FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION, AND IF
Appeal from the Circuit Court in and for Hillsborough County,
William Fuente, Judge - Case No. 292008CF009312000AHC
L. "Rex" Dimmig, II, Public Defender, and Cynthia
J. Dodge, Assistant Public Defender, Tenth Judicial Circuit,
Bartow, Florida, for Appellant
Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, Florida, and C.
Suzanne Bechard, Assistant Attorney General, Tampa, Florida,
Allen Covington appeals his convictions and death sentences
for the first-degree murders of Lisa, Zachary, and Heather
Savannah Freiberg. We have jurisdiction. See art. V,
§ 3(b)(1), Fla. Const. For the reasons we explain, we
affirm the convictions and sentences.
2008, Lisa Freiberg lived in Lutz, Florida, with her two
children, seven-year-old Zachary and two-year-old Heather
Savannah, and her boyfriend, Edward Allen Covington.
Covington met Lisa through an online dating site and moved
into her home in April 2008. On May 11, 2008, Covington
murdered Lisa, Zachary, and Heather Savannah. He also killed
the family dog, Duke.
days before the murders, Lisa's mother, Barbara Freiberg,
noticed that Heather Savannah had a swollen lip. When Barbara
asked about it, Covington said that he must have caused it by
rubbing too hard when wiping Heather Savannah's face. The
next day, Friday, May 9, 2008, Barbara noticed that Heather
Savannah also had hand prints and bruises on her buttocks and
that the inside of her swollen lip was cut. Barbara
photographed Heather Savannah's injuries and showed them
to Lisa later that day. Barbara told Lisa that she believed
that Covington was responsible for the injuries. Zachary and
Heather Savannah spent the night with Barbara that night.
When Lisa picked the children up around noon the next day,
Lisa told Barbara that Covington said that it had to have
been the babysitter who caused Heather Savannah's
2 p.m. that Saturday, Covington's probation officer,
Stephanie Laureno, stopped by Lisa's home to see
Covington. Covington, Lisa, and the children were all home at
the time. According to Laureno, Covington appeared calm, did
not say anything that was alarming or concerning, and his
interactions with Lisa and the children seemed normal.
evening, Tom Fish, who is Lisa's ex-boyfriend and Heather
Savannah's father, asked Lisa to bring the children to
his mother's house for family pictures. Lisa and
Covington brought the children to Fish's mother's
house, but Covington did not go into the house at first. At
some point, Covington did go into the house and visited with
Fish and his family for about forty-five minutes. During the
visit, when Zachary referred to Fish as "Tom-Tom, "
Covington corrected Zachary and insisted he address Fish as
"sir." Covington explained that he believed in
being strict with children. Fish did not observe anything
unusual about Covington's speech or demeanor.
following day was Mother's Day, and Barbara was surprised
that she did not get a call from Lisa. On Monday, May 12,
2008, when Lisa did not drop the children off at the
babysitter's house as expected, Barbara and her husband
drove over to Lisa's house to check on her. When Barbara
opened the door and looked into the house, she saw
Zachary's deceased, nude body and called 911.
enforcement responded to the scene and found the home in
complete disarray. The furniture was turned over and there
was blood on the floors, walls, and surfaces in every room
except the bathroom. In addition to Zachary's body, they
found the bodies of Heather Savannah, Lisa, and the dead dog
at various locations throughout the house. Heather Savannah
had been dismembered and decapitated. Zachary's genitals
had been mutilated. Lisa's body was in the doorway of the
master bedroom, with a bloody handprint on the wall nearby.
The dog's body was on the floor in Heather Savannah's
bedroom. Two hammers and five knives that appeared to have
been used in the murders were found and collected. A mesh bag
containing bloody clothing was found under the mattress in
the master bedroom.
enforcement found Covington in a closet in one of the
bedrooms. He indicated that he had taken a number of pills.
Depakote and Seroquel pills prescribed to Covington were
found in the house. Covington was medically cleared by
paramedics at the scene but transported to the hospital for
further diagnosis and clearance. As he was being transported
to the hospital, Covington looked back and stated, "I
can't believe what I've done." After Covington
was released from the hospital on May 14, 2008, he was
transported to the Sheriff's Office, where he was
interviewed by detectives and confessed to the murders.
was indicted for three counts of first-degree murder, three
counts of abuse of a dead body, and one count of cruelty to
an animal. A jury was sworn and opening statements were heard
on October 22, 2014. On the first day of trial testimony,
October 23, 2014, Covington announced that he wanted to
change his pleas to guilty and waive a jury for the penalty
phase. The trial court would not accept Covington's
guilty pleas at that time but instead appointed two experts
to evaluate Covington's competency to plead guilty. The
evaluations and the doctors' reports were completed that
court reconvened the next day, Covington was given time to
meet with his attorneys and his family. Covington then
reaffirmed his desire to plead guilty and waive a penalty
phase jury. Covington's counsel supported his decisions
to plead guilty and waive a penalty phase jury. The court
then conducted a comprehensive plea colloquy with Covington
during which the court thoroughly informed him about the
rights he was waiving. Covington indicated both verbally and
in writing that he understood the consequences of his pleas,
that although he was on psychiatric medications, there was
nothing that would impair his understanding of his decision,
and that he was not being threatened or coerced into entering
the pleas. The trial court accepted Covington's pleas of
guilty to all seven counts as charged in the indictment.
Covington reaffirmed his desire to waive a penalty phase
jury, and the trial court accepted his waiver. The parties
stipulated that as part of the penalty phase, the trial court
should consider the testimony of the four witnesses who had
testified during the abbreviated guilt phase.
May 14, 2008, interview with detectives was played at the
penalty phase. In the interview, Covington said that he met
Lisa through an online dating site in August 2007, and they
hit it off. He said that he had been living with Lisa on and
off but officially started living with her a couple of weeks
before the murders and everything was going great. He said
Lisa and the children loved him. He talked about the days
leading up to the murders. He said that he and Lisa were
having problems potty-training Heather Savannah and that she
had not been eating properly. He knew that Barbara had seen
marks on Heather Savannah and that she thought he was abusing
the children. Barbara told Lisa that she did not want Lisa to
take the children back home while Covington was there.
Covington denied abusing the children and said it
"really, really ticked [him] off" that Barbara
thought he was. He admitted that he had hit Heather Savannah
on the leg when she picked up a cell phone a couple of days
before the murders but said he did not mean to hit her hard.
He also admitted that the marks could have occurred when he
spanked Heather Savannah, but he said he did not realize he
spanked her that hard.
said that Lisa picked up the children from Barbara's on
Saturday afternoon, the day before the murders. Covington
prepared lunch for the children and dinner for the four of
them. They ate dinner around 6 p.m. and then took the
children to visit with Fish's family. While the children
and Lisa were visiting, Covington said he needed to go check
his mailbox and left, but he actually went to buy and smoke
to Covington, when they got home around 9:30 p.m. or 10 p.m.,
the children went to bed, and Covington and Lisa had a drink
together and had sex. Covington then played a computer game.
He and Lisa went to bed around midnight or 1 a.m. Before bed,
Covington said he "took a handful of Seroquel"
because he was "dog tired" and it had not been as
effective recently. He said he took roughly 1, 000 milligrams
of Seroquel (including four 200-milligram, extended release
pills), which he described as "a hundred [milligrams]
over the max[imum] safe dose." Covington said when the
Seroquel works properly, "it's like turning off a
light switch. . . . [A]ll the extra thought . . . shuts off,
everything goes quiet." The extended release Seroquel
was new to Covington and he said the first time he took one
200-milligram pill, the effects lasted twenty-six hours.
Covington said that Lisa fell asleep in his arms. Covington
initially told the detectives that he did not know what
happened next, but he then admitted that he "kind
of" remembered what happened the next morning and
described what he said he remembered about the murders.
said that Lisa and Zachary were still in bed around 10:30
Sunday morning when he found Heather Savannah awake and lying
on the couch in the living room. Covington asked Heather
Savannah "what she was doing up and she just started to
cry." He said "that is the last recollection of
being in control I know of" and the next thing he
remembered was all the chaos and killing. He said that he
killed Heather Savannah first, that he "hurt her the
most, " and that he "cut her in half" with a
bread knife. He said the first thing he did was cut Heather
Savannah's throat, "the jugular, " while she
was lying on the couch and he was standing over her. He used
four back-and-forth motions. He said he then "literally
ripped Savannah in half, " "almost like carving a
pig." He said he had to get her undressed in order to
cut her in half. He believed she was dead at that time but
could not be sure. He also decapitated Heather Savannah and
set her head by the front door. Although he initially said
Heather Savannah was crying, he later said she never yelled
or cried. He specifically remembered that the bread knife he
used on Heather Savannah was bent in the process. When asked
about a bite mark on Heather Savannah's arm, he said he
may have left that the night before, because she was biting
Zachary and in order to "break her on that[, ] . . .
we would bite her back."
he killed Heather Savannah, Covington remembered choking and
strangling Lisa. He said he did not remember punching her but
thought he might have because he remembered her having a
bloody face. He said he used a two-and-a-half-inch-wide
butcher knife and an upward motion to stab her in the chest,
which he believed "probably perforated the heart and the
was still asleep in his top bunk when Covington stabbed him.
Zachary did not say anything during the stabbing, and
Covington thought that was because he stabbed Zachary's
heart. He thought he stabbed Zachary three times, once in the
back and twice in the chest cavity. He remembered a
"chopping knife" breaking off inside Zachary when
it hit bone. Covington then brought Zachary to the living
room and removed his scrotum and penis. He said that the
mutilation did not have a sexual basis and that he used
pliers to touch Zachary's penis.
killed Duke last, by punching him and hitting him with a
said that after Lisa was dead, he kept hearing her voice, so
he cut her again. Then he "got what [he] could find of
Savannah and Zachary and put 'em over by the front
door." He remembered calling his ex-wife, Cheri, twice,
but she did not answer, and he thought he may have left a
message the second time he called.
said that at some point he thought this must be a nightmare
and that he better take some more Seroquel. He thought it was
at that time that he took Depakote, aspirin, Tylenol, and
caffeine. He vaguely remembered falling down in the closet
while he was looking for clothes. The next thing he
remembered was the police officers telling him to get out of
the closet. He did not know how long he had been in the
closet but remembered that it was daylight when he went in.
described himself to detectives as a time bomb that had been
waiting to explode and finally blew up. He said he did not
know why he blew up because Lisa, Zachary, and Heather
Savannah did nothing wrong.
Leszek Chrostowski, the medical examiner who performed the
autopsies, testified about the causes of the victims'
deaths and the injuries they received.
death resulted from a knife wound to her neck, which
transected her trachea, esophagus, and left common carotid
artery. It was a gaping wound, eleven centimeters long, which
appeared to have been made by a back-and-forth sawing motion
with a knife. Prior to the infliction of the fatal wound,
Lisa suffered severe injuries to her face, which were likely
caused by a beating. Lisa had contusions and abrasions to her
shoulders and chest, a five-inch cut and stab wound to her
left breast, a superficial, eight-centimeter laceration
across her abdomen, which extended into a
twenty-eight-centimeter abrasion, and contusions on her right
foot, all of which were inflicted when she was still alive.
She also had multiple cuts to her hands and fingers, which
were consistent with defensive wounds. She suffered a
perimortem skull fracture, consistent with blows from
the smaller hammer found at the scene, which caused the whole
area at the base of her skull to become fragmented. Based on
the fact that there were multiple injuries on all of
Lisa's body surfaces in different planes, Dr. Chrostowski
opined that Lisa was conscious during the attack, moving
around and trying to escape the injuries. Stab wounds to her
abdomen and pubic region were inflicted after her death.
cause of Heather Savannah's death was a cut to the front
of her neck. Prior to the infliction of the fatal wound,
Heather Savannah was severely beaten- her cheek was cut down
to the bone, the top of her head was cut with a knife in a
scalping motion, and both of her femurs were fractured. The
femur fractures were spiral fractures, which Dr. Chrostowski
said is "a hallmark of child abuse" that results
from "jerking" a child. Dr. Chrostowski opined that
the leg fractures and head trauma occurred when Heather
Savannah was "grabbed by the legs and hit against
something." After death, Heather Savannah's body was
fragmented. She was decapitated and her torso was cut from
the genital region through the chest. Her right leg and hip
were entirely removed from the body. Heather Savannah also
suffered postmortem fractures to her tibia and fibula and
multiple stab wounds to her chest and abdomen.
died as a result of five stab wounds to his neck and back,
which caused internal injuries to his vessels and organs,
including his heart. Prior to his death, Zachary's skull
was fractured in a manner consistent with blows from the
larger hammer found at the scene. Prior to the infliction of
the fatal wounds, Zachary was also stabbed in the sacral
region, during which the knife broke and the blade was left
embedded in the bone. A different knife was later used to
inflict the fatal stab wounds. A large, gaping wound to the
front of Zachary's body, which exposed some of his
internal organs, was inflicted perimortem. After Zachary was
dead, his genitals were removed, additional stab wounds were
inflicted to his chest and back, and decapitation was
Chrostowski also determined that the blows to Duke's head
were consistent with ...