DADE CITY — Derral Wayne Hodgkins' first-degree murder trial ended Monday in a mistrial after a state witness mentioned his previous time in prison.
"Mr. Hodgkins has the right to be tried only on the evidence of his guilt and not on his prior record," Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa said in granting a motion for a mistrial.
Attorneys quickly set a new trial date: April 4.
Hodgkins, 51, is accused of killing Teresa Lodge, a 46-year-old cook who lived in Land O'Lakes, in 2006. Authorities say he was at her apartment the night of Sept. 28, 2006, when they began fighting. Hodgkins beat and choked Lodge, who was 5 feet 1, 100 pounds, then stabbed her multiple times in the neck and chest, authorities said. She died on the floor of her bedroom, discovered a day later by a friend after she didn't show up for work.
Hodgkins was charged with the killing in 2007 when DNA tests tied him to scrapings taken from under Lodge's fingernails.
She worked at Frank's Cafe, across from her apartment on U.S. 41, where she cooked and cleaned dishes from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Lodge's former co-workers testified that she fried bacon, handled biscuit dough and frequently dipped her hands into hot water in the cafe's kitchen.
Prosecutors said there's no way the fragile DNA would have survived those tasks and remained under her nails, so it must have been left there during her murder as she fought and scratched at Hodgkins.
Monday morning, a man who shared a jail pod with Hodgkins in 2007 was called to testify for the state about what Hodgkins had told him about his case.
Robert Weeks said Hodgkins told him he wanted to be alone with Lodge and was upset when he went to her apartment once and found she had a friend over.
He also said Hodgkins was surprised that investigators found any of his DNA.
"Something about he took more precautions," Weeks, 52, said Hodgkins told him.
Then Assistant State Attorney Jim Hellickson asked if Hodgkins ever talked about having financial problems.
Weeks answered, "Yeah, he was having trouble. Just like anybody when you get out of prison."
Hodgkins was released from prison in 2004 after serving 17 years for raping a 12-year-old girl in 1987. Authorities said he went to the girl's home in Balm, in eastern Hillsborough County, looking for her mother. The mother wasn't there, but when the girl arrived home, he attacked.
Jurors hearing Hodgkins' murder case weren't allowed to know about his criminal history. Prosecutors argued to keep the trial going, and suggested the jury be given an instruction to disregard Weeks' statement.
But Siracusa said given what's at stake — the state is seeking the death penalty — the problem was insurmountable.
Molly Moorhead can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6245.