Law and order: A look back at notable crime stories of 2021

Posted 12/29/21

Unfortunately, crime didn’t take the year off. Drug possession and domestic battery continue to be a problem for residents of Clay County and a focus for the Clay County Sheriff’s Office …

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Law and order: A look back at notable crime stories of 2021


Unfortunately, crime didn’t take the year off. Drug possession and domestic battery continue to be a problem for residents of Clay County and a focus for the Clay County Sheriff’s Office and the Green Cove Springs and Orange Park police departments.
As long as people continue to break the law, agencies will be there to put them in jail. And we will be here to report every one of them.
Here are some examples:

CCSO officers kill man who was shooting at them

ORANGE PARK – An Orange Park man was shot and killed after he opened fire on Clay County Sheriff’s Office deputies on Feb. 27.
According to the agency, dispatchers received several calls about shots being fired at the Alexander Pointe Apartments at 2121 Burwick Ave. Three minutes after arriving at the scene, they encountered the man who began shooting at them. The deputies returned fire and hit the suspect.
He died at the Orange Park Medical Center a half hour later.
The FDLE has identified the individual who opened fire on our deputies as 32-year-old Rudy M. Duvivier.
Three CCSO officers were involved, according to the agency. They had three, five and six years of law enforcement experience, CCSO said, and it was the first officer-involved shooting for any of the three.

Man shoots himself in SWAT standoff after killing partner in St. Johns County

FLEMING ISLAND – The man who fatally shot himself following a standoff with the Clay County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team on March 7 was identified as the “sole suspect” in the murder of a St. Johns County woman.
Gregory Wayne Hopkins is suspected of being in a relationship with the woman at the time of the shooting. After she was shot, Hopkins drove to Country Side Drive and Summit Ridge Road and in the Eagle Harbor subdivision and rammed his car into an unoccupied home. He then was holed up in an upstairs bathroom, Sheriff Michelle Cook said.
CCSO alerted the sheriff’s office in St. Johns County to do a wellness check on the woman in the Fruit Cove area. They found her dead.

Explosive materials recovered at Keystone Heights drug lab

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – The Clay County Sheriff’s Office, Department of Homeland Investigations and Drug Enforcement Agency provided more details on a recent drug bust in Keystone Heights.
Cody Michael Clifford, 40, of Keystone Heights, was jailed March 19 on charges of cultivating marijuana, possession of dimethyltryptamine, LSD, marijuana and drug paraphernalia after the Clay County Sheriff’s Office came to the house after members of HSI seized two parcels containing Mescaline Clifford ordered from Peru.
Clifford agreed to have his home and car searched, according to the arrest report, and deputies found more than 75 grams of dimethyltryptamine, marijuana hash, Harmala powder, seven marijuana plants, five handguns, two rifles and shotgun and an assortment of chemicals used to manufacturer narcotics.
The DEA said there was enough explosive material to build eight grenades.

Clay High janitor sentenced to 20 years for recording girls inside locker room

JACKSONVILLE – U.S. District Judge Brian J. Davis has sentenced Jason Brian Goff, 45, of Starke, to 20 years in federal prison for the attempted use of children to produce sexually explicit videos. Goff was also ordered to serve a 10-year term of supervised release and to register as a sex offender. Goff was arrested on Sept. 13, 2019, and has been detained since.
Goff pleaded guilty on Sept. 25, 2020.
According to court documents, in August 2019, two 14-year-old Clay High School students reported seeing what they believed was a camera lens, concealed within a locked gym locker, in the Clay High School girls’ locker room. When school administrators opened the locker, they discovered a cellphone taped to the inside wall of the locker with the lens pointed out of a prefabricated hole.

State to seek death penalty for man accused of killing Fleming Island woman

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – The state will try to put a Fleming Island contractor on Florida’s Death Row for killing an unhappy customer who was threatening to report her, according to notices filed in court last Tuesday, May 4.
Corey Louis Binderim, 46, was indicted in April for first-degree murder of Susan Mauldin after investigators said she was reported missing by a neighbor. Binderim was paid $12,000 to remodel her bathroom, but he refused to finish the job.
Mauldin’s body was uncovered at the Chesser Island Road Landfill in Folkston, Ga. The Clay County Sheriff’s Office said they have evidence that shows Binderim buying heavy duty construction bags and concrete at the Home Depot on Fleming Island. County records show Binderim dumped 300 pounds of materials at the Rosemay Hill Landfill on Oct. 24. 2019 – a day within investigators said Mauldin was either beaten or choked to death at her Harbor Island subdivision home on the same day. Trash from Rosemary Hill is transferred to the South Georgia landfill.

Former SJCDS coach arrested for online exploitation of child

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – The former swim coach at St. Johns Country Day School was arrested on May 3 after the Clay County Sheriff’s Office said he used his computer to seduce a 17-year-old girl.
Mitchell Jacob Bentz, 24, of Green Cove Springs, was charged with using a computer to seduce, solicit or lure a child for sex, as well as cruelty toward a child by transmitting harmful materials.
According to the arrest report, Bentz made contact with the girl on April 27 on a local bulletin board service. Bentz met the girl at her job and solicited her for “unlawful sex acts and sent lewd material, via an electronic device,” CCSO said.

Man accused of being ‘harassed’ by GCSPD busted for selling meth near Spring Park

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – A man who complained to the police about them “harassing” him landed in jail after he sold methamphetamine to an undercover officer with the Green Cove Springs Police Department.
Christopher John Pelletier, 26, of Green Cove Springs, was charged with selling methamphetamine within 1,000 feet of Spring Park.
According to GCSPD, the agency received a Facebook message from Pelletier “who wanted to report that one of our officers was harassing him.” Pelletier said he noticed the officer watching him on numerous occasions around the city. Pelletier said on one particular occasion, the officer, along with other officers, were watching him at a parking lot. When he confronted them, asking the officer why they were watching him. Pelletier said the officer responded by saying “I don’t appreciate drug dealers.”
When the police department attempted to contact Pelletier to fully investigate his complaint, they found him at the Clay County Jail after being arrested by our Green Cove Springs patrol officers for possession of methamphetamine and possession of drug paraphernalia following a traffic stop on April 19.

GCS man charged with vehicular homicide following road-rage crash

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Two men were arrested and charged with three counts of vehicular homicide in connection with a road-rage accident a year ago in St. Johns County.
Joseph John Devenuta, 70, of Green Cove Springs, was taken to jail following a lengthy investigation into a crash on State Road 16 that resulted in the deaths of three people. Lucas Hedetniemi-Hart, of St. Augustine, also was arrested on May 20.
According to the arrest report, surveillance showed Devenuta and Hedetniemi-Hart chasing each other while heading west on S.R. 16. The Florida Highway Patrol said Devenuta ran a red light at the intersection of Woodland Road and slammed into a car driven by 71-year-old Christopher Converse. All three people in Converse’s car died.

Enraged man burns down his house in dispute with wife

MIDDLEBURG – A man who suspected his wife of cheating on him was arrested on May 30 for setting his Mallard Road house on fire.
Joseph DeWayne Parker, 54, of Middleburg, was charged with second-degree arson after Clay County Sheriff’s Office and Fire and Rescue responded to a house fire at 6:30 p.m. When they arrived, they found the home “fully engulfed in flames.” Firefighters soon found a second burning structure at the back of the property.
A detective with the Department of Financial Service’s Division of Investigative and Forensic Services determined the fires were “incendiary.”
According to the arrest report, the wife left the home to buy groceries. When she returned, her house was on fire. Deputies conducted a search of the surrounding area and found her husband, Joseph Parker, laying in the back of a pickup truck near the second burning structure. After he was detained, he told deputies “I burnt it all down” to make sure his wife didn’t get anything, CCSO said.

Former CCSO deputy sentenced to 35 years for sexually exploiting girl

JACKSONVILLE – Travis Ryan Pritchard, a former deputy with the Clay County Sheriff’s Office’s DUI unit, was sentenced to 35 years for enticing a Green Cove Springs girl to have sex.
U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Corrigan has sentenced Pritchard, 38, for producing an image of a 15-year-old child being sexually abused and one count of possessing an image of a prepubescent child being sexually abused. Pritchard was also ordered to serve a lifetime term of supervised release and to register as a sex offender. Pritchard had pleaded guilty on Oct. 21, 2020.
According to court documents, from December 2019 through May 2, 2020, Pritchard used a popular online chat application to communicate with a 15-year-old girl whom he had sexually abused on a weekly basis.
This is another case brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. Led by the United States Attorneys’ Offices and the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state, and local resources to locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals who sexually exploit children, and to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit

Man gets life for New Year’s Eve double-murder in Keystone Heights

CLAY COUNTY – A man charged in connection with a New Year’s Eve double murder avoided Florida’s Death Row and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Taylor Ryan Hill, 24, was charged with two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder after Liza Nichole Dukes was shot in the back at Lori Loop Road in Keystone Heights on the last day of 2019, according to the Clay County Sheriff’s Office. James Wooten was shot in the head and died several days later. His son, Shayne Wooten, also was shot, but he recovered.
CCSO said the three were shot during an argument over stolen clothes.
Hill was released from prison three months earlier and he cut his electronic monitor from his ankle. Victoria Ann Scifo, 22, also was identified as a suspect.

Driver uses his taxi as a getaway car during four robberies

CLAY COUNTY – A Jacksonville man was charged with using his zTrip taxi as the getaway driver during four robberies of 113 rolls of copper wire worth $19,094 from two local Home Depot stores.
Patrice Uwitonze Gonza, 34, was charged with four counts of retail theft of more than $300 at multiple locations after he drove six thieves away from stores located on Branan Field and Wells roads after they walked out with rolls of copper wire, the Clay County Sheriff’s Office said.
On June 22, the gang took 38 rolls of wire from the Branan store that cost $6,236.27. On July 4, they took 23 rolls worth $3,960 from the Wells Road store. On July 17, CCSO said they took 28 rolls from the Branan store worth $4,480 and on July 19, they returned to Branan and took another 24 rolls worth $4,417.44.
Each time, the gang filled empty carts with the copper wire and walked out to Gonza’s waiting car without paying. Home Depot employees took a photo of Gonza’s zTrip car as he drove them away, according to the arrest warrant.

Man gets 14 years for DUI accident that killed 6-month-old girl

CLAY COUNTY – Despite his tearful pleas for leniency and forgiveness, a Jacksonville man was sentenced to 14 years in prison for driving drunk and killing a six-month old girl after he slammed into the back of a car sitting at a red light.
Randy Eric Teal Jr., who was 31 at the time of the crash, spent the afternoon drinking at the Jacksonville-Washington game at TIAA Bank Field on Dec. 16, 2018. He was driving 57 mph on Blanding Boulevard when he rear-ended a Kia at College Drive that was being driven by Nannette Jean Green along with two passengers, including Sophie Leon Friesenhahn. That triggered a chain reaction that involved three other cars, the Florida Highway Patrol said.
Teal pleaded guilty to DUI manslaughter, three counts of DUI with serious injury and four counts of DUI with property damage on Aug. 9.
The judge said it appeared Teal was remorseful for driving with a blood alcohol level between .12 and .18 – more than three times over the legal limit of .08.

Wife ‘tired’ of arguing charged with killing her husband

ORANGE PARK – A woman was accused of shooting her husband, then leaving his body in the garage while she watched television and slept on the couch before she ran errands the next morning.
Melissa Rothweiler Gholson, 39, of Orange Park, was being held without bond after being charged with second-degree murder after she fired “several” rounds into her husband’s abdomen following an argument at their home at 822 Plymouth Ct. on Oct. 30.
According to the arrest report, she put a .380 handgun in her pocket while she argued with David Gholson early Saturday morning. She tried to shoot him but weren’t any bullets in the chamber, according to the Clay County Sheriff’s Office.
The husband ran to the garage where he was fatally shot after she put live rounds in the chamber.
The next day she confessed to her sister about shooting and killing her husband. Deputies performed a wellness check of their home and found him dead.
According to the arrest report, Melissa Gholson told deputies she “was not in fear of her life” and was not defending herself. She said told them she was tired of arguing and wanted it “to stop.”

Hammer and Hope: Five jailed following drug raid on Plankton Avenue

MIDDLEBURG – Just two weeks after the Clay County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team arrested seven people in a Clay Hill drug raid, the agency rounded up another five people in a drug raid in Middleburg.
Deputies surrounded a home at 141 Plankton Ave. on Nov. 24 and recovered cocaine, methamphetamine, fentanyl and drug paraphernalia as part of its ongoing Hammer and Hope program to address the drug problems in the southwestern part of the county. Hammer and Hope not only targets offenders, but it also provides treatment for addicts and counseling for family members affects by the plague of opioid abuse.
Destini Nicole Hunter, 30, was charged with possession of cocaine and selling methamphetamine.
Angel Faith Fogarty, 25, was charged with possession of fentanyl.
Pete Lee Ward, 33, and Robert Thomas Thompson, 34, were charged with possession of methamphetamine.
Anthony Michael Fischer, 29, was charged with trafficking methamphetamine, possession and sale of fentanyl and using a two-way communication device to facilitate a felony. Fischer’s bond was set at $150,006.
Anyone who has problems with drug abuse, either as an addict or victim, is encouraged to call (904) 284-7703.

Green Cove City Police, Sheriff’s Office defuse hostage situation after Christmas parade

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – A Palatka man was shot in the face by the Clay County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team last Saturday shortly after thousands of residents lined the street for what was described as the biggest, most-successful Christmas parade in Green Cove Springs history.
Lancy Luther Keenon, 44, was shot in the face following a four-hour standoff at the Speedway convenience store on the corner of Leonard C. Taylor Parkway and U.S. Highway 17, about a quarter mile south of the downtown area.
According to the Green Cove Springs Police Department, Keenon approached his former girlfriend and her boyfriend while they sat in their car. He threatened them with a knife, and he used the knife to cut her seatbelt. He then pulled her into the store and barricaded both in a restroom.
The first 911 call was at 7:04 p.m. – just as the city’s Christmas parade was concluding. Officers rushed to the scene as the estimated 5,000 residents were walking back to their cars or to Spring Park.
Nobody was injured when police responded to the emergency.
Green Cove officers and deputies with the Clay County Sheriff’s Office converged at the gas station and closed traffic on Leonard C. Taylor Parkway, including the Shands Bridge. Hours later, Keenon was coaxed from the restroom. When he threw the knife at deputies, he was shot.

Middleburg man charged with shooting convicted sexual predator

MIDDLEBURG – A family dispute ended on Dec. 18 with one man in the Clay County Jail facing attempted murder charges and another man in the hospital with a shotgun wound to his arm and facing charges for not registering as a sexual predator.
Sheffield was charged with attempted second-degree murder and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, while Cooper was charged with failing to report an address change as a sexual predator.
The incident started in early November when sheriff deputies tried to verify Cooper’s listed address, which was the same as Sheffield’s. More than a month later, Cooper returned to the address, where he was confronted by Sheffield. When Cooper tried to leave, Sheffield used a shotgun to keep him from driving away because he knew he was wanted for the predator violation.
By the time deputies arrived, Cooper had been shot, according to the arrest report.
According to the Clay County Sheriff’s Office, Gregory Alford Sheffield, 32, of Middleburg, was upset with his uncle, Daniel Anthony Cooper, 56, of Middleburg, over Cooper getting power of attorney over Sheffield’s grandmother.

Middleburg couple gets probation, $500 fine for Jan. 6 riot

JACKSONVILLE – The Middleburg couple who pled guilty to participating in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol was sentenced to probation on Dec. 20 and ordered to pay $500 each.
Prosecutors wanted three months of home confinement, another two years of probation and $500 fines for Dana Winn and Rachel Pert. The judge gave two years of probation for Pert and 12 months for Pert.
Both told the court they wish they’d never gone to Washington, D.C., to join in the stop the vote rally following Joe Biden’s presidential victory.


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