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State Supreme Court orders new trial in Tampa rape and beating

Raymond Marston, 55, will return to Tampa for a new trial.

Raymond Marston, 55, will return to Tampa for a new trial.

TAMPA — Convicted of the brutal beating and rape of a 21-year-old Tampa woman, Raymond Marston did everything he could to avoid justice — including faking a heart attack to escape from jail for four days.

But it was the questionable behavior of a high-ranking Hillsborough County prosecutor that has given him a new shot at freedom, more than four years after he was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison.

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday reversed Marston's convictions of sexual battery, aggravated battery, kidnapping and robbery, ruling that Assistant State Attorney Rita Peters made "improper" remarks about him at trial that might have prejudiced his jury.

The decision means that a notoriously violent and resourceful criminal will be coming home to Tampa for a new trial, and a second shot at an acquittal.

"We're going to retry him," said Mark Cox, the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office spokesman. "We had a good case then, and we still have a good case now."

Cox said Marston, now 55 and at the Dade Correctional Institution south of Miami, will not be released in the interval between the Supreme Court decision and his renewed prosecution. No date has been set for Marston's arraignment.

Marston was accused in 2008 of approaching his victim from behind on Sheldon Road, punching her in the head, dragging her onto a bridge embankment and raping her.

Several months after his arrest, he slipped away from Hillsborough jail deputies after faking a heart attack, shimmying up a drain pipe and running across a roof at the Falkenburg Road Jail, stepping across a line of razor wire and running off through a construction site. He was caught four days later in Town 'N Country.

When a 2010 jury trial ended with a guilty verdict, Circuit Judge Chet Tharpe sentenced Marston to four life sentences.

The Supreme Court ruling is devastating for the victim, who does not look forward to sitting in a courtroom with him again to testify, her father said.

"This is outrageous," said the man, whose name the Tampa Bay Times is withholding to protect the identity of his daughter, who remains in the bay area. "She went through hell to get her life back together, and try to be normal again."

He said he was frustrated with both the state Supreme Court and the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office. "I'm very angry that we're going to rehash this and open up old wounds based on a side comment that shouldn't have been made," he said.

At issue in the case were statements Peters, chief of the sex crimes division of the State Attorney's Office, made during jury selection about Marston's constitutional right not to testify.

Among other comments, Peters said Marston could "sit there and not say a word" at his trial, "read magazines," "play on Facebook all day long" and "sit there and play dominoes the whole time."

While her apparent point was to drive home the sanctity of Marston's right to remain silent, the Supreme Court found that the remarks amounted to a subtle mockery of that right.

"We find that the extensive remarks iterated by the prosecutor were improper and demeaned Marston's constitutional right to remain silent," Justice Peggy Quince wrote for the majority in a 4-3 decision.

Quince favorably cited an unrelated opinion from the 4th District Court of Appeal that stated courts should "vigilantly protect the right to remain silent against devaluation by innuendo or faint praise."

The ruling reversed an earlier decision by the 2nd District Court of Appeal, which has jurisdiction over Hillsborough. That appeals court had also found that Peters' remarks were "improper" but decided they did not affect the outcome of the case.

Cox declined to comment on the criticisms of Peters' remarks.

The Supreme Court noted that the evidence against Marston was "strong," although not airtight. While his DNA was discovered on part of her body, she never saw his face during the attack, according to the court's opinion.

Peter Jamison can be reached at pjamison@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3337. Follow him on Twitter @petejamison.

State Supreme Court orders new trial in Tampa rape and beating 03/28/14 [Last modified: Saturday, March 29, 2014 12:01am]
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