Already admonished by the court for abusing the system by filing “frivolous” motions to ease his sentence, Bruce Grove, the now-46-year-old former Palm Coast resident serving 35 years in prison for the killing of Flagler County Sheriff’s deputy Charles “Chuck” Sease in 2003, is now appealing to the state’s clemency board for mercy.
The Florida Commission on Offender Review used to be known as the state’s parole board. Grove is not eligible for parole, but can seek clemency. Grove’s request for a commutation of sentence drew sharp letters from Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly and State Attorney R.J. Larizza this week opposing any such move.
Grove, Staly wrote the review commission on Aug. 8, “is a cop killer and his actions devastated his newlywed wife and members of the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office and the community,”
State Attorney R.J. Larizza calls a commutation “a grave injustice,” if it were to be granted.
Grove must serve at least 85 percent of his sentence before he is eligible to be released with so-called “gain time.” That means his earliest opportunity for release with gain time would be in 2033 (if not in 2038). He is barely halfway through his sentence. The commission holds 25 hearings a year and takes into account the testimonies of victims of crime or the families of victims. Though it conducts upward of 4,000 clemency investigations each year, relatively few are recommended, and the governor and cabinet would have to sign off on the recommendation. It’s not an easy process.
Grove, Staly wrote the commission, referring to the Department of Corrections, “needs to continue to be held accountable for his actions and remain in DOC custody. To do anything else, such as Commutation of Sentence, would be a slap in the face of Deputy Sease’s memory and the sacrifice his newlywed wife and family made for our community.”
Newly married, Sease and his wife had moved from Connecticut to Flagler County only months before the incident that ended his life, making him the last law enforcement officer in Flagler to be killed in the line of duty. Another deputy’s death since has been considered a line-of-duty death, but it was the result of a medical episode rather than a hostile act by a criminal.
Today, the most visible marker of Sease’s service in Flagler, aside from his engraved name on the sheriff’s office’s granite memorial to the fallen, is a memorial sign on the exit ramp where he was killed, at I-95 and State Road 100. No other signs marks what remains the most violent and traumatic event to shake the county’s law enforcement community in the past 18 years.
It started with a call to police minutes after 2 a.m. the morning of July 5, 2003. Flagler County’s 911 dispatch center had gotten a call about a fight at a bar in Flagler Beach. Flagler Beach police officer James Parrish Jr. responded, only to see a woman get off the ground and run toward him, screaming that a man had stolen her car.
The car thief–who was actually the woman’s ex-husband–“pulled away in a very fast and, and reckless manner, spinning his tires and actually fishtailing on the dirt part of the shoulder of AlA,” Parrish said during a deposition just six days later. He was describing the very first moments of a vehicle chase that would result minutes later in Bruce Harold Grove–the man at the wheel of the stolen car intentionally plowing into Flagler County Sheriff’s deputy Charles T. Sease, killing the deputy.
Grove, a 29-year-old resident of Eric Drive in Palm Coast at the time, was drunk: he’d spent four hours drinking that Fourth of July–beer and liquor. He was driving on a license that had been revoked for 60 months eight months before, due to habitual offenses. He was fleeing law enforcement that by the time he reached the Interstate included the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office.
Grove had taken Parrish and other law enforcement on a chase on I-95 North, speeding as fast as 100 miles per hour at times, suddenly exiting at Palm Coast Parkway (he’d been well past the normal exit point when he jerked the car right, hoping Parrish would drive on) and smashing through the Parkway’s median and driving against traffic.
As he was maneuvering to get back onto the Interstate–driving against traffic on the exit ramp– he aimed the stolen vehicle he was driving directly at a Flagler Beach police corporal who’d positioned himself at the base of the exist, according to Parrish, but “ bounced off the curb, hit the curb again, the median again, and veered to the right,” avoiding the corporal but running off another officer off the road. That officer had taken evasive action, Parrish said.
Once on I-95, Grove crossed the northbound lanes and the median to get back onto the southbound lanes, and the chase resumed, with at least five Flagler County Sheriff’s patrol cars in pursuit. Grove drove through the weigh station, and moments later, killed Sease.
Sease, 35, a Baltimore native and a cop for six years but with the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office just two months, was with his partner Mike Fink. They had deployed stop sticks at the exit ramp off I-95 onto State Road 100. Grove “swerved directly into Deputy Sheriff Charles T Sease, who was standing in a safety zone behind a marked police car with emergency lights on,” according to a Florida Highway Patrol report. Grove struck Sease, knocking the deputy a distance of 260 feet, sped on, then crashed, the vehicle overturning and ending up on its roof.
“As I was approaching,” Parrish recalled, “I saw a lot of smoke.” He never saw Grove strike Sease. The stolen vehicle was upside down in a ditch. Grove “was laying on his back in a sort of like a fetus position at that point,” still in the car.
Grove was initially charged with murder, manslaughter with a weapon and manslaughter of a law enforcement officer, all first-degree felonies, along with a second degree felony charge of fleeing and eluding and three third-degree felony charges of grand theft, driving on a revoked license, and burglary.
At trial, Grove claimed he couldn’t stop the car–that the brakes wouldn’t engage. ““No one saw brake lights come on – no one,” John Tanner, the state attorney at the time, who prosecuted the case, told the jury.
With numerous law enforcement officers in the courtroom, a jury of 12 found him guilty of second-degree murder: because the jury had determined that Grove had not committed a burglary when he stole his ex-wife’s car, the first-degree murder charge could not stick. But weeks later, when Circuit Judge Robert K. Rouse sentenced him to 35 years in prison, the judge set aside the murder conviction, sentencing him for manslaughter of a law enforcement officer in the line of duty. Grove’s attorney, Ray Warren, had successfully argued that for the second-degree murder conviction to stand, the prosecution would have had to prove that Grove had intended to kill Seases. The prosecution had not sought to prove intent, thinking that with a burglary conviction, it wouldn’t have to. But there was no burglary conviction.
The sentence upheld the jury convictions on fleeing and eluding, grand theft, driving on a revoked license and battery. Rouse sentenced him to 30 years on the manslaughter charge and to concurrent terms of 15 and 5 years on other charges–except for the charge of grand theft, for which he sentenced Grove to five years consecutive to the 30, thus adding five years to his sentence.
The Fifth District Court of Appeal upheld the conviction in May 2006. “In comparison,” Staly wrote the Commission on Offender Review, “Deputy Sease received a death sentence because of inmate Grove, Jr.’s actions.”
Grove filed a series of motions to overturn the sentence–so often that at one point in 2010 the court found him to have “abused the system by filing successive and frivolous motions,” barring him from continuing to do so. Nevertheless, in 2012 he again claimed ineffective representation at trial. He argued this time that by allowing numerous uniformed officers to be in the courtroom during the trial, the jury was unfairly swayed against him. On July 3, 2013, within 28 hours of the 10th anniversary of Sease’s death, Circuit Judge J. David Walsh denied the motion.
Michael Van Buren says
I’m sorry for what I am about to say, but Fu*k that guy. He made choices that night that killed an innocent person protecting others. And the impact it had on others can not be measured, including myself. May he rot in prison for as long as possible. RIP 6179
Guy should have gotten death sentence! Prison too good for him!
What if they never chased him that night, Caught up with him later? Life would have been saved. Always such a rush to catch a bad guy that we put lives at risk intentionally to protect lives assumed to be endanger. Stop the old way of high speed chase.
What if… What if… What if, he didn’t batter his ex and steal her car. It falls back on him, he made his choice that night. Now he can suffer the consequences. Stop with the “what ifs.”
For every action there is a reaction, cause and effect. Law Enforcement Officers don’t just magically appear, they get called due to someone’s actions. Everyone wants to blame Law Enforcement, how about people be accountable for their actions.
Concerned Citizen says
The Sheriff has made policy changes.
But sure let’s blame the Deputy for getting killed while doing his job. I would insert a massive eye roll here but FL won’t let me.
Then, had he not killed the officer, he would have probably killed someone else…..that’s often the outcome of driving habitually drunk and suspended. Keep him in jail and away from the temptations of booze and vehicles!
I remember Deputy Sease. A warm, kind and generous young man excited about his move to this county and stepping up to help make this a better community wherever he could. I worked at Flagler Habitat for Humanity and remember him coming in and offering to volunteer to help build homes for those in need. He never even got the chance as he was gone so quickly. He was truly a good soul and is missed. We all lost when he was killed.
Roy Longo says
I hope this guy rots in jail. 35 years is not good enough for intentionally running over Deputy Sease and trying to run over others. It is a night many of us will never forget.
Let me take the emotional aspect out of the equation.
Inmate Grove, you are simply not eligible.
Now I can go on and say what a mother#$%@er you are and how you should rot in jail but, I’m going to take the the honest civil citizens point of view.
May you live long, really long. Enjoy the three square meals provided by my tax dollars. For this is the one time my tax dollars I feel go to a good cause.
I hope you make it to the end of your 35 years in jail……
I hope he makes it to 34 years 364 days and then another inmate beats the living hell out of him and he lingers in pain
This murderer wants clemency after killing a sheriff’s deputy and having served only half of his too lenient prison sentence??? HELL NO!!!
Sue Urban says
Just so everyone is aware, anyone can write a letter regarding Bruce Grove Jr’s request for early release. The address and case information is as follows.
Florida Commission on Offender Review
Attn: Investigator Jeffrey Merrick
4070 Esplanade Way
Tallahassee, FL 32399-2450
Re: Clemency Applicant Bruce H. Grove Jr.
DC # V00627 & EC # 412201
I urge everyone that wants this murderer to serve his full sentence to write a letter and spend the $0.50 to mail it in honor of Deputy Charles “Chuck” Sease.
Ray W. says
From reading several of the above-listed comments, I suppose it might be relevant to the article to describe what happened at Mr. Grove’s trial. I openly admit that this is an old case and I do not have a trial transcript to refresh my recollections, but it remains a very real event to me. I just happen to believe that we use court reporters for a reason, which is because the courts, long ago, realized that memory can sometimes be a tricky thing. One of the early studies on this point reveals that approximately one year after the JFK assassination, over 60% of Americans responded to a poll by stating that they remembered voting for JFK. In reality, at the time, it was the closest election in presidential history.
First, because the Grand Jury Indictment of Mr. Grove did not address premeditated murder, one of two options available in the first degree murder statute; the trial addressed felony murder based on an allegation of burglary. Based on the specifics of the allegations set forth in the Indictment, I filed a pre-trial motion seeking an order that none of the law enforcement officers be allowed to offer any testimony to the jury of what they thought Mr. Grove intended to do that night, as such testimony would not establish any of the elements of any of the multiple charges filed against him. The trial judge agreed with me. With the trial issues properly narrowed, it became appropriate to develop a trial strategy.
After much discussion, I was authorized to utilize a trial strategy of asking the jury to convict Mr. Grove of DUI manslaughter of an officer and grand theft. I never argued to the jury, either during opening statements or during closing arguments, that it return a true not guilty verdict, as Mr. Grove accepted responsibility to the jury from the beginning of trial for having committed a serious crime. A large part of the process involved my belief that his was one of those very rare “single tipping point” cases. If one critical fact is accepted by the jury, the State’s case falls apart. Most defense cases can be described as “multiple tipping point” cases. Even if the defense establishes points A, B, C, E, F and G, if point D fails, they all fail. Multiple tipping point cases are usually far harder to defend.
I commonly talked to clients about a “grocery store rule” when I first met with them. The rule is very simple: By the time each of us is five or six years old, we have figured out that if we grab the biggest bag of candy off the shelf and ask mom to buy it for us, she quickly says, No! If we ask for a slightly more expensive piece of candy that we usually ask for, we just might get it. In other words, if we ask for too much, we get nothing. If we ask for just a little bit more than we usually get, we just might get it. Magically, when we turn 18, we all forget the grocery store rule and start asking for too much. For reasons I will list below, I believe the prosecution team had long forgotten the grocery store rule; they and their witnesses asked for too much and lost. Mr. Grove asked the jury for an outcome based on the evidence introduced at trial and got it, though it took a lot of work to get there. As an aside, many commenters on FlaglerLive should consider the grocery store rule before they post a comment.
This was the first time I used a particular jury selection strategy. The jury was out over 10 hours, spread over two days, and returned a verdict of not guilty of the charge of burglary and the related charge of first-degree felony murder. Late the night before jury selection, once I realized that going over the case again and again would add nothing to my trial preparations, I did what I commonly did: I opened West’s Rules of Criminal Procedure to a random page and began reading, in an effort to wind down enough to sleep. Coincidentally, I opened the book to a page listing the jury instructions given to jurors before they are sent out to deliberate. Something about the verb “to deliberate” rankled me enough to forestall sleep. I realized that there was no jury instruction to help jurors understand how they should conduct themselves in the jury room. I decided I would ask the prospective jurors to tell each other what they thought the verb “to deliberate” meant. I purposely did not tell them what I thought it should mean. Prosecutor after prosecutor, decade after decade, tell jurors how to think. I thought that jurors might appreciate my asking them to educate me and each other. Yes, I threw out suggestions to them the next morning, but I told them to reject my suggestions if they didn’t agree with them. I have to wonder if prosecutors just consider whether jurors like to be told how to think. In the end, after enough open-ended questions, they all said they would not be deliberating if they did not consider each and every theory of defense and theory prosecution offered by both sides. On more than one occasion, Mr. Tristam has heard me question jurors and has heard how jurors respond to my style of engagement on the subject of jury deliberations.
Factually, on the afternoon of July 4th, Mr. Grove was dropped off in Flagler Beach. He walked to the beach to see his child, who was with his ex-wife at their large annual family gathering to watch fireworks. When Mr. Grove left to buy sparklers at a convenience store, his ex-wife nosily opened his extra-large convenience store drink container. At trial, she testified the she could smell alcohol emanating from the drink. When I asked her to describe just how strong was the odor (an open question, not a leading one), she described it as a very strong odor.
Later that evening, Mr. Grove left the beach and met a new friend who was visiting Flagler Beach for the first time from out of state. Mr. Grove offered to buy all the drinks if the new friend would drive him around Flagler Beach.
Early the next morning, the ex-wife was in Finn’s with some friends when Mr. Grove and his new friend entered the bar. She testified to seeing Mr. Grove drink Long Island Iced Teas. On cross-examination, when I asked her to describe the size of the drinks (an open question, not a leading one) she not only described the drink as very large but potent, too, and that Mr. Grove had multiple drinks. She did not know our theory of defense was based on DUI manslaughter and she was more than obliging in her efforts to exaggerate the amount of alcohol Mr. Grove had consumed in her presence. I stipulated to the results of the blood test when the State offered it into evidence. As I recall, it was just under .20, more than double the legal limit.
At some point, an argument between the two broke out in Finn’s and spilled over into the parking lot. The ex-wife threatened to ensure that Mr. Grove would never see his child again. She then expressed to her friends her fear for her safety and they escorted her to her car, not knowing that as soon as they walked away to go to their own car, she would suddenly lose all fear of Mr. Grove.
Meanwhile, Mr. Grove sat in the passenger seat of his new friend’s truck. The new friend drove out of Finn’s parking lot across A1A to park in the dirt lot overlooking the ocean, with the windshield facing east. Soon enough, the ex-wife parked her car directly behind the truck, blocking it in place. She got out and approached the driver’s side, telling both occupants that she intended to have them arrested that night. Mr. Grove threw his cell phone at her and told her to call police right away.
As the argument escalated, the new friend called 911 to request an officer. Eventually, Mr. Grove got out of the truck and began arguing more vigorously, resulting in an altercation, which the evidence suggested was the ex-wife’s goal all along. A second 911 call was placed by the new friend, pleading for help. The new friend testified that Mr. Grove asked his ex-wife to move her car, so they could leave. She told him to move it himself. If the jury believed the new friend’s testimony that the ex-wife had given Mr. Grove permission to move her car, this single tipping point would be established and the burglary charge had to fall, taking the first degree felony murder charge with it.
When Mr. Grove reached into the car to put the transmission in neutral to push it out of the way, he saw the keys in the ignition. He eventually told the jury that he decided to move the car to a far-away parking lot to teach his ex-wife a lesson. Two immature people drinking too much. Too much ex-marital hatred. He sat in the car to start it just as a police cruiser rounded the corner and headed towards the scene. The fateful and tragic pursuit began.
I knew that the testifying deputies and officers hated Mr. Grove, and rightly so. I also knew that the judge’s pre-trial order meant little to them. One after another deputy or officer simply could not restrain himself. Again and again, the law enforcement witnesses responded to the State’s direct examination by reinterpreting the question and offering their belief about Mr. Grove’s specific mental intent. Again and again I objected and again and again the trial judge sustained each objection and again and again the trial judge instructed the jury to disregard the answers. But, they just wouldn’t stop disobeying the trial court’s order, despite Mr. Tanner telling the judge he had instructed each witness to follow the court’s order.
For some never-explained reason, the responding Flagler Beach officer testified to Mr. Grove’s driving behavior on Palm Coast Parkway that was the direct opposite of the testimony offered by the trooper who conducted the traffic homicide investigation, based on the physical evidence left at the scene, which cast doubt on all of the officer’s testimony. When a deputy testified to seeing the car driving directly at him, he did not know the trooper had testified that when Mr. Grove was travelling at high speed in a broad 180-degree turn on a large grass field next to Palm Coast Parkway, he was in a power slide, with the rear end of the car leaving tire tracks on the outside of the tracks left by the front tires, which meant the car’s headlights pointed inside the arc of the turn. Yes, the headlights pointed directly at the deputy. No, the car’s direction of travel was never directed toward the deputy. Point by point, the prosecution’s claims during opening statement began to fall apart.
At the I-95 exit onto S.R. 100, Deputy Fink parked his cruiser in the striped lane between I-95 and the off-ramp. Today, the exit is well-lit by multiple lamps. Then, not a single light existed at that exit. FlaglerLive readers can ask themselves if FCSO uniforms are dark in color. The cruiser’s blue strobe lights were activated. I suspected that at least some of the jurors, and maybe all of them, had experienced driving past blue strobe lights emanating from a parked cruiser at night in poor lighting conditions and I knew that the lights have a powerful effect on vision if one looked directly at them. I also knew that the pursuing deputies could not restrain themselves, if asked. Some of them told the jury that activated blue strobe lights do not impair night vision. If you ask for too much, you get nothing.
Deputy Fink testified that when he realized that he could not deploy the stop sticks in time, he began to run east across I-95, away from the rear of his cruiser. Deputy Sease ran west across the exit roadway. A pursuing deputy testified that as Mr. Grove approached the exit, he began to veer east into the fast lane on I-95, straddling the two lanes. Suddenly, the car darted to the right, narrowly missing the parked cruiser and entering the exit off-ramp.
After 15 years before I represented Mr. Grove, I represented a young man accused of killing one woman and injuring five other passengers when he lost control while driving during a rain storm; he struck the other car head-on. One day, his father called to tell me that he and his wife were concerned about their son’s inability to cope with the case. I called the son into my office and asked him directly to tell me what he saw through the windshield of the oncoming car. He broke down sobbing and described seeing the dead girl’s face contort as it struck the windshield. Prior to trial, I purposely avoided asking Mr. Grove to describe what he saw at the exit ramp, as I wanted the cathartic moment to occur in front of the jurors, not in front of me during a client meeting. When I directly examined Mr. Grove, he told the jury of veering to the left towards the fast lane to avoid the parked cruiser. Suddenly, he saw a person running into his lane of travel, entering the light emitted from the headlights, so he swerved sharply to the right to avoid the person and the cruiser. Deputy Fink told the jury the car had swerved so sharply behind him as he ran that he could feel the grit and pebbles striking the back of his arms and neck as they were kicked up by the sliding tires. Mr. Grove broke down sobbing as he described clearing the rear of the parked cruiser and seeing Deputy Sease come into view, illuminated by his headlights as the car veered sharply to the right. The scene he described to the jury as Deputy Sease impacted the windshield was heart-wrenching. No one knows what motivates any juror, but I have to think that they knew Mr. Grove never wanted to strike Deputy Sease; he just didn’t see him until the car’s headlights swung in that direction. I have to think this was why the traffic homicide investigator declined to classify this as a premeditated murder. I have to think this is why the Grand Jury declined to indict it as a premeditated murder. Roy Longo is simply wrong on this point, though he will likely never admit that. Hatred provides a very powerful motive to believe what one wants to believe. The evidence supported the argument that Mr. Grove intended to drive a car at high speed while under the influence of alcohol, which intent unintentionally resulted in death. This is part and parcel of the crime of manslaughter.
When the jury returned its verdict for second degree murder, I immediately objected and voiced my argument that the facts elicited at trial did not support second degree murder (motion for judgment of acquittal notwithstanding the verdict). At the hearing following the jury’s verdict, the trial judge agreed and imposed a judgment of guilt for DUI manslaughter of an officer, which I had always argued would be the crime supported by the evidence.
As an aside, I wanted the presence of dozens of officers and deputies in the courtroom, all in full uniform. As one shift would leave, another would take its place. I wanted the jury to see it as an effort by law enforcement to persuade them by a show of force, not by reason based on the evidence. Part of my trial strategy was that the defense would obey the grocery store rule and the prosecution team would repeatedly break it. Indeed, during final closing, Mr. Tanner kept waving a piece of paper to the jury as he spoke, standing in front of me. Once, he waved it a bit too far in my direction and I realized it was a copy of the verdict form, complete with a big check mark in the guilty box. Since it has long been considered trial misconduct for police officers or prosecutors to express a personal opinion of guilt to a jury, often resulting in reversal of convictions, I immediately objected. The trial judge looked over the piece of paper, sustained the objection and told the jury it was improper for the State to do that. Witness after witness, prosecutor after prosecutor, few of them could restrain themselves and the jury was repeatedly told to disregard what they were doing. I have to think that after so many rebukes, the jury caught on to the multiple violations of the grocery store rule.
Should Mr. Grove be serving a 35 year sentence? Based on the evidence and the law as the legislature set it at the time, this is a legal and proper maximum sentence. Once the judgment and sentence became final, I was on to the next trial. I did not even know that Mr. Grove accused me of ineffective assistance of counsel on the issue of multiple LEO’s present during the trial until I read this article. I think the presence of so many officers actually hurt the prosecution of the case. But, who knows?
While I declined to speak of this for nearly 35 years, it has never been very far from my mind. I only recently began talking about it. When I was a misdemeanor prosecutor in another circuit, fresh out of law school, a law enforcement officer was shot and killed during a traffic incident. The word raced through the courthouse. When I returned to the office, much conversation ensued until word came in that the suspect had been caught in the woods near his broken down car by a K-9 deputy, which broken down car was why the now-deceased LEO had stopped to do a safety check. Soon enough, a LEO came into the office to speak with his wife, who was one of the division’s three legal assistants. He had been friends with the slain officer. He was livid when he came in. I was in my office, but only feet away from where he stood. He blurted out that the K-9 LEO who had apprehended the suspect had better never call for backup, because no officer would ever respond to his plea for help. Part of the reason for his livid state, he said, was that the K-9 officer had refused to allow him to kill the suspect out in the woods. I still suppose the livid LEO thought he was in a surrounding that allowed him to vent to his wife. The prosecutor who was assigned to the case told me later that the K-9 officer kept telling arriving officers surrounding the suspect that he would not lie for them. I am not saying that I understand completely the livid rage expressed by the LEO standing near my office so many years ago, but I knew before Mr. Grove’s trial that Deputy Sease’s senseless death could very well have triggered such a rage among many of his fellow deputies and that it would possibly manifest itself in front of the jury. I had to be the voice of reason to the jury. There was no other way.