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Defense could block man's death sentence

The lawyer for a 19-year-old accused of fatally shooting a Pasco deputy says a recent ruling affects use of the death penalty.

Published September 19, 2003

DADE CITY - The team representing a Lacoochee man accused of killing a Pasco County sheriff's deputy will try to save the man's life even before the question of guilt or innocence is decided.

Public defender Tom Hanlon on Wednesday demanded a hearing on constitutional issues that he says could block prosecutors from pursuing the death penalty if Alfredie Steele Jr. is convicted of murdering Lt. Charles "Bo" Harrison outside a Trilacoochee nightclub June 1.

The public defender's office claims a recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court bars Florida's policy of allowing a jury to make a recommendation on the death penalty but leaves the ultimate decision up to a judge. The motion also attacks as inadequate the standard courtroom instructions jurors receive before making that recommendation.

Prosecutor Phil Van Allen on Thursday said the Florida Supreme Court already reviewed similar arguments, and Florida's rules are acceptable. But he added, it will be up to the court system to make the final ruling in Steele's case.

A hearing is scheduled for Oct. 27, a week before Steele is scheduled to go to trial.

Steele, 19, is charged with first-degree murder. He has pleaded not guilty and is being held without bail at a Sumter County jail.

Investigators say Steele was tortured by the photograph of a dying friend that appeared in the St. Petersburg Times the May 31. The image drove him to drinking, authorities say, eventually leading him to fire sniper-style at Harrison's patrol car early June 1 with an assault rifle.

At least four bullets hit the car. Harrison - 57 years old and less than two weeks from retirement - was struck in the back by two bullets.

Investigators say Steele admitted he fired at the car.

Hanlon said he is questioning more than 120 prospective witnesses for the November trial. If Steele is convicted, the death penalty phase would be conducted by elected Public Defender Bob Dillinger and assistant public defender Bob Focht.

But Hanlon's motion looks to remove even the possibility of death.

"Florida's capital sentencing procedure is unconstitutional," he wrote. "This court must therefore enter an order precluding imposition of the death penalty in this case."

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