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Wed Oct 4, 2017 03:08

Victim testifies in trial of former Sheriff’s deputy

The trial began Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017, for former Sarasota County Sheriff's Deputy Frank Bybee, at the Sarasota County Judicial Center.
By Carlos R. Munoz
Staff Writer

Posted Sep 27, 2017 at 7:24 PM
Updated Sep 28, 2017 at 10:33 AM

The elderly victim testified about the night that Frank Bybee allegedly tried to kill her.

SARASOTA — Former Sarasota County sheriff’s Deputy Frank Eugene Bybee abused his power as an authority figure to gain the trust of a 79-year-old Sarasota woman and then attempted to kill her after she reported him to superiors, prosecutors said Wednesday as his trial began.

Bybee’s defense team responded with challenges to the credibility of the elderly victim, whom they said suffers from mental health issues.

The Herald-Tribune will not name or publish photos of the woman because of a policy to not identify victims of crime.

“This is a case about a person who was sworn to uphold the law,” said Assistant State Attorney Karen Fraivillig, the lead prosecutor, in her opening statement. “He twisted and broke the law.”

Ronald Kurpiers, one of two attorneys on Bybee’s defense team, said the victim had a “Jekyll and Hyde” personality and “will give you multiple versions” of the events.

“The evidence will show you folks that (the victim) cannot tell the truth,” Kurpiers said.

Bybee, 46, is charged with 18 felonies, including attempted murder, exploitation of the elderly, burglary, theft and kidnapping. The alleged crimes took place between Oct. 21, 2016 and Jan. 12. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if he is convicted of first-degree attempted murder.

The victim called police Jan. 12 to report that Bybee came over uninvited a night earlier and attempted to strangle her, smother her with a pillow, make her take pills, and then later, after she fell asleep, that he left the kitchen door to the garage open with a car running to asphyxiate her with carbon monoxide.

Kurpiers said in his opening statement that blood, cuts and bruises were not present when deputies first arrived at the victim’s home to investigate her claim.

“Not one deputy filed a report that there was carbon monoxide in that house,” Kurpiers told jurors. “They saw a distraught woman sitting in a recliner. The only thing wrong with her is that she has a cut lip — five experienced deputies.”

The victim called the Sheriff’s Office a second time at around noon and a sergeant and a detective were sent to the home, according to Kurpiers. He said they discovered the victim was now in a bruised and bloody condition.

“Totally different,” Kurpiers said.

Fraivillig disagreed, saying in her opening statement that the victim wandered out of the house at around 8:15 a.m., wearing a bloody nightgown when she met her neighbor. The victim, who had a bruised face, told the neighbor what happened and they called the police.

According to court documents, Bybee was upset that the victim, whom he befriended during a call for assistance in October, called the Sheriff’s Office to report that he was harassing her. An internal affairs investigation began on Dec. 20, 2016 and the former deputy was put on administrative leave Jan. 9. Three days later, in retaliation for the call, according to a sheriff’s report, he tried to kill her.

During the internal affairs inquiry, four checks mailed to Bybee postmarked on Dec. 29 were discovered at the Sheriff’s Office. They were all dated Dec. 21: one written to Bybee for $50,000, and three $5,000 checks made out to his sons.

The victim told detectives that she never signed the checks. A forensics team found Bybee’s fingerprint on one of the checks.

Fraivillig said evidence that Bybee was exploiting the victim was also found in the form of bank statements, witness interviews and video surveillance. It shows Bybee made 13 withdrawals from the victim’s account using her debit card and pin number — the transactions were captured by security cameras and totaled $4,564.50.

The prosecutor said evidence was also discovered that showed Bybee accessed the victim’s computer and used her personal information to send emails to friends and doctors from her email account.

One email said, “I can’t go on. I am going to take a bottle of pills tonight and go to sleep and not wake up. You are the meanest friend I have ever had. Don’t call police. I’ll tell them you are the crazy one.”

A similar email sent to her doctor resulted in the victim being involuntarily committed for two weeks under Florida’s Baker Act. Fraivillig said it originated from Bybee’s home IP address in Bradenton, where the victim has never been, and was composed by Bybee.

The victim denied writing the emails, according to a Sheriff’s report.

Kurpiers said that the victim’s confinement was not the result of the doctor’s recommendation, but was prompted by the observations of deputies who went to the woman’s home.

“While observing her they (the deputies) said, ’Ma’am, we need to take you,” Kurpiers said. He said her behavior in the mental health treatment center in Punta Gorda caused her stay to be extended more than the usual 72-hour period.

The defense attorney said that it wasn’t uncommon for people to come and go from the victim’s home as she was not very mobile. Kurpiers said it was also customary for the victim to ask people to take money out of her account using her debit card and pin — and named several friends.

Kurpiers said that when the victim called the Sheriff’s Office she said, “He stole $65,000 from me.”

“There is no way she could have known anything about that money unless she sent them (checks) herself,” Kurpiers told the jury.

Victim testifies

The woman at the center of the case took the stand Wednesday afternoon and was first questioned by the state, but her cross-examination by the defense was cut short when Judge Donald H. Mason recessed the court at 4:45 p.m.

The victim said she was a former teacher who retired in 1992 from a school in New York and moved to the Sarasota area in 1993.

She told Fraivillig that she gave Bybee $1,000 to paint her house, which he did not do.

The victim said she also gave her dog to Bybee along with $1,000 to care for the animal for the first year.

After that, she said, Bybee “was taking over my life” and would do things despite her objections.

The victim recounted the night that Bybee tried to kill her, saying she fell asleep due to the pills he forced her to take around midnight.

The trial will resume Thursday morning with defense attorneys continuing their cross examination of the victim.

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Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Bybee trial: Wife of Frank Bybee testifies against him

By Carlos R. Munoz
Staff Writer

Posted Oct 3, 2017 at 1:48 PM
Updated Oct 3, 2017 at 9:03 PM

Attorneys clash over calling a defense witness early.

SARASOTA — The wife of Frank Bybee testified against her husband Tuesday in his trial for attempted murder and 17 other felonies.

Assistant State Attorney Karen Fraivillig called Heike Bybee to the stand to provide evidence about her husbands whereabouts on the night of Jan. 11.

The German-born woman with a soft accent said that her husband, a former Sarasota County Sheriff’s deputy, left the house Jan. 11 at about 8:30 p.m. — around the same time that an 80-year-old alleged victim is accusing him of breaking into her home and trying to kill her while she was watching the news.

The Herald-Tribune is not naming the woman because of its policy about identifying certain crime victims.

Bybee, 46, had befriended the elderly woman, but their relationship had deteriorated when the woman called his bosses at the Sheriff’s Office and asked them to help sever the relationship with the former deputy because he was inserting himself into her life. It led to an internal affairs investigation after it was discovered that Bybee accepted money from the woman he had committed under the Baker Act in October 2016.

Bybee said during an interview with Sheriff’s Office Detective Cassandra Gaeta that they had bonded over spirituality and her Yorkshire terrier named “J.J.” Gaeta was recalled to the stand on Tuesday to present her video interview with Bybee.

After her committal, the alleged victim contacted the Sheriff’s Office to relay a message to Bybee about his kindness. Bybee responded by visiting the woman in person and offered to help her around the house because she was struggling.

Bybee admitted in the video interview with with the detective that he took two checks from the woman to care for a dog the woman had given him and for car repairs. He cashed the checks for $1,000 each and told the detective he used the money as intended, but added that it did not cover the expenses he incurred while helping the woman around the house.

The more he helped the woman, the more needy she became, Bybee said in the interview, adding that when he declined to help her she would quickly change her tone and become upset.

“Just this normal calm, I’d tell her no,” Bybee said. “She’d get upset.”

Bybee said the alleged victim threatened to call the Sheriff’s Office if he did not help clean her garage. In the video interview, he said he told her to make the call.

The alleged victim called and complained, and when four other checks were discovered in his Sheriff’s Office mailbox — one made out to him for $50,000, and three to his three sons for $5,000 each — he was placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an internal affair’s investigation.

Bybee was put on leave Jan. 9. Three days later, the alleged victim says, he came to her home through an open door and attempted to strangle her, smother her with a pillow, force her to take pills until, after hours of fighting with him, she passed out. The woman says she woke up to find her car running and the kitchen door open allowing carbon monoxide into her house.

Sheriff’s Office deputies who came to the her home testified earlier in the trial that they did not find a vehicle running in the garage. Deputies and a neighbor said they saw the alleged victim with a cut to her lip, some bruising, and blood on her lip — photographic evidence that was presented by a Sheriff’s Office investigator Tuesday afternoon.

The alleged victim, one of the first witnesses called by the state, said that Bybee attempted to clean up evidence of the attack and that he waited to leave until police and fire engines at a car fire nearby had left the area. The woman said she passed out around midnight and Bybee was still there.

Heike Bybee said that she heard noises late at night in the garage and assumed it was Frank Bybee returning home, but she did not go and check. She went to sleep and when she woke up at around 3 a.m., he was lying in bed.

Heike Bybee said she never had the alleged victim’s phone number or email, never emailed her or sent a message to the elderly woman.

Frank Bybee said in his interview with detectives that close to Christmas his family planned to go to Busch Gardens to see the Christmas lights and invited the alleged victim to accompany them. His wife said that the they went on the trip, but she was unaware of the invitation her husband extended to the woman.

The alleged victim never went on the trip, Heike Bybee said.

Among the other witnesses called Tuesday were the 80-year-old woman’s friend, Philomena Pereira, a doctor that examined her, Dr. Lisa Tichenor of Sarasota Memorial Hospital, and Sheriff’s Office Crime Scene Specialist Deputy Jerry Wagner.

Dr. Tichenor was a witness for the defense being allowed to testify early due to extenuating circumstances that were not revealed. She provided evidence regarding an examination of the alleged victim after the incident, but when the defense attorney Ronald Kurpiers asked her about mental health comments on her report, the state objected.

The judge ruled that the doctor could not comment about the woman’s mental state because she was not qualified to do so.

Judge Donald H. Mason said that treatment notes and records “are really what rules the day.”

Fraivillig asked what Tichenor’s skills were: “I’m in emergency medicine. I help people from head-to-toe, inside-and-out.”

She said her annotation on notes about the alleged victim’s mental condition were based on a consultation with the woman’s psychiatric physician. He informed her that the alleged victim had a history of “personality disorder.”

Tichenor said she was not aware the woman accused Bybee of attacking her.


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