Judge considers plea for new murder trial
By DONG-PHUONG NGUYEN
© St. Petersburg Times,
TAMPA -- Circuit Judge Daniel Perry is expected to decide in three weeks whether Rudolph Holton should get a new trial for the 1986 murder of a prostitute that sent him to Florida's death row 15 years ago.
During arguments Friday, attorneys for Holton tried to convince Perry that newly uncovered evidence probably would have changed the jury's verdict. Among the new information was the revelation that witnesses have recanted.
But Assistant State Attorney Wayne Chalu argued that Holton received a fair trial, if not a perfect one.
"A new trial should only be granted if new evidence is sufficient to undermine the confidence of the outcome," Chalu said. "This is not the case here."
The hearing began with Perry shooting down a motion by prosecutors that asked for more time to gather evidence.
Prosecutors wanted time to conduct DNA tests on saliva taken from a man Holton's attorney has identified as the real killer of 17-year-old Katrina Graddy.
They wanted to disprove claims by the defense that David Pearson was responsible. They are also asking that DNA tests be conducted on a broken bottle used in the assault and on a T-shirt gathered as evidence.
But Perry declined those requests.
That decision pleased Holton's attorney, Martin McClain, who argued that tests should be conducted only if a new trial is granted.
McClain, a New York attorney handling the case for the Capital Collateral Regional Counsel, a state agency that represents death row inmates, said the new evidence he has uncovered would give Holton an "entirely different trial."
The case against Holton began unraveling last year when prosecutors agreed to a new sentencing hearing because of procedural errors made by Harry Lee Coe when he was a circuit judge and sentenced Holton to death.
Holton was convicted of the rape and strangulation of Graddy, who was set on fire in an abandoned house on Scott Street.
In April, Perry ordered DNA tests on a hair found at the murder scene. The results, released Monday, showed the hair did not belong to Holton despite claims during the trial that it probably had belonged to him.
McClain has argued that witnesses claiming to have seen Holton at the Scott Street house have recanted, as did a jailhouse informant who originally testified that Holton confessed to him.
Perry said he will make a decision the week of July 23.
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