TAMPA — On May 12, 2008, Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office deputies discovered Edward Covington hiding in the closet of a Lutz home, covered in the blood of the dismembered bodies of his girlfriend and two children. He was taken to a hospital, where he told deputies he had choked, stabbed and mutilated his girlfriend, the children and the family dog in the home they shared on South Mobile Villa Drive.
On Monday, his defense attorneys spent the day trying to get those statements thrown out of court, saying he was denied access to a team of attorneys who showed up at the hospital on the second day.
Witnesses said that was true but that the hospital was acting on the orders of Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies not to allow any visitors for Covington, including attorneys.
A key witnesses during Monday's hearing was Lynnette Frimmer, an administrative supervisor in 2008 at what was then University Community Hospital; it is now known as Florida Hospital Tampa. Covington was taken to the hospital because when deputies found him, he had just taken a bottle of Tylenol and a large amount of aspirin in what is believed to have been a suicide attempt.
Frimmer said she received a call on the second night of Covington's hospital stay from a Tampa attorney who said he wanted access to him. She said she called to the nursing station to ask if Covington could have visitors and was told by a charge nurse that Covington had been ordered held under the Baker Act, that he had not been arrested and that deputies said he was not allowed to see visitors.
Covington, 41, was taken to the hospital from the home and was stabilized in the emergency room before he was taken to the intensive care unit later that night. He at times was combative and verbally abusive to deputies who were standing guard, and struggled with hospital staff when they tried to hook him up to an intravenous line.
Testimony indicated that he had not been arrested during his hospital stay but was not allowed to leave because he was not medically cleared and that a Baker Act proceeding had been initiated. Under the Baker Act, a person can be involuntarily hospitalized if he or she presents a danger to themselves or others.
The Baker Act proceeding on Covington was never followed through on, though, and Covington was released from the hospital, not to a mental health institution, but to deputies who placed him under arrested and brought him to the Hillsborough County jail.
He spent three days in the hospital, in restraints and under around-the-clock supervision of deputies positioned both inside and outside the room, according to testimony from a series of nurses, doctors, supervisors and a security guard.
Defense attorneys argue the origin of the order not to allow visitors, including lawyers, came from sheriff's Col. Gary Terry, now retired, who talked to Frimmer outside Covington's room on the night of May 13, 2008.
She said Terry told her Covington “had not requested to speak to anybody, family or attorneys,” adding she had not asked Covington herself if he wanted visitors.
Prosecutors said Covington had not asked to see an attorney, or anyone else, and had not hired an attorney at that point. He also had not yet been arrested and charged and advised of his legal rights.
The slaying of 26-year-old Lisa Freiberg and her children, Heather Savannah, 2, and Zachary, 7, shocked the community through its brutality. Covington is charged with three counts of first-degree murder, three counts of abuse of dead human bodies, one count of cruelty to animals and one count of violating probation. He has been held without bail at the Falkenburg Road Jail for the past six years while his case winds toward a trial.
The suppression hearing began in January and lasted more than a week with testimony from deputies and detectives about the offense and subsequent handling of the suspect. The hearing resumed Monday and is expected to last through mid week.
At Monday's hearing, Covington sat, shackled hand and foot to the defense table, intently watching the hospital witnesses give testimony about his demeanor during his three-day stay.
Beverly Derello worked as an emergency room technician when Covington was brought in by an ambulance, accompanied by deputies.
“He was very violent,” she said. “He was verbal, using profanity. He was fighting and trying to get up,” she said. “He was yelling and he kept trying to get up and we had to restrain him to the bed.”
Other witnesses had differing observations.
Alfonso Saa, a psychiatrist who was called in to evaluate Covington on the first night of his stay, said Covington answered questions, admitting he has been under treatment for bipolar disorder and that he had once before tried to kill himself.
“He said he had no recollection of the last few hours,” Saa said. “He did not recall what was behind his admission to the hospital. He wasn't delusional. He wasn't hallucinating. He was cooperating in answering my questions.”
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