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Retrial begins in 1985 killing

A retrial began Wednesday for Walter Daniel Czubak, accused of the 1985 strangulation of an 81-year-old Zephyrhills woman he lived with briefly.

Czubak, now 45, was convicted of first-degree murder and was sentenced to death in 1988. But the Florida Supreme Court overturned the conviction in November 1990, ruling that certain testimony given by the prosecution's key witness, Dorothy Schultz, was inadmissible.

The Supreme Court also ruled that photographs showing Thelma Peterson's body should not have been admitted into evidence as they were "inflammatory" and of "extremely limited value" to the prosecution's case.

Defense attorney Robert Doyel said in his opening statement he intends to discredit Schultz's testimony. Czubak took Peterson's belongings to Schultz's home.

"We intend to call a psychiatrist who was treating her at that time," Doyel told the jury. "She will describe (Schultz as having) histrionic, or hysterical, personality disorder. A person suffering from that exaggerates things."

It was Schultz's testimony in the 1988 trial that was both the key to convicting Czubak and to the conviction being overturned.

Schultz testified then that Czubak had told her, "You don't know what it's like to live in hell with that old b----. But you don't have to worry about it anymore." Assistant State Attorney Phil Van Allen repeated that testimony to the jury Wednesday.

But Schultz's unsolicited revelation that Czubak was an escaped convict eventually caused the original verdict to be overturned. Czubak escaped from a minimum-security prison following a 1981 armed robbery conviction, an issue the Supreme Court considered immaterial to the murder case.