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Defense attacks murder investigation methods

A lawyer hopes to keep statements his client made to investigators and evidence away from a jury.

By CHASE SQUIRES

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 20, 2000


DADE CITY -- In the months before Michael Peter Fitzpatrick was charged with a gruesome Land O'Lakes murder, investigators boasted they were going to get him, thanks to international satellite surveillance and a series of telephone wire taps.

And as they grilled him at least seven times, detectives told Fitzpatrick they matched him to the body with "one-in-a-trillion" DNA evidence and witnesses.

But some of that evidence didn't really exist, and some might never reach a jury's ears, appointed defense attorney Bill Eble said Thursday.

In an all-day hearing Thursday, Eble picked at the investigators' tactics and homed in on a former probation officer who testified he ordered Fitzpatrick to comply with every step, even to submit to polygraph and blood tests, if he wanted to stay out of prison.

Fitzpatrick, 38, is accused slashing the throat of 28-year-old Laura Lynn Romines, leaving her to die along Parkway Boulevard in Land O'Lakes. She was found wandering along the road before dawn on Aug. 18, 1996, half-naked and bleeding.

She died a day later.

Fitzpatrick was charged with first-degree murder in February 1997 and since then has been in the Pasco County jail in Land O'Lakes. After a series of delays, Fitzpatrick is scheduled to go to trial next month.

Eble's latest attack on the prosecution's case focused on Fitzpatrick's treatment in the months after Romines' death. He contended statements Fitzpatrick made to investigators, and evidence obtained as a result, shouldn't be allowed because his rights were violated.

Fitzpatrick was on probation at the time for hitting a man with a hammer during a tequila binge.

His probation officer, George Kranz, testified twice on Thursday that he told Fitzpatrick -- a man he knew would do whatever it took to stay out of prison -- that he had to do whatever detectives asked if he wanted to stay in good standing with his office.

"I simply advised him the best course of action would be for him to be truthful," Kranz said. "I told him he should cooperate . . . to show the parole commission that he was cooperating with law enforcement."

Following Kranz' instructions, Fitzpatrick talked with detectives Jeff Bousquet and Stacie Morrison at least seven times, although in one early taped conversation Fitzpatrick noted he probably should have an attorney. At least five of the conversations were audio- or videotaped.

Prosecutor Manny Garcia argued Fitzpatrick wasn't entitled to an attorney during discussions with detectives because he was never held against his will and was not charged with a crime.

Circuit Judge Wayne Cobb disagreed.

"He's entitled to have a lawyer any time he wants one," Cobb said.

In one session, Bousquet told Fitzpatrick that a network of orbiting satellites -- including Russian and Canadian equipment -- showed him at the crime scene.

Bousquet later testified he didn't actually have satellite photos.

"We know basically where you were," Bousquet told Fitzpatrick on one tape. "The problem is, we're trying to find out what took place."

The detective repeatedly pressed Fitzpatrick to confess.

"Come on, Mike," he urged. "Now is your chance to come forward with me."

Although Fitzpatrick repeatedly denied killing Romines, he admitted he paid her $25 for sex about 18 hours before she was found. He also complied with requests for blood samples and allowed his pickup truck to be searched.

Bousquet told Fitzpatrick in one session that detectives had bugged telephones belonging to his mother, sister and grandmother.

"Bottom line, Mike, is I gotcha," Bousquet told him. "You're not going to get away from all the stuff that's coming in."

Fitzpatrick was in court for Thursday's hearing. His handcuffs were removed so he could write notes to Eble, and the two chatted during breaks in the testimony, but he did not take the witness stand.

Cobb is scheduled to hear closing arguments today before ruling on what would be admitted into trial.

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