The triple murder in Frostproof, Florida shocked the nation. However, one of the most surprising aspects was that the primary suspect, Tony “TJ” Wiggins, 26, (left) was out of jail to commit the murders. Wiggins has a record of 230 felony charges and was awaiting trial on a violent assault with a crowbar that left a man with a broken arm. That record included 15 convictions and two prison stints. Even as a criminal defense attorney, I am surprised that Wiggins was released on that earlier assault given his record and the violent element of that crime.
Wiggins is accused of killing of 23-year-old Damion Tillman, 30-year-old Keven Springfield, and 27-year-old Brandon Rollins.
There is surveillance footage showing Tillman making purchases when the suspects were in the store. The police reported:
The clerk told detectives that Damion said he was going fishing. The clerk also saw the suspects in the store at the same time, and they are also seen in the video. The clerk told detectives that the suspects heard Damion say he was going fishing, and that Keven would be with him, as the clerk listened to all of them talk to each other about it.
Robert followed the trucks to Lake Streety Road in Frostproof. Robert stayed in the truck with Whittemore, while TJ got out and confronted Keven Springfield, punching him and yelling at him, accusing Keven of stealing his truck. Brandon Rollins and Damion Tillman get out of their truck, and TJ continues to scream at all of them. Robert told detectives he watched as TJ shot all three victims. TJ then asked Robert to help him put Damion into the back of one of the trucks.
Police later arrested Wiggins’ girlfriend, Mary Whittemore, 27, and his brother Robert Wiggins, 21. They are charged with three counts of accessory to a murder and one count of tampering with evidence. Whittemore previously had no criminal record and Robert Wiggins only had a misdemeanor. They are now looking as serious time if convicted.
Whittemore allegedly bought the ammunition used in the murders for Wiggin despite his being barred from possessing weapons as a former felon. That would seem to raise the possibility of charged of being an accessory both before and after the fact. Under Florida law:
“Any person who maintains or assists the principal or an accessory before the fact, or gives the offender any other aid, knowing that the offender had committed a crime and such crime was a capital, life, first degree, or second degree felony, or had been an accessory thereto before the fact, with the intent that the offender avoids or escapes detection, arrest, trial, or punishment, is an accessory after the fact.”
The punishment for such crimes can go as high as life in prison: “If the felony offense committed is a capital felony, the offense of accessory after the fact is a felony of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.”
This is a case begging for a plea bargain. Not only is there considerable evidence tying the three to the victims and the scene, but there is the damaging image of the three driving to McDonalds to order 10 cheeseburgers right after the murders. That is not something you want the jury to contemplate in a capital murder case. It reminds me of the Leopold and Loeb case when they went get sandwiches with the victim’s body in the car.
Wiggins has little reason to plead since the prosecutors are likely to seek the death penalty. However, the real question will be the charges against the two alleged accessories and whether prosecutors will add to these charges or seek the maximum sentencing (which seems likely).