By Chris Joseph
By Chris Joseph
By Allie Conti
By Chuck Strouse
By Chris Joseph
By Chris Joseph
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
The partying possibly even spilled over into trial, which began in early 1992 with Dorothy Sedgwick striding across a Daytona Beach courtroom in a blazer. While she was busy making the case that Virginia Larzelere was a cold, manipulative killer over 13 days of prosecution testimony, six trial attendees — including two prosecutors — remembered they smelled alcohol on Wilkins' breath, court records show. Sedgwick, who didn't immediately alert the court, later expressed dismay because, she said, it was "such a serious case."
But there were other serious concerns for Wilkins. In mid-February, at the height of the trial, he received a Florida Bar complaint that claimed he refused to refund a client a $25,000 retainer. What's more, the federal government later learned, he had substantially underreported that money on his income taxes — in addition to many other significant inconsistencies on his tax returns. (On September 22, 1995, Wilkins pleaded guilty to 16 federal charges that included the laundering of drug money, income tax evasion, perjury, and obstruction of justice. A federal judge in Tampa sentenced him to four years in federal prison, and he resigned from the state bar.)
It got worse. A 1992 report in the Daytona Beach News-Journal showed that the wayward Wilkins was also in a romantic relationship with the trial court reporter. According to that report, Sedgwick knew of the affair but didn't report it, though she'd been "somewhat concerned." ("She was my girlfriend," Wilkins claims.)
So maybe it was the booze, the alleged drug use, or the financial misdealings. Perhaps, even, it was the sex with the court reporter. But whatever the reason, Jack Wilkins reported he spent less than $3,000 on Larzelere's defense, according to court records. Then, after the state entered more than 70 pieces of evidence, Wilkins countered with exactly one day of defense. Worse, he didn't enlist even one expert to refute any of Heidle's claims, which were the crux of the state's case.
"There wasn't really much an expert could testify to," says Wilkins, who today lives in Spanish Fort, Alabama, with his wife. "And I've never used drugs in my life. I don't know where that came from. It's a bunch of bull... If you watched the trial tape, you'd see I didn't do a bad job."
His confidence wasn't born out in the result. On February 24, after just one hour of deliberation, the jury found Virginia Larzelere guilty of first-degree murder. But it didn't know Steven Heidle had lied about a few important things.
Weeks after Virginia's conviction, inside a 12th-floor office overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway in West Palm Beach, a phone rang. Wearing sandals and a mustache, attorney William Lasley picked up. Tall and thin, he exuded self-assurance. He exclusively wore suits that cost more than $1,000, rented an oceanside penthouse condo, drove an all-white 944 Porsche Turbo, and accepted only murder-one cases.
Lasley had closely monitored Virginia's trial with mounting abhorrence — not for the state's allegations against her but because her defense was so awful. "It was just absolute incompetence," he said. "Wilkins wasn't a murder lawyer. Murder is the Super Bowl, and you don't go to the big game with your B team."
Now, he had just taken Jason Larzelere's defense. That same day, he placed calls to a dozen experts to dig into the state's evidence. What Lasley discovered over the next several weeks was shocking. Virginia Larzelere didn't forge the signature on her husband's will, according to handwriting expert Shirl Solomon from Palm Springs, Florida. Dated August 19, 1992, her assessment also showed the notary's signature was genuine. Then an insurance analyst confirmed the life insurance policies weren't excessive.
Heidle had also testified that Jason was obsessed with guns. He said the younger Larzelere owned a .45 Argentine pistol that Jason adored and that, before the murder, Heidle had seen a sawed-off shotgun sitting on a bed of metal shavings next to a hacksaw near the couch. When police had searched the apartment, they did, in fact, find metal shavings. But there was a problem, Lasley learned. Those slivers didn't match the alloy in the shotgun retrieved from Pellicer Creek.
Another bombshell soon arrived. At Virginia Larzelere's trial, Heidle and Kris Palmieri both testified they'd mixed the concrete at Virginia Larzelere's house. Police found concrete there inside a cooking pot, seemingly linking the older Larzelere to the murder weapon. But then, Lasley discovered, the concrete at Larzelere's place didn't match that found in the case with the guns in Pellicer Creek.
"This was vital exculpatory information," seethes attorney David Hendry, with the state Capital Collateral Regional Counsel, which has tried to get Virginia out of prison. "It would not only have impeached Heidle and Palmieri's testimony but it would have distanced Virginia Larzelere from the concrete-encased weapons. Had Wilkins presented [this], she would have been acquitted."
During the weeks before the trial, Lasley also built an unsettling profile of the state's star witness. Heidle was insecure, money-driven, and highly dishonest, his friends said. Four of them gave statements alleging he had lied to authorities. "Steve was always looking for money," said Sarah Gabrys, a drag queen living in Orlando who first met Heidle at a gay club. "It was his main topic of conversation. How he wanted money, how he'd get it, and what he'd do with it. Personally, I don't believe a word he says. People don't trust him."
The author did his research and for editorial reasons did not to share writers private investigative results which identify the perpetrators their motives and relationships with witness Palmieri and the late Steven Heidle. Virginia Larzelere is provable an innocent person as the evidence proves. The opinions and facts have been shared with enforcement and prosecutors. Only to fall on deaf hears. They were known to the defenders of Virginia Larzelere and plead by Virginia's only advocate defender attorney Harry Brody, before Brody entered private practice. Based on the Brody pleadings the court ordered an evidence hearing on the 'ineffective assistance' and 'prove of innocence claims. The quoted lawyer David Henry and subordinates that replaced Brody made a decisions based on economics to use only writers ineffective assistance evidence and testimony. They prevented writer from attesting to the 'prove of innocence' evidence that impeaches the states theory of the murder and proves Heidle and Palmieri lied to cover up a relationship they shared with the perpetrators and others involved in teh day time burglary of the Office of Dr. Norman Larzelere.
Writer solved this murder by investigating the states evidence. The state identified Heidle and Palmieri as the persons that had possession and control of the weapons recovered in the river. These witnesses took authorities to the weapons after admitting they had encased them in concrete. The State with held the fact from the jury that Palmieri and Heidle told conflicting stories as to the origin and storage of the weapons before being disposed. Palmeri attested on a private statement to the prosecution team the weapons had been were stored in the Heidle home attic with a ski mask. Heidle attested they were stored in the home by Virginia and Jason. The conflicting stories were with held from the Grand Jury and because these witnesses consistently told conflicting and unbelievable stories the Orlando State attorney office kept no court reporter record of the grand jury. As the author of the article was told if a member of the original grand jury came forward the conflicts could be proven and Virginia would be free once the misconduct was exposed. In the alternative the state could expend approximately 500.00 and 40 investigative hours to take confessions or simple grant Palmieri immunity once again to tell the truth.
As to the surviving sons and children of Virginia and Norman Larzelere they deserve to see justice served. As a reader answer the question where does one go with prove of innocence and evidence that identifies persons that committed the murder of Norman Larzelere and stole more then 90 weapons that were sold to street person and reportedly used in at least one other murder and criminal activity?
Unusually poor reporting by the New Times. I lived near Edgewater when Dr. Norman Larzelere was killed and I followed the case closely. Thanks to the internet there is still a wide amount of material available for review.
She was found guilty of masterminding the plot, and as the mastermind faced the same penalty--death--as any actual first-degree murderer. Funny how you forget that fact in your article.
You glossed over the resentencing. She is no longer on death row. You did note that she is actually up for parole in a couple years but still, your headline does not reflect that development.
And you did not include tons of other available pieces of evidence easily available for all to see. Her first husband was shot 4 times and they never caught the shooter. Second husband, who was a cop, felt like he was set up by her to be shot and the last husband was shot & killed. Sorry, where there is smoke there is fire.
I especially like her own words here where she laments she has not seen her son Jason or her daughter Jessica in over a decade. Why didn't she comment on her other children, David and Benjamin? Dr. Larzelere was their biological father. Doesn't she miss them too?
Do you guys ever read the stories you right? This isn't a case of a failed justice system. But a case of poor judgment on her behalf. Why would you keep an incompetent lawyer? Who cares if it is a family friend a public defender would have been better in this case.
Incredible article (and well written). Nicely done. One thing I don't get (and maybe I missed it as I was watching Jose Fernandez pitch his final game of the season while reading this), was that if Heidle was the shooter, did he have any motive? Or was he just supposedly a violent and sadistic jerk?
Incredible article (and well written). Nicely done. One thing I don't get (and maybe I missed it as I was watching Jose Fernandez pitch his final game of the season while reading this), was that if Heidle was the shooter, did he have any motive?
@CybrdoogieThanks for your comment. This story was based on court records, police documents, and concrete charges. The claims you've mentioned never merited a single charge, and, as such, weren't of much consequence to this story. Virginia Larzelere is no longer on death row, correct. We mentioned that fact within the first 500 words of the story -- and again at the end. Much appreciation for your reading.
@FatHand There was no motive, he was just introduced as a suspect in Jason's trial to show that they didn't ID the shooter as Jason for sure. It wouldn't have been useful in Virginia's trial, since she was convicted of hiring someone to murder her husband. Whether she hired her son Jason or Steven is the "reasonable doubt" that they used to get Jason off the hook, but Virginia was still involved in both those scenarios.
I am sorry but the title of the article is pretty disingenuous. Yes, you did commment on her no longer being on death row but the title of the article does not reflect that development. You interviewed Virginia a few times for the article and could have easily asked her about the shooting of her first husband as well as the situation with the second husband. There are numerous newspaper articles widely available on the net referencing both situations. Didn't you do any research before writing this piece?
Instead of an objective article, your article sounds like a fluff piece demanding action for a wrongly-convicted woman. Virginia Larzelere is anything but that.
I would be interested if she mentioned David and Benjamin to you at all during your interviews. If not, like I said--very telling.