Sunday, 27 July 2008

Former Dartmouth resident, once on Florida death row, freed

By Brian Boyd
Standard-Times staff writer
July 26, 2008 6:00 AM

A Dartmouth native who spent 13 years on Florida's death row in a murder-for-hire case was released Friday after he agreed to a plea deal, his lawyer said.

Michael W. Mordenti, 67, was convicted in 1991 of killing Thelma Royston in Odessa, Fla., after the victim's husband allegedly sought to have her murdered for $10,000. First sentenced to death and later given life, Mr. Mordenti accepted a lesser charge of second-degree murder offered by the state after he won an appeal, his lawyer, Martin McClain, said.

His new sentence is 25 years, and he was ordered released immediately for time served plus good behavior, said Gretl Plessinger, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Corrections.

"This is a glorious day for me and my family," said his daughter, Michelle Bergeron, a New Bedford resident. "God has answered our prayers."

Mr. Mordenti, a former used-car dealer, grew up in Dartmouth. He and his third wife, Gail Milligan, sold a used-car lot on State Road in the early 1980s and moved to Florida, said Ms. Bergeron, who is the daughter of his second wife.

The victim's husband, Larry Royston, allegedly convinced Mr. Mordenti's ex-wife, Ms. Milligan, to arrange a hit on his wife. She said she contacted three people before getting her ex-husband to carry out the hit, the St. Petersburg Times reported. Mr. Royston committed suicide before his trial.

The Florida Supreme Court granted him a new trial in 2004 on grounds the prosecutors allegedly withheld evidence casting doubt on the credibility of his ex-wife, who was given immunity, the newspaper reported at the time of the court's decision.

However, following a second trial ending with a deadlocked jury, a third trial in 2005 resulted in Mr. Mordenti being convicted a second time and given life.

Earlier this year, an appellate court in Florida ordered a new trial, which was scheduled to start next month, due to evidence not admitted by the judge in the 2005 trial. Prosecutors offered second-degree murder, and Mr. Mordenti pleaded "in his best interest," without admitting guilt, Mr. McClain said in a telephone interview.

"He always maintained his innocence," said Ms. Bergeron, who praised his lawyers.

"It was very hard for my family through the years to go through this," she said.

It was not immediately clear what Mr. Mordenti would do next. Mr. McClain said he is considering moving to Alaska.

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