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Photos may lead to a new murder trial

Fred Lewis Way, convicted of killing his wife and daughter with a hammer and then lighting them on fire, won a new lease on life last year when the Florida Supreme Court overturned his death sentence. Now, using photographs from the original murder investigation, defense attorneys hope to win him a new trial.

Way, 38, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death in 1984 for beating and burning his wife and teen-age daughter in the garage of their Town 'N Country home.

That death sentence was overturned when the Supreme Court said jurors had received improper instructions about the death penalty. The conviction was upheld, and the case was returned to Tampa for a new jury to decide Way's punishment.

But Tuesday, questions were raised about the case. Assistant Public Defender Craig Alldredge said a series of photographs of the burned garage that were not displayed at the trial show a propane tank and an electrical breaker box with several tripped breakers, both potential sources of fire.

Although he called his investigation preliminary, Alldredge said the women's head injuries could have been the result of an explosion.

"What we've got here is a reasonable hypothesis of innocence no one has heard before," he said.

Assistant State Attorney Michael Benito, who prosecuted the original case, said Way got a fair trial. Arson experts testified that the fire was intentionally set and not electrical in nature. Medical examiners said the wounds were consistent with hammer blows, he said.

"This is just another example of the endless litigation in death penalty cases," he said.

Circuit Judge Richard Lazzara will decide today whether he will grant Way a hearing on the photos. The hearing could determine if there is enough evidence to warrant a new trial.