TALLAHASSEE — A three-judge panel that reversed a first-degree murder conviction on Tuesday asked state Supreme Court justices to take another look at non-premeditated killings that result from a single act of child abuse.
The case exposed more internal bickering within the 1st District Court of Appeal. The court also rejected a request that all 15 of its members rehear the case. That 9-5 ruling included a written dissent from a district judge who was not a panelist. A strongly worded opinion argued public comments shouldn't be allowed from judges who didn't sit on a case's panel.
The panel's 2-1 opinion, which cited a 2005 Florida Supreme Court ruling, reversed Robert Sturdivant's aggravated child abuse conviction and his sentence of life in prison without parole, the only penalty possible other than death. The majority, instead, ordered that Sturdivant be judged guilty of second-degree murder and resentenced. He could face up to life in prison but with the possibility of parole.
Sturdivant, 28, was convicted of killing his girlfriend's 2-year-old son in Springfield, a Panama City suburb, in 2007. Sturdivant told police he slapped the victim in the back of the head, which caused the boy to fall and hit his head on a concrete wall. He was charged with committing felony murder, which allows for a first-degree conviction without premeditation if the death results from another underlying criminal act.
District Judges Peter Webster and Philip Padovano ruled Sturdivant couldn't be guilty of felony murder because the slap cannot be the direct cause of death as well as the underlying crime. It has be one or the other under the Supreme Court's 4-3 decision in the case of Lamar Brooks.