Monday, December 18, 2017
News Roundup

Pinellas murderer misses a chance for freedom

LARGO — Sudan Reeder Jessee prepared for the worst as she came to a Pinellas courtroom on Monday. She told herself the man who killed her sister in 1977 would probably go free.

It wasn't the first time she traveled from Maryland to Florida seeking to keep Raymond Lee Drake behind bars. And as it turned out, it won't be the last.

"Every time I come down here, it brings it all back," said Jessee, who was 19 when her sister was murdered, and is 54 now.

Her sister, Odette Reeder, had recently moved from Maryland to Clearwater, and loved being close to the beach. One night she met a man in a lounge. Six weeks later, her unclothed body was found in a field in the Oldsmar area, her arms tied behind her back with a bra, eight stab wounds in her torso.

Drake, a Navy veteran already on parole for rape, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. And though judges and juries found him guilty, the case took a convoluted path through the legal system, culminating in the hearing on Monday.

Drake was convicted of first-degree murder in 1978 for killing Reeder, 23. He was sentenced to death, but won a new trial on appeal after the Florida Supreme Court said evidence of similar crimes should not have been allowed in the trial.

Drake was convicted again of first-degree murder in 1982, and sentenced again to death. Once again, he won a new trial.

He was found guilty again after his third murder trial in 1984, but this time he was convicted of second-degree murder, which does not carry the death penalty. Afterward, Judge Jerry Parker said he still thought death was the best sentence. But with that option off the table, he sentenced Drake to 99 years in prison.

But sometimes in the court system, 99 years passes quickly. When he was sentenced, prisoners were regularly allowed to serve about one-third of their prison sentences because of prison crowding. Prisoners now are required to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences, but because Drake was sentenced before that law, the old rules apply.

So now, more than three decades later, Drake's prison sentence is over. Most prisoners would walk free. But because of Drake's history of sex offenses, he has been detained under the Jimmy Ryce act.

Under that law, certain sexual offenders can be detained even after finishing their criminal sentences. If they are found to have psychological abnormalities that make them likely to commit sex crimes again, they can be given mental health treatment and detained until they are no longer considered dangerous.

Expert psychologists argued on both sides Monday. For the state, Peter Bursten said he had given Drake the relatively rare diagnosis of "sexual sadist," and also called Drake a psychopath. Those aren't conditions you grow out of, so Drake should not be freed, Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett argued.

For the defense, Chris Robison said Drake is a sexual sadist by his history, but he did not diagnose him as a psychopath. He noted Drake's age, 62, and said men that age almost never re-offend. Attorney Jeanine Cohen also noted that Drake has arthritis and has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Pinellas Judge Dorothy Vaccaro sided with the state, finding Drake has an abnormal condition that might lead him to offend again. Drake, wearing jeans and a gray polo shirt over a long-sleeve white shirt, said nothing.

For Jessee, it was a feeling of immense relief. For now. Because as Drake receives treatment at the Florida Civil Commitment Center in Arcadia, there is a chance a doctor will conclude that he no longer suffers from the psychological abnormality that makes him dangerous. That would prompt another hearing.

But for now, she said she's grateful for "another year he won't hurt anybody else."

Times Staff Writer Curtis Krueger can be reached at [email protected] or(727) 893-8232.

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