BROOKSVILLE — In a move that surprised his own lawyer, a man who spent 28 years on death row has refused to wait any longer than necessary for the start of his retrial.
Paul Hildwin, 54, whose first-degree murder conviction and death sentence for a 1985 Hernando County murder was overturned in June, had been expected to waive his right to a speedy trial when he appeared before Circuit Judge Stephen E. Toner on Thursday.
That's what his lawyer, Junior Barrett, told the judge he thought would happen, based on earlier conversations with his client. That is also the plan that Barrett had relayed to prosecutor Ric Ridgway earlier this week, Ridgway said.
Instead, Hildwin refused to waive his right and the trial is still scheduled for Sept. 29, leaving Barrett about five weeks to sift through more than 20 boxes of documents.
"With (nearly) 30 years of evidence in this case, the file is rather large," Ridgway said.
Hildwin was sentenced to death in 1986 for the killing of 42-year-old Vronzettie Cox, who he testified had picked him up while he was hitchhiking.
At the time, scientific analysis indicated that Hildwin was part of a relatively small percentage of the population that could have produced the semen found on a pair of women's underwear at the crime scene. That analysis also showed that the semen could not belong to William Haverty, Cox's boyfriend and a potential suspect.
The Florida Supreme Court ruling in June to overturn the conviction and sentence came after DNA testing revealed that the samples actually belonged to Haverty.
This decision was based not only on the new DNA evidence, according to the court's opinion, but on evidence that was not admitted at Hildwin's original trial.
This included a note from Haverty that showed he had been arguing with Cox, and an interview with Cox's nephew, who said he had talked to her at length on the night of Sept. 9, 1985 — several hours after prosecutors said she had been killed.
State law says that in such cases a new trial must be set within 90 days from the time that the case is referred back to the circuit court; to comply, Toner had earlier set the September trial date.
After Thursday's court appearance, Barrett would not say whether he will try to convince his client to reconsider and allow the trial to be postponed.
Ridgway said that, even if that does not happen, his office will be ready.
"If (Hildwin) wants a trial on the 29th, we'll be there to give him one."
Contact Dan DeWitt at [email protected], or (352) 754-6116.