Murder Charges Considered; Prosecutors Investigate Drug Death Of Man, 18 — (The Sun-Sentinel)

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The Sun-Sentinel

December 6, 2003

BY PETER FRANCESCHINA STAFF WRITER

Prosecutors are examining whether to charge a former Palm Beach County assistant public defender with murder in the drug overdose of an 18-year-old man who died in the attorney’s bedroom in January 2002.

Damon Amedeo, 31, already is serving an 18-year federal sentence for delivering drugs to Douglas Rozelle III. The judge who sentenced Amedeo placed the blame for Rozelle’s death on Amedeo and his drug-infused lifestyle, saying Amedeo gave Rozelle drugs so he could sexually assault him when he passed out.

West Palm Beach police asked Palm Beach County prosecutors to review the case for possible murder and sexual-battery charges, but local prosecutors couldn’t pursue the case because of a potential conflict of interest. A Rozelle relative works in the prosecutor’s office. In September, Gov. Jeb Bush assigned the case to prosecutors in Fort Myers, who could choose to take the case to a grand jury.

The governor’s executive order says police are seeking “possible charges of first-degree murder and two counts of sexual battery on an incapacitated person.”

West Palm Beach police Detective Amy Sinnott, the lead investigator on the case, declined to comment. Rozelle’s parents could not be reached for comment.

Prosecutors in Fort Myers said they are reviewing the investigation.

“We are investigating the circumstances of the death. That is what we have been asked to review,” Fort Myers Assistant State Attorney Dean Plattner said. “Our intention is to give it a thorough look and make appropriate decisions after that.”

In Florida, someone can be charged with first-degree murder if the killing takes place during the commission of another felony.

West Palm Beach attorney Jim Eisenberg, who represented Amedeo on the federal drug charges, said there is no evidence Amedeo committed a sexual battery or murder the night of Jan. 5.

“I think the Rozelle family will not accept the fact, unfortunately and tragically, that Doug Rozelle killed himself by taking so many drugs,” he said. “It is just a tragic case all the way around. I think everyone would be better off if they moved on with their lives.”

Amedeo worked for the Public Defender’s Office from 1997 until January 2001, and during his last few months he was assigned to the county drug court. At the time of Rozelle’s death, Amedeo worked for the teenager’s father, West Palm Beach attorney Douglas Rozelle Jr., and was supposed to be helping the younger Rozelle through a court-ordered drug program.

Amedeo had sex with Rozelle the night of Jan. 5, and Rozelle was unresponsive, according to court records and testimony in the federal sentencing. Later, Amedeo rolled Rozelle out of the bed because the teen had urinated. The next morning Amedeo went out with friends for smoothies and then cleaned up his apartment. He got rid of the trash before checking on Rozelle and then calling 911 at 12:46 p.m., when he discovered him cold to the touch, according to testimony.

Rozelle had a lethal cocktail of drugs in his system that shut down his breathing, including a high concentration of the antidepressant citalopram, for which he had a prescription, according to testimony. Also in his system were the painkiller methadone, cocaine byproducts and the anti-anxiety drug alprazolam. Rozelle died Jan. 6.

Four days after Rozelle’s death, authorities executed a search warrant at Amedeo’s West Palm Beach apartment and seized guns and a videotape showing Amedeo snorting what appeared to be cocaine with Rozelle in the fall of 2001, according to court documents. That videotape shows Amedeo performing oral sex on Rozelle, who appears to be passed out, according to testimony in the case.

Amedeo was charged with nine federal felonies and eventually pleaded guilty to a single count of supplying cocaine to Rozelle. Amedeo is appealing his sentence.

Peter Franceschina can be reached at pfranceschina@ sun-sentinel.com or 561-832-2894.