Selfie lands crowbar attacker back in jail

Jessie Umberger to be sentenced in July

VIERA, Fla. - The snapshot seems innocent enough. Jessie Umberger and her sister Amber smiling in the mirror, barely a care in the world.

But it may go down as one of the most ill-advised and costliest selfies ever, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.

Circuit Judge James Earp revoked 19-year-old Jessie  Umberger's bond Monday afternoon and sent her to the county jail until early July when she will be sentenced -- along with co-defendants Rebecca Gotay and Dylan Thomas for the February 2015 crowbar attack that left fellow teen Daniel Vukovich fighting for his life. Umberger and Gotay pleaded guilty to aggravated battery while Thomas pleaded guilty to 2nd-degree attempted murder.

Vukovich, who had allegedly stolen marijuana from Thomas, has recovered.

Umberger, who wept throughout the 12-minute hearing at the Moore Justice Center in Viera, was arrested Friday for violating the terms and conditions of her release from jail. According to the State Attorney's Office, Umberger had failed to pay the $10 a week for the GPS ankle monitor but even more damaging was the assertion that she used a smartphone to take the selfie of her and her sister, which was later posted to social media.

According to police reports, the trio used social media before and after the attack, boasting of their retribution against Vukovich. That's why Circuit Judge James Earp made no smartphones and no social media part of their bond release from jail while the case was still pending.

Umberger's young sister, Amber, testified Monday that she was the one who posted the photo that was not taken on a smartphone but rather on an iPod Touch -- a device used mainly to store photos and music but that can also connect to the Internet over WiFi. The photo of the two girls was posted on social media for National Sibling Day.

"This is the problem for me," Judge Earp said. "She did plead guilty to the aggravated battery, she is awaiting sentencing and on January 21 when I agreed to release her into community supervision I reimposed the conditions, which included: the defendant will not be permitted to use a smartphone, computer or tablet. I'm positive that an iPod Touch qualifies as a smartphone, computer or tablet. This is an intentional violation. She is out on a serious crime and frankly she's fortunate she was released in the first place."

Getting sent back to the county jail by the judge who will sentence her certainly does not bode well for Umberger, who according to her attorney is doing everything she can to turn her life around. With no deal in place with the state, Gotay and Umberger face a maximum of 15 years in prison. The minimum sentence is a little fuzzy. There really is no minimum if the judge chooses to sentence the women as youthful offenders or finds basis for "downward departure." For example, if he finds they were too young to appreciate the consequence of their actions.

Still, absent these unusual circumstances, each face prison -- not if, but how much Earp will impose up to 15 years.

Thomas, who has remained in the county jail since his arrest last year, faces a minimum of eight years in prison.

"Unfortunately my very young and apparently still immature client will remain in custody pending her sentencing for the crime which she has now pleaded to and taken responsibility for," said Assistant Public Defender Tamara Meister after the hearing. "In Ms. Umberger's defense she has been doing very good in the past year she has undergone extremely, strict scrutiny and monitoring and supervision and regular drug testing. She continues to see a counselor and continues to make progress so we are very sad that unfortunately the court made this decision today."

Meister did agree that taking the photo was a poor judgement call and reflects on the impulsive nature of teenagers.

"She thought she was within the boundaries," Meister said. "I would like the court of public opinion to understand that this young woman is not a monster in this case. She is a young woman that made poor choices. she's taken responsibility for those choices and we hope that will be recognized (at sentencing)."

Meanwhile Umberger has to hope that Earp doesn't hold this infraction against her when July rolls around. Maybe the one bright spot for her is that these next 12 weeks in Sharpes will count as time already served when Earp is ready to reveal his sentence.

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