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Oba Chandler's last appeal rejected by Pinellas judge; next stop is Florida Supreme Court

LARGO — A Pinellas-Pasco circuit judge on Monday rejected convicted killer Oba Chandler's final appeal of his death sentence.

Chandler is still scheduled to be executed on Nov. 15 for the murders 22 years ago of Joan "Jo" Rogers, 36, and her daughters, Michelle, 17, and Christe, 14.

Chandler's defense team will now take the case to the Florida Supreme Court, which has already upheld his death sentence in 1997 and 2003.

"We know it's a bleak situation," said defense attorney Baya Harrison III. "But we can't give up. We just have to press on."

Harrison argued his client's case on Friday. But he had already anticipated losing at the trial judge level, so on Saturday he mailed all the necessary documents for his appeal.

The state's highest court has set a tight schedule for this final appeal. The defense must file its arguments with the Florida Supreme Court by Nov. 1. Then the Florida Attorney General's Office has a few days to respond. Oral arguments are set to take place in Tallahassee at 9 a.m. on Nov. 9.

If Chandler's appeal is rejected, he then has to ask the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta for permission to file a federal appeal. If it's granted, arguments will be heard in the Middle District of Florida in Tampa.

Rogers and her daughters were visiting Florida from their Ohio farm when they encountered Chandler in 1989.

He lured them onto his boat, took them out into Tampa Bay, then bound them, likely sexually assaulted them, weighed them down and threw them into the water.

Chandler was convicted of their murders and sentenced to death in 1994. He has since exhausted all other state and federal court appeals. Gov. Rick Scott signed Chandler's death warrant on Oct. 10.

Harrison appealed the death sentence on the grounds that Chandler's constitutional rights were violated because some of the findings made by a judge in sentencing him to death should have been made by a jury instead. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in the past that juries, not judges, should have the power to sentence defendants to death.

Harrison cited federal case law in his appeal, including U.S. Supreme Court cases and a recent decision by a federal judge in Miami declaring Florida's death penalty statute unconstitutional.

The defense argued that Chandler should get a new penalty phase, that a new jury should decide whether he should be put to death or instead receive a life sentence.

But Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Phillip Federico ruled that those federal cases were decided after Chandler's conviction, and do not apply retroactively. He also noted that the Florida Supreme Court has in the past ruled that those federal cases do not invalidate the state's death penalty statute.

Oba Chandler's last appeal rejected by Pinellas judge; next stop is Florida Supreme Court 10/24/11 [Last modified: Monday, October 24, 2011 10:39pm]
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