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Cold-case murder trial ends with not guilty

TAMPA — DNA and 25 years of evidence couldn't convict Albert Leon Dooley of murder.

A six-person jury acquitted Dooley, 57, of second-degree murder Friday after two hours of deliberation in a cold case that DNA evidence resurrected in 2006.

The fundamental flaw of the state's case, Dooley's public defender said, was that the DNA evidence didn't reveal anything new. In fact, it may have muddled the prosecution's case.

Dooley, who spent 18 months in jail awaiting trial, shook his chained hands together and mouthed "thank you" to jurors.

Late Jan. 27, 1983, a 23-year-old prostitute named Donna M. Sheffield was found shot four times along a roadside. Earlier that night, witnesses saw Sheffield leaning into a white Ford Mustang with black stripes at a Robles Park public housing complex about the same time shots rang out. They took down the license plate, and another witness said he saw someone inside the car put a body inside and drive off.

Police traced the car to Dooley's mother. She told investigators that her son drove it, and investigators found blood that matched Sheffield's type inside.

But Dooley denied knowing Sheffield, and the case stalled.

When Tampa police's cold-case unit tested the blood a few years ago, they learned it was Sheffield's and charged Dooley in her death.

From the trial's start, prosecutor Kyle Pennington told jurors his key was proving that Dooley drove the Mustang that night.

He said Dooley's alibis were vague and his statements were inconsistent. "There really is no alibi in this case," he said.

Pennington didn't need to prove a motive to convict, but witnesses said Dooley did know Sheffield. Outside the courtroom, Sheffield's sister, Renee Brewster, said he may have been Sheffield's pimp. Sheffield and Dooley's sister were friends, she said.

Public defender Anna Frederiksen-Cherry argued that Dooley had no motive to kill Sheffield. She told jurors that DNA revealed nothing new. Police always suspected it was Sheffield's blood in the car.

"It's not that this was the smoking gun that broke the case open," she said.

But it may have helped cloud it. The DNA of two unknown males also was found under Sheffield's fingernails, something the prosecution tried to link to prostitution.

"That DNA under her fingernails very likely could be the real shooters," Frederiksen-Cherry said.

She also pointed out other inconsistencies. Dooley is about 5 feet 5 inches. The man who put Sheffield in the car was about five inches taller, according to a witness.

Hours after the shooting, several women were stopped in the Mustang, proving other people had access to it, she said.

Finally, Frederiksen-Cherry said, Sheffield's sister heard Sheffield's on-and-off boyfriend threaten her life out of jealousy just hours before she was shot. The man had pointed a gun at her before, and Sheffield was last seen alive with two black eyes.

"That alone should cause you to return a not-guilty verdict," the attorney told jurors.

Cold-case murder trial ends with not guilty 04/25/08 [Last modified: Sunday, April 27, 2008 8:56am]
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