Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Saturday, December 1, 2012
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Beating case gets resolved; plea taken
Sentencing date set after many delays

A contractor with a well-known Florida Keys construction family charged in an eviction-related fight last year will take a plea agreement after months of legal wrangling.

Paul Edward Toppino, 69, was charged with felony burglary with assault or battery while armed, allegedly with a loaded .38-caliber handgun, in the July 19, 2011, fight at an apartment at 1719 Thompson St.

Toppino's family owns Charley Toppino Sons Inc. in Rockland Key.

Also charged in the case were co-defendants Michael Dennis, 67, and Graciela Lozano, 48. Lozano owned the Thompson Street apartment where all three were allegedly trying to evict tenant Angel Roman, 54, according to police reports.

According to those reports, Toppino had the gun and a loaded magazine in his pocket and Dennis had a baseball bat when they allegedly rushed into Roman's apartment after he answered the door and beat him.

Lozano was charged with felony burglary with assault or battery. Dennis, of Reynolds Street, was charged with felony burglary with assault or battery while armed with a dangerous weapon -- the baseball bat.

All three defendants had moved for multiple continuances in the case, but circuit Judge Mark Jones ruled the trial will proceed on Dec. 10, despite Dennis' plans for a humanitarian trip to Cuba with the Florida Keys Tropical Research Ecological Exchange Institute. Dennis had argued that he could possibly lose $8,000 already spent on the trip.

Jones was unmoved.

Lozano, meanwhile, told Jones on Wednesday that she wanted to fire her attorney, former Chief Assistant State Attorney Don Barrett, because she is primarily a Spanish speaker and there were communication issues between them.

Jones called that "preposterous," stating she had just filed a letter written in English to the court and added she could hire any attorney she wished, but such moves would cause no delay in the case going to trial on Dec. 10.

Toppino withdrew his motion to continue -- he had argued previously he would be recovering from rotator-cuff surgery at time of trial -- due to his reaching a plea agreement sometime between court hearings on Wednesday and Thursday.

Toppino was scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 7 before Jones.

Toppino's attorney, Jerry Ballarotto, told Jones his client will not be testifying at trial for either the state or defense. Ballarotto further noted that he believes Toppino intends to plead the Fifth Amendment in any future interviews with co-defense attorneys, referring to his client's constitutional right not to incriminate himself.

The recent plea agreement reached by Toppino spurred Dennis' attorney, Sam Kaufman, and Barrett to file new motions Thursday for a continuance.

Barrett called the Toppino agreement a "game changer" and said more time should be allotted to prepare for trial so Toppino could be interviewed -- or deposed in legal parlance -- since he is an eyewitness in the incident.

Jones remained steadfast and reiterated the Dec. 10 trial date.

alinhardt@keysnews.com

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