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State Drops Charges in New Year's Fall from Hotel Balcony

Jonathan Speegle expected to get appraiser's license back

Prosecutors on Thursday dropped a murder charge against a man they contended pushed his girlfriend to her death from the balcony of a tourist-district hotel where they went to celebrate the new year.

Jonathan Justin Speegle, 27, of St. Cloud was charged with second-degree murder in the death of Nichole Hammond, 30. She fell 16 stories from the balcony of their room at Marriott World Center near Walt Disney World shortly after midnight Dec. 31.

Prosecutors didn't have the forensic evidence to re-create the scene or refute the defense's theory of what happened, Assistant State Attorney Ken Lewis said. Other evidence was circumstantial — and disputed by the defense — such as statements by a bartender and a guest in an adjoining room that the couple had been arguing shortly before Hammond's death.

Speegle's attorney, Mark NeJame of Orlando, said Speegle is "ecstatic" that the charge was dropped. His client had nothing to do with Hammond's death, he said. It's unclear whether alcohol played a part. An autopsy revealed that Hammond's blood-alcohol level was 0.18 percent — more than twice the level at which one is presumed intoxicated: 0.08 percent.

"A man was arrested on very questionable information," NeJame said. "We always were optimistic that it would conclude with his acquittal."

Reached by phone, Hammond's mother would not comment.

Speegle called 911 at 12:20 a.m. to say Hammond, the mother of a now-9-year-old girl, had fallen over the balcony railing. He told investigators he was on the way to the bathroom when he heard her scream before she fell. The couple had been smoking on the balcony and enjoying the view, he told Orange County deputy sheriffs.

Prosecutors were suspicious partly because they said Speegle changed his story slightly. He told relatives he was in the bathroom when Hammond fell and a neighbor that he was walking back from the bathroom, arrest papers show. Investigators also theorized that Hammond was too short, 5-foot-1, to climb over the railing without a stool or help.

Speegle was under GPS monitoring while awaiting trial but was having his ankle monitor removed late Thursday, NeJame said. He is a property appraiser whose license was suspended because of the arrest. He is planning to have the license reinstated.

Copyright © 2009, Orlando Sentinel

Source: Orlando Sentinel

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