LARGO — Richard M. Cooper, one of four men convicted in the execution-style slaying of three men in the High Point area of Largo in 1982, has been on Florida's death row since 1984.
On Thursday, a U.S. appeals court overturned Cooper's sentence, saying members of the jury that recommended the death sentence may have voted differently had they known the extent of the physical, emotional and psychological abuse Cooper suffered as a child.
Cooper was convicted in the June 18, 1982, slayings of Steven Fridella, Bobby Martindale and Gary Petersen in Fridella's home at 6351 143rd Ave. The victims were bound and shot at close range. Fridella's 8-year-old son Chris was locked in a bathroom but wasn't physically harmed during what became known as "the High Point murders."
Authorities said Cooper killed the men along with Jason D. Walton, Walton's brother Jeff McCoy, and Terry Van Royal during a robbery gone awry.
McCoy pleaded guilty and received a life sentence. Walton, Cooper and Van Royal were sentenced to death. Walton remains on death row. Van Royal's sentence was reversed in 1987 and he was given three life sentences after the Florida Supreme Court determined the judge in the case did not explain his decision to impose the death penalty, which went against the jury's recommendation of a life sentence.
Circuit judges with the U.S. Court of Appeals, 11th Circuit, said in their 68-page decision released Thursday they believed there was a "reasonable probability" that jurors may not have voted for death had they heard from Cooper's brother and sister.
In an earlier hearing, the siblings said their father beat Cooper with "boards, switches, belts, and horse whips." They also said they were never contacted by Cooper's attorneys and asked to testify on his behalf.
The appeals court ordered the case be sent back to district court for resentencing.