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Court hears Spaziano's death appeal

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Court hears Spaziano's death appeal


capital punishment


Michael Mello, Joseph Spaziano's attorney believes Spaziano deserves a chance to prove his innocence.


Hallifax, Jackie


Tallahasse Democrat


HIST 298, University of Mary Washington


The materials in this online collection are held by Special Collections, Simpson Library, University of Mary Washington and are available for educational use. For this purpose only, you may reproduce materials without prior permission on the condition that you provide attribution of the source.


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Florida Supreme Court 
Court hears Spaziano's death appeal
An attorney for convicted murder Joseph Spaziano says his client deserves a chance to prove his innocence.
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An attorney for Joseph “Crazy Joe” Spaziano asked the state Supreme Court for a chance to prove his client is not guilty of the murder that is sending him to the electric chair in two weeks. 
A lawyer for the state, however, urged the justices not to stay on Spaziano’s execution on “mere speculation.”
After hearing oral arguments Thursday, Florida’s high court will make a decision at its own discretion; Spaziano, 49, is scheduled to be executed Sept. 21 for the murder and mutilation of an Orlando woman 22 years ago. 
During the hour-long hearing, justices and lawyers had exchanges about testimony at a trial held nearly 20 years ago, about judicial procedure, about the role of the state’s high court in reviewing capital cases. 
“The proceeding before us has taken a rather free form,” Justice Harry Lee Anstead told Spaziano attorney Michael Mello. “This is the way you have approached this case before the court and it’s obviously causing us considerable difficulty.” 
Mello, a Vermont law professor, has filed hundreds of pages of pleadings before Florida’s high court, but he began his presenta-
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He is scheduled to be executed Sept. 21 for the murder and mutilation of an Orlando woman 22 years

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tion by telling justices that all the issues were secondary because his client did not kill Laura Harberts. The 18-year-old hospital clerk’s body was found in an Altamonte Springs dump in August 1973.

“I believe that if I had an opportunity to prove Mr. Spaziano’s innocence before a jury, he would be acquitted,” Mello said. “All I’m asking for… is a star of execution and the provision of resources.”
Witness’s recantation not enough for Chiles

Anthony Dilisio, a key prosecution witness in Spaziano’s trial, recanted his testimony earlier this year, prompting Gov. Lawton Chiles to suspend Spaziano’s fourth death warrant. 

However, after an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement into the recent comments by Dilisio, Chiles said he had no doubts about the case and signed a fifth death warrant last month.

Mello questioned the reliability of the FDLE investigation, which the governor has refused to release, as “supersecret information that supposedly reliable witnesses supposedly told FDLE that supposedly correctly reported to the governor.”
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[image] Mark Foley/ The Assoicated Press

"I believe that if I had an opportunity to prove Mr. Spaziano's innocence before a jury, he would be acquitted," attorney Michael Mello said.

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But Instead questioned the strength of Mello’s appeal before Florida’s high court. 

If Mello had filed the proper motion in trial court, he would have been required to meet two tests, Instead said. The first test is whether the recanted testimony was substantial enough to undercut Spaziano’s conviction; the second is whether the issue should have been raised earlier. 

Instead asked Mello if he could have jumped through “those two ordinary hoops.”

“I can’t imagine new evidence more substantial than a disavowal of the critical testimony by the wit-
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ness,” Mello answered. 

Justice Ben Overton then interrupted the attorney, asking why he had not presented an affidavit from Dilisio recanting his testimony.
“You have not filed in this record anything that says ‘I swear’, an oath by Dilisio,” Overton said.

Justice Gerald Kogan did most of the questioning of Margene Roper, an assistant attorney general who presented the state’s case.

Roper began by arguing that Spaziano had exhausted all his legal claims and was turning to Florida’s high court with issues that properly belonged before a trial court or the governor and Cabinet, sitting as the Clemency Board. 
Attorney: Spaziano shouldn’t die over procedural matters

Kogan asks how the justices, regardless of the procedural problems, could ignore the issue of Dilisio’s recantation. 

“Apparently there is an allegation out there- and a strong one that the prime witness against the defendant in this particular case has recanted his testimony,” Kogan said.

“Do we sit back and say ‘OK… It’s tough, Mr. Spaziano, we’re going to electrocute you because all these things should have been done before’?” Kogan asked. 

Roper replied the case should be seen by another court, disputed that Division had recanted his trial testimony in the FDLE interview and argued he hadn’t recanted his sworn testimony in pre-trial depositions. 

“It takes more than speculation after 20 years of litigation and fly-specking review by court upon court to stay an execution,” she said. 
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Hallifax, Jackie, “Court hears Spaziano's death appeal,” HIST298, accessed January 16, 2021, http://hist298.umwhistory.org/items/show/210.