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Latest from Stephanie Brown

    Donald Smith is just days away from learning if he’ll be sentenced to life in prison, or to the death penalty. It took a jury less than 15 minutes to convict Smith last week for the 2013 kidnapping, rape, and murder of 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle. That same panel of jurors will now hear testimony from both sides, as prosecutors air out Smith’s prior criminal history, and the defense tries to show mitigating factors.  Smith’s defense didn’t call any witnesses or deliver a closing argument. They conducted limited cross examination, as the State called 19 witnesses, including emotional testimony from the Medical Examiner and Cherish’s mother. FULL COVERAGE: The trial of Donald Smith A court filing from the defense shows they intend to call several witnesses, including former members of JSO and Smith’s own son. They may also introduce mental health records, medical scans, and details of a “neuropsychological assessment” done of Smith. The State is expected to talk about Smith’s status as a sex offender and prior criminal history.  This is the first death penalty case in this circuit since Florida’s death penalty sentencing law was overhauled because of rulings first from the Supreme Court and then the Florida Supreme Court. The US Supreme Court first help that Florida’s sentencing scheme was unconstitutional, because jurors served to advise, but not impose the sentence. The Florida Supreme Court later ruled the jury must also be unanimous in sentencing a person to death.  WOKV and Action News Jax will have full coverage of the penalty phase. Stay with us for continuing coverage.
  • The Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department has rescued at least one man who was dangling on the side of a Downtown high-rise building. This happened at the BB&T building on Forsyth. It appears scaffolding that the workers were on gave way, leading them to hang from their harnesses. JFRD dispatch initially reported this as involving one person, but our reporter on the scene saw two workers on the side of the building, and we are working to confirm the details. JFRD’s special operations team conducted the rescue from the roof, reaching the dangling man around the 17th floor. This is a developing story that will be updated in to the evening.
  • Less than a day after a 7-year-old was fatally shot outside a home in Durkeeville, there’s an intense push for anyone in the community to come forward with information. Sheriff Mike Williams announced Crime Stoppers is now offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in this case. You can submit an anonymous tip by calling 1-866-845-TIPS.  “Police can’t solve all these crimes alone, they need help. They need help from the community,” says First Coast Crime Stoppers Executive Director Wyllie Hodges. “There’s no excuse whatsoever for someone not to come forward in one fashion or the other.” Share this post on Facebook to help spread the word: JSO now says there were about six people in the yard outside of a home on Mt. Herman Street last night, drinking and smoking marijuana. Among the crowd, according to Williams, were multiple convicted felons, a convicted drug dealer, at least one person with known gang ties, and 7-year-old Tashawn Gallon. JSO says a small or medium sized SUV stopped in front of the home, and at least one person inside started shooting. One person in the yard told JSO he picked up a nearby gun and started firing back, according to Williams. Gallon was in the crossfire. “At the end of the day, we’re not talking about somebody firing a gun up in the air, we’re talking about the death of a seven-year-old little boy. If you can’t get behind that, then something’s wrong with you,” Williams says. An adult man was also injured in the shooting and fled the scene, bringing himself to the hospital. JSO says he is not cooperating with the investigation, and has actually been arrested on an unrelated, outstanding weapons charge. JSO says many of the other people in the yard are not cooperating either, but Williams promised to pursue charges against anyone who is openly obstructing the investigation or giving them false information. “We’re going to solve this case, we’re going to bring this person to justice, I promise you that,” Williams says. While those immediately involved are not being helpful, Williams says they have been getting tips from the community already- but they need more. At this time, the motive is unknown- including whether the shooting could be gang related- and police are still investigating who the actual intended target was as well. “But here’s what I know right now. There is someone on the street today that is responsible for the shooting death of a 7-year-old little boy. And I can promise you that we are going to move heaven and Earth, and kick in a few doors, until we bring that person to justice,” Williams says. You can also submit information directly to JSO by calling 904-630-0500 or emailing JSOCrimeTips@jaxsheriff.org. This is the fifth juvenile shot in Jacksonville in less than two weeks, and Williams and Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry say they continue to focus on a two-pronged approach for cutting back this violence.  The first part- addressing the most immediate concerns- comes with enforcement. Williams says they have more officers going through training to hit the streets and increase the size of the force. They’re also leveraging new initiatives like ShotSpotter and a ballistics tracking system, as well as partnerships with state and federal law enforcement. With treating the immediate “symptoms”, though, Williams and Curry says they also strategically invest in the future. The most recent project is the reorganized network of groups and resources aimed at at-risk youth, known as the Kids Hope Alliance. “It’s an investment that’s long term. We need to make sure that our elected officials in the future and the ones that sit here today remain committed to these programs, regardless of how hard the work is or how long it takes, because it does change lives,” Curry says. Williams says he’s also open to other options, like gun buyback events that are being considered by at least one City Councilwoman, who represents the area. He says, in his experience, those events don’t directly intercept the guns used in crimes like this, but it could prevent the theft of some guns, while also getting the community talking and engaged. All parties again emphasized that Crime Stoppers is completely anonymous. While Williams acknowledged that some people don’t come forward because they fear the violence and retaliation, he urged anyone thinking that to reconsider, because your identity will not be known through Crime Stoppers. Additionally, he said they’re looking for tips not only from people who were in the area last night, but anyone who may have heard conversations or information before or after the shooting.
  • Detectives with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office are interviewing witnesses as they investigate a double shooting that took the life of a 7-year-old boy.  The shooting happened late Sunday night in the Durkeeville neighborhood on Mt Herman Street. Police say the child and a 23-year-old man were in the front yard when they were shot. Both were taken to a local hospital, the child was pronounced dead and the other victim has non-life-threatening injuries.  “Shootings are unacceptable, but when you have children that can’t play in their front yard, it’s unbelievable to me. So please come forward with any information that you have,” says Assistant Chief Scott Dingee. Police say it’s still early in their investigation, but they believe the suspect vehicle is a gray SUV and could be a Toyota model. JSO says there were at least two people inside the suspect vehicle, but their identities are unknown at this time.  “This is the fifth juvenile that has been shot in less than two weeks, now the first murder attached to that.” If you have any information about the shooting, you are asked to call JSO at 904.350.0500 or Crime Stoppers at 1.866.845.TIPS.
  • UPDATE: Just about 15 minutes after reaching out to the public for help, CCSO says they located this child safe. ========== The Clay County Sheriff’s Office is asking for your help tracking down a missing 8-year-old. CCSO says Desiyas Dawson was last seen leaving Coppergate Elementary School just before 3PM. He’s described as a black male with brown eyes and black hair and was last seen wearing a blue “And 1” shirt, orange/gray jacket, black shorts, black shoes, and an Avengers backpack.  Desiyas is considered to be in danger because of his age and the time. JSO is assisting in the investigation.  If you have any information about Desiyas’ location, you’re asked to contact 911.
  • The University of North Florida is looking to establish a Downtown Jacksonville campus in the Barnett Building. Documents filed with the city’s Downtown Investment Authority say the school is finalizing negotiations to lease the 4th and 5th floors of the Barnett Bank building, where they would bring a series of graduate and entrepreneurship educational programs. Classes would be held during evening hours. The DIA documents say UNF plans to have 25 faculty and staff and about 150 students using the satellite location in Downtown.  The Barnett Bank Building is currently being redeveloped, as part of a larger $90 million project that includes the Laura Street Trio- bringing a signature hotel, parking, dining, office and residential space, and more. The Building is slated to open later this year, along with a new parking structure. The City has committed $10 million in incentives to the development group for the larger project.  PROJECT WEBSITE: Barnett Building and Laura Street Trio redevelopment UNF is now requesting $380,000 from the DIA, plus the ability to purchase parking vouchers at a reduced rate. They’re proposing tenant improvements of $1.4 million.  The DIA is proposing to provide a forgivable loan from the Downtown Economic Development Fund. It would have a term of five years and the expectation the loan would be forgiven over that time, as long as certain benchmarks are met around student enrollment. The money would be used for outfitting the classrooms, offices, student lounge, and other areas- largely in technology and furniture.  The DIA is also offering to allow UNF to purchase parking vouchers for staff and students at a discounted rate of $3 each, valid weekdays from 5PM through 10PM.  The DIA Board is set to vote on this plan next Wednesday.  The Term Sheet for this deal implies this would be a five-year lease, with a $13,306 annual lease payment for the first three years and a $266,120 annual lease payment during the fourth and fifth year.
  • For the first time in several weeks, there has been a “small decline” in flu activity across Florida. Despite that, the Florida Department of Health says influenza activity is still higher than peak levels seen in the past flu season. There was also at least one new outbreak recorded in St. Johns County, although the nature of the outbreak and number of people involved is not clear at this time. 71 outbreaks were reported across the state.  Flu activity overall is considered mild in St. Johns, Nassau, and Baker counties. Duval and Clay counties are reporting moderate flu activity. The flu trend is reported as decreasing in Duval and St. Johns, plateaued in Baker and Clay, and increasing in Nassau.  The FDOH says there was one new influenza-related death of a child reported over the week, which brings the total to six pediatric deaths for this flu season. Deaths from pneumonia and influenza also remain higher than expected- and that’s expected to continue increasing.  To help prevent the spread of flu and flu-like illness- if you’re sick- you should stay home until you’re fever free for at least 24 hours. If you haven’t received a flu shot, the state is encouraging you to do that as soon as possible. Everyone is also encouraged to practice good hand washing.
  • “Significant contraband recoveries” have led to some visitation being cancelled at Baker Work Camp in Sanderson this weekend. It’s one of five Florida Department of Corrections facilities that will not allow visitors this weekend.  FDC won’t provide additional details about the contraband activity, including how many incidents there have been, what contraband was involved, and whether any inmates face charges- citing the active criminal investigation. Blackwater Correctional Facility, Columbia Correctional Institution, Century Work Camp, and Everglades Correctional Institution’s Main Unit have also cancelled weekend visitation “to ensure the continued safe operation of facilities statewide”, according to FDC.  In addition to the contraband activity, FDC says there was an “incident involving a group of inmates” at Columbia Correctional, which “resulted in staff injury”.  FDC says they have “zero tolerance” for contraband and inmate misconduct. They also say they’re taking proactive measures to ensure normal operations can continue, and will resume normal visitation as soon as possible. Baker Work Camp is under the supervision of Baker Correctional Institution.
  • You’ll see some more security at a few Putnam County schools today, following social media threats that cite the South Florida high school shooting.  The Putnam County Sheriff’s Office says a 15-year-old Edge High School student has been arrested for a threatening social media post about Palatka High School. PCSO says that teen has been charged with a second degree felony count of writing and sending threats to kill. A similar threat to Jenkins Middle School is still under investigation, and PCSO and the Putnam County School District is offering a $1,000 reward for information in that case.  PCSO doesn’t believe either of these threats are credible, but they have a heavy presence at the schools as a precaution. A PCSO spokesperson tells us similar threats have been reported in other parts of the state as well.  This all started with a social media image allegedly posted by a teen from South Carolina, that implied another school shooting would take place. The threats to local schools used the same image, but added local school names. WOKV is not including further information about the threat or an image of the threat, in an effort to prevent further copycat threats.  If you have any information about the threat to Jenkins Middle School, you can submit a tip through Crime Stoppers at 1-888-277-8477 or call the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office.
  • TIAA is taking over the naming rights to EverBank Field, and that means a name change. TIAA completed its acquisition of EverBank in June. EverBank has now confirmed to WOKV that all EverBank facilities will go by the name TIAA Bank- and that means the stadium as well. Pending the approval of the City of Jacksonville and the Jacksonville Jaguars, EverBank Field will be renamed TIAA Bank Field by the upcoming football season. “We’re excited for our relationship with EverBank to not only continue, but grow under the new name of TIAA Bank. They have been a fantastic corporate partner for many years, sharing our mutual commitment to the betterment of the First Coast community. We’re grateful for their long-term commitment to the Jaguars and to the city of Jacksonville,” says a statement from Jags President Mark Lamping to WOKV. There were no details immediately available about who will be paying to change the signage. The name change was announced today, but the transition for all of the other EverBank facilities to TIAA Bank facilities is expected mid-2018. This is a developing story that will be updated through the day.
  • Stephanie Brown

    Assistant News Director

    Stephanie Brown is the WOKV Assistant Director of News and Afternoon Reporter. She guides the direction of WOKV’s news content, frequently contributes to social and digital platforms, and is a leading voice on-air. Stephanie has been with the team full-time since May 2012, which is when she graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in telecommunication and political science. When she’s not enterprising story ideas or digging in to an investigation, she’s likely cooking or enjoying downtime with her dog.

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  • Months before authorities said he walked into a Florida high school and killed 17 people, Nikolas Cruz was reportedly filmed shooting what appears to be a BB gun in his backyard. >> See the video here According to CNN, the video appears to show Cruz, the 19-year-old police say was behind Wednesday's deadly mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, pointing a BB gun outside his house. The person in the video waves the replica weapon around, aims and shoots toward the fence surrounding the house. >> VIDEO: Florida school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz shown fighting students in 2016 The footage is thought to have been taken by a neighbor in October 2017. >> Florida school shooting: Teacher of the year's emotional Facebook post goes viral Cruz reportedly has a history of disturbing behavior. According to police reports obtained by CNN, Cruz was accused of being violent toward his late adoptive mother, who once told Broward County sheriff’s deputies that Cruz had expressed an interest in obtaining a gun and cut his arms 'for attention.' Classmates also said Cruz was abusive toward his ex-girlfriend, the New York Post reported. >> Read more trending news  The Federal Bureau of Investigation was previously alerted to Cruz and threats he allegedly made online, including one about wanting to carry out a school shooting. Read more here.
  • An Uber Eats driver who police said shot and killed a customer in Atlanta turned himself in Monday afternoon and claims he acted in self-defense, his attorney said. >> Watch the news report here Only WSB-TV's Tom Jones was there when Robert Bivines, 37, arrived at the jail with his attorney. The Atlanta Police Department's Homicide Unit secured an arrest warrant for felony murder on Monday. The shooting happened at a condominium on Pharr Road in Buckhead on Saturday night. Police said Ryan Thornton ordered food from Uber Eats, and the driver delivered the food around 11:30 p.m. Authorities said words were exchanged between Thornton and the driver. >> PREVIOUS STORY: Uber Eats driver accused of killing customer turns himself in The Uber Eats driver then shot the 30-year-old, police said. Thornton died at Grady Memorial Hospital.  Bivines' attorney, Jackie Patterson, calls this a case of self-defense. 'This is a case where my client had no choice but to defend himself,' he said. Patterson said Thornton was irate about the amount of time it took for his food to arrive. He said Thornton was aggressive, and as Bivines walked away, Thornton made a threatening move.  'He turned around, put his hand in his pocket and said, 'I'm going to [expletive] you up,'' Patterson said. Patterson said Bivines was afraid to wait to see what Thornton had in his pocket, so he said he defended himself. Jones asked Patterson why his client, who had only been on the job less than a week, didn't just drive away. >> Read more trending news  'You can't drive away when someone is coming at you with your window down,' Patterson said. Bivines will be taken to the Fulton County Jail. He will have a first appearance before a judge Tuesday. Uber sent WSB-TV a statement Monday saying Bivens no longer has access to the app: “We are shocked and saddened by this senseless act of violence and our hearts go out to Ryan’s friends and family. We have been working with the Atlanta Police Department, and the driver can no longer access the app” A spokesperson for Uber told WSB-TV that Bivens passed a background check. Bivens was an Uber Eats delivery partner only and did not drive passengers. Uber is working with the Atlanta Police Department on this investigation. Morehouse College sent the following statement:  'The Morehouse College community is mourning the passing of Ryan Thornton who was was shot Saturday in Atlanta after ordering a late dinner from UberEATS, according to police reports. 'Thornton, 30, was a recent graduate of Morehouse College. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science in May 2017, and had started a new job. 'Morehouse faculty, staff, and administrators on Monday were shocked and saddened by the news of Thornton’s death. Employees in Morehouse College’s admissions office said they worked closely with Thornton and described him as being friendly, hard-working, and determined to become a Morehouse Man.  'President David A. Thomas said that the Morehouse community stands at the ready to support Thornton’s family during this difficult time. “ ‘The loss of another young life to gun violence is tragic,' Thomas said. 'Ryan was an ambitious student with so much promise. He was well-respected by his peers and highly regarded by his professors. We at Morehouse College will keep Ryan's family in our thoughts and prayers.’ ”
  • Years before he was accused of killing one of his Uber Eats customers in Atlanta this past weekend, Robert Bivines had been arrested on aggravated assault charges in DeKalb County, Georgia, according to jail records.  >> Uber Eats driver accused of shooting, killing customer claims self-defense, attorney says But the nearly decade-old offense wouldn’t have been flagged by Uber’s driver pre-screening process because it only tracks criminal records as far back as seven years, according to the company’s website. Potential employees are subject to a driving history screening and, if cleared, undergo a criminal background check in national, state and local databases, according to the Uber website. The company said Bivines passed a background check and had been with the delivery company for only a week before the deadly shooting.  >> On MyAJC.com: Court upholds young mother’s conviction for killing newborn “We are shocked and saddened by this senseless act of violence and our hearts go out to (Ryan Thornton’s) friends and family,” Uber Eats said in a statement. “We have been working with the Atlanta Police Department, and the driver can no longer access the app.” Details of the 2009 assault case were not immediately available Monday, but Bivines pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of battery in May 2010, according to court records.  >> On MyAJC.com: R. Kelly evicted from N. Fulton homes, owes $30K, court documents show He was sentenced to one year of probation and ordered to have no contact with his victim. Bivines was also banned from the five-county metropolitan area. Online court records do not indicate how long the ban was enforced.  Bivines, 36, turned himself in Monday afternoon, two days after Atlanta police say he shot and killed Thornton, a recent Morehouse College graduate, after delivering food to the 30-year-old’s Pharr Court South condominium. The shooting was caught on surveillance video.  About 10:45 p.m. Saturday, Thornton placed an order with Tin Lizzy’s on Piedmont Road through the Uber Eats app, according to an Atlanta police report. Bivines was listed as the delivery driver.  “The victim went down to meet the driver, received his order and began walking away from the vehicle,” Atlanta police spokesman Carlos Campos said in a statement. “As the victim was walking away, it appears words may have been exchanged between he and the delivery driver.”  Thornton went back to Bivines’ car, and that’s when things turned deadly.  Atlanta police said four shots were fired through the passenger-side window. Bullets landed in Thornton’s torso.  >> Uber Eats driver accused of killing customer turns himself in As Thornton fell to the ground, Bivines drove away in his white Volkswagen, police said. Thornton called his girlfriend, who administered aid. He was pronounced dead at Grady Memorial Hospital.  Thornton graduated from Morehouse in May 2017 with a political science degree and had recently started a new job, a spokeswoman for the school, D. Aileen Dodd, said in a statement. While there, he worked closely with those in the admission’s office, who described him as “friendly, hard-working and determined to become a Morehouse Man.”  Morehouse President David A. Thomas said the college “stands at the ready to support Thornton’s family during this difficult time.” “Ryan was an ambitious student with so much promise. He was well-respected by his peers and highly regarded by his professors,” Thomas said. “We at Morehouse College will keep Ryan's family in our thoughts and prayers.” >> Read more trending news  Bivines’ attorney, Jackie Patterson, said the surveillance video doesn’t tell the full story.  Patterson told WSB-TV that Thornton — upset about the delivery time — threatened his client and motioned toward his pockets: “My client had no choice but to defend himself.”  Bivines is due in court at 11 a.m. Tuesday. 
  • An Uber Eats driver who police said shot and killed a customer turned himself in Monday afternoon. >> Read more trending news According to WSB-TV, Robert Bivens, 37, arrived at the jail with his attorney. The Atlanta Police Department's Homicide Unit secured an arrest warrant for felony murder Monday. The shooting happened Saturday night at a condominium on Pharr Road in Buckhead, Georgia. Police said Ryan Thornton ordered food from Uber Eats and the driver delivered the food around 11:30 p.m. At some point, authorities said words were exchanged between Thornton and the driver. The Uber Eats driver then shot the 30-year-old, police said. Thornton died at Grady Memorial Hospital.  Uber said in a statement on Monday, saying Bivens no longer has access to the app: “We are shocked and saddened by this senseless act of violence and our hearts go out to Ryan’s friends and family. We have been working with the Atlanta Police Department, and the driver can no longer access the app.” A spokesperson for Uber told WSB-TV Bivens passed a background check and had only been an Uber Eats driver for about a week. Bivens was an Uber Eats delivery partner only and did not drive passengers. Uber is working closely with the Atlanta Police Department on this investigation.
  • The man allegedly behind the fatal Florida high school shooting apparently has a disturbing past that is coming to light. A school fight that was captured on camera a little more than a year ago is the latest development. >> Click here to watch Authorities said 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Cruz was formerly a member of the school’s JROTC program before being expelled. >> Florida school shooting: Teacher of the year's emotional Facebook post goes viral A September 2016 video shared by ABC News shows Cruz wearing a white shirt and khakis while fighting with other students. Cruz was reportedly handed a two-day suspension following the incident. >> Family who took in Nikolas Cruz: 'We just didn't know' According to ABC, the fight was one of five documented incidents that caused school administrators to expel Cruz, mandating his transfer to another high school in February 2017. >> WATCH: Florida school shooting survivor Emma Gonzalez slams politicians, NRA in emotional speech Another incident that reportedly contributed to Cruz’s expulsion was his alleged fight with his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend. Cruz was allegedly abusive toward her before they broke up. >> Read more trending news  The massacre at the high school marked the 25th U.S. school shooting in which someone was killed since the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School.

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