after first appearances of defendants in other Levy County cases on May 26. Court action had been completed and the picture-taking exercise did not interfere with jurisprudence. There are stringent rules for cameras in the courtrooms of Florida.
Replacing Ezzell as the lead prosecutor on this case is Eighth Judicial Circuit Assistant State Attorney Brian Kramer. Kramer has been a resident of Gainesville since 1969. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of Florida in 1990 and his Juris Doctorate from Stetson University College of Law in 1993, in Gulfport, which is near St. Petersburg. Kramer has an extensive legal background, including as an assistant public defender. He is currently the executive director of the office of State Attorney William “Bill” Cervone. Assistant State Attorney Darla Whistler has been on the prosecuting team for these cases since the arrest of the defendant, according to records. Whistler graduated with honors with a B.A. from U.F. in 1998. She then graduated from the U.F. College of Law with a J.D. in 2001. She worked for a private law firm from 2002-2004; for the 13th Judicial Circuit State Attorney's Office in Hillsborough County from 2005-2007; and in the Eighth Judicial Circuit State Attorney's Office from 2008 until currently. Whistler is one of three prosecutors listed for Levy County, according to the Eighth Judicial Circuit State Attorney's website. There are 36 attorneys listed for Alachua County; four for Baker County; three for Bradford County; and Assistant State Attorney Robert Willis is the lone prosecutor listed for Gilchrist County, just as ASA Shawn Thompson is the only one showing for Union County. The lead defense attorney for Ocasio is attorney Michael Hines of Gainesville. Hines earned his B.A. from the University of Virginia in 2001 and graduated from the U.F. College of Law with a J.D. in 2005. Court records showed two prisoners are being called from their cells to testify in this trial. Tevin Hargrove, 22, is in the custody of the Florida Department of Corrections, and he has been called for this case, according to records. Keller Durell Dukes, 28, is in the custody of the United States Department of Justice, and he has been called for this case, according to records. The fatal shooting of Barry Barney, 36, and the wounding of four other people at the “Williston Crab Fest,” Levy County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Lt. Scott Tummond has said, was the alleged handiwork of Ocasio. Dukes was one of those wounded. Before the Levy County Grand Jury found reason to indict Ocasio on the six felonies involving a firearm, witnesses called in information from Levy County, Pinellas County, other Florida cities and counties and even from Alabama. LCSO investigators went to Levy County Judge James T. “Tim” Browning and secured an arrest warrant, and with the help of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, they arrested the suspect, Tummond said. Barney died at about 8 p.m. on Saturday, April 27, 2013, when he was among the victims of the shooting at the Williston Crab Festival, Tummond said. The other four gunshot victims were Dukes – now a federal prisoner, Ariana Brown, Kristopher Brumfield and Nikeria Solomon, according to the charging documents. The report of a shooting brought a quick response from deputies to the Levy County Road 318 (Northeast 40th Street) area on that fateful day in April. This area is east of the city of Williston. The shooting occurred during this large annual gathering of people. It became named as the "Williston Crab Festival," although it is in the county and not within the city limits. This event attracts thousands of people every year. It has grown over the years. The event is unsanctioned and has no permit issued from the county government, Tummond said. Another event that was to happen in 2014 after this deadly event in 2013 was stopped by Levy County Sheriff Bobby McCallum with help from the Florida Highway Patrol, Marion County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Department of Transportation, Williston Police Department and other agencies. That “Hip Hop” event was not sanctioned by the county and the sheriff chose to stop it before it happened. While the gathering is called the "Crab Festival," it is actually a series of "Hip Hop" style street parties, Tummond said. Violent incidents have been reported at the Crab Festival in the past, Tummond said. The vendors, large crowds and numbers of vehicles force the closing of many of the roads, including CR 318. Upon hearing the gunshots at the event in April of 2013, Tummond said, deputies and Levy County Public Safety Emergency Medical Service personnel responded immediately on foot and in vehicles to assist the injured. The Levy County Department of Public Safety had pre-staged ambulances and a medical helicopter was in the area for the festival. The large crowds made it impossible for ambulances to reach the wounded, Tummond said. Despite the large crowds walking and dancing in the roadway, deputies and EMS personnel were able to evacuate the victims in law enforcement and private vehicles. Barney was taken to a Gainesville hospital by air, but he died while he was in route to the hospital. Investigators recovered some physical evidence, including shell casings, at the scene and the investigation led to the arrest of Ocasio. After the April 22, 2013 arraignment, there have been a number of actions in this case. On Oct, 28, 2013, there was jury selection. The Oct. 29-30, 2013 trial ended, though, because the defendant had not prepared his case well enough for trial. While Circuit Court Judge Stanley H. Griffis III was the judge for most of the time on this case, Eighth Judicial Circuit Court Judge William E. Davis is now assigned felony criminal trials in Levy County. Circuit Court Judge Davis acted in his capacity for the first time on these cases on Jan. 15, 2014, according to records.
Levy County Court Judge James T. Browning is the judge who signed the arrest warrant in April of 2013. Judge Browning rules primarily over misdemeanor and criminal traffic cases, although he is qualified to rule on circuit court cases, and does so when needed. Judge Browning -- like his county court and circuit court counterparts throughout Florida -- also adjudicates civil law cases. Circuit Court Judge William E. Davis is the judge scheduled to preside over these six cases related to the Crab Fest killing, having accepted the Levy County circuit court criminal cases that continued from when Eighth Judicial Circuit Court Judge Stanley H. Griffis III was trying those felony cases in Levy County. The Eighth Judicial Circuit Court circuit court judges work in various capacities as they serve in Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Gilchrist, Levy and Union counties. The Code of Judicial Conduct governing behavior by judges forbids the judges of the Eighth Judicial Circuit from discussing pending cases with the public. Please do not call the court expecting to speak with a judge about any case. Readers who may have a comment to make are asked to please mail it to the clerk's office in the appropriate county. People who have information or evidence in a criminal case are asked to please contact the appropriate law enforcement agency.
Among the very first actions in this case was the arrest warrant, which was signed by Levy County Judge Browning, according to records. In the first attempt to try this defendant, there were 350 initial names of possible jurors. There were 215 selected to summon to the courthouse. Of those 215, there were 139 who showed up and 76 were absent. The 76 people who failed to appear in court when they were summoned for jury duty received a letter, which invited them to discuss their absence with the judge, Circuit Court Clerk Danny Shipp said. Anyone who fails to respond to that letter will receive a different invitation, which will be delivered by a deputy. When now-Senior Judge Joseph “Joe” Smith was the Levy County judge, Shipp said, he did lock up some people who dodged jury duty. Ocasio chose the option to use his right to a speedy trial by jury back in October of 2013. That strategy proved to be counter-productive. There are 12 jurors required for a first degree murder charge in Florida. Back in October of 2013 at the time of this murder trial in Levy County, there was another felony trial slated for another courtroom, where six jurors had to be chosen. As the jury was selected, each person was reminded repeatedly that the defendant is innocent until the state proves beyond reasonable doubt that he is guilty. Jurors were reminded repeatedly not to perform their own investigation or to speak about the trial, or read about it in any form until they meet with the other jurors at the conclusion of both sides presenting their cases. The number of jurors to be initially called for the case starting on June 22 was not known as of May 26, said Deanna Dobbins, Levy County director of court services. That is because there will be some number of other possible trials in criminal traffic, misdemeanor and other felony cases, where jurors may be needed. Judges Davis and Browning will confer to determine how many jurors are needed for the various trials, when it gets closer to the date of this pending murder trial, Dobbins said. Notices to possible jurors are set to go about 10 days before the start of jury selection.
Remembering The Fallen
After placing the colors, members of the WHS AJROTC Color Guard return to watch a service on Sunday. For more on this, please see the story on the COMMUNITY PAGE. Published May 25, 2015 @ 12:47 p.m. Photo by Jeff M. Hardison
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Fifty-Eighth Jingle Singers
The newest performers of the HardisonInk.com jingle are Tay Villegas, 15, of Dunnellon and Dominic Hammons, 15, of Inglis. They performed on May 18, 2015 at the park next to Inglis City Hall. Tay was practicing basketball and his friend was on the bench. The two young men play in Dunnellon Little League’s Senior Team. Everyone is invited to sing the HardisonInk.com jingle. If you see Jeff Hardison and you want to sing the jingle, just let him know or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. He asks people to sing it, too, and some of them agree to sing it. (Thanks people!) The next jingle performer has not been recorded yet. Published May 18, 2015 @ 4:27 p.m. -- Video by Jeff M. Hardison