FLORIDA — Polk County Sheriff’s Office Homicide detectives have arrested 28-year-old Heather Tyler of Pirates Way in Lakeland and charged her with first degree murder (Capital felony) in the murder of 21-year-old Joseph Witherington. She’s also been charged with tampering with evidence, and grand theft of a firearm. She was booked into the Polk County Jail late Friday, March 29, 2019, and is being held on no bond.
“Regardless of Heather’s many reasons and excuses, we know that she executed Joseph Witherington by shooting him in the back of the head while he was driving down a dirt road between orange groves – and that is first degree murder and we have charged her accordingly. Clearly the evidence, witnesses, and her admissions confirm that she committed cold blooded first degree murder. Joseph’s family and friends are in our prayers. If not for the vicious act by Heather Tyler, he would be alive and well today.” – Grady Judd, Sheriff
According to the affidavit, Joseph Witherington’s body was found in the driver’s seat of a blue Kia, by orange grove caretakers in a grove on Mud Lake Road the morning of March 28, 2019. The Kia belonged to a friend of Witherington’s who let Witherington drive it often. A pair of women’s flip-flops was found nearby. An autopsy revealed Witherington had been shot twice in the head, and the manner of death was homicide.
Detectives processed the scene, and received tips and leads, which led them to Heather Tyler, who admitted to detectives that the flip flops were hers and that she was with Witherington during that time frame. She told detectives that Witherington came to her house on March 27, 2019, driving a friend’s blue Kia. After hanging out for a few hours, they drove to a local convenience store, and eventually out to 80 Foot Road in Alturas.
Tyler gave detectives several versions of events from inside the Kia that evening, but the evidence and witness statements confirm that she shot him in the head while he was driving. She shot him again after the vehicle came to a stop. She then took his wallet and fled the scene, leaving her shoes behind, and burned her clothes that had his blood on them. She did not give detectives a clear motive for the killing.
The following is an excerpt from the affidavit, and is self-explanatory:
During the investigation, your Affiant has established probable cause that Heather Tyler willfully and intentionally shot the decedent in the back area of his head while he was driving a vehicle. Once the vehicle came to a stop, the decedent was incapacitated. Heather Tyler exited the vehicle, opened the front passenger’s side door, pointed a handgun at the decedent’s head, and shot him a second time. Heather Tyler made a conscious decision to shoot the decedent a second time, although he was incapacitated from the first gunshot wound to the head.
During the incident Heather Tyler committed the offense of 1st Degree Murder in violation of F.S.S. 782.04.
During the investigation, your Affiant learned Heather Tyler tampered with evidence by burning her clothing that she was wearing at the time of the shooting. Heather Tyler said the clothing had blood on them and possible evidence of a homicide was destroyed when she intentionally burnt them. Heather Tyler also removed other evidentiary items from the scene with the intent to destroy them.
Your Affiant has established probable cause that Heather Tyler committed the offense of Tampering with Physical Evidence in violation of F.S.S. 918.13(1) (A).
Per Florida State Statute 119, we are not releasing information about witnesses.