Posted: July 1, 2013 4:30 PM
The Florida Supreme Court vacated a death row inmate’s murder conviction and ordered a new trial Thursday based on findings that he had ineffective assistance of counsel.
Michael Peter Fitzpatrick was convicted in 2001 of the 1996 rape and murder of Laura Romines in Land O’ Lakes and sentenced to death. Fitzpatrick was delivering pizzas the night of the crime and allegedly picked up Romines after a delivery.
The state’s high court unanimously upheld a lower court's 2010 decision to grant a retrial writing in its opinion that “ineffective assistance compromises not only the trial, but the entire judicial process.”
After eyewitnesses reported seeing Fitzpatrick and Romines together, police focused their investigation on him. Fitzpatrick submitted a blood sample, and his DNA profile matched evidence taken from Romines at a hospital.
The justices agreed that Fitzpatrick's attorney should have consulted with experts on the DNA and other forensic evidence used against him, reported the Tampa Tribune. His new attorneys at the Capital Collateral Regional Counsels (CCRC) in Tampa conducted additional DNA testing and hired several experts that together, undermined the state’s claim that Fitzpatrick’s sperm was deposited close to the time of Romine’s death. Although the defense maintains they were involved, their last contact was much earlier than her attack.
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