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Speedy trial law, lack of witnesses free slaying suspect

By GRAHAM BRINK

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 29, 2000


TAMPA -- For 10 months, William Peterson waited in the county jail, thinking about his first-degree murder trial and the potential life sentence that would follow if he were convicted.

On Tuesday, Peterson walked out of jail a free man.

Peterson was charged in September along with his girlfriend, Marcia Hixon, in the shooting death of 38-year-old Allon Rainford. The police had called it a robbery gone awry.

Hixon, 28, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and robbery charges and agreed to testify against Peterson, said Assistant State Attorney Jay Pruner.

In a sworn statment, Hixon outlined how Peterson had shot Rainford in the leg during an attempted robbery just past midnight at 2801 N Howard Ave.

A couple months ago, she recanted her confession, leaving prosecutors with a big problem: no witnesses. Detectives had tried for months to find two other potential witnesses, but those witnesses faced outstanding warrants for their arrests and were not eager to be found, Pruner said.

Speedy trial rules stipulate that a defendant must go to trial within 180 days of being charged. Even defendants who initially waive their right to a speedy trial can ask to have the rights reinstated, which is what happened in the Peterson case, Pruner said.

"We ran out of time," Pruner said. "There was nothing left to do."

Peterson agreed to plead guilty to a charge of accessory after the fact and was sentenced to time served. Hixon, who remains in jail, faces up to 30 years and is scheduled for sentencing Aug. 7.

Graham Brink can be reached at (813) 226-3365 or brink@sptimes.com.

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