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SUMMARY OF RUDOLPH HOLTON’S CASE
Rudolph Holton, while still imprisoned.
Mr. Holton was convicted and sentenced to death based on untruthful testimony and undisclosed rewards given to State witnesses for testimony. The State’s case has fallen apart in postconviction. There is not a shred of evidence linking Mr. Holton to Katrina Graddy’s murder. In fact, evidence has developed which indicates that an individual named “Pine” actually committed the murder.
On the evening of June 23, 1986, Katrina Graddy and her friend Pam went to Nebraska Avenue in order to buy drugs and turn tricks. At around midnight, Katrina entered the car of a black male. Pam did not see Katrina again that night. In the early morning hours of June 24, 1986, Katrina Graddy’s body was found in an abandoned house on Scott Street. Katrina had been sexually assaulted and her attacker had set the house on fire.
In June, 1986, Rudolph Holton was a drug addict who stole in order to support his habit. His record included several convictions for burglary and drug possession and his only conviction for violence occurred when he fought with another individual over some change in a dice game. Within twenty-four hours of the time the police found Katrina’s body, Rudolph Holton was arrested and charged with first-degree murder and related charges.
The police took a statement from Johnny Newsome. He indicated that he had seen Mr. Holton near the crime scene on the night of the murder. Mr. Newsome also said that he saw Mr. Holton with Ms. Graddy. Also, on the morning that Katrina’s body was found, Carl Schenck, a white man who traveled to Tampa with a hitchhiker he picked up the night before in St. Petersburg, was asleep in his car across the street from the vacant house. Mr. Schenck told the police that Mr. Holton resembled the individual he dropped off in the area; he identified Mr. Holton by his “shaving bumps” and “frizzy hair”. The police also obtained a jailhouse informant, Flemnie Birkins, who claimed that Mr. Holton confessed the crime to him in jail. His testimony did not match any of the evidence presented in the case. Additionally, Mr. Birkins testified that he received minor consideration for the testimony he provided. He said that he had faced a three-and-one-half to four-and-one-half year sentence for the crimes for which he was charged, but he was getting a sentence of three years. Thus, the jury heard that the jailhouse informant was receiving a six month benefit for his testimony.
Flemnie Birkins testified in April of 2001 that he lied at Mr. Holton’s trial in order to get prosecutorial consideration in charges that were then pending against him. Mr. Birkins revealed that Mr. Holton never confessed to him. He made up his story entirely and lied about the consideration he was receiving for his testimony. He was in fact facing nine to twelve years in prison on his charges. At Mr. Birkins’ sentencing after Mr. Holton’s trial, the State had claimed that they “erred” when calculating the snitch’s sentence. In exchange for a three year sentence (ultimately, the State requested that the sentencing judge depart from the recommended guidelines because of the jailhouse informant’s cooperation in the Holton case and the snitch was sentenced to five years of probation, the first two years to be served on community control, the first year to be served with specified residence in the Hillsborough County Jail), Mr. Birkins provided untruthful testimony against Mr. Holton.
Johnny Newsome testified in April of 2001 that he lied at Mr. Holton’s trial. He said he was afraid that if he didn’t point the finger at someone else the police may try to lay the blame on him.
Carl Schenck testified in April of 2001 that a photograph of the individual known as “Pine” more closely resembled the hitchhiker he picked up and dropped off in front of the scene of the murder.
At trial, the State had presented physical evidence which purportedly linked Mr. Holton to the crime scene. The existence of a cigarette pack with Mr. Holton’s fingerprint on it came as no surprise due to the fact that Mr. Holton, like many other individuals entered the vacant house in order to use drugs.
Finally, the State presented an FBI agent to testify that three hairs which were found on the victim’s mouth could have been Mr. Holton’s body hair and that Mr. Holton could not be excluded from being the source of the hairs. The prosecutor, Joe Episcopo, argued in his closing that the hair could not have been from the victim.
The hair evidence which the State argued linked Mr. Holton to the crime has been analyzed using mitochondrial DNA and excludes Mr. Holton as the depositor of the hair. The DNA matched the victim.
At trial, Mr. Holton presented an alibi. Solodon Clemmons testified that on the night of June 23, 1986, Mr. Holton arrived at his rooming house around 10:00 p.m. and went to bed. Mr. Clemmons told the jury that Mr. Holton did not leave during the night and was in bed at 6:00 a.m. the next morning.
Also, Mr. Holton’s trial attorney wanted to present the testimony of the victim’s friend, Pam. Even though Pam was properly subpoenaed to testify, she failed to appear at the trial. Mr. Holton’s trial attorney requested a continuance so that she could secure Pam’s presence, but the trial judge denied the request. The judge allowed the jury to hear part of Pam’s deposition — but only the part about Katrina’s departing with a man, who was not Mr. Holton, and never returning. Pam also had knowledge and testified in her deposition about a rape that occurred in the vacant house about a week before the murder. Katrina identified “Pine,” a drug dealer from the neighborhood, as the rapist.
In April of 2001, Mr. Holton presented a police report that was not disclosed to him until March of 2001. This report reflected a Katrina Grant with Katrina Graddy’s birthdate, living at Katrina Graddy’s address had in fact reported that she had been raped by an individual she knew as “Pine” on June 13, 1986. The police determined who “Pine” was and arrested him. He gave a false name, Donald Smith. His real name was David Pierson. Two complaints were filled out by the police; one for rape and one for obstruction by giving a false name. However, Katrina decided to not prosecute and the charges were dropped.
In April of 2001, Donald Smith testified that about ten days before her death, Katrina Graddy came to him and told him that “Pine” had given his name to the police when he was arr
ested for raping her. They went to confront “Pine” together. A nasty argument occurred and “Pine” made threats toward Katrina. The day of the homicide, Mr. Smith noticed the house where the body was found was on fire. As he headed in that direction, he saw “Pine” who told him someone had strangled Katrina. When Mr. Smith got to the house, he asked the police who had strangled Katrina. He was immediately questioned about this because no one at the time should have known that there was a woman strangled inside the burning house. Mr. Smith did not disclose the basis for his knowledge, although his name and address were taken for follow up. An undisclosed police report confirms this occurrence.
Mr. Smith testified in 2001 that several months later he had a conversation with *Pine* who confessed that he had killed Katrina.
The trial prosecutor, Joe Episcopo, was in a newspaper story in 2001 after the evidentiary hearing expressing his view that in light of the new evidence a new trial should be granted and the charges dropped.
When the trial court granted a new trial in November of 2001, the State appealed to the Florida Supreme Court. On December 18, 2002, the Florida Supreme Court affirmed the order granting Mr. Holton a new trial. After 16 years on Florida’s death row, Mr. Holton is now back at the beginning awaiting trial from a crime he did not commit.
Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty
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