Wednesday, Apr 16, 2014

Man on second trial for home invasion robbery with a firearm

Published:   |   Updated: December 4, 2013 at 12:15 PM

BROOKSVILLE - Around 5 a.m. on June 19, 2010, Tracy Paulk Blake was at her Springwood Road home, in bed, drifting in and out of sleep. Her dog was barking, but Blake didn't pay much attention to her. Moments later, her bedroom door whipped open, and two armed men wearing ski masks rushed in, identifying themselves as police and yelling at Blake to tell them where the drugs and money were kept.

Blake, now 51, figured out before too long the two men were not police officers, and that she was being robbed for her prescription medications that included oxycodone and oxycontin.

She felt a weapon against her head that felt like a .22 caliber semi-automatic gun, and refusing the robbers' commands, told the men to take whatever they wanted, and that she was going to smoke a cigarette in another room.

The men took numerous pill bottles, but left other items, such as her wallet and laptop.

Blake said the whole ordeal lasted about 10 minutes, after which she armed herself with a .357 Magnum, drove to her mother's home about 2 1/2 miles away and called 911.

Prosecutors believe Kirk Bleich, 50, was one of the two men who broke into Blake's home that night in 2010. Bleich's brother, Barak Bleich, 37, confessed to detectives shortly after the robbery, and later pled guilty to the armed robbery charge in exchange for a seven year prison sentence.

Kirk Bleich decided to take his case to trial, and in 2012, a jury convicted him of home invasion robbery while armed, and Judge Daniel Merritt Sr. sentenced him to 40 years in the Florida Department of Corrections.

Earlier this year, however, the Fifth District Court of Appeals reversed the ruling and granted Bleich a new trial. The court found fault with Assistant State Attorney Rob Lewis calling Barak Bleich as a state's witness "for the sole purpose of impeaching the witness with his prior inconsistent statement."

Though Barak Bleich had confessed to law enforcement, he refused to testify against his brother. After Barak Bleich said he did not remember telling law enforcement he and his brother had committed the robbery, the state played the taped confession for jurors.

The appellate court found the incident was "extremely prejudicial" to Kirk Bleich's defense.

The six new jurors and two alternates, selected on Monday, do not know Bleich's case has been tried previously.

During opening statements, Lewis explained 11 days after the robbery, an unrelated search warrant served on the Bleich's family's Mitchell Road home produced a ski mask, gloves and handcuffs, as well as Blake's cell phone and prescription bottles. Florida Department of Law Enforcement testing found Bleich's DNA on the gloves and ski mask, Lewis said.

Bleich's attorney, Peyton Hyslop, said during his opening statement Blake was a convicted felon with illegal firearms and ammunition in her home, and pointed out she admitted to law enforcement she sells some of her pain medication in exchange for money or services.

Blake later testified at the time of the robbery she had been trading a few oxycontin pills to Bleich's girlfriend Sheri Schoonover to clean her house.

Hyslop said Blake could only identify Bleich by his voice, but that Blake had only spoken with the defendant briefly on one or two occasions when he came by Blake's house with Schoonover.

Hyslop said Bleich often worked as a commercial fisherman, wearing a ski mask during cold winter nights on the Gulf, and that Bleich and his brother and their father have very similar voices.

On the stand, Blake explained she was prescribed numerous medications for diabetes, heartburn, back pain, depression and cholesterol problems, as well as an "unknown disease" she was diagnosed with in 2007.

Blake recounted the early morning robbery, and how she yanked her hand away when one of the masked men put a pair of handcuffs on her, breaking them.

Blake said her "self-preservation" instincts kicked in.

"I wasn't going to end up in a field somewhere raped ... they're going to have to kill me here," Blake said, adding she was afraid, but refused the robbers' commands.

Blake said she told investigators during their first interview she sometimes exchanged drugs with Schoonover. Blake was later sentenced to two years probation on charges of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

Later on the day of the robbery, Blake said she was with Schoonover that night, and after she told her her house had been broken into, placed a call to Bleich.

"I listened ... that's the son of a bitch that was in my bedroom that morning," Blake testified.

Jurors on Tuesday also heard testimony from law enforcement officers, and heard a taped jail phone call between Bleich and Schoonover.

The trial continues Wednesday.

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