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New trial in old murder seeks to change death sentence to life in prison

DADE CITY — It has been more than two decades since 62-year-old Marlene Reaves was found murdered in her bed, her face smothered under a pillow.

Gregory Keith Capehart, who was 20 years old at the time of the 1988 murder, was convicted and sentenced to death. His fingerprint was discovered on a window screen removed from Reaves' bedroom.

But legal twists and turns kept the case alive. Capehart's trial attorney, A.J. Ivie, suffered a stroke in 2003 and was unable to recall the details of his past cases. So when Capehart got a new attorney to ask for another trial based on mistakes he said Ivie made, Ivie couldn't contradict him.

Prosecutors agreed to retry only the sentencing portion of Capehart's case. That got under way Tuesday.

A new jury was picked to recommend if Capehart, now 43, should get life in prison or the death penalty. The final decision lies with Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa.

Most of the detectives and forensics investigators on the case have retired or moved on. But they came back to court Tuesday to recall the details of Feb. 4, 1988.

A former sheriff's deputy said he was checking the neighborhood near Reaves' apartment in Citrus Villas in Dade City. He noticed a window screen leaning against the outside of the building and the curtain flapping in the breeze. When he peered inside he saw her naked body on the bed. Authorities later determined she had been sexually assaulted.

A forensic investigator's video showed Reaves' home ransacked. Her purse on the floor. Dresser drawers turned over and dumped.

And one by one, Assistant State Attorney Stacey Sumner introduced the main pieces of evidence from the crime: the nightgown Reaves wore when she died, the pillow that covered her face and the screen through which the killer escaped.

Danny Hernandez, who is representing Capehart, told jurors he will present mitigating factors about Capehart that weigh in favor of a life sentence.

His mother was an alcoholic even when she was pregnant with Capehart. He was born into an unstable, violent home. Once, when his parents were fighting, Capehart's father threw him into the street, Hernandez said. Capehart was still an infant.

And he's borderline mentally retarded, Hernandez said.

"All first-degree murders do not … warrant the death penalty," Hernandez told jurors. "The facts are not so extreme or unusual or especially heinous, atrocious or cruel that would warrant the death penalty."

The case continues today.

Molly Moorhead can be reached at moorhead@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6245.

New trial in old murder seeks to change death sentence to life in prison 02/22/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 22, 2011 8:37pm]
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