Frostproof triple homicide: State to seek death penalty against T.J. Wiggins in slayings

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Dec 20, 2020, 5:30:02 AM12/20/20
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BARTOW — The State Attorney’s Office will seek the death penalty
against Tony “T.J.” Wiggins, who’s accused in the July triple
homicide of three longtime friends in Frostproof.

Prosecutors filed a notice in Circuit Court on Tuesday stating
their intention, citing two reasons for that decision:

• If Wiggins is convicted in all three killings, each one would
serve as a previous conviction of a capital felony for the other
two.

• The killings were committed to avoid or prevent arrest or to
escape custody.

More:Frostproof triple homicide arrests: 'This is evil in the
flesh,' Polk Sheriff Grady Judd says

Dottie Payton, whose 28-year-old son, Brandon Rollins, was among
those who died that night, said Wednesday she’s relieved.

“It doesn’t bring back my son or the other boys,” she said, “but
it’s a start to get this going in the right direction. Why let
him sit in jail and breathe free air when our boys never get to
breathe free air again.”

Rollins, along with Keven Springfield, 30, and Damion Tillman,
23, was gunned down July 17 within minutes of meeting at
Frostproof’s Lake Streety for some night fishing. In a statement
to Polk County Sheriff’s Office detectives, Wiggins’ younger
brother, known as Robert, said he was there when his brother
pulled up on the three men, walked over to Springfield and
accused him of stealing his truck. Wiggins, 26, then opened fire
on the three men, who were still in or near their trucks.

More:Frostproof triple homicide: Wiggins indicted on 1st-degree
murder charges in killing of 3 friends

As he lay dying, Rollins called his father, Cyril, who raced to
Lake Streety Road to help them. He spoke with his son briefly,
then left to call 911, reports stated. He had forgotten his
cellphone when he left to help his son, according to reports.

More:Judge: No bail for Lake Streety Road gunman TJ Wiggins,
alleged killer in Frostproof triple homicide

Wiggins, of Frostproof, was arrested three days later after a
store receipt in Tillman’s truck led detectives to a
surveillance video at a nearby Dollar General, reports stated.
Tillman and Wiggins could be seen talking in the video, and a
store clerk told detectives Tillman had mentioned he was meeting
Springfield to go fishing.

More:Frostproof triple homicide: Wiggins indicted on 1st-degree
murder charges in killing of 3 friends

Further investigation led to Robert Wiggins’ statement about the
shooting, according to Sheriff’s Office reports.

The grand jury indicted Tony Wiggins last month, formally
charging him with three counts of first-degree murder, one count
of tampering with evidence and one count of possession of a
firearm by a convicted felon.

Robert Wiggins, 21, told detectives his brother had tossed the
handgun out the window after the killings, and that information
led to the tampering charge.

The younger Wiggins and his brother’s girlfriend, Mary Clare
Whittemore, 27, are both charged with three counts of accessory
after the fact to a capital felony, each of which carries up to
30 years in prison if they’re convicted. He’s being held without
bail and she remains in custody under $45,000 bail, jail records
show.

The court filing came one day before an online petition asking
prosecutors to pursue a death sentence reached its goal of 1,000
signatures.

Erin Peralta said she initiated the petition on Change.org to
support the families of those who were killed and to seek
justice for them.

“T.J. Wiggins already has a very violent history,” she said,
“and to carry out the horrific murders like he did, and it was
so brutal, we wanted to get the ultimate justice for our guys.”

She said the group still intends to pass the petition along to
prosecutors, even though the decision has been made to pursue
the death penalty.

“When it comes time for his sentencing,” she said, “to me, this
is more support for them to present to the judge for the death
penalty.”

In any death penalty case, prosecutors are restricted to 16
statutory reasons for seeking death, including the killing of a
child or an on-duty law enforcement officer, a killing that is
heinous, atrocious or cruel, or a killing for pecuniary gain.
There is no limit to how many of the 16 reasons prosecutors can
argue.

More:Frostproof triple homicide: Reward goes unpaid in slaying
of 3 friends, Heartland Crime Stoppers says

Defense lawyers have a broad scope of reasons for seeking a
mandatory life sentence — the only sentencing alternative for a
first-degree murder conviction.

Wiggins is scheduled to return to the courtroom Nov. 3 for a
status hearing.

Suzie Schottelkotte can be reached at
suzie.sch...@theledger.com or 863-533-9070. Follow her on
Twitter @southpolkscene.

https://www.theledger.com/story/news/courts/2020/10/14/state-
seek-death-penalty-against-t-j-wiggins-frostproof-triple-
homicide/3653231001/

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