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Inconclusive DNA tests, another execution date

The longest-serving death row inmate from Pinellas County is rescheduled for execution Feb. 26.

By KELLEY BENHAM, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 6, 2003

Once again the state has scheduled Amos Lee King's execution for the murder of an elderly Tarpon Springs woman, this time after DNA tests on 25-year-old evidence proved inconclusive.

King, the longest-serving death row inmate from Pinellas County, has survived warrants by three governors. Gov. Jeb Bush granted his most recent stay, his sixth, less than an hour before he was scheduled to die by lethal injection Dec. 2.

Bush lifted that stay Wednesday, and the execution was scheduled for 6 p.m. on Feb. 26.

"The imposition of this death sentence and justice for the family of Natalie Brady are long overdue," Bush said in a statement.

Brady, 68, was raped, beaten, stabbed with her own paring knife and assaulted with her own knitting needles, then left to die in her burning home.

Her family struggles each time an execution date is set, hating that they take satisfaction in it, and fearing that it won't come to pass.

"It's strange to say you get your hopes up," said Brady's niece, Peggy Scheerer, 45. "But you can't help but think: 'Oh yes, finally.' "

The night Brady was killed, in March 1977, King was a 22-year-old former mechanic serving four years for stealing a shotgun.

That night, King escaped from a minimum-security work release center near her home, and was caught hours later sneaking back into the prison with blood on his pants. He fought with the security guard who confronted him, James D. McDonough, stabbing him at least 15 times in 40 minutes. McDonough lost four pints of blood, but lived.

Much of the physical evidence in the case has been lost, including King's clothes and Brady's rape kit. King, 48, has always maintained his innocence and fought his execution with every avenue.

King's lawyers had hoped new technology would find results in scraps of deteriorated evidence -- hair samples, fingernail scrapings and ambulance sheets.

"We tried and it's sad," said King's lawyer Barry Scheck, the co-director of the Innocence Project who persuaded Bush to grant the stay in December. The Innocence Project has used DNA evidence to exonerate 116 inmates. But this time the tests, conducted in part by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and in part by a private laboratory, neither incriminated nor exonerated King.

The samples were too old, and too badly deteriorated. The telling evidence is gone. "There was just nothing to test," Scheck said.

One of King's state-appointed attorneys, Peter Cannon of Tampa, said he would have to see the results himself before deciding what to do next. But he said he would follow "all available options" to stop the execution.

Cannon has said previously that a number of issues could justify future appeals. "Certainly, we're not going to give up on any of the issues," Cannon said. "There are some matters we're still concerned about, and we're going to continue to fight."

-- Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. Kelley Benham can be reached at (727) 445-4174 or benham@sptimes.com .

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