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Four years after woman's killing, trial set to begin

The state plans to pursue the death penalty if the accused pizza deliveryman is found guilty in the August 1996 slaying.


© St. Petersburg Times, published November 24, 2000

DADE CITY -- More than four years and three months after 26-year-old Laura Lynn Romines was found wandering on a Land O'Lakes street, bloody and half-naked, the man accused of raping her and slashing her throat is scheduled to go on trial for his life Monday.

Michael Peter Fitzpatrick, 38, of Spring Hill, is charged with first-degree murder in the Aug. 18, 1996, attack.

His case has been handled by three attorneys and has been subject to repeated hearings on everything from DNA evidence to witness identification. But both the prosecutor and defense attorney said this week that nothing seems to stand in the way of Monday's scheduled trial.

As usual with the case, nothing will be usual.

Because of a judge's schedule and the anticipated volume of evidence, the trial is scheduled to span two weeks. It's set to start with jury selection Monday and possibly Tuesday, then proceed with testimony Wednesday and Thursday. A break will span Friday and three days of the next week, with the trial being picked up again Dec. 7.

And there will be plenty for attorneys to argue about in between.

Prosecutors say Fitzpatrick, a pizza deliveryman who knew Romines, was the last person seen with her before the attack. She was found, bloody and beaten, wandering along Parkway Boulevard. She died about two weeks later in a Tampa hospital.

Fitzpatrick was arrested in February 1997, the result of what investigators said was "classic police work," piecing evidence and witness accounts together to build a case.

But Fitzpatrick's appointed attorney, Bill Eble, has picked at the case in the past year. DNA evidence indicates another person could be connected, he argued. There may be flaws in the methods used to compare DNA evidence, and there are questions over witness identifications, Eble claims.

And then there's the expected testimony of one of the first paramedics to tend to Romines, who has told investigators she whispered a man's name to him at the scene. The name was "Steve," a name Eble said his client has never been known by.

On Wednesday, Eble said there is still at least one witness he has not been able to locate but who could help clear his client.

If Fitzpatrick is found guilty, Van Allen said the state intends to pursue the death penalty.

Fitzpatrick has been held at the Pasco County jail in Land O'Lakes without bail since his arrest.

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