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State Supreme Court weighs man's death sentence

His lawyer says he was pulled over because he was white, voiding any evidence found during the stop.

By CHASE SQUIRES

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 5, 2001


Defense attorney Terri Backhus took her bid to save the life of killer Robert Dewey Glock II to the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday, facing questions from justices who sounded equally skeptical of the defense and the prosecution.

Live audio and video from the 45-minute session were carried on the Internet from Tallahassee.

Backhus renewed arguments rejected last month by Circuit Judge Wayne Cobb in Dade City that Glock and co-hort Carl Puiatti -- both white -- were the victims of New Jersey State Police racial profiling.

They were stopped on the New Jersey turnpike and arrested after kidnapping 34-year-old schoolteacher Sharilyn Ritchie from a Bradenton mall in 1983 before driving her to Dade City, where they shot her to death.

Both men were sentenced to death.

Backhus was appointed in November to represent Glock before his scheduled December execution. Within days, she said 91,000 pages of newly released New Jersey State Police documents could show that her client was stopped illegally.

Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente on Thursday wondered how Glock, 38, could have been the victim of racial bias.

"Isn't it a problem that your client is not a member of the protected class, in that he is not a racial minority?" she asked.

Backhus said it was not just black motorists who were victims of racial profiling -- a controversial policing technique that encouraged agents to focus on specific races for traffic stops in a bid to slow drug traffic.

"It became more an instance of not just being one particular race that was being profiled. It was Hispanics, blacks, it was Italians, Chinese," she said. "One of the two members of the party, Mr. Puiatti, is Italian-American, which is one of the ethnic groups that they were targeting. It was obvious that there was a pattern of choosing -- picking and choosing different races as the basis for the stop."

Backhus has said that if the stop were illegal, then prosecutors could not use statements the men made after their arrest, nor could they use evidence -- including a pistol -- collected during the stop.

Backhus argued the same thing before Cobb, asking the judge to hold a full hearing, during which the trooper who made the stop could testify about the stop that led to the men's arrest and subsequent confessions.

Trooper William Moore has testified that he stopped the car Glock and Puiatti were riding in because their license tag was unreadable. After Backhus' appeal before Cobb last month, Moore, who is black, again said he did not use racial profiling when he stopped the pair.

Glock was scheduled to be executed Dec. 8, but the Supreme Court agreed to hear Backhus' appeal. The justices did not immediately issue a ruling after hearing her arguments Thursday.

Six days after the Supreme Court held up the December execution, Gov. Jeb Bush signed a new death warrant, setting Glock's execution for 6 p.m. Jan. 11.

While justices peppered Backhus with questions about legal procedure and the strength of her argument, they pondered aloud the constitutional issues of fair searches and equal protection for all citizens, the executive powers of the governor, the interpretation of legislative intent, and past case law.

They sounded equally skeptical of arguments by Bob Landry, an lawyer with the state Attorney General's Office. Landry's position was that the legality of the stop had been hashed out in lower courts and even upheld by the state Supreme Court. There was no need to go over it again.

Besides, he argued, Glock is white.

"Really there is no particular claim that the defendant can make at this time," Landry said. "The defendant -- both he and his co-defendant, colleague, Mr. Puiatti -- were both Caucasian."

Both Justice Leander Shaw and Justice Harry Lee Anstead wondered aloud that if racial profiling improperly targeted Puiatti because of his Italian descent, then maybe Glock's arrest would also have been improper, because the two were together.

In 1987, when he was originally scheduled for execution, Glock wanted to be executed, he told the Times last month. He said he was suicidal and depressed, and felt empty inside.

Now, he said, it's different. He said he has a strong belief in God and wants to share more time with his new family -- in September he married a 45-year-old steelworker and mother of six from Gary, Ind.

The Supreme Court did not immediately set a date when the justices would return with a ruling.

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