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From life sentence to possible bail

But finding the money for freedom before his retrial in a 1997 murder case may prove difficult for Thomas Patterson.

By JAMAL THALJI
Published April 21, 2006


 

DADE CITY - Once he was sentenced to life in prison. Now he has a chance to walk out of jail.

Last month a defense attorney persuaded a judge to overturn Thomas Wayne Patterson's 1998 second-degree murder conviction and life sentence. Lawyer Scott McCluskey on Thursday won his client another victory: persuading a judge to set bail.

Patterson was being held in the county jail without bail pending retrial. But Circuit Judge Linda Babb agreed to set bail for Patterson: $150,000.

Which is why this victory may be a hollow one.

"He does have family support," McCluskey said. "But it's going to be difficult for them."

In Florida, bail is set to ensure defendants go to court. If the family could somehow come up with the money, the county could seize it if Patterson missed a court date. Or they could arrange for a bail bonds agency to bail out Patterson. Typically in that arrangement the family pays a nonrefundable 10 percent in cash to the agency and uses collateral, such as property, for the rest.

Either way, McCluskey said, it will be tough for the 37-year-old Ridge Manor man's family to free him before his unscheduled retrial for James "Mechanic" Dunn's 1997 slaying.

"I'm going to talk to them and see if it's possible for them to make some type of bond," he said. "They're not wealthy."

Patterson's family could not be reached for comment.

The Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office has appealed the judge's decision to overturn the 1998 verdict and sentence to the 2nd District Court of Appeal. The prosecution didn't want to give Patterson any chance to leave custody, saying he was obviously a flight risk.

"If you're going to set a bond," Assistant State Attorney Stacey Sumner said, "I ask ask that you set a $1-million bond."

McCluskey pointed out that his client hasn't worked in years because he has been in prison. "A $1-million is in effect no bond," he said. "I'm asking for the court to set a reasonable bond."

In March the judge overturned Patterson's conviction, ruling that his first lawyer was deficient in not calling a key witness to testify on his client's behalf at the first trial.