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– The Tampa TribuneDeath Row Christmas Miracle Unlikely
– St. Petersburg Times Judge considers plea for new murder trial.
– The Tampa Tribune DNA casts light, doubt on ’86 death row case.
– The Tampa Tribune State struggles to save ’86 case.
Death Row Christmas Miracle Unlikely
By MIKE SALINERO
TALLAHASSEE – Like his fellow death row inmates, Rudolph Holton probably won’t be home for the holidays – at least not this year.
A campaign by death penalty opponents to have the 49-year-old Tampa man released before Christmas probably will fail. The state attorney general’s office has not had time to review an order the Florida Supreme Court issued last week agreeing with a lower court that Holton deserves another trial.
Holton has been on death row for 16 years for the murder and rape of 17-year-old Katrina Graddy. Last year, as prosecution witnesses started recanting and DNA testing cast doubt on forensic evidence used to convict Holton, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Daniel Perry ordered a new trial.
On Friday, members of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty started calling Hillsborough State Attorney Mark Ober’s office, asking that Holton be let go before Christmas.
“There is no evidence to retry him on,” said Abe Bonowitz, a spokesman for the antideath penalty group. “What they need to do is simply admit that and let him go. We think he should be home in time for Christmas.”
But Assistant State Attorney Pam Bondi said the Florida Attorney General’s office must first decide whether to ask the Supreme Court for a rehearing. If there is no appeal for a rehearing, then Ober’s office will decide whether to retry Holton. Bondi said prosecutors are reviewing the case to see if there is enough evidence for a retrial.
“I had it at home with me last night,” Bondi said. “We’re reviewing it over the holidays.”
Carolyn Snurkowski, an assistant attorney general, said she didn’t see the Supreme Court order until Friday. She said her staff probably will review the order Thursday.
“The order was not very detailed, so there’s not a lot to work with,” she said.
Martin McClain, Holton’s attorney during his quest for a new trial, said all the original evidence used to convict his client has “evaporated.” Hair found in Graddy’s mouth, hair prosecutors tried to link to Holton, later was shown through DNA testing to belong most likely to Graddy.
And several witnesses admitted lying about seeing Holton with Graddy the night she died. A key state witness, a jailhouse informant who said Holton confessed, also recanted.
“Obviously it would be a nice Christmas present for Mr. Holton” to be released, McClain said. Prosecutors “may want to take some time to evaluate their case. I understand that, but Mr. Holton’s been there 16 years for a crime he didn’t commit, so I want him out as soon as possible.”
Reporter Mike Salinero can be reached at (850) 222-8382.
Man on death row gets new trial
The man was convicted 15 years ago of raping and killing a 17-year-old prostitute. Police withheld a crucial crime report.
By DAVID KARP
© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 3, 2001
TAMPA — A drug-addicted drifter sent to death row 15 years ago won a new trial Friday in a murder case that attracted hardly any attention at the time.
The extraordinary turn of events in the case against Rudolph Holton happened in a courtroom Friday in near silence.
Circuit Judge Daniel Perry handed out his opinion overturning Holton’s murder conviction without comment. In a busy courtroom, no one except the lawyers and a few relatives knew what had just happened.
As the judge moved to the next case, one of Holton’s attorneys scanned the ruling, then gave a thumbs up.
Outside, Holton’s daughter cried and said, “Bless God. Bless God.”
With tears running down her cheeks, she hugged Linda McDermott, a 31-year-old lawyer who had made Holton’s case her cause.
McDermott worked on the case for free at one point and searched the state for funding. When she couldn’t raise money for a defense, McDermott abandoned plans to enter private practice and returned to work at the state agency that represents death row inmates so she could finish Holton’s case.
“There was something about Rudolph and his case that was compelling,” McDermott said. “Someone had to step up and say, “This is going to be the case I go the extra mile on.”
McDermott brought in a capital appeals specialist from New York and recruited investigators who tracked down homeless men who were witnesses. “It was one of my first cases,” McDermott said. “It had never been looked at closely.”
When the murder happened in 1986, it was the sort of case lawyers refer to as a “misdemeanor murder” because the victim is little-known and unsympathetic. In this case, the deceased was a 17-year-old crack addict and prostitute named Katrina Graddy who was raped and set on fire in an abandoned drug house near College Hill.
Holton, then 33, had been convicted of more than a dozen crimes, mostly nonviolent burglaries, to feed a drug habit.
Six months after his arrest, Holton was convicted and sentenced to die. His court-appointed lawyer, Mina Morgan, had four months to prepare a defense while juggling five other trials. She begged then-Circuit Judge Harry Lee Coe to grant her more time, but Coe refused.
Coe wouldn’t give her a five-minute break between Holton’s trial and his death penalty hearing.
The evidence against Holton was circumstantial. The prosecutor on the case, Joe Episcopo, told jurors that a hair found in the victim’s mouth came from an African-American. Holton is black.
A witness testified that she saw Holton enter the drug house the night Graddy was killed. A jail informant said Holton confessed.
Fifteen years later, even Episcopo said he doesn’t fi
nd the case convincing. DNA tests show that the hair did not come from Holton. The jail informant admitted he lied, and other witnesses changed their stories too.
Most important, police never turned over a crucial crime report to Holton’s attorney. Although police unintentionally withheld the report, Judge Perry cited it Friday as a main reason for a new trial.
Shortly before Graddy’s murder, she reported that a man named David Pearson, now 43, raped her. When she was found dead, she had been raped in a similar way.
This summer, Pearson gave detectives samples of his DNA. In a sworn statement, he denied raping the woman but acknowledged having sex with her in exchange for drugs, then fighting about it 10 days before her murder.
Pearson, a convicted criminal who is currently in jail on unrelated charges, denied any role in the woman’s death.
State Attorney Mark Ober has 30 days to decide if he will appeal Perry’s decision. Prosecutors may have a difficult time retrying Holton, now 48. All of the state’s witnesses have either died, recanted their testimony or been discredited by new witnesses. No physical evidence links Holton to the murder, although prosecutors now want to test hair fibers that were never tested 15 years ago.
“If you look at the evidence” defense attorney Martin McClain said, “it’s basically all gone.”
– David Karp can be reached at (813) 226-3376 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Judge considers plea for new murder trial
June 30 FLORIDA:
Attorneys for the convicted murderer say that evidence such as recanted testimony would have altered the verdict.
In Tampa, Circuit Judge Daniel Perry is expected to decide in 3 weeks whether Rudolph Holton should get a new trial for the 1986 murder of a prostitute that sent him to Florida’s death row 15 years ago.
During arguments Friday, attorneys for Holton tried to convince Perry that newly uncovered evidence probably would have changed the jury’s verdict. Among the new information was the revelation that witnesses have recanted.
But Assistant State Attorney Wayne Chalu argued that Holton received a fair trial, if not a perfect one.
“A new trial should only be granted if new evidence is sufficient to
undermine the confidence of the outcome,” Chalu said. “This is not the case here.”
The hearing began with Perry shooting down a motion by prosecutors that
asked for more time to gather evidence.
Prosecutors wanted time to conduct DNA tests on saliva taken from a man Holton’s attorney has identified as the real killer of 17-year-old Katrina Graddy.
They wanted to disprove claims by the defense that David Pearson was responsible. They are also asking that DNA tests be conducted on a broken bottle used in the assault and on a T-shirt gathered as evidence.
But Perry declined those requests.
That decision pleased Holton’s attorney, Martin McClain, who argued that tests should be conducted only if a new trial is granted.
McClain, a New York attorney handling the case for the Capital Collateral Regional Counsel, a state agency that represents death row inmates, said the new evidence he has uncovered would give Holton an “entirely different trial.”
The case against Holton began unraveling last year when prosecutors agreed to a new sentencing hearing because of procedural errors made by Harry Lee Coe when he was a circuit judge and sentenced Holton to death.
Holton was convicted of the rape and strangulation of Graddy, who was set on fire in an abandoned house on Scott Street.
In April, Perry ordered DNA tests on a hair found at the murder scene. The results, released Monday, showed the hair did not belong to Holton despite claims during the trial that it probably had belonged to him.
McClain has argued that witnesses claiming to have seen Holton at the Scott Street house have recanted, as did a jailhouse informant who originally testified that Holton confessed to him.
Perry said he will make a decision the week of July 23.
DNA casts light, doubt on ’86 death row case
The Tampa Tribune.
Jun 26, 2001
The case against a man who was sentenced to Florida’s death row 15 years ago by the late Harry Lee Coe III for the rape and murder of a 17-year-old girl might be falling apart. Attorneys defending Rudolph Holton presented the results Monday of a DNA test that could help clear Holton in the 1986 slaying of Katrina Graddy.
The test shows that hairs found inside a shaving kit discovered near the crime scene and loosely linked to Holton by a witness did not come from the defendant or the victim, said defense lawyer Martin McClain.
“There’s really not much evidence at this point that links Rudolph Holton to this murder,” McClain said.
“My client has been sitting on death row for 15 years for a crime he did not commit.”
Holton was convicted in December 1986 of raping Graddy, strangling her and burning her body.
The teenager lived on Scott Street in what neighbors called a crack house, court records show.
But Holton’s attorneys have been filing one challenge after another, and now even prosecutors are conceding that the case is in trouble.
This year Holton’s attorneys successfully argued that the judge, Coe, made an error when he sentenced Holton to death.
Coe, who later became Hillsborough County’s state attorney, committed suicide last year.
DNA testing did not exist in 1986, and Holton was convicted largely on the statements of a handful of witnesses whose testimony has since unraveled.
The prosecution’s chief witness, a jailhouse informant who said Holton confessed to the murder, later recanted.
Tampa lawyer Joe Episcopo, who prosecuted Holton, said that the informant was the state’s strongest witness.
“Now, even I have second thoughts about this case,'” Episcopo said Monday.
And many of the other witnesses who had testified against Holton admitted during a hearing in April that they had lied about seeing Holton with Graddy the night she died.
One witness who said that he had given Holton a ride to Graddy’s house and told police that Holton was carrying a shaving kit later said that he was drunk and might have misidentified Holton.
Besides the shaving kit, the only physical evidence against Holton was a pack of cigarettes found in another room of the house Graddy lived in.
Police found Holton’s fingerprints on the pack, but Holton said that he had smoked crack at the home before and probably had discarded the pack.
Police said there was other trash in the room, including other cigarette packs.
The issue now is whether Holton should be granted a new trial.
Prosecutors are expected to review the case Thursday.
There will be another hearing before Hillsborough Circuit Judge Daniel Perry on Friday
“It’s no secret that if this case was retried now, it would be a lot different than it was 15 years ago,” said Assistant State Attorney Wayne Chalu. Mina Morgan, Holton’s original defense attorney, said the case against Holton has come undone.
“Rudolph Holton was a burglar and a drug addict,” she said Monday, “but he was never a murderer.”
Lyda Longa can be reached at (813) 259-7638.
The case against convicted murderer Rudolph Holton, on Florida’s death row for 15 years, has been in doubt for months, now that witnesses have recanted and
evidence has been discredited.
But in a last-ditch attempt to save the case Wednesday, prosecutors said they wanted to test one more piece of evidence to determine whether Holton’s fingerprints and DNA are on it, said defense attorney Martin McClain.
“This is a fishing expedition,” McClain said. “They just want to cover up mistakes made 15 years ago by the detectives who handled the case. They have absolutely no evidence, and now they want to submit this for DNA.
“They want to stall so they can keep my client in jail longer. He’s already been there for 15 years for something he did not do,” McClain added.
Prosecutors want the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to test shards
of glass from the green bottle that was used to rape Katrina Graddy in
June 1986, McClain said.
Though the 17-year-old’s body was set afire after she was raped and strangled at her house on Scott Street, remnants of the bottle were found scattered about the room where she was attacked and have been kept in a brown paper bag since the slaying, court records show.
Assistant State Attorney Pam Bondi said McClain and attorneys at the Capital Collateral Regional Council, the agency that represents Florida’s death row inmates, want only certain pieces of evidence tested.
“We want it all tested, not just some of it,” Bondi said. “15 years ago, the citizens of Hillsborough County and the Florida Supreme Court decided they had enough evidence to convict Rudolph Holton of 1st-degree murder. We stand by that.”
But that evidence and the case against Holton have since become questionable.
Witnesses for the prosecution, who placed Holton at the crime scene the night Graddy was murdered, have admitted they lied; a missing police report that could clear Holton recently surfaced; and the results of a recent DNA test disproved a state witness.
The witness testified that he had seen Holton with a shaving kit the night Graddy was killed. But a recent DNA test showed hair found in the shaving kit did not belong to Holton or Graddy. The witness later admitted he misidentified Holton.
In addition, McClain said Tampa homicide Detectives Kevin Durkin and J.S. Noblitt neglected to question David Pierson, a Tampa man who Graddy said had raped and threatened her 10 days before her death.
“Graddy, her mother and her sister all went to the police and told detectives that Katrina had been raped by Pierson,” McClain said. “Police reports were filled out to this effect. But none of those reports ever came out in the original trial 15 years ago. They were just discovered this past March.
“Pierson killed Katrina Graddy because she reported the rape,” McClain said. “A man who was cutting Pierson’s hair a few days after the killing told police that Pierson confessed to the rape and the murder.”
Holton was sentenced to death in December 1986 by then-Circuit Judge Harry Lee Coe III. Coe, who later became Hillsborough state attorney, committed suicide in July.
This year, McClain and lawyer Linda McDermott fired off a series of challenges to show that Coe erred in Holton’s sentencing. DNA testing did not exist in 1986, and Holton was convicted largely on the statements of witnesses – including a jailhouse snitch – whose testimonies have unraveled.
As a result, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Daniel Perry granted Holton a new sentencing hearing and is deciding whether he should have a new trial. That could be determined at a hearing Friday.
(source: Tampa Tribune)
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