The Commission on Capital Cases was not funded in the FY 2011-2012 General Appropriations Act, and the Commission ceased operations on June 30, 2011. This site and the Commission website are being retained to provide access to historical materials.

The Registry Attorneys will be continued by the Justice Administration Commission.

These actions are effective July 1, 2011.

Disclaimer: The Commission on Capital Cases receives this information from a variety of sources. The site will be updated consistently as information is received and will be audited bi-annually. We make every attempt to ensure the accuracy of the information provided; however, the information should be verified by the applicable court prior to using it for legal or statistical purposes.


Last NameFirst NamePictureDC NumberAgencyCase Summary
JacobsSonia 149957CCRCCase Summary

Last Action

DateCourtCase NumberLast Action

Current Attorney


Last Updated

2008-01-09 11:43:13.0

Case Summary
Direct Links

The Commission on Capital Cases updates this information regularly

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


Please note: Sonia Jacobs was not under a sentence ofdeath 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 TrooperPhilip Black and off-duty Canadian Constable Donald Irwin, and the kidnappingof Leonard Levison.


According to the Florida Supreme Court opinion thecircumstances of the offense are as followed:  On February 20, 1976, Trooper Black, and his friend Donald Irwin, a Canadian Constable on vacation, were on aroutine patrol early in the morning. Black drove into a rest area alongInterstate 95 and observed a Camero automobile in which Walter Rhodes andJessie Tafero, Jacobs and her two children were sleeping. Trooper Black pulledbeside the vehicle and approached the car to ask for identification. He saw agun at Rhodes feet and confiscated the weapon. He returned to his patrol car torun 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 otheroccupants. Trooper Black noticed a gun holster in the back seat and orderedeveryone out of the vehicle. Tafero, sitting in the front passenger seat, wasslow exiting the vehicle, so Black pulled Tafero out. The two struggled untilBlack, with Irwin’s assistance, subdued Tafero.


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


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


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


Tafero later testified, on Jacob’s behalf, that while he andTrooper 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 toLife for his cooperation in the case. He was paroled in 1994 and hissupervision was transferred to New Mexico. He is presently listed as anabsconder from supervision.


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



Trial Summary:


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


03/03/76          Indicted for two counts of First-DegreeMurder, 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-DegreeMurder- Death

                                    Count III:           Kidnapping-Life


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


10/09/92          Jacobs entered a plea to Second-Degree Murder and was released withcredit 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 andreversed the Death sentences.





Case History:


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


The trial court made the determination that a Bradyviolation did not occur, and the Supreme Court received the appeal back fromthe trial court. The Supreme Court agreed that Rhodes’ polygraph statementswere 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 toproperly participate in her own defense. The Supreme Court did not find errorin those arguments, however, vacated Jacobs’ sentence of death based on thefact that the trial judge mistakenly believed that he could not considernonstatutory mitigating circumstances and held that the evidence was notsufficient to override the jury’s sentence of death. The case was subsequentlyremanded to the trial court for resentencing. The court upheld her lifesentence on the kidnapping case and claimed there was sufficient evidence tosustain her conviction. The Florida Supreme Court opined, “One who participateswith another in a common criminal scheme is guilty of all crimes committed inthe furtherance of that scheme regardless of whether he or she physicallyparticipates in that crime.”


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


Although Jacobs was no longer on death row, her attorneyscontinued to appeal her case and filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpuswith the United States District Court on 11/25/85. The magistrate recommendedthat the petition be denied and, while the report was under consideration,Jacobs’ attorneys discovered that Brenda Isham, Jacobs’ previous cellmate, hadperjured herself at trial. The District Court granted Jacobs a stay of theproceedings to allow her to pursue the issue in the state courts. Jacobsexhausted her claim regarding Isham in state court and then filed an amendedHabeas Petition in the United States District Court. After Isham testified, themagistrate judge acknowledged that Isham did perjure herself, but ruled thatIsham’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. Thecourt found that a Brady violation had occurred by using the polygraphof Walter Rhodes and held that three of five statements that Jacobs madeviolated her Miranda rights. The court affirmed in part and reversed in partand remanded

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


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


Law Enforcement/ Prosecution Statements:


Carolyn McCann, Assistant State Attorney, SeventeenthJudicial 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 atrial of two counts of first degree murder and one count kidnapping. She wassentenced to death for the homicides and life for the kidnapping. On review,the Supreme Court of Florida reversed Jacobs’ sentence of death but upheld herconvictions. Jacobs v. State, 396 So. 2d 713(Fla. 1981). Jacobs was thereafterre-sentenced to two concurrent life sentences on the murder counts to be servedwith the third concurrent life sentence on the kidnapping count. Jacobs’convictions had been upheld by all of the State and Federal Courts reviewingthe same until the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals granted her petition forwrit of habeas corpus in 1992. In doing so, they specifically rejectedJacobs’ claim that the State should have turned over to the defense a polygraphexaminer’s report. It is worth noting that the polygraph examiner’s report waswritten the day following the examination from notes taken during the interviewand was not a “substantially verbatim” recording of the witness’s, WalterRhodes’s answers. It was for this reason that the Supreme Court of Floridaexpressly and explicitly previously rejected this claim that a discoveryviolation occurred. This difference of opinions between the appellate courtsthat reviewed Jacobs’ conviction formed part of the basis for habeas corpusrelief.


The Eleventh Circuit also addressed the statements that Jacobs made topolice that were used against her at trial. Some of the statements made bySonia 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 notproperly advised of her constitutional rights. The Court did not ruleinadmissible her statement that she was “with them” referring to Rhodes andTafero or her statement that she fired the first shot from the car. However,the Court ruled inadmissible her statement after being asked “Do you likeshooting troopers’ that “we had to”. The Court also ruled inadmissible Jacobs’statements that she told police her name was ‘Sandy Jenkins’ and that she waspicked up by two detectives in an FHP trooper vehicle while hitchhiking and hersubsequent statement changing her story to being picked up by two men in anorange Cadillac. Likewise, Jacobs’ statement that she had gotten a ride toFlorida with ‘Tone” and another guy, and that there were guns in the car andthat two of them were hers and that there were six people in the car when itpulled into the rest stop on I 95, including Jacobs, her two children, the twomen and a woman named “Frenchie” were also ruled inadmissible by the EleventhCircuit. Jacobs statement that she didn’t know ‘Frenchie “and that"Frenchie” took off after the shooting were also ruled inadmissible by theEleventh Circuit. Her statement that she had owned and fired two handguns wasalso ruled inadmissible. The loss of these statements Jacobs made to police wasvery 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 degreemurder, and one count of kidnapping, and waived her rights to appeal inexchange for a sentence of time served, which at that point, amounted tosixteen (16) years and two hundred, thirty-three (233) days incarceration. Itis important for you to know that as part of her plea agreement, Sonia Jacobsagreed, in court, to the factual basis for her plea which included such factsthat at the time of the murders Jacobs was seated with her children in the backseat of the Camaro, Tafero and Rhodes were outside of the car, that the firstshots were fired from the back of the Camaro and Rhodes testified that he sawJacobs holding a 9mm with both hands. Pierce Hyman, a truck driver who was atthe scene of the murder, also testified that it sounded like the first shotcame from the Camaro. Another truck driver, Robert McKenzie, was also presentat the time of the murder and testified that Rhodes had his hands raised at thetime of the shooting. Numerous pieces of evidence, including an empty case fora Taser weapon, which had been fired, were found behind the driver’s seat ofthe Camaro where Jacobs was sitting. Receipts in the car’s trunk showed thatJacobs had purchased two Smith & Wesson automatic pistols. Another weaponshe purchased, a .22 caliber pistol, was also found at the scene. Evidenceimplicating Jacobs was abundant and she stipulated that the State could proveall 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 theevidence against Jacobs. Of course, there was no prosecutorial misconduct inthis case, just a difference of opinion by the courts which reviewed it, as towhat constituted Brady evidence and the admissibility of Jacobs’ manystatements to police. Just as obvious is that the facts that Jacobs agreed toas a factual basis for her plea are far different from the facts portrayed byher and death penalty opponents. 


Defense Attorney Statements:


Defense attorney Ray Sandtrom is deceased.


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


Current Status:


Sonia Jacobs is presently living in Ireland and according toNCIC 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 thedefendant’s case and that the prosecution has a duty to disclose.