Condemned inmate, victim's family await results of DNA testing
Saturday, December 28, 2002
By RON WORD, Associated Press
STARKE Amos King was about to die.
Prison guards moved the condemned inmate to a preparation area behind the execution chamber and wheeled in the gurney. He wore the pants of his funeral suit and a Buddhist robe. The clock ticked toward the time of his scheduled death, his final appeals denied.
Then, less than two hours before his scheduled execution Dec. 2, King got the news he had hoped to hear. Gov. Jeb Bush agreed to postpone his death to allow new DNA tests on evidence.
Once again, Brady's nieces felt they were denied justice.
"It's like reliving the murder. It's painful. It's pretty much like a nightmare. We don't understand it," said Monica Watson, one of the sisters.
King said he was surprised to get the last-minute reprieve.
"I thought that was it," King told The Associated Press in a recent interview at Florida State Prison. "It was like a mild shock. At the same time, I had to be guarded, because I know some of these things are like 24 hours, so you can't let yourself celebrate until you know exactly what is going on."
The governor called Watson and her two sisters to tell them he had granted the stay.
"He was trying to be apologetic," said Watson, a nurse in Nicholls, Ga. "But how can he leave something on the back burner for 25 years? I don't understand how it can be so long."
King, 48, is one of the veterans on Florida's death row; only 10 of the 367 condemned inmates have been there longer.
At the time of the slaying, King was serving time at a work-release prison about 1,500 feet from the home where 68-year-old Natalie Brady lived alone in Tarpon Springs, 23 miles northwest of Tampa. He was imprisoned for violating his parole on a burglary conviction.
Early in the morning of March 18, 1977, a staffer doing a bed check found King's bed empty. When the staffer discovered him outside the building covered in blood, King attacked him.
A few minutes later, police and fire arrived at the house just 1,500 feet from the prison. The house was ablaze and authorities found Brady's body.
Since then, King has maintained he did not commit the murder.
In an interview Dec. 19, he blamed a conspiracy of police officers and defense and prosecuting attorneys. King claims he's the victim of false testimony and poor legal representation.
King claims there's no way he could have killed Brady based on the times in police and work-release center logs. "Police are lying full circle," he said. "They've been aware all along about my alibi."
King's lawyers have called the evidence against King circumstantial. Prosecutors have argued it was "a very strong circumstantial case" and the issues King has raised in his appeals have no legal merit. In January, a circuit judge in Clearwater rejected his main appeal and denied his request for new lawyers.
The state maintains that King had blood on his pants when he returned to the work-release prison. King claims the blood did not come from the attack on Brady, but from a cut from a palmetto leaf.
King hopes the DNA tests will prove his innocence. If the tests do not exonerate him, Bush is expected to quickly reschedule the execution.
Attorney Barry Scheck, who heads the Innocence Project in New York, which uses DNA testing to protect the rights of death row inmates, helped persuade the governor to grant King a stay. Scheck, part of O.J. Simpson's "dream team" of attorneys, agreed to pay for the tests.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement will handle some of the testing, while more sophisticated tests will be done by outside laboratories, said David Menschel, a staff attorney with the Innocence Project. He said he expects the testing to be completed within a few weeks.
Scheck said sheets that were wrapped around Brady's body will be tested to determine if King's semen is present and pubic hairs from the victim also will be also tested for King's semen.
A key piece of evidence that could exonerate him through DNA testing a sample from a vaginal washing has been lost.
Menschel said he would like to see states adopt laws that prohibit evidence in capital cases from being destroyed until after the sentence is carried out.
King has survived two other death warrants, one signed in 1981 by former Gov. Bob Graham and another signed in 1988 by former Gov. Bob Martinez. Bush signed King's third death warrant in November.
King dodged three execution dates in 2002.
The first two were stayed while the U.S. Supreme Court reviewed an Arizona case which ultimately led to that state's death penalty being declared unconstitutional. The Arizona law was tossed out because judges, not juries, determined whether an inmate received a death sentence in that case. In Florida, judges impose the sentence after receiving a recommendation from the jury.
The third stay earlier this month was for the DNA testing.
Watson said the family doesn't have much faith the tests. "I don't think there is any question of guilt," she said. "It's like a legal game."
Meanwhile, Brady's family waits and fondly remembers Aunt Tillie, who they say reminded them of television's Aunt Bea of Mayberry and Mrs. Santa Claus.
"We all loved her and idolized her," Watson said. "We wanted to be around her. She was just good to her soul."
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Published in Naples, Florida. A Scripps newspaper.