Sunday, 18 December 2011

DNA no match to inmate

By TONY HOLT | Hernando Today
Published: December 18, 2011

The wait has been excruciating for cancer patient Paul Hildwin and his attorney, Martin McClain.

Earlier this month, they got the break they had long been waiting for. There was no doubt it was coming, but it took longer than expected.

The DNA evidence found at a murder scene didn't come from Hildwin, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. It came from William Haverty, who has been in prison since a 1998 rape conviction.

Hildwin has lived on death row for 25 years. He was convicted in the slaying of Vronzettie Cox, 42, whose body was found in the trunk of her car the morning of Sept. 13, 1985 in the area of Royal Highlands — a rural community north of Weeki Wachee.

During the course of the trial, prosecutor Tom Hogan referred more than once to the fluids found on the victim's underwear and a nearby washcloth, which was discovered in the backseat.

Tests showed the fluids were semen and saliva, according to court testimony.

The 1986 trial took place before the advent of DNA evidence, but Hogan argued the semen came from a nonsecretor — someone whose blood type can't be traced through bodily fluids. Nonsecretors make up 11 percent of the world's population, said Hogan.

Hildwin was a nonsecretor, Hogan said. Haverty, who was Cox's boyfriend at the time of her death, was not.

Hildwin's defense attorney, Daniel Lewan, tried connecting the killing to Haverty, but was unsuccessful.

Hildwin was caught cashing one of Cox's stolen checks. He also gave different stories to authorities when questioned. He also told an incredible story to jurors when the inexperienced Lewan allowed him to testify, said McClain, who has since handled most of the appellate work on behalf of Hildwin.

There were other issues glossed over by the state during the trial, according to defense motions.

The window of opportunity for the slaying was small – roughly 90 minutes. During that time, the state argued Hildwin walked to a store off U.S. 19, murdered Cox, stuffed her body into the trunk, parked the car in the woods, cashed the stolen check and then walked back to his own abandoned car along the highway.

It was the forensic evidence against Hildwin, which now has been proven false, that put the case over the top for the state, McClain said. It was presented to jurors through the testimony of an FBI lab technician.

"The FBI analyst testimony excluding Haverty as the contributor of the material was and has been the lynchpin of the state's case," said McClain.

McClain said Hogan was secretive about the presentation of the evidence. Lewan didn't know about it until the fourth day of trial. McClain, through interviews, arguments and court filings, has been a sharp critic of Hogan's prosecutorial techniques.

Hogan now runs a private practice out of Brooksville. Months ago, he told Hernando Today he was still convinced Hildwin was the killer no matter who the DNA belonged to.

McClain said the state had long "locked out" the DNA from being uploaded into the database. It did so because it was convinced it wasn't Haverty's DNA.

"It's their actions that have caused this delay," said McClain. "My client has struggled to stay alive."

In a motion filed last week, McClain called the tactics by the Florida Attorney General's Office "indefensible." He said the attitude from the state has been inappropriate.

"Mr. Hildwin has been seeking an order for more than eight years comparing this sample to Mr. Haverty over the State's objection," he stated in his motion.

No one from the Attorney General's Office has commented about the Hildwin case because the appeal remains open.

Hildwin's cancer has been in remission. McClain said his client is relying on prison staff for his medical care as he awaits additional surgeries.

McClain had three appellate motions tied to Hildwin, including the one asking the state to upload the DNA.

Following his latest victory, McClain hopes it will accelerate the other motions and eventually overturn the verdict.

McClain said when he told his client about the latest development in the case, Hildwin smiled at him.

"I told you so," McClain said, recalling Hildwin's words. "I knew it. I knew it."

Win for death row inmate

Win for death row inmate

There was seminal fluid wrapped up in the victim's underwear and saliva on a washcloth. They were lying in the backseat of the victim's car.
Vronzettie Cox's naked body was found in the trunk. It was the morning of Sept. 13, 1985.
One year later in a Hernando County courtroom, Paul Christopher Hildwin was convicted of first-degree murder. He has spent the rest of his life living on death row.
The seminal fluid and saliva have never been uploaded in the state's database. On Thursday, the Florida Supreme Court ruled it should.
The Attorney General's Office has 15 days to file a motion for a rehearing.
Hildwin's prosecutor, Tom Hogan Jr., mentioned the forensic evidence to jurors. He said it further proved Hildwin murdered the 42-year-old Cox and stuffed her body into the trunk of her car in Royal Highlands.
Hildwin's court-appointed defense attorney said years later during an appellate hearing he was blindsided by Hogan's presentation of the evidence.
If he had seen it coming, he would have made time to prepare for it, the defense attorney argued.
The trial took place prior to the advancement of DNA evidence, but Hogan told jurors the seminal fluid came from a nonsecretor — someone whose blood type can't be traced through bodily fluids.
Nonsecretors make up 11 percent of the world's population. Hildwin was among the 11 percent, Hogan said.
In 2003, a private company compared both the seminal fluid and the saliva to Hildwin's DNA. The results came back negative. As a result, a circuit court judge recommended to the higher court that the evidence be compared to other convicted felons.
If the state doesn't file the motion or if the court denies it, the semen and saliva samples will be uploaded to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement database.
If there's a match, the case could be turned on its head, said Martin J. McClain, Hildwin's attorney.
In an interview earlier this year, McClain said the state had so little evidence it relied on unethical tactics to win a conviction.
Every attorney who represented Hildwin during the appellate portion of the case has stated the same in court documents.
McClain said during a phone interview Friday that if the DNA matches someone in the database, there will be an onslaught of questions centering on a new possible suspect, including where he was and what he was doing the day Cox was murdered.
"It's all speculative at this point," said McClain. "There are thousands and thousands of people in that database."
Detectives at the time suspected Cox's then-boyfriend, William Haverty, could have had something to do with the crime, according to reports from the Hernando County Sheriff's Office.
Haverty has been in prison since 1998. He was convicted of sexually battering a girl younger than 12 years old.
McClain has two other appeals related to the Hildwin case. He said the Florida Supreme Court gave no indication about the progress of those appeals or whether they hinge on the pending DNA findings. (352) 544-5283