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Convicted murderer gives no defense

Michael Peter Fitzpatrick's attorney gives no defense, and the jury quickly recommends the death penalty.

By CHASE SQUIRES

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 6, 2001


DADE CITY -- Convicted of a murder he swears he did not commit, Michael Peter Fitzpatrick on Thursday refused to beg a jury to spare his life.

With the same jury that convicted him prepared to hear reasons why he should or should not be executed, Fitzpatrick ordered his attorney to present no defense.

Appointed defense attorney Bill Eble spoke just 20 words to the jury.

"Mr. Fitzpatrick has authorized me only to thank you all for giving six days of your life for this case," Eble said.

Then he sat down.

The jury returned to the courtroom after less than an hour of deliberation. By a vote of 10-2, they recommended Fitzpatrick be put to death.

Circuit Judge Maynard Swanson said he will announce today when he will hold a sentencing hearing. The judge is not bound to the jury's recommendation but said he must give it great weight. Swanson also ordered a pre-sentencing investigative report, detailing Fitzpatrick's childhood, family life, time spent in prison, addictions and work history.

Fitzpatrick, 38, was convicted last week of raping and murdering Laura Lynn Romines, 28. She was found wandering along a lonely stretch of Parkway Boulevard in Land O'Lakes about 3:45 a.m. on Aug. 18, 1996.

Romines, round-faced with blond hair that extended past her shoulders, was naked when passing motorists found her. Her throat had been slashed. She had been raped and tortured, her genitals burned with a cigarette and her left breast bitten or punctured with an object.

She died two weeks later at a Tampa hospital.

Prosecutor Phil Van Allen implored jurors to impose the death penalty and said the case met the state's definition of a heinous crime.

"Look how she was left, naked and bleeding, alone in the middle of nowhere, left there to die," Van Allen said. "Michael Peter Fitzpatrick should die."

Van Allen's lone witness, former probation officer George Kranz, testified that he supervised Fitzpatrick while Fitzpatrick was on parole for beating a Hillsborough County man on the head with a hammer while drunk.

Kranz said Fitzpatrick had reported strained relations with his parents and had admitted to alcohol and drug addictions. Kranz said Fitzpatrick tried to kill himself in 1995 by slashing his wrists and eating rat poison.

Eble told Swanson, with the jury out of the courtroom, that Fitzpatrick ordered him not to present witnesses, not to implore the jury for mercy and not to challenge the prosecution's assertions.

Later, Eble said he couldn't completely explain his client's actions, except to say Fitzpatrick has never accepted the jury's verdict and has consistently maintained his innocence.

"If you're going to have someone go beg for your life, doesn't that say that you're guilty?" Eble asked. "You're accepting the jury's verdict."

Eble said he plans to file a renewed motion to have the case dismissed by Monday and will appeal the case to the 2nd District Court of Appeal.

Jurors who took six hours to convict Fitzpatrick last week took less than an hour to recommend death Thursday. As he left the courtroom, jury foreman Lawrence Wise said jurors had decided as a group not to comment on their decisions.

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