On Thursday, November 2, 2023, the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office held a press conference to provide an update on an investigation involving the murder for hire of 17-year-old Isabella Scavelli. The speakers that morning were Roger B. Handberg (United States Attorney, Middle District of Florida), Al Nienhuis (Sheriff, Hernando County), and Kirk D. Howard (Special Agent in Charge, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, Tampa Division).
On February 6, 2023, Scavelli came into the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office with a female relative to allege that she had been sexually battered by 36-year-old Leonard White (aliases include Mike Williams and Stick). At 11:30 PM on February 7, Scavelli and the female relative answered the door of their home. At the entrance were a pair of individuals who opened fire on the two women and fled, first on foot and then by car. Scavelli was shot a total of four times and the bullet that struck the fatal blow entered the lower left back area. This would suggest she was fired upon while running for cover. The relative, on the other hand, was seriously injured.
“We have every reason to believe that [Scavelli] was not engaged in any high-risk activity,” Sheriff Nienhuis said. “She was a good kid with a very bright future and to see her life cut short is heart-wrenching, to say the least. Words can’t even express it. I know all my people, along with FDLE (Florida Department of Law Enforcement), the state attorney’s office, and the federal prosecutors, as well as ATF, all took this case very personally and took it with a passion.”
Four suspects were formally charged in relation to this case:
State charges for Leonard White: sexual battery. He is currently in jail and has been since February 15, 2023.
State charges for Keshawn Bernard Woods: felony possession of a firearm, possession of marijuana with intent to sell, possession of a new alleged drug, and paraphernalia. He was arrested shortly in February and was arrested “very recently” on federal charges.
State charges for Sheldon Bernard Robinson: possession of a weapon by a convicted felon and trafficking in cocaine. He has been detained since February 9, 2023.
Federal charges for White, Woods, and Robinson: one count of conspiracy to commit murder for hire, one count of murder for hire, and two counts of using a firearm during a crime of violence.
Federal charges for White and Woods: conspiring to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances, tampering with a witness, and obstruction of justice.
Federal charge for Robinson: being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Federal charge for Janet Williams: three counts of making a false statement to a special agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.
70 federal and state search warrants have been issued in this case and it is currently pending in federal court in Tampa. Woods and Williams had their appearances in federal court on Friday, October 27, where the four were indicted on the 13 counts stated above. White and Robinson will appear in court on November 9. Woods was ordered to be held in custody pending trial. Handberg’s offices are seeking to have White and Robinson held in pre-trial detention as well. When asked at the end of the press conference about the potential of capital punishment, Handberg stated that the decision for this has not yet been filed. Three of the four are potentially eligible for the death penalty.
K-9s responded to the scene and tracked what they believed to be the path of one or both of the suspects. During the search, a shoe was found “in the vicinity of the crime scene,” Sheriff Nienhuis said. DNA found on the footwear belonged to Keshawn Woods, 22. Woods is a documented Florida criminal gang member who has already had several state charges brought against him. According to the Sheriff, White immediately became a suspect in this case. The investigation found that White paid Sheldon Robinson, 21, roughly $10,000 to murder Scavelli to avoid prosecution regarding the sexual battery. Robinson then posted on social media, asking for help with a “cleanup job.” He offered $5,000 and “some cocaine” to anyone who was willing to assist him. Sheriff Nienhuis stated that man was Keshawn Woods, though the sheriff did not currently have the information on which social media platform the message was posted.
Within hours of the incident, the sheriff’s office detectives conducted a search warrant of Woods’s house and found “$4,000 in cash, along with a gun and some illegal drugs,” the sheriff said. The investigation also discovered that Robinson was in possession of the other $6,000 of the total amount. The larger amount was found by Janet Williams, hidden in her home. “She was not forthcoming with law enforcement about that money,” Sheriff Nienhuis stated in the press conference. Upon searching the getaway car, a shoe matching the one found near the crime scene was found. Ammo matching the caliber of the bullets used for the crime was also discovered on the premises. The gun that was used in the attack was found in the backyard of Robinson’s house during a later investigation.
“This is the tip of the iceberg, obviously, in this investigation,” the Hernando County sheriff said. “To say that our federal partners were a godsend would be an understatement. To say that FDLE – they’re involved probably in some way shape or form (in) just about every serious case we do.”
Sheriff Nienhuis, US Attorney Handberg, and Special Agent Howard all emphasized the determination with which the teams approached this case and emphasized the “lightning speed” with which they have carried out the investigation. The entire process has only taken roughly nine months to this point. While that may appear to be a long time and it has certainly been challenging for the family, the officials involved insist that the investigation has progressed quickly and thoroughly. There are many facets to the case, with certain parties attempting to obstruct justice, such as White going on a “spontaneous” trip to Georgia to create an alibi for himself. The Sheriff’s Office insists it must remain careful throughout all stages of the process to avoid double jeopardy and other such issues.
“We hope more information will come out on this particular case because now that these individuals are in jail and there’s probably a good chance they’re not going to get out in the next decade or two… We want to encourage the listeners out there that if they have any information on this particular case that has not been presented to law enforcement, we would hope that they would come forward because it will do nothing but make our case stronger,” Sheriff Nienhuis said.