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Victim ready for a retrial
At 82, she hoped never to relive that bloody night in 1997.
By COLLEEN JENKINS, Times Staff Writer
Published December 15, 2007
TAMPA - Until Friday, 82-year-old Arleta Farabee thought she would live the rest of her days without ever again facing the man who authorities say broke into her home a decade ago and stabbed her 14 times.
The brutal attack sent her to the hospital for a week, her lung punctured, her voice box cut and 15 stitches in her hand.
It took Tampa police six years to make an arrest. Another two years passed before a jury found Willie Brooks Mitchell guilty of attempted first-degree murder and armed burglary and a judge sentenced him to life in prison.
But an oversight early in the criminal justice process means Farabee likely will endure another trial.
The 2nd District Court of Appeal reversed Mitchell's conviction Friday, saying police failed to adequately explain that he had the right for an attorney to be present during questioning. As a result, three appellate judges said, prosecutors should not have been able to use Mitchell's confession at trial.
In the meantime, a woman who has survived cancer and outlived two husbands considered Friday afternoon what the decision meant for her.
"I really don't want to have to go face him again," Farabee said over the telephone. But "if I have to go, I have to go."
Farabee is certain that the man who brutally attacked her on Feb. 24, 1997, was black, tall and thin, but the 4-foot-11 woman isn't certain Mitchell was that man.
"I could still see that face for a long time," she said, "and then it kind of faded away."
A noise in her spare bedroom had woken her up. The man inside grabbed her, stuffed a towel in her mouth. She yanked it out but couldn't scream.
He said "give me your money" as he stabbed her, she recalled. He dragged her through the house and ransacked every chest of drawers.
The attack lasted 10 to 15 minutes. Farabee managed to trip a motion alarm in her living room before stumbling outside in a bloody heap. Medical professionals didn't expect her to live through the night, she said.
Six years later, Mitchell was serving his sixth prison term when Tampa police detectives matched blood and a fingerprint from broken window glass outside Farabee's home to him.
Most of his prison time was for burglaries, records show.
Defense attorneys cast doubt on the reliability of DNA and fingerprint evidence at trial.
No other physical evidence put Mitchell, now 45, inside the home.
Those combined factors made it more than "harmless error" for jurors to have heard Mitchell's statement to police, appellate judges said.
Such legal jargon is lost on Farabee, and she remembered how defense attorneys confused her with their questions.