Published Nov. 5, 2008
By Debbie Carson, Staff Writer
LUTZ — Family members, co-workers and neighbors of Lutz murder victim Lisa Freiberg knew about violence and other problems she experienced with confessed killer Edward Covington. He is suspected of violently murdering Lisa and her two young children on Mother’s Day.
Newly-released law enforcement reports show:
–The parents of mother Lisa Freiberg took photos of suspicious injuries on some of her children. –One of Lisa’s co-workers at Wal-Mart said that Lisa told her she had been beaten by Edward Covington since he lost his electrician apprentice job weeks earlier.
–On May 10, the day before the murders, Probation Officer Stephanie Phelps went to Lisa Freiberg’s home to see Covington and inspect the home. In the report, Phelps wrote that Lisa’s house “was very messy with stuff everywhere.” She also noted: Covington “said his girlfriend was a pack rat and they were working on cleaning the house.”
Phelps also wrote that Covington did not have a job, though he told her he was looking.
The file ends: “No problem or concerns noted at present time.”
–Savannah’s paternal grandmother, Patricia Dupuis, told investigators that Lisa, the children, and Covington had visited her and Savannah’s father, Thomas Fish Jr., at their home in Zephyrhills Saturday evening – the night before the murders. During the visit, Dupuis noticed a bruised area under Lisa’s son Zachary’s eye that Lisa could not account for.
–Lisa’s neighbor Ricky Russell told investigators that at around 6 a.m. Sunday, May 11, he woke up to the sound of pounding noises outside. He said he thought it was the neighbor dog thumping his tail against the side of the trailer. It continued for 45 minutes.
While they were outside working, they continued to hear the noise of pounding. Friend Wesley Vyner said that he could see in the window of Lisa’s home and what looked like someone “beating a dog.”
Vyner said he was up on a ladder and could see down into a window in one of the bedrooms. He knew it was a guy doing the beating but couldn’t see what the target was due to the wall.
New documents recently released shed more light on what is the most horrific crime in recent history in Lutz and in Hillsborough County.
Those documents are part of the case against 35-year-old Edward Covington. He is charged in the brutal murders of his girlfriend, Lisa Freiberg, and her two young children, Zachary, 7, and 2-year-old Heather Savannah. The horror was on Mother’s Day, May 11. The family dog, Duke, too, was slain. The only survivor of the attack was a family cat that authorities found hiding under a bed.
Covington is accused of murdering the mom and her children and then dismembering their bodies, decapitating one, and leaving bite marks on the youngest.
Deputies found Covington hiding under clothes in a closet in the home on Monday, May 12.
The documents also reveal that family and co-workers knew that his relationship with Lisa Freiberg was troubled.
A phone call the day of the murders
The ex-wife of Edward Covington told detectives that she received a phone call from him the morning of the murders.
Cheri Tate told Detective Dale Bunten that Covington called at 9:42 a.m. from a number she didn’t recognize and that he left a message.
“He said, ‘Cheri, I need you to call me. I’m in a lot of trouble’ and he says, ‘please call me right back.’ It was calm, like nothing was wrong or anything. It was just smooth. It was empty,” she recounted. “And he said, he said, ‘I need you to call me back immediately. I’m in trouble.’”
Tate told the detective that she tried calling him a couple times later that day, leaving him messages. He never called back.
E-mails 2 days before the murders to classmate
A high school classmate of Covington shared e-mails with detectives she and Covington had sent each other.
Jorelle Nowlin, of Ocala, told detectives that she had neither seen nor spoken to Covington until 2006, when she found him on http://www.Classmates.com.
They had e-mailed each other as recently as Friday, May 9, two days before the murder.
Documents released in the case include those e-mails:
In the e-mails, Covington tells Nowlin that he’s not dating anyone, he suffered in a recent divorce and that he once weighed 460 pounds but is now 195.
Covington wrote: “well how are u doing. Me not too good got divorced. and lost just about everything. It has been a hard and long road comming back so what is up with you.”
Nowlin replied: “Hey. I’m so sorry to hear that. I’m doing fine. I’ve got to get ready to go to a doctor appointment, but i’ll be around later if you’d like to talk. It is always nice to hear from an old friend. Jorelle”
Covington responded at 9:38 a.m.: “Well I am doing fine. Divorce was a hard bitter pill for me to swollow. I am working with the I.B.E.W. Local 915 as an apprentice inside wireman. Who would have every thought i would become an electrican. I am down to 195 pounds now.. I feel so much better now. It is hard to believe that back in 2003 I was weighing 460 pounds and now I weight 195. But I am still not dating, I lost my spark that i had back when i was young. I cant believe just how much i lost in the diveorce. I know it will take time but to be honest a part of me ereally doesent want to see anyone but a part of me does. Well I will talk to you later. Eddie”
What Lisa’s family knew
The day of the murders, investigators spoke with Lisa’s babysitter who told them that Lisa’s parents, Barbara and Keith Freiberg, had taken photos of injuries the children had suffered. Detectives went to the Freiberg’s home to view the photos and take the camera into evidence. The photos, according to the report, showed bruising on 2-year-old Savannah’s behind, swelling on her lip and bruising around her eye.
According to an interview with Savannah’s father and his mother, Lisa told them that Savannah had fallen and landed on her face, causing the injuries.
Savannah’s paternal grandmother, Patricia Dupuis, told investigators that Lisa, the children, and Covington had visited her and Savannah’s father, Thomas Fish Jr., at their home in Zephyrhills Saturday evening – the night before the murders.
During the visit, Dupuis noticed a bruised area under Zachary’s eye that Lisa could not account for.
Fish told investigators that he met Covington for the first time that night, that they had shaken hands and that Covington “seemed nice” and “seemed polite and coherent.”
Fish also said that he noticed cuts on the right side of Savannah’s lip and her nose.
Fish told investigators that Lisa had asked him to talk to Zachary about the “importance of minding her.”
The report reads: “Tom Fish stated he talked to Zachary and at the conclusion he asked Zachary if he understood and said Zachary went rigid and said ‘yes sir.’ Tom Fish stated he asked Zachary what he had said and he replied ‘yes Tom-Tom,’ which is what Zachary would normally call him. Tom Fish stated he just assumed Eddie was trying to teach him discipline and didn’t think anything else about it.”
He also told investigators that during their visit, his dog became very protective of Lisa and the children and would bite at him if he acted like he was hurting them.
What co-workers knew
Evelyn Tincher worked with Lisa Freiberg at the Wal-Mart near the intersection of Dale Mabry Highway and Bearss Avenue in the Northdale/Carrollwood area. She told detectives that she had known Lisa for nine months and that Lisa had last been at work that Friday, May 9.
Lisa told Tincher that “Eddie” had recently lost his job and was “stressed out about the difficulty in finding a new one.” Tincher told investigators that she did not believe Lisa nor Covington used drugs.
Tincher noted that Lisa never told her she was afraid of Eddie.
Another co-worker, Audrey McEwen, painted a very different picture of what Tincher supposedly knew.
McEwen told investigators that she had overheard Lisa talking with two employees, Tincher and Linda Abner, about her boyfriend losing his job two weeks prior and that he had started beating her.
What Lisa’s babysitter knew
Marissa Bohannon was a babysitter for Lisa since late December 2007. Lisa would drop the children off at Bohannon’s home and she would pick them up from there. Bohannon was responsible for getting Zachary to Learning Gate Community School in Lutz, where he was a happy student. Lisa helped with his homework.
That had always been their arrangement except for once “several weeks” before when Lisa asked Bohannon to leave the children with Covington at their home.
Bohannon and a friend went to Lisa’s home to drop off the children, she said. “As she went to leave, Savannah chased her out of the house and was crying and saying ‘no,’ the interview report states. “Eddie followed them out and took Savannah from Marissa and began to comfort the child.”
She told investigators that “several weeks ago” – from the murders – Lisa spent three hours with Bohannon crying, saying she was scared of Eddie. Lisa told Bohannon that Eddie is bi-polar and off his medication and that he “is unable to control his anger problems and threatened to kill himself.”
Bohannon tried to ask questions about Covington but Lisa would avoid answering them. She also said that Lisa and Covington fought a lot.
The week leading up to the murders, Bohannon noticed that Savannah had a black eye and a swollen lip and that the next day her lip was even more swollen.
What the probation officer knew
Probation Officer Stephanie Phelps has been an officer since 2005, according to Gretl Plessinger, the public affairs director for the Florida Department of Corrections. She said there has been no disciplinary action in Phelps’ file.
Phelps was assigned Covington’s case in April, during which he was serving probation on drug-related charges. In early April, Covington received permission to move in with his girlfriend temporarily while he searched for a job.
Probation Officer Philip Springer, who handled Covington prior to Phelps’ taking over, noted in a report released from the Florida Department of Corrections that he had been laid off from his job.
Covington had missed work too many times, the report said.
According to the report, on May 2 Covington took two drug tests, both of which tested negative.
On May 10, the day before the murders, Officer Phelps went to Lisa Freiberg’s home to see Covington and inspect the home. In the report, Phelps wrote that Lisa was making lunch for the two kids and that the house “was very messy with stuff everywhere.”
She also noted: Covington “said his girlfriend was a pack rat and they were working on cleaning the house.”
Phelps also wrote that Covington did not have a job, though he told her he was looking.
The file ends: “No problem or concerns noted at present time.”
What neighbors heard, saw the day of the murders
Neighbor Ricky Russell told investigators that at around 6 a.m. Sunday, May 11, he woke up to the sound of pounding noises outside. He said he thought it was the neighbor dog thumping his tail against the side of the trailer. The sound continued for 45 minutes. At 7:15 a.m., Russell left to pick up a friend who was helping him put a roof on his back patio.
While they were outside working, they continued to hear the noise of pounding and the friend, Wesley Vyner, said that he could see in the window of the neighbor’s home and what looked like someone “beating a dog.”
Vyner gave more details about what he saw and heard to Detective Dale Bunten.
“I keep hearin’ this thumpin’…thumpin’ thumpin’..and ah…I look over and hear this do…I hear this dog yelpin’, he’s squallin’ pretty good,” Vyner said, though he was quick to point out that he never saw a dog and didn’t know if it was a dog or a person being beaten.
Vyner said he was up on a ladder and could see down into a window in one of the bedrooms in Frieberg’s home. He knew it was a guy doing the beating but couldn’t see what the target was due to the wall.
When asked how many swings the man had taken, Vyner said, “it had to be every bit of 10, 15 times, easy.”
The sighting happened sometime between 8 and 9 a.m., Vyner told Bunten.
He said that he continued to hear the thumping noise for a couple hours thereafter.
“You didn’t think of anything additional though?” the detective asked Vyner about the noise.
“Couldn’t think of…you know, I mean, I thought the…the dog mighta nipped at one of the kids or somethin’, that’s why, you know,” Vyner said.
“Oh, why he was beating the dog,” Bunten responded.
“Why he was beating the dog, right, you know,” Vyner said.
The missing pieces
According to authorities, Covington has admitted to killing the family and provided the grisly details. He has offered no motive for the rampage and authorities have not released any case notes or other documents regarding his confession.
Other evidence that has not been released includes a 911 call from that day, video of the crime scene, which is referenced in the documents, and the contents of investigators’ interviews with Covington.
Covington’s history of violence
Covington had been married to a woman identified as Cheri Tate for about 2 1/2 to 3 years – she wasn’t sure in an interview with investigators.
During the interview, Tate recounted a violent marriage filled with false accusations against her that landed her in jail for domestic violence.
“In the beginning he was nice,” Tate told Detective Dale Bunten on May 15. “It wasn’t violent. After a while, it started getting really violent. And when he, when he started hitting me, and he, he would get away with it, you know. The cops would get called, I’d go to jail.”
She explained that she is a convicted felon and the cops would take Covington’s word over hers because of that and because he worked for the Department of Corrections.
She recounted one time when he attacked her and was interrupted when her mother walked in. He later broke his own nose in the doorjamb and told authorities that Tate had hit him and did the damage, Tate said. Investigators later discounted his story once they found traces of blood in the doorjamb.
Along with physical violence, Tate told the detective that Covington was also verbally abusive, leaving violent messages on her message machine, cussing her.
“He never really threatened me over the phone,” she said. “It was just, you could hear the violence in his voice when he was cussing me.”
She said that she’s saved as many as 20 of the messages.
Tate also told the detective that she believed Covington was still using drugs, for which he had lost his job and had been placed on probation.
“He called me several times at four, five o’clock in the morning and he had been high and telling me how he had messed up, again, you know, from smoking crack and stuff,” Tate said. “He would take anything. He’s been known to steal my pills…my prescription medication.”
Deputies: Covington sold motorcycle for crack
A week before the murders, authorities say Covington sold his motorcycle for crack.
When they led Covington away from the mobile home, Covington exhibited what some described as a trance-like or dazed state. He told an officer that he had overdosed.
“I O.D.ed before you got here,” Covington said. “I took over 100 pills. I don’t know what I took. It was in a green bottle.”
Officers took him to University Community Hospital – Fletcher where he was kept under observation. While officers kept watch over Covington, he offered no statements regarding the incident, the documents reveal.
And while he was in the hospital, his parents came to see him. The conversation between the family members was not part of the documents released.
Officers described Covington’s demeanor in the hospital as “calm the whole evening as he laid in the hospital bed.”
When arrested, he was on probation for drunken driving and drug convictions.
Other pieces of information pertaining to Covington’s past include:
–His decade long career with Florida state prisons in Hillsborough and Hardee counties included accusations of abuse of inmates and excessive absenteeism. His father Ronnie Covington was a detention deputy at the Falkenburg Road Jail.
–His criminal record includes at least five arrests on battery charges since 1994, with adjudication being withheld in four cases.
–His driving record includes 14 accidents, a DUI in Pasco, and tickets for careless driving and speeding.
Could there have been other victims?
On May 17, after Covington had been arrested, a woman called from Pinellas County to say that she had met him in a Pinellas library in January and that he would not leave her alone. When she refused to give him her name or contact information, he gave her his e-mail address and asked her to e-mail him.
The woman, later identified in documents as Carol, said that she is “afraid he has committed other crimes that no one knows about.”
A Hillsborough sergeant sent an e-mail to the address the woman provided but did not receive a response.
“It is doubtful if this information can be verified,” the sergeant wrote in a report, “that his complainant actually met Covington. If in fact she did, no information leading to criminal activity can be gained from this complainant.”
The person who took Carol’s call wrote in the report: “Please be advised, female caller also states she has a long list of dramatic incidents in the past and has been seeking professional help and is afraid no one takes her seriously.”