Treasure Island’s Sunset Beach featured in Mary Kay Andrews double murder mystery

This Tampa Bay cozy mystery lets us visit all our beloved St. Petersburg haunts.

Mary Kay Andrews has real Tampa Bay ties. She set one of her earliest books — Lickety Split — in St. Petersburg, and if you go to her beach house in Georgia, you’ll find Munch’s ketchup squeeze bottles on the table.

I loved her books even before I knew any of those things, and I love her more now for it. Whenever review copies of her books show up at work, I can’t wait to get home and read them.

Sunset Beach was no different. Except that, instead of being set in any of the other amazing Southern places, Andrews set it in Sunset Beach, in Treasure Island. Of course, she threw in a one night stand, murder, and another murder.

And Sunset Beach is a pretty cool little beach. It’s the new McMansions mixed with old beach cottages, and Andrews captures the vibe of the two worlds perfectly. 

Sunset Beach brings Andrews back to Tampa Bay, to the area of Treasure Island known as Sunset Beach. And while I’d love to give you all the plot, well, no. You’re gonna have to read it.

And read it you should, because Sunset Beach is Andrews in high form.

I will say this: You can revisit the Sandman Motel, the St. Petersburg Police Department, beach bars and a prominent St. Petersburg law firm if you read the book.

And, uh, it’s up to you to decide what’s real. But even if it’s totally fake — or even if it’s all real — it’s a fantastic read, and hey, who doesn’t love a beach read?

Even if there are dead bodies on the beach.

This article initially appeared in Creative Loafing

Liberal Redneck Trae Crowder will make you laugh your southern heart out Friday night at the Straz Center in Tampa

The viral video star talks about what the South gets wrong — and right.

Trae Crowder’s pretty great. I’m not just saying that because I agree about 150 percent with what he and his buddies say in their book, The Liberal Redneck Manifesto: Draggin’ Dixie Out of the Dark; I say that because he’s a pleasure to interview and a straight shooter. Here’s what he told us about Donald Trump, the Deep South and living in Southern California. 

I first saw you perform in September 2016, before our most recent presidential election. What’s the biggest change you’ve seen inside the Deep South since the election of Trump?

The thing that blows my mind the most about all of it — and this has been true since the very beginning of the Trump phenomenon in the Deep South ­— is that I mean I still can’t believe that they got on board with this dude in particular, because I grew up in the very rural Deep South. My whole childhood — and I know for a fact — if you would have polled people around there about what they thought about Donald Trump prior to whenever it was he first went after Barack Obama, any year before that, you asked them what they thought about him, it would have been pretty much universally negative. So many people I grew up around … just couldn’t stand a loudmouth, blue-blood, silver-spoon, Yankee huckster, charlatan guy who thinks he’s better than everybody else. He would’ve been reviled. And the thing that’s always been crazy to me about it was the first thing that ever was crazy to me about it, which was I still can’t believe that it’s this dude in particular that has become their champion.

Do you feel like you’re making any inroads in the Deep South with advice you give in the book, or do you feel like you’re in an echo chamber?
A lot of people don’t like this answer but it is an honest answer in terms of reaching people on the opposite end of the political spectrum where I’m from, like stereotypical far-right redneck types? No. I don’t think I’ve done very much of that at all. I don’t know how possible that really even is in my opinion, especially for a comedian.

Having said that, one thing I have gotten a lot of and still do is people not from the South, who have never been, who tell me that we — Drew and Corey and I — have changed the way they look at the South in general, or southern accents, or white men from the South; i.e., that they literally didn’t know that people like me even existed until they saw one of my videos or what have you. And that also was very important to me. I mean, I wish that I could change people’s lives politically and I wish for a lot of things to change politically in this country, but I don’t know how much of that is really feasible, but if I can maybe change some people’s perceptions about where I grew up, that’s also super important to me, and I do feel like some of that actually happens.

What do you miss the most about Tennessee?

Well, as of late, it’s been barbecue. I haven’t really found a good barbecue. I’ve heard that it exists…

But also in football, going to away games and the actual season of “autumn” doesn’t exist in Southern California. They don’t have that; they don’t have any seasons. There’s just one long season. I mean, if you’ve got to have just one, it’s the best one to have. I miss the fall and I miss being around other people like me. I don’t exactly fit in here. I’m still enjoying it; politically, I’m surrounded by a lot of like-minded people.

In  your book, you write that “screaming about your right as an American while rocking the Confederate flag is like arguing against gay marriage with a dick in your mouth.” Can you try to explain to people outside the Deep South why people insist that it’s “heritage, not hate?”

Because of Lynyrd Skynyrd, it hasn’t always had the same level of irredeemable vitriol around this Confederate flag as it does now. My dad, he’s the reason I am the way that I am. He’s got a gay brother. And he was the farthest thing from racist; he raised me to be open-minded. And he had shirts and stuff that had the rebel flag, although most of that had to do with Skynyrd at the time. My dad passed away a few years ago, and I am very confident that if he was still with us, [with] everything going on revolving around the Confederate flag now, he’d put it behind. But it is cut and dried now. At this point there’s no redeeming it. It means exactly what most people say it means: that you’re intolerant at best and downright hateful and dangerous at worst. To shove that flag in people’s faces at this point after everything that’s happened in Charleston and in Charlottesville and everything …The people that are still dusting off those old arguments as you said a bit ago. Now? Present day? I’m not going to defend that mindset. It’s been a complicated thing for me, but it’s not anymore. It hasn’t been for a while now. 

You wrote in the book that y’all want to change the South “for the better.” How do you see that happening other than old people dying and new people learning better?

Well now you’ve stumped me, because honestly you gave the answer that I was going to. That’s not the only way but I do believe that’s the main thing that’s going to happen. The South has changed in my lifetime; we’ve still got a long way to go. But we’ve also come a very long way. Things have gotten way better. There’s a whole lot of work to be done, but it’s moving in the right direction. And I think that will continue,  especially as [laughs] the older people die off and people keep learning and having new experiences. 

Trae Crowder with Drew Morgan and Corey Forrester

Straz Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 WC MacInnes Place, Tampa | Fri., March 1: 7:30 p.m. | $35-$75 | 813-229-7827 |

This article originally appeared in Creative Loafing Tampa.

My thoughts on a beloved Tampa bookstore closing

Inkwood Books will close its doors the end of March. Here’s why that sucks.

Yesterday, Inkwood Books rocked the Tampa word scene when it announced it would close at the end of March. The store, which recently moved to Tampa Heights, has been a mecca for readers and writers alike. 

Inkwood’s Facebook post has a slew of comments, and the reason isn’t apparent (and, to be honest, it’s really none of anyone’s business why owner Stefani Beddingfield made this decision). 

Tampa Bay’s community of readers will feel the hole left by Inkwood’s closing, but here’s another take on why this is a real tragedy.

I met Stefani right before my first book came out in 2016. She and I were both at a conference in Savannah called SIBA — the Southern Independent Booksellers Association. She was there as an indie bookstore owner; I was there as an author. Because my book was pretty much about Florida, I sought out the Florida booksellers.

For four days, I heard other authors talk about something called “hand-selling” and about how much they wouldn’t enjoy the success they did as writers without indie booksellers. I didn’t know how much of that to believe, because, well, I’d never published a book before and this was, after all, a conference geared at indies.

I liked Stefani right away, which is not something I say about lots of people. We bonded when a well-known (and who shall remain nameless) author gave a talk one night, in which she Yankee-splained racism to perhaps some of the most woke white people in the South. It was awkward; I was horrified. Stefani empathized. We bonded over a glass of wine in a resplendent Knights of Columbus Hall, then went back to the hotel with our bags of books. For me, those bags of books I received at SIBA were perks — free books, y’all! — but for Stefani and other indie booksellers, they were homework. They’d cull through those books, and the ones they loved, they’d order for their store. They’d have author events. They’d tell their customers about them (that’s what hand-selling means, I quickly realized).

After the conference, Stefani reached out: Would I come do a signing? And so did lots of other bookstores. I sold more than 70 books in two hours at Copperfish Books in Punta Gorda; I sold out (and had to stop at the UPF distribution site to bring more to satisfy orders) at Tallahassee’s Midtown Reader. Next month I’ll do a signing at Judy Blume’s bookstore in Key West.

What’s significant about this isn’t that Stefani hand-sold my book, or that any indie bookstore did. It’s more the fact that customers at an indie bookstore trust the booksellers. Look, I’ve worked at a Barnes & Noble and while I suggested books I loved to customers, I can tell you it’s not the same relationship. I didn’t see the same people month after month. That’s where indies come in, because readers know they’ve vetted the books. They live and breathe the books they sell, and their readers know it. 

By the way: Number of times Barnes & Noble has reached out? Zero.

Oh, my books are there. But no one — no one — has ever worked harder to sell my books than the indie bookstores. And I happen to believe my book is worth reading, so that’s kinda a big deal. I’m flattered Stefani and other indie booksellers think so, too. 

Stefani — and other indie owners like her, who have done this not for extreme (or any) profits but for pursuing their passion and our passion, too — has done so much for so many writers. She’s put our books out there — Ben Montgomery, Arin Greenwood, Peter Meinke, Erica Sirotich, Bill DeYoung, Gilbert King, Lisa Unger, Connie Mae Fowler, the list goes on and on — and she’s told people about them, matched readers with writers. They open their doors for book clubs, for storytimes, for festivals, and all they ask in return is that when we read, we read books we’ve bought at their bookshop. 

With Inkwood’s closing, Ben and Arin and Peter and Erica and Bill and Gilbert and Lisa and Connie and I will all still write, and y’all will still read, but without Stefani, Toni and Austin, there’s one less reliable bookshop to help people find the best books, the books that can give readers what they want or need right that instant. Every time an indie closes up shop, readers must rely more and more on algorithms that tell them what book to read, and that’s not a road I think any of us want to go down (and if you don’t know why, go into your local indie bookseller and ask them what book you should read that will explain it).

So here’s what you do: You go to Inkwood, right now, today, and you buy books. That’s not going to change Inkwood’s fate, but we all need to show Stefani and her crew how damn much they’ve meant to us. And then, when Inkwood is only a memory, you go to Tombolo. And Haslam’s. And Wilson’s. And every other indie bookstore around you, and you buy books. It doesn’t even have to be a book you want to read — find a Little Free Library near you and put the book in it. Stop buying that shit on Amazon, y’all. Amazon is a fantastic place to get paper towels and cat food but buying books there is killing places like Inkwood.

We love you, Inkwood, and Tampa isn’t going to be the same once you’re gone. 

And thank you.

Meet the Plant City duck who survived a hurricane and has more than 5,000 Facebook fans

Irma Duck survived the hurricane. She isn’t a superhero. She’s simply… a local duck. But people love her.

Irma’s the best duck, and trust me, I know ducks.

I was part of a duck rescue four years ago, whereby I got to know George, a duckling who almost died when the chicks at Animal House pecked him until he bled. My friend — who shall remain nameless, because we live in Gulfport, where it’s illegal to own ducks — brought him home and raised him with her chickens. Big mistake. Huge. Not bringing him home — yay, rescue — but raising him with the hens. See, George imprinted on her chickens and, when he started to have certain, ahem, urges, he identified as a rooster, not a drake. This was, to put it mildly, awkward for everyone involved, most of all the hens (true story: ducks have ballistic penises, and that’s really something you can’t un-see. God knows I can’t…).

And then, at our neighborhood pond, we had Big Red (RIP). Big Red was a Muscovy duck who was sort of the mob boss of the pond, terrorizing all the other ducks. When he died, we were all sad, but truth be told, every other duck in the pond breathed a little easier.

So Irma is, by comparison, the very best duck. Plus, she has a pretty nifty story — and a larger Facebook fanbase than Localtopia, St. Petersburg’s annual beloved celebration of local everything. So, you know, she’s kind of a big deal.

She really is all she’s quacked up to be.

Joy Trent has a small home in Plant City, close to her job at the Hard Rock and also near her horses. The house, between two retention ponds, has its fair share of feathered and waddling wildlife, and Trent’s house is sort of on the wildlife highway between the ponds (think of it this way: If you’re flying from Tampa to Rome, you’re probs gonna have a stopover in Atlanta. Trent’s house is Atlanta, only better). One duck in particular stood out for her: a Muscovy.

Muscovy ducks don’t get the respect of a mallard, or a wood duck, or even a Pekin duck. They’re black and white with red, turkey-like business around their necks. But they’re also super cute.

“If you know Muscovy ducks then you know they are just big lawn puppies, but this one female, Irma, had the coolest personality. She would always stop to chat while she was passing through, or just sit in the shade on our porch or under the cars and hang out with us while we were doing yard work,” Trent says. “My boyfriend used to call her mama duck (even though she was not a mama, yet) and if we had some popcorn when we got back from the movies and he called mama duck she would waddle right over for a treat. She felt so comfortable in our yard she laid a nest of 13 eggs at the base of this huge live oak tree in our front yard.” 

And then hurricane season came. And Mama Duck became Irma Duck.

“Every day we saw mama duck sitting on her nest and finally said, ‘What are you going to do, Irma Duck? This hurricane is coming!'” Trent says. She debated collecting the eggs and trying to catch Irma so she could keep her safe in the house throughout Hurricane Irma, even asking her co-workers at the Seminole Hard Rock & Casino Tampa for advice — after all, she’d never had a duck BFF before and had no idea what to do — and ultimately decided to let nature take its course. 

Trent and her boyfriend spent most of the night awake, watching Mama-now-Irma Duck through their bathroom window. She never, Trent says, left her nest.

Irma Duck Plant City Tampa Hurricane Irma
Right after Hurricane Irma passed over Plant City, Mama Duck — soon to be renamed Irma Duck — had wind-battered feathers, but throughout the storm, she never left her nest. Photo by Joy Trent.

“We finally fell asleep and when we got up in the morning branches and Spanish moss was piled on Irma. We uncovered her, she was a little windblown, but still sitting tight on that nest,” Trent says. “What a brave girl she was.”

When Trent went back to work, her co-workers wanted to know if the duck — they’d started calling her “Irma” — had weathered the storm. She put Irma’s picture on Facebook, and also an explanation of the photo for her northern friends who don’t quite get how we do down here.

“I thought, ‘that will be the end of it’,” she says, “Well, the next thing you know this post has 500,000 views, I got 1,000 friend requests and 500 private messages. Radio stations and newspapers found out my cell number, and everyone wanted to know about Irma,” Trent says.

That’s when a Seminole Hard Rock & Casino Tampa co-worker encouraged her to create a Facebook page for Irma. 

“She helped me set up Irma’s page and I followed up with some posts, [to] satisfy everyone’s curiosity and then be done with it. Well, here I am, a year and a half later and Irma has over 6,000 followers from all over the world. Every time I try to ease out of this I get messages from really sweet, nice, positive people wanting to know how Irma is doing,” Trent says. 

So, it’s not all happy news: None of the original 13 eggs hatched — but it’s also possible they may not have been fertilized, either (chickens and ducks lay eggs whether or not they’ll grow into chickens, thus answering the age-old question yes, the eggs came first). It’s also possible, according to one of Trent’s newfound duck friends, that the dropping barometric pressure could have adversely impacted the eggs.

A few months later, Irma Duck laid 13 more eggs by Trent’s front porch, only to have those disappear one night. Trent’s security cameras show a fox making 13 trips to the nest and running away with 13 eggs.

“It even shows it running away as I came home from work at 4 a.m., and then coming back for the remaining eggs after I entered the house,” Trent says.

Irma Duck Plant City Tampa Bay Hurricane Irma
Irma’s first three ducklings, which Trent has named Faith, Oliver and Grace. The Plant City duck family has grown, but these three still stick pretty close to their mama. Photo by Joy Trent.

Irma Duck remained determined to become a mother, though, and a few months after that, she laid 15 eggs on Trent’s porch. When eight of those eggs disappeared, Trent and her boyfriend got serious.

“On advice from Muscovy people, I had my boyfriend pee around the nest every day,” she says, “and at night we kept a radio playing on talk news all night to scare any other predators away.”

Three of the eggs hatched and, more recently, she laid 13 eggs and 13 hatched, although some of the ducklings disappeared. Five ducklings, now almost as big as Irma Duck, hang out with their three older brothers and sisters, and they also stick pretty close to Irma Duck. All nine of them waddle up to Trent when they see her, knowing she’ll have a snack for them (corn and feed, not bread, which can actually inhibit duck wing growth, and now we feel bad for every duck we ever fed as a kid.)

Irma Duck Plant City Tampa Bay baby ducks
Irma’s second successful clutch resulted in five ducklings — and, while they’re almost full-grown, they stick pretty close to their mama. Photo by Joy Trent.

She and her boyfriend travel, and she’ll post pictures of their travels, but mostly people are there for Irma Duck. 

Trent has made friends with some of Irma’s fans, realizing they share many things.

“We have so much in common: horses, travel, and a love for ducks and all animals, [they’re] just really cool people,” she says. “[It] restores your faith in humanity because a lot of times I just hate people.” Work, she says, can be tough sometimes — unfortunately, not everyone who comes to a casino is in the best place, just like not everyone who goes anywhere is in the best place and, well, we can all understand how that can get to a person, right? But Irma’s fans help her feel better about the world.

“Hearing about animal abuse just kills my spirit,” she says, “but Irma’s fans are just such nice, positive people just looking to read some wholesome news about a duck.”

This post originally appeared at Creative Loafing.

Tampa judge frees Dean Mckee, wrongfully convicted of murder in 1987

McKee took the fall for a Tampa hate crime he didn’t commit in 1987.

“It’s over and he’s a free man,” Seth Miller said.

You can hear the joy in Miller’s voice — he’s a lawyer with the Innocence Project of Florida — when he talks about his former client, Dean McKee.

Former as of this morning.

It’s been a long road for McKee, who falsely confessed to the 1987 racially motivated murder of a black man, Isaiah Walker. The judge sentenced the 16-year-old boy to life in prison for murder. Read our full story about what happened next here, but bottom line: McKee kept protesting his innocence and, when DNA evidence suggested he was right, the Innocence Project of Florida took the case in 2011.

For eight years, Miller, his staff and McKee worked to get the conviction overturned. In October 2017, two years after a hearing, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Lisa Campbell issued a 17-page order overturning the 1988 murder conviction. DNA showed McKee never touched the victim.

The State of Florida filed an intent to appeal Campbell’s decision.

McKee stayed in jail, this time in solitary confinement for his own safety, until the court released him on an appeal bond on Jan. 9.

The rules of his temporary release were clear: McKee had to wear an ankle monitor. He couldn’t drink. He couldn’t go on social media. He couldn’t leave Pinellas County, except for work. He had to be in his home by 9 p.m. every night. He had to plug his ankle monitor in nightly or go back to prison.

Since Jan. 9, 2018, McKee’s had some firsts. His fiance threw him his first birthday party in more than 30 years. He “paroled” an Australian Shepherd that follows him everywhere. He started making plans in case he could be free — but not definite plans. He knew that the state’s appeal could find him guilty again, and he knew that even if the state didn’t find him guilty, they could re-try.

All that went away this morning. The State dismissed the appeal on Dec. 28, but had not yet decided whether or not they would re-try McKee’s case.

At a status hearing this morning, the state attorney told the court they would drop the appeal and would not re-try McKee.

And just like that, with no pomp or circumstance or flashbulbs popping in the courtroom, McKee’s nightmare — which began in 1987 at the Tampa Museum of Art — was over.

He turned to Miller, who’s led him through every decision since 2011, and asked, “What do I do now?”

“Whatever you want,” Miller told him.

“He’s a free man,” Miller told Creative Loafing. “It’s over. He’s no longer a convicted felon, no longer charged with first-degree murder or any other crime. He’s a free man in America. This is what we’ve been waiting for, what we’ve been hoping for.”

And, Miller added, “we’re thankful the State Attorney Office finally got to this point.”

McKee, tearing up a bit, thanked the state attorney.

“I know this means a lot to you,” the Honorable Barbara Twine Thomas told McKee, “Good luck.”

The 1987 murder of Isaiah Walker remains unsolved.

This article originally appeared at Creative Loafing.

Tampa filmmaker pays homage to B-movies with short about single-use plastics

‘Creature From the Bag Lagoon’ may be the best thing we’ve seen all year. It heads to Tampa in December.

Even if I didn’t already love Creature from the Black Lagoon, I’d be in love with local filmmaker Kevin Short’s short film, Creature from the Bag Lagoon.

Watch the trailer. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Creature from the BAG Lagoon… I see what they did there!

I’ve seen the full thing (hey, as a journalist, you take what perks you can get) and can tell you it’s well worth heading to either the Tampa Bay Underground Film Fest or the Silver Screen for Short Films to check it out. It’s an environmentally aware B-movie riff made locally, which is to say that we had a filmgasm watching it. 

Seriously, it’s a lot of fun to watch. In a world where every environmental choice seems to have planet-ending consequences, this one approaches the same topic with levity and — dare we say it? — schlock.

This article originally appeared at Creative Loafing.

Tampa Bay Underground Film Festival | Britton Theater  and Villagio Cinemas, Tampa | Dec. 6-9 (Creature shows ec. 8) |

Does Florida’s governor deserve the label “Red Tide Rick”?

A fact-based look at whether or not we should blame Rick Scott for this extended red tide season.

Red tide. Whose fault is it, anyway? Is it Big Sugar? Rick Scott? Bill Nelson?

There are so many choices — and so many political ads — that it can be hard to find the villain in it all.

Right now, let’s focus on that unfortunate moniker “Red Tide Rick” and take a look at what Florida Governor Rick Scott has actually done that could have contributed to red tide.

  1. Rick Scott has adopted an anti-tax, anti-regulation stance on government.
  2. When he took office, he cut budgets at state environmental agencies like the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the water management districts ($700 million), including the South Florida Water Management District.
  3. According to Politifact, DEP cuts included eliminating the agency that reviewed plans for development in Florida cities and counties, the Department of Community Affairs (2011)
  4. In 2012, the DEP laid off 58 employees.
  5. According to the Tampa Bay Times, the DEP no longer handles environmental enforcement cases at the same level as it did under Governor Charlie Crist. In 2010, DEP handled 2,289 cases by 2012, that number had dropped to 799.  
  6. Those budget cuts at the water management district meant that Florida’s water monitoring network lost more than 200 of its 350 sites. Currently, the state has only 115 sites for monitoring water. (Source: Florida International University’s Southeast Environmental Research Center). 
  7. DEP pollution regulation enforcement has also dropped. In 2010, DEP handled almost 1,600 enforcement cases; last year, it handled 220. (Source: Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility)
  8. Governor Scott also made it easier to have a septic tank, repealing the law requiring they get inspected. Florida has 2.6 million septic tanks; after Scott repealed the law, only 1 percent get inspected
  9. He has also disallowed the use of the phrase climate change, although scientists say research indicates rising ocean temperatures contribute to extended red tide blooms.

While we know that red tide is a naturally occurring bacteria and it originates offshore, significant evidence suggests nutrient runoff acts as a fertilizer for the bloom, so it’s safe to assume Scott’s policies haven’t done much to prevent — or remedy — the situation.

This article originally appeared at Creative Loafing.

Dean McKee: Still in jail — but perhaps not for long

On Jan. 9, Judge Nazaretian may grant Dean McKee his appellate bond. Or he may not.

In the front corner, Dean and his attorney, Seth Miller of the Innocence Project of Florida talked quietly, their heads together. Dean gave small waves and smiles to each of his family and his friends as they walked into the courtroom. He blew his fiancée a kiss. 

But let’s back up.

Last month, Dean McKee — whose first-degree murder conviction Judge Campbell overthrew in October of this year — stood before circuit court judge Nick Nazaretian while his lawyer, Seth Miller of the Innocence Project of Florida, prepared to argue two motions: either release Dean on bond until his appeal, or re-sentence him (more on that below). Assistant State Attorney Megan Newcomb told Judge Nazaretian that he might lack jurisdiction to rule on either of those two motions, arguing that as the case was on appeal, the judge couldn’t make any rulings.

Dean went back to solitary confinement in Hillsborough County Jail (for his own protection) until today, when he once again stood before the same judge, who took his time questioning Miller on several issues: Was it a moot point to be in the courtroom, given that Dean’s murder conviction had been overturned? Why did the Innocence Project of Florida want him to re-sentence Dean if they believed Dean didn’t kill Isaiah Walker in 1988? Why did Miller feel he had jurisdiction to re-sentence Dean?

Confused? Here’s some background from a Dec. 20 article about Dean, who was convicted of murdering Isaiah walker in 1988. The sentence was overturned in October of this year, but Dean remains in jail. Had Dean not asked the court to examine the DNA evidence, he would likely already be a free man because when Judge Harry “Hanging Harry” Coe III sentenced Dean to life in prison, it was legal to send a minor to prison for life — but it isn’t now. In 2015, the Florida Supreme Court declared such sentences unconstitutional (Graham v. Florida, 2009); anyone who’d been sentenced to life in prison as a juvenile has been re-sentenced. Former Sumter Correctional Institution Correctional Officer Joe Carney worked with Dean for many years and spoke with CL about Dean’s character.
Based on Carney’s assessment of Dean and current sentencing guidelines — and Dean’s accrued time off for good behavior — any prisoner with Dean’s record who’d been sentenced to life in prison as a juvenile in the 1980s would be free by now.
But because Dean’s case was on appeal — because he wanted to clear his name — he has not been re-sentenced. That’s what one of the Nov. 29 motions asked: Re-sentence him now. 

After a relatively short explanation of why the hearing wasn’t a moot point, Miller and Assistant State Attorney Megan Newcomb agreed that Judge Nazaretian did indeed have the right to decide on whether or not Dean could get released on an appellate bond. As to why Miller wanted him to re-sentence Dean if Miller believed in Dean’s innocence?

“We are simply looking to get him home,” Miller said.

Then came the hard part. Judge Nazaretian listened to Miller and then Newcomb explain why they believed/did not believe he had the jurisdiction to re-sentence Dean. Miller presented a slew of case law in support of his point. Newcomb, of course, disagreed, but did call the judge’s right to re-sentence Dean “discretionary.” She also argued that since Judge Campbell had vacated (overturned) the sentence along with the conviction, the sentence no longer existed.

“So we can’t correct something that doesn’t exist?” Judge Nazaretian asked.

Meanwhile, Dean McKee sat in handcuffs and a red jumpsuit in Newcomb’s direct line of sight.

On Jan. 5, the judge will issue a written position on whether or not he has jurisdiction.

On Jan. 9, he will hear the case for Dean’s appellate bond. 

Until then, Dean’s in jail, serving the sentence Necomb told the judge “didn’t exist.”

This article originally appeared at Creative Loafing.

#BecauseGluten: A hearty thank you

Locally, there are a few gluten-free standouts that deserve my gratitude.

This week, CL Managing/Online Editor Scott Harrell has inspired us to be vocally thankful. And, locally, there are a few standouts — from a gluten-free point of view — that deserve my gratitude.

By now, you probably know that Craft Kafé, where everything is gluten-free, is my safe haven. Teddy Skiadiotis and his crew are the absolute best, and they create quite possibly the best quiche I’ve ever eaten — with a flaky, GF crust. They also did an exceptionally tasty brunch for us the day after our wedding, making all who suffer from what my family calls “The Salustri Stomach” rest a little easier.

Almost any Mexican place worth its margarita salt has plenty of GF offerings, but Nueva Cantina‘s Paul Daubert knows his protocols. Before we knew he was the chef, a friend suggested him for our wedding. He outdid himself with a huge seafood boil that was GF (because clams, shrimp, corn and potatoes don’t have gluten anyway, I don’t know that our guests felt they were suffering because of my stomach’s failings). 

I sing the praises of Pia’s Trattoria so much I should be embarrassed. Notice the word “should.” I’m proud to say the owners reacted to my diagnosis by coaching me on what to say and ask at a restaurant, and also added a gluten-free version of their sour orange pie to the menu (they, too, outdid themselves with a GF and gluten-intense dessert table at our wedding). 

PJ’s St. Pete BeachNoble Crust and New World Brewery (hurry up with the new place, please!) all have GF beer that’s not the tastes-like-kitten-tears Redbridge — and Noble Crust also has a tasty gluten-free pizza crust. I’m still exploring — and trying to take off the 30 pounds I gained while feeling sorry for myself and eating crap-packed GF food — but these guys have all made my year infinitely easier.

Gluten-free pancakes. Photo by Cathy Salustri.
Oh, pancakes, how I’ve missed you. Photo by Cathy Salustri

And then there’s all of you. I don’t know how new diagnoses get through the early stages of going GF without a cadre of readers who have been, quite honestly, amazing.

Earlier this month, I spoke at the Festival of Reading. My book has nothing to do with gluten or the lack of it in my life, but I was pleasantly surprised to meet more than a few of you who knew me from this column. One reader gave me some amazing tea, and another — whom I met some years back while researching my book — brought me a recipe for clementine cake, a dessert I’ll make this week (and report back).

Yes, I’m staying GF for Thanksgiving, which is only the second time I’ve baked in 2017. It’s because of you that I’m willing to try. Your suggestions and reassurance have helped me find the best “flours” (shout-out to our food critic, Jon Palmer Claridge) and ways to bake. 

For someone who admits she was a total dick about gluten-free people pre-celiac, y’all have come through in amazing way. I am thankful. 

This post appeared originally in Creative Loafing Tampa.

Press release hell, day 567: Honor a veteran?

I’ve been on vacation — and a post about why is coming soon — and today I returned to my beloved job with a mountain of less-than-beloved press releases. It’s Friday night and I’m going through them, and my patience is — well, you can pretty much guess. This one set me off:

“Remember, the theme is ‘Honor America’s Veterans’, featuring red, white and blue kites, banners and flags galore…New and experienced flyers should bring their best red, white and blue kites to share the freedom of kite flying by sharing kite knowledge and including the public.”

Fly a kite. To honor our veterans. Sponsored by a store that — hey, what a co-winky-dink — sells kites.

Folks, I’m all for honoring our veterans. But talk to any Viet Nam vet who can’t hear a helicopter without freaking the hell out, or any veteran who was injected with anthrax vaccines before the government ordered the testing stopped, or any Gulf War veteran who has lingering illnesses and mental scars the VA doesn’t actually have a goddamn clue how to treat other than by throwing handfuls of pills at them, and then tell me that flying a red, white and blue kite will change a goddamn thing for them.

You want to honor a veteran? Call your congressman and demand they fund medical research on treating PTSD and finding ways to treat vets exposed to chemical welfare. Volunteer your time at a soup kitchen to help the homeless men left on the street when President Reagan closed the state hospitals and left many emotionally and mentally damaged Viet Nam vets to fend for themselves. Give your money to Wounded Warrior Project or VETSports Tampa Bay. Tweet to our president — because we know he checks his Twitter — and demand our veterans get the healthcare they not only earned, they deserve.

Oh, hey, a kite… it’s all better now! kennethkonica via Flickr/CC

But don’t go buy a damn red, white and blue kite and fly it. That doesn’t help anyone but the high-rent shop on the beach that’s profiting off the men and women who made unbelievable sacrifices for our liberty.

And, you know what? Good for them if they really believe that’s helping any veteran at all. Do you really think, though, that the ex-marine who entertains thoughts of ending it all because she can’t cope with what she’s seen and done is going to see a kite and say, “Gosh, golly gee, I feel ALL BETTER NOW”?

These men and women were willing to give up their lives, their families, their tomorrows for you. Flying a kite for them isn’t only a meaningless thing, it’s patently fucking offensive: “I would die for your freedom” and “I would fly a kite on a beautiful day in November to honor that” are not even on the same planet.


This is why I don’t take vacations.