On a Friday night in July, three friends – Damion Tillman, 23; Keven Springfield, 30; and Brandon Rollins, 27 – were headed out to a local lake to fish.
The men were driving along the long clay path that is Lake Streety Road in Frostproof. That’s when Rollins' dad, Cyril, says his phone rang. It was Brandon.
"He called me that night and said, 'Help, daddy.' And I felt something was wrong. I thought they got pulled over maybe for not having a tag on the pickup," Cyril Rollins said. "I never thought I come up on something like this.
"It was sad."
"Pure evil in the flesh":
Cyril Rollins hopped into his pickup and drove to that same clay road. When he got there, he'd find the three men shot. His son died moments after his arrival.
"I still can’t figure it out," Cyril Rollins said.
Just three days after the triple massacre, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said he figured out who committed the murder.
"This is the trigger man," Judd said. “He is pure evil in the flesh.”
Judd said that man is 26-year-old Tony Wiggins. Wiggins is no stranger to the law. Judd held a press conference, saying Wiggins had faced more than 200 felony arrest charges. He had 11 convictions and spent two stints in Florida State Prison.
"Tj is someone whose criminal history should shock your conscience," Judd said at that July 22nd press conference.
That criminal history had many people asking, "Why was he out of jail?" Brandon Rollins' mom, Dottie, wondered, too.
"What goes through my mind is why? Why was he? He was, why was he even out of jail? Why wasn’t he in prison? Somewhere. I mean, the boy’s got 230 felons. What was the system doing?" she asked. "Were they not doing their job?"
Turns out, Wiggins had been before a judge two times prior – just in 2020. There was one instance in January when he faced felony charges for battery over someone of the age of 65. Those charges were later dropped.
Then again in March.
Inside the courtroom:
On March 15, Wiggins faced a Polk County judge. This excerpt was from the official transcript obtained by 10 Investigates:
"Alright sir, you are charged with aggravated battery on a person used with a deadly weapon. It’s a second-degree felony a penalty of up to 15 years in prison. And then aggravated assault with a deadly weapon without intent to kill, a third-degree felony with a maximum penalty of up to 5 years."
The hearing lasted a total of 1 minute and 50 seconds.
According to the official transcript, State’s Attorney Brian Torkey was present. But neither Judge Michael McDaniel nor Torkey mentioned anything about Wiggins' lengthy criminal history.
It's something that is even mentioned in Florida Statute 903: When a judge is considering bond, criminal history must be taken into consideration.
"Most prosecutors’ offices across the state have procedures in place by which they very quickly are able to search their records and, in most circumstances, the state of Florida records, to determine whether or not somebody has prior arrests," said Joe Bodiford, a law professor and criminal defense attorney. "And if so, for what, and depending on the case before the court on that day.
"If it's a violent crime allegation, prosecutors are going to want to know, have there been any other arrests, convictions, prosecutions for any other violent crimes?"
Bodiford told 10 Investigates, he had questions as to why Wiggins' criminal history wasn’t mentioned at the hearing.
"One of the main questions that a judge is going to want to have answered before he or she grants any sort even thinks about granting any sort of pretrial release on bond or whatever is going to be: what is the defendant's prior record," Bodiford said.
We asked that question to the Court Administrator for the Polk County Courthouse, Nick Sudzina.
In an email exchange with Sudzina, he said, "It is more likely because the presiding judge had all the info he/she needed at the hearing, including the prior record and a recommendation from Pre-Trial Release on whether the defendant should be released and, if so, under what conditions."
But in that report, a major error unbeknownst to the judge was included.
"That was a costly error":
In Polk County, there is a Pretrial Services Program. It consists of a staff of about 23 individuals and is funded by the Polk County Board of County Commissioners.
It is that staff that creates the report for the judge that includes interviews with the defendants and criminal history checks.
The report provided to the judge on Saturday, March 15, had an error. That error read "No Prior Criminal History" when referring to Wiggins. The box next to "Not Recommend for Release" was not checked.
"My thoughts on this? What was their actions? Why didn't they dig deeper? said Dottie Perkins, Brandon Rollins' mother.
The Polk County Pretrial Services Program was established to help reduce the overcrowding of the Polk County Jail system. They also say it saves the county money.
- Citing their annual report, the daily cost to house an inmate in the Polk County Jail was reported as a booking fee of $30.00 plus $2.00 per day and $9.00 for a hygiene pack per inmate in 2019.
- The annual report also notes the total funding spent for the fiscal year 2019 was more than $1.2 million ($1,220,334.31).
The court administrator spoke with 10 Investigates over the phone about Wiggins, saying that this case was an error on the program’s part. They said that they did not know about the error until we "brought it to their attention."
They also believe this is the only error that has been made, nobody will be disciplined and no investigation will take place. There will be no policy or procedural changes to possibly prevent a similar error from happening again.
"I think it's possible that this is not the only error that they've made. This is a pretty substantial and significant miss, if you will. I think it would be who Polk County and everyone involved in this particular situation, to go back and assess how these reports are run, the speed in which you run the databases in which they access, how the reports are put together,” Bodiford said. “And again, this was a pretty costly miss.
"I think in any of all the cases that there could have been a miss on, this should be the one that would sound an alarm that would make Polk County want to take a very, very close look at its policies and procedures regarding these pre-trial reports."
The state's attorney reviews pretrial reports to learn about a person's criminal history. On the weekends, it says there isn't enough time for court administrators to prepare a complete background. Wiggins' report was issued on a Saturday.
In an email, the State’s Attorney’s Office for the 10th Judicial Court wrote:
"Every weekday morning, the State Attorney’s Office is provided with a list of individuals that will have a First Appearance Hearing that afternoon. The State Attorney’s Office staff prepares a full criminal history for each defendant that is reviewed by the assigned Assistant State Attorney prior to the hearing. ...
"On the weekend, Court Administration has created a different schedule. The State Attorney’s Office receives a list of individuals that will have a First Appearance Hearing only minutes prior to the hearing. On the weekend, there is insufficient time for the staff to prepare a complete criminal history for each individual. ...Therefore, at weekend first appearance hearings, there are times that Assistant State Attorneys must rely on the representations made by Pre-Trial Services to the Court."
State Attorney Brian Haas added:
"If Court Administration is unable to guarantee that it can fully comply with Administrative Order 2-12.2 and accurately inform the presiding judge regarding the defendant’s criminal history, then Court Administration should immediately reschedule all weekend First Appearance Hearings to the afternoon to allow my office enough time to complete a full criminal history on each defendant as we do during the week."
"If he's been through their system more than one time, they should know. When this name popped up, they should have known something's not right with saying no criminal history. He's been through their system more than once," Perkins said.
Back on that clay road on Lake Streety, Brandon Rollins’ name can be seen under an Adopt-a-Highway sign. His dad mows the lawn next to a memorial that holds three crosses for the three men that died.
"We come out here every day," Cyril Rollins said.
He says he and his wife, Dottie Perkins, make sure the area is cleared and well-kept.
"I can't bring him back. Nobody can," Perkins said.
Pretrial programs in Florida:
10 Investigates learned that pretrial programs are in many counties throughout the state and they all operate differently. A government accountability group publishes a report every year about Florida’s programs.
In the report, it outlines how pretrial release programs supervise defendants who have been released from jail while awaiting disposition of their criminal charges.
Of 28 programs, only 10 pretrial release programs were able to provide a detailed breakdown of defendants' criminal history information, which varied among programs. For these programs, the percentage of defendants with violent felony criminal histories ranged from 2 percent to 41 percent.