Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Judge denies death row inmate Paul Hildwin's claim of ineffective counsel

BROOKSVILLE — A Hernando County judge's ruling denying a death row inmate's latest appeal moves the notorious 24-year-old case closer to conclusion. But just barely.

Circuit Judge Richard Tombrink denied Paul Hildwin's claims of ineffective counsel on July 9.

Hildwin, now 49 and suffering from cancer, was convicted of murder in 1986. He argued that his attorneys at his 1996 sentencing hearing, Richard Howard and William "Bud" Hallman — now both Circuit Court judges — failed to fully investigate and present mitigating circumstances that might have spared him from the death penalty.

He filed the appeal in January 2001, but it went unheard until Tombrink held a hearing in January 2009. Prosecutors considered the ineffective counsel issue one of the final remaining obstacles to a death warrant.

In his seven-page ruling, Tombrink found that the alleged mistakes did not show that "counsel provided a deficient performance and second, that the deficient performance prejudiced the defendant," the two necessary tests Hildwin needed to prove.

The judge similarly dismissed another issue about Hildwin's attorneys failing to object to a statement in the prosecutor's closing argument.

The decision did not deter Hildwin's appellate attorney, capital public defender Mark Gruber, who appealed Tombrink's decision to the Florida Supreme Court last week.

The state's top court has previously rejected at least eight Hildwin appeals.

But Gruber, in an interview Wednesday, said an additional appeal in federal court is also pending. "I take issue with the idea that this case is almost done," he said.

Hildwin's case dates to September 1985, when two men discovered Vronzettie Cox's partly nude body stuffed inside her car's trunk.

Prosecutors told jurors that, four days earlier, Cox had stopped on U.S. 19 to offer Hildwin a ride after the stranger's car ran out of gas. Cox, 42, and Hildwin, then 25, drove toward his home off Knuckey Road in northwest Hernando County.

He raped her and strangled her with a gray T-shirt in a pine forest, prosecutors said.

Authorities starting looking at Hildwin as a suspect after he forged a $75 check from Cox's account the day of her death. Investigators also found Cox's portable radio and pearl ring in Hildwin's bedroom.

From the start, Hildwin maintained his innocence. He pointed the finger at Cox's boyfriend, but authorities dismissed the theory.

The Florida Supreme Court upheld Hildwin's 1986 conviction but ordered a new sentencing hearing, saying his defense attorney was ineffective.

In the second sentencing hearing in 1996, the jury spent five hours before deciding 8-4 in favor of the death penalty. Tombrink later agreed, telling Hildwin, "Death is the appropriate, lawful sentence. ... May God have mercy on your soul."

John Frank can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 754-6114.

Judge denies death row inmate Paul Hildwin's claim of ineffective counsel 07/30/09 [Last modified: Thursday, July 30, 2009 7:21pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Some teachers allege 'hostile and racially charged' workplace at Pinellas Park Middle

    K12

    PINELLAS PARK — Two black teachers at Pinellas Park Middle have requested transfers out of the school, alleging the work environment there has become "hostile and racially charged."

    Pinellas Park Middle School at 6940 70th Ave N, where some black teachers have alleged they were treated with hostility by colleagues after starting a tutoring program for black students. Just 22 percent of black students were proficient in English language arts in last spring's state tests. Two black teachers have asked to be transfered, according to a letter from two local chapters of the NAACP. [CHERIE DIEZ   |   Times]

  2. Editorial: The unknown price tags in the mayor's race

    Editorials

    St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has been busy promoting all sorts initiatives in the months leading up to the Nov. 7 election, doubling down on his progressive agenda without spending much money or generating much controversy. But make no mistake, the cost will come due after the election. Without a change in …

    The mayor is determined to get artist Janet Echelman to create a sculpture for the new Pier. But the cost would be much higher than what is allocated. Above is Echelman’s As If It Were Already Here in Boston.
  3. Massachusetts firm buys Tampa's Element apartment tower

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — Downtown Tampa's Element apartment tower sold this week to a Massachusetts-based real estate investment company that plans to upgrade the skyscraper's amenities and operate it long-term as a rental community.

    The Element apartment high-rise at 808 N Franklin St. in downtown Tampa has been sold to a Northland Investment Corp., a Massachusetts-based real estate investment company. JIM DAMASKE  |  Times
  4. Judge won't cut prison term of man who pleads obesity

    Criminal

    TAMPA — A claim of obesity won't shave time off a Tampa man's prison sentence.

    Duane Crithfield and Stephen Donaldson Sr. were sentenced to prison after marketing a fraudulent offshore tax strategy known as a "Business Protection Plan" to medical practices, offering doctors and others coverage against unlikely events such as a kidnapping.
  5. Advocates for charter, public schools argue their cases at education forum

    K12

    TAMPA — Advocates of charter schools argued for diversity in education while supporters of traditional public schools charged that state funding is stacked against them during a forum Friday titled "Choices in Education."

    Schools such as Winthrop Charter School deserve greater public support, their operators say, because they offer a choice in education that is popular among parents. Public school advocates say charter and voucher schools represent a double standard in accountability and enrollment. [WILL VRAGOVIC  |  Times]