Killer tries again for new trial
By JOUNICE L. NEALY
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 3, 2000
LARGO -- Death row inmate Oba Chandler made another plea Thursday for a new trial, arguing that his defense attorney gave ineffective counsel in his first trial.
Prosecutors used the rape allegations to show there was a pattern that Chandler used days before he murdered the three women.
The bound and gagged bodies of 36-year-old Joan Rogers, 17-year-old Michelle and 14-year-old Christe were found June 4, 1989, floating near The Pier in St. Petersburg. They had been stripped below the waist.
On Thursday, Chandler, 54, maintained his innocence on the rape charges, which were later dropped partly because of the woman's wishes. From the witness stand, Chandler told his version of the encounter with the Canadian woman:
He met the woman and a friend as they were coming out a convenience store. They talked and he told her his name was Dave because, he said, he was married and didn't want any trouble.
The next day, the two met as agreed and Chandler picked up the woman on his boat. She was drinking wine coolers and "could cuss like a sailor," he said. Chandler touched the woman almost everywhere between her shoulders and waist and she never objected, he said. The two docked briefly and then went back out. They took pictures of each other; she was topless in two of them, Chandler said.
Then they started having consensual sex on the boat off Madeira Beach, he said. Chandler says he made a move by accident and the woman got upset and wanted him to stop. "I wouldn't stop," Chandler said.
"We were having sex," he said. "I was entitled to finish."
During the 1994 trial, the only thing that Chandler would say on the stand about the incident was that he had a Fifth Amendment right to remain silent to avoid self-incrimination. Chandler's defense attorney at the time, Fred Zinober, had instructed him to respond that way.
It was part of a defense strategy, Zinober testified. If he denied the rape, then prosecutors could attack Chandler's credibility about the events of the murder, he said.
Chandler invoked the Fifth Amendment 21 times during his trial.
"It made me look guilty each time I did it," said Chandler, who was following Zinober's instructions to take the stand because Zinober told jurors during opening statements that he would.
Asked whether he felt it was unnecessary for him to take the stand during the murder trial, Chandler said "At times, yes. At times, no."
The defense attorney representing Chandler at Thursday's hearing, Baya Harrison, said that Zinober erred when he conceded Chandler's guilt in the rape during opening statements.
"I did not concede that he did it," Zinober said. "I conceded that the state would be able to prove" their case.
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