Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Judge refuses to grant new trials for men convicted in notorious 1993 racial attack

TAMPA — A judge refused Wednesday to set aside life sentences handed down in 1993 to two of Hillsborough County's most notorious criminals.

Mark Kohut and Charles Rourk received the maximum punishment for attempted first-degree murder after being found guilty of lighting a black man on fire in a racially charged attack.

They argued in July for a new trial, their latest bid at relief in a case that has been litigated extensively in state and federal courts.

Calling the crime "particularly heinous" and an "atrocious act," Circuit Judge Michelle Sisco wrote that the legal journey should now end.

"Approaching the 18-year anniversary of this offense," she said, "it is time for finality."

But attorneys for the men indicated Wednesday they will appeal the judge's rulings.

Sisco found that the men were unable to establish "a manifest injustice" that warranted vacating their convictions.

"These defendants have not been wronged," she said. "They do not reside unjustly in prison for life; this is an absolute certainty."

Kohut, 44, and Rourk, 50, contend they were jailed for a nonexistent crime. The Florida Supreme Court struck down the charge of attempted first-degree felony murder in a 1995 decision rendered a few days before an appeals court affirmed the men's convictions.

At the time, their appellate attorneys and the appellate court did not realize the decision applied to their cases. The Legislature reinstated the charge the following year.

Kohut eventually noticed the oversight. He said he didn't seek relief on that basis sooner because he didn't have access to Florida case law in the New Mexico prisons where he and Rourk were sent for their safety.

Though Sisco agreed the 1995 court decision was applicable, she said it wasn't enough.

Prosecutors also argued attempted premeditated murder at the men's trials. Sisco found there was overwhelming evidence for the men to be convicted under that theory.

Kohut and Rourk never challenged whether the crime of attempted premeditated murder was committed but contended only that they were not the ones who did it, the judge said.

Both inmates have failed on multiple occasions to convince the courts that they were wrongly accused of kidnapping Christopher Wilson, a New York tourist, at gunpoint from a Valrico shopping center and dousing him with gasoline in a field.

Wilson suffered burns on nearly 40 percent of his body as his attackers laughed and yelled racial slurs.

"This is a textbook example of attempted premeditated murder that any reasonable person could comprehend if asked to contemplate such a gruesome topic," Sisco wrote.

"Once the identity of the defendants was established by this jury beyond a reasonable doubt, their conviction for the crime of attempted premeditated murder was a foregone, and a just and true, conclusion."

In a separate ruling, the judge found no merit in Kohut and Rourk's contention that the FBI agent who conducted the hair and fiber analyses in their case did incomplete work or failed to adhere to crime lab standards.

Sisco noted that the defendants both relied throughout the trial on the FBI's findings, which turned up no physical evidence linking either of them to the crime scene.

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at or (813) 226-3337.

Judge refuses to grant new trials for men convicted in notorious 1993 racial attack 11/17/10 [Last modified: Thursday, November 18, 2010 12:08am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Trump sprinkles political attacks into Scout Jamboree speech

    GLEN JEAN, W.Va. — Ahead of President Donald Trump's appearance Monday at the National Scout Jamboree in West Virginia, the troops were offered some advice on the gathering's official blog: Fully hydrate. Be "courteous" and "kind." And avoid the kind of divisive chants heard during the 2016 campaign such as "build …

    President Donald Trump addresses the Boy Scouts of America's 2017 National Scout Jamboree at the Summit Bechtel National Scout Reserve in Glen Jean, W.Va., July 24, 2017. [New York Times]
  2. Trump, seething about attorney general, speculates about firing Sessions, sources say

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has spoken with advisers about firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as he continues to rage against Sessions' decision to recuse himself from all matters related to the Russia investigation.

  3. John McCain to return to Senate for health care vote

    WASHINGTON — The Senate plans to vote Tuesday to try to advance a sweeping rewrite of the nation's health-care laws with the last-minute arrival of Sen. John McCain — but tough talk from President Donald Trump won no new public support from skeptical GOP senators for the flagging effort that all but …

  4. Last orca calf born in captivity at a SeaWorld park dies


    ORLANDO — The last killer whale born in captivity under SeaWorld's former orca-breeding program died Monday at the company's San Antonio, Texas, park, SeaWorld said.

    Thet orca Takara helps guide her newborn, Kyara, to the water's surface at SeaWorld San Antonio in San Antonio, Texas, in April. Kyara was the final killer whale born under SeaWorld's former orca-breeding program. The Orlando-based company says 3-month-old Kyara died Monday. [Chris Gotshall/SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment via AP]
  5. Blake Snell steps up, but Rays lose to Orioles anyway (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Blake Snell stepped up when he had to Monday and delivered an impressive career-high seven-plus innings for the Rays. That it wasn't enough in what ended up a 5-0 loss to the Orioles that was their season-high fifth straight is symptomatic of the mess they are in right now.

    Tim Beckham stands hands on hips after being doubled off first.