The Commission on Capital Cases has compiled this information using a variety of sources. Every attempt has been made to ensure the accuracy of this summary, however, this information should be verified prior to use for legal or statistical purposes.


Please note: Sonia Jacobs was not under a sentence of death at the time of her



JACOBS, Sonia, (W/F)   

DC# 149957

DOB: 08/24/47


Seventeenth Judicial Circuit, Broward County, Case # 76-1275CFB

Sentencing Judge: The Honorable M. Daniel Futch

Attorney, Direct Appeal: Ray Sandstrom, Private

Attorney, Collateral Appeals: Richard Strafer, Private


Date of Offense:         02/20/76

Date of Sentence:       08/20/76

Date of Resentence     05/05/81


Circumstance of Offense:


Sonia Jacobs was convicted of the murders of Florida Trooper Philip Black and off-duty Canadian Constable Donald Irwin, and the kidnapping of Leonard Levison.


According to the Florida Supreme Court opinion the circumstances of the offense are as followed:  On February 20, 1976, Trooper Black, and his friend Donald Irwin, a Canadian Constable on vacation, were on a routine patrol early in the morning. Black drove into a rest area along Interstate 95 and observed a Camero automobile in which Walter Rhodes and Jessie Tafero, Jacobs and her two children were sleeping. Trooper Black pulled beside the vehicle and approached the car to ask for identification. He saw a gun at Rhodes feet and confiscated the weapon. He returned to his patrol car to run a radio check on Rhodes and his gun. Black learned, from the radio check, that Rhodes was a convicted felon and returned to the car to question the other occupants. Trooper Black noticed a gun holster in the back seat and ordered everyone out of the vehicle. Tafero, sitting in the front passenger seat, was slow exiting the vehicle, so Black pulled Tafero out. The two struggled until Black, with Irwin’s assistance, subdued Tafero.


Rhodes testified that while Irwin held Tafero against the patrol car, Black backed away and drew his firearm. Rhodes walked to the front of the car with his hands in the air. Rhodes claimed he then heard two or three shots, and he turned and saw Jacobs, still in the car, holding a nine-millimeter gun with both hands. Tafero escaped from Irwin’s grasp, ran to the car, grabbed the gun, and shot both Trooper Black and Constable Irwin.


Rhodes alleged that Tafero then took the trooper’s gun and some shell casings. The group then fled in the patrol car. With Rhodes driving, they exited Interstate 95 and entered an apartment complex parking lot where they observed Leonard Levison emerging from his Cadillac. Rhodes demanded, at gunpoint, that Levinson surrender his keys. Tafero told Levison that they had a sick child that they needed to take to the hospital. Jacobs nodded her head in agreement. Tafero grabbed Levinson, and all parties entered the Cadillac. Rhodes drove the group until they were finally captured when he crashed while attempting to evade a roadblock.


Shortly after the crash, a trooper, thinking Jacobs was a hostage, led her away from the scene where Rhodes and Tafero lay handcuffed on the ground. As they passed, Jacobs bent down and appeared to kiss Tafero. Jacobs then acknowledged that she was “with them”. The trooper then asked Jacobs, “Do you like shooting troopers?” Jacobs responded, “We had to.”


Tafero later testified, on Jacob’s behalf, that while he and Trooper Black were struggling, Rhodes shot and killed both men.


Prior Record:


Arrest Date





Miami Dade




Miami Dade

I- Poss. of Marijuana

II- Contr. to the Delinquency of a Minor

III- Poss. of Amphetamines


Counts I and III, 5 years probation.


Count II- Dismissed


Miami Dade


Not Guilty


Myrtle Beach, SC,

I- Poss. of Marijuana

II- Poss. Of Hashish

III, IV- Poss. with Intent to Dist. Amphet. /Barbituates.

V- Poss. of LSD

VI- Violation of SC Gun Law.









Codefendant Information:


Walter Norman Rhodes pled guilty and was sentenced to Life for his cooperation in the case. He was paroled in 1994 and his supervision was transferred to New Mexico. He is presently listed as an absconder from supervision.


Jessie Tafero was tried and convicted and subsequently executed on 05/04/90 for the murders of Black and Irwin.



Trial Summary:


Please note: The file containing both trial and appellate information has been archived in federal court and is not available for review.


03/03/76          Indicted for two counts of First-Degree Murder, Theft of a Firearm,

 Grand Theft Auto, Theft of a Firearm, Kidnapping.


08/20/76          The Jury recommended Life, however, the defendant was sentenced as  


                                    Count I:              First-Degree Murder- Death

                                    Count II:            First-Degree Murder- Death

                                    Count III:           Kidnapping- Life


05/05/81          On remand from the Florida Supreme Court, Jacobs received two Life sentences for the murder charges to run concurrently with the Life sentence received from the kidnapping.


10/09/92          Jacobs entered a plea to Second-Degree Murder and was released with credit time served.



Appeal Summary:



Florida Supreme Court, Direct Appeal

FSC# 50,175

396 So. 2d 713 (1981)



03/26/81          FSC affirmed the murder convictions and the kidnapping conviction and reversed the Death sentences.





Case History:


After a Direct Appeal was filed in the Florida Supreme Court, Jacobs filed an application for stay and for leave to file a motion for a new trial alleging that there was newly discovered evidence as it related to her codefendant, Walter Rhodes. Jacobs claimed he stated on more than one occasion that it was he who fired the shots that killed the two officers.  The State argued that information pertaining to this allegation was available to Jacobs during the trial. The Florida Supreme Court issued an order directing the trial judge to file a response indicating whether he imposed the death sentence in consideration of any information not known to Jacobs. In filing the response, the judge attached a copy of Jacobs' presentence investigation claiming that he had no knowledge as to whether defense counsel had access to the report.  Jacobs then filed a supplement to her motion claiming that a Brady[1] violation occurred during trial. Attached to the presentence investigation was a confidential polygraph examination of Walter Rhodes. Jacobs argued that the polygraph report indicated Rhodes’ responses were different than those he made at trial. The State acknowledged in a response that, although the defense was not supplied with this report, there was no contradiction between Rhodes’ testimony, nor did Rhodes make any statements favorable to the defense. The Florida Supreme Court considered the information and temporarily relinquished jurisdiction to the trial court with directions to the trial judge to make a finding as to whether the appellant had access to the presentence investigation during sentencing and whether withholding this report constituted a Brady violation and order a new hearing.


The trial court made the determination that a Brady violation did not occur, and the Supreme Court received the appeal back from the trial court. The Supreme Court agreed that Rhodes’ polygraph statements were not inconsistent with other statements that he had made.


Jacobs’ additional arguments included Miranda violations, improper denial of preemptory challenges and her belief that she was unable to properly participate in her own defense. The Supreme Court did not find error in those arguments, however, vacated Jacobs’ sentence of death based on the fact that the trial judge mistakenly believed that he could not consider nonstatutory mitigating circumstances and held that the evidence was not sufficient to override the jury’s sentence of death. The case was subsequently remanded to the trial court for resentencing. The court upheld her life sentence on the kidnapping case and claimed there was sufficient evidence to sustain her conviction. The Florida Supreme Court opined, “One who participates with another in a common criminal scheme is guilty of all crimes committed in the furtherance of that scheme regardless of whether he or she physically participates in that crime.”


On 05/05/81 Jacobs received two Life sentences for the murder charges to run concurrently to the Life sentence she received on the Kidnapping case.


Although Jacobs was no longer on death row, her attorneys continued to appeal her case and filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus with the United States District Court on 11/25/85. The magistrate recommended that the petition be denied and, while the report was under consideration, Jacobs’ attorneys discovered that Brenda Isham, Jacobs’ previous cellmate, had perjured herself at trial. The District Court granted Jacobs a stay of the proceedings to allow her to pursue the issue in the state courts. Jacobs exhausted her claim regarding Isham in state court and then filed an amended Habeas Petition in the United States District Court. After Isham testified, the magistrate judge acknowledged that Isham did perjure herself, but ruled that Isham’s testimony was not central to the State’s case and denied the petition. Jacobs then filed a Habeas Appeal with the United States Court of Appeals. The court found that a Brady violation had occurred by using the polygraph of Walter Rhodes and held that three of five statements that Jacobs made violated her Miranda rights. The court affirmed in part and reversed in part and remanded

the case to the District Court with instructions to grant the Habeas Petition conditioned on the State granting Jacobs a new trial.


The State declined to try Jacobs again and allowed her to plead guilty to Second-Degree Murder and released her with credit time served.


Law Enforcement/ Prosecution Statements:


Carolyn McCann, Assistant State Attorney, Seventeenth Judicial Circuit, wrote


I hope that the information contained in this letter will help set the

record straight regarding Jacobs' involvement in the murders of Trooper

Black and Constable Irwin. . . . Sonia Jacobs was convicted after a trial of two counts of first degree murder and one count kidnapping. She was sentenced to death for the homicides and life for the kidnapping. On review, the Supreme Court of Florida reversed Jacobs’ sentence of death but upheld her convictions. Jacobs v. State, 396 So. 2d 713(Fla. 1981). Jacobs was thereafter re-sentenced to two concurrent life sentences on the murder counts to be served with the third concurrent life sentence on the kidnapping count. Jacobs’ convictions had been upheld by all of the State and Federal Courts reviewing the same until the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals granted her petition for writ of habeas corpus in 1992. In doing so, they specifically rejected Jacobs’ claim that the State should have turned over to the defense a polygraph examiner’s report. It is worth noting that the polygraph examiner’s report was written the day following the examination from notes taken during the interview and was not a “substantially verbatim” recording of the witness’s, Walter Rhodes’s answers. It was for this reason that the Supreme Court of Florida expressly and explicitly previously rejected this claim that a discovery violation occurred. This difference of opinions between the appellate courts that reviewed Jacobs’ conviction formed part of the basis for habeas corpus relief.


The Eleventh Circuit also addressed the statements that Jacobs made to police that were used against her at trial. Some of the statements made by Sonia Jacobs were ruled inadmissible by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. That Court’s opinion was that Jacob’s rights were violated in that she was not properly advised of her constitutional rights. The Court did not rule inadmissible her statement that she was “with them” referring to Rhodes and Tafero or her statement that she fired the first shot from the car. However, the Court ruled inadmissible her statement after being asked “Do you like shooting troopers’ that “we had to”. The Court also ruled inadmissible Jacobs’ statements that she told police her name was ‘Sandy Jenkins’ and that she was picked up by two detectives in an FHP trooper vehicle while hitchhiking and her subsequent statement changing her story to being picked up by two men in an orange Cadillac. Likewise, Jacobs’ statement that she had gotten a ride to Florida with ‘Tone” and another guy, and that there were guns in the car and that two of them were hers and that there were six people in the car when it pulled into the rest stop on I 95, including Jacobs, her two children, the two men and a woman named “Frenchie” were also ruled inadmissible by the Eleventh Circuit. Jacobs statement that she didn’t know ‘Frenchie “and that "Frenchie” took off after the shooting were also ruled inadmissible by the Eleventh Circuit. Her statement that she had owned and fired two handguns was also ruled inadmissible. The loss of these statements Jacobs made to police was very damaging to the State’s case against her. 


 After the Eleventh Circuit reversed the convictions and sentences, Jacobs pleaded guilty in October 1992 to two (2) counts of second degree murder, and one count of kidnapping, and waived her rights to appeal in exchange for a sentence of time served, which at that point, amounted to sixteen (16) years and two hundred, thirty-three (233) days incarceration. It is important for you to know that as part of her plea agreement, Sonia Jacobs agreed, in court, to the factual basis for her plea which included such facts that at the time of the murders Jacobs was seated with her children in the back seat of the Camaro, Tafero and Rhodes were outside of the car, that the first shots were fired from the back of the Camaro and Rhodes testified that he saw Jacobs holding a 9mm with both hands. Pierce Hyman, a truck driver who was at the scene of the murder, also testified that it sounded like the first shot came from the Camaro. Another truck driver, Robert McKenzie, was also present at the time of the murder and testified that Rhodes had his hands raised at the time of the shooting. Numerous pieces of evidence, including an empty case for a Taser weapon, which had been fired, were found behind the driver’s seat of the Camaro where Jacobs was sitting. Receipts in the car’s trunk showed that Jacobs had purchased two Smith & Wesson automatic pistols. Another weapon she purchased, a .22 caliber pistol, was also found at the scene. Evidence implicating Jacobs was abundant and she stipulated that the State could prove all of it. In addition, Jacobs made incriminating statements to police. . . . The facts that I have written in this letter are just a small sampling of the evidence against Jacobs. Of course, there was no prosecutorial misconduct in this case, just a difference of opinion by the courts which reviewed it, as to what constituted Brady evidence and the admissibility of Jacobs’ many statements to police. Just as obvious is that the facts that Jacobs agreed to as a factual basis for her plea are far different from the facts portrayed by her and death penalty opponents. 


Defense Attorney Statements:


Defense attorney Ray Sandtrom is deceased.


Defense attorney Richard Strafer was contacted and will be providing a written statement.


Current Status:


Sonia Jacobs is presently living in Ireland and according to NCIC has not had any arrests subsequent to her release.




Report date 05/21/02- WHS       

[1] Brady v. Maryland, Information or evidence that is beneficial to the defendant’s case and that the prosecution has a duty to disclose.