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Man accused in 2006 slaying will face death penalty

DADE CITY — Derral Wayne Hodgkins' criminal past could come back to haunt him — on death row.

That's one of the reasons Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe decided that Hodgkins should face the death penalty for the 2006 slaying of a Land O'Lakes woman.

"Some people just have an insatiable desire to hurt people," said Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett, "and the only way to change that is to put them in a prison and leave them there.

"Or, in a very few instances, take steps to go even further than that."

Teresa Lodge, 46, was found stabbed and strangled in her apartment on Sept. 28, 2006. Authorities say it took more than a year for DNA evidence — in this case, bits of flesh found under Lodge's fingernails — to link Hodgkins, 48, to her death.

A grand jury indicted him for first-degree murder on March 7. The state filed its death notice on March 26, two days after Hodgkins pleaded not guilty.

His defense attorney, Bjorn Brunvand, declined to comment on Thursday.

Hodgkins' DNA was on file because of his criminal history. Authorities say that when Hodgkins killed Lodge he was serving a life sentence of probation for the 1987 kidnapping and rape of a 12-year-old girl.

He had served 17 years in prison for that crime and had been out for five years when Lodge was slain.

If a jury convicts Hodgkins of first-degree murder, it will consider whether to recommend a death sentence for him. At that point, it would hear about both crimes.

In Florida, juries recommend whether a defendant should be put to death, but state law leaves the final sentence to judges to impose.

When a defendant is convicted of first-degree murder at trial, then a penalty phase is convened. The state gets to present the same jury with a list of aggravating factors to sway it to vote for the death penalty. The defense team can present mitigating factors, or reasons to spare the defendant's life.

"In this case, Mr. McCabe looked over the aggravating factors and felt that it was important to move forward and let the jury decide whether the death penalty should be imposed," said Bartlett.

Two aggravating factors a jury might consider are Hodgkins' prior criminal record and that he was on probation when Lodge was slain.

"He's out of prison for a very short time for a horribly violent offense and he reoffends," Bartlett said, "and I think for the most part juries don't particularly like that kind of thing."

Then there's the nature of Lodge's death.

"She had blunt trauma, she was stabbed multiple times, there were multiple injuries," Bartlett said. "There were definitely signs that she fought with her attacker and attempted to stay alive."

Jamal Thalji can be reached at thalji@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6236.

Man accused in 2006 slaying will face death penalty 04/03/08 [Last modified: Monday, April 7, 2008 3:36pm]
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