TBO.com: Tampa Bay Online, The Tampa Tribune and The Tampa Times - breaking news and weather.
Saturday, Oct 25, 2014
Crime & Courts

Once facing 40 years, man acquitted of armed home invasion after new trial

By
Published:   |   Updated: December 5, 2013 at 06:46 PM

BROOKSVILLE — Kirk Bleich Jr., who was sentenced to 40 years in prison last year, will likely spend his last night in a jail cell Wednesday.

After his first conviction was overturned, jurors in Bleich’s second trial found him not guilty of home invasion robbery with a firearm.

Prosecutors said Bleich, 50, was one of two masked gunmen who forced their way into Tracy Paulk Blake’s Springwood Road home early one morning in June 2010, posing as police on a drug bust. The men pressed a gun to her head, and fled with her prescription drugs, including oxycodone and oxycontin.

The drugs, as well as a ski mask with Bleich’s DNA on them, were found at Bleich’s family’s Mitchell Road home 11 days later during an unrelated search warrant.

Bleich’s brother, Barak Bleich, admitted his part in the robbery to investigators, and was sentenced to seven years in prison.

A jury previously found Kirk Bleich guilty, and Judge Daniel Merritt Sr. sentenced him to 40 years in prison in 2012. An appellate court reversed the decision earlier this year and granted a new trial.

Thomas Bartlett, a former Washington D.C. police officer said Bleich was living with him at the time of the robbery, and not at his family’s home where the stolen medication, ski mask and handcuffs were found by the sheriff’s office.

Bleich’s defense attorney, Peyton Hyslop also called Assistant Public Defender Alan Fanter to testify. During the 2012 trial, Blake incorrectly identified Fanter as one of the robbers. Bleich did not take the stand in his own defense.

Hyslop also called into question Blake’s credibility as a witness. Blake herself admitted to sheriff’s detectives she traded her oxycontin pills with Bleich’s girlfriend, Sheri Schoonover, in exchange for house cleaning and other odd jobs, and that she kept firearms and ammunition in her home even though she was a convicted felon.

During his closing argument, Hyslop told jurors Blake could not identify Bleich by his face, incorrectly identified his eye color and later implicated Bleich after hearing him talking on the phone with Schoonover, his girlfriend.

“She was willing to sit on the stand and not tell the truth,” Hyslop said.

Several witnesses testified Bleich, his brother and father have nearly-identical voices.

Hyslop said all the State’s evidence against Bleich was “circumstantial or suspect.”

“What’s surprising with DNA being on a mask in a house that they grew up in?” Hyslop said.

“The fact that DNA is on a ski mask in a house doesn’t have anything to do with a robbery.”

Prosecutor Rob Lewis told jurors Blake’s recognition of Bleich’s voice, coupled with his DNA found on a ski mask in his house, implicated the defendant in the armed robbery.

The jury, made up of four women and two men, took an hour and a half to deliberate.

After the verdict was read, Bleich threw his head back and sighed, then turned and smiled at a family member. Bleich hugged his attorneys, and joked they would have lunch soon on the outside.

Juror Shirley Miketinac later said that soon after the deliberations started, the jurors realized they all believed Bleich was not guilty, but went through their notes of the proceedings.

Miketinac said “conflicting evidence” led to “reasonable doubt” in her mind, and praised her peers for being “very conscientious, very intelligent people.”

wbiddlecombe@hernandotoday.com

(352) 544-5283

Subscribe to The Tampa Tribune

Comments