TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Supreme Court has ordered a new trial for a man sentenced to death for a 1996 fatal stabbing in Pasco County.
The court unanimously upheld a lower court's 2010 decision Thursday to grant a retrial to 51-year-old Michael Peter Fitzpatrick. Justices found that Fitzpatrick had ineffective help from his trial attorney, who should have consulted with experts on the DNA and other forensic evidence used against him.
Fitzpatrick had been accused of raping and killing 28-year-old Laura Romines. She was found naked with a slit throat on the side of a rural Land O'Lakes road in August 1996. She died two weeks later.
When she was found, with her last gasps, she said a man named Steve had attacked her, witnesses testified at trial. Prosecutors said DNA found on Romines was matched to Fitzpatrick.
A jury voted 10-2 to recommend a death sentence.
When Circuit Judge Maynard Swanson sentenced Fitzpatrick to death he compared him to a "sadistic torturer of old."
Fitzpatrick acknowledged that he had sex with Romines, but said it was consensual. He has maintained his innocence.
"I did not kill or cause any harm to Laura Romines," Fitzpatrick said in a hearing in 2001.