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Defendant again tied to killing

When Walter Daniel Czubak showed up at Dorothy Schultz's house early that October morning seven years ago, he was sweaty, smelled of liquor and had three red scratches on his neck, Schultz testified Thursday.

He sat down on her sofa and said, "Babe, you don't know what it's like to live with that old b----. We don't have to worry about her anymore," she said Thursday.

Schultz, a witness in Czubak's retrial in the 1985 killing of 81-year-old Thelma Peterson, testified that Czubak appeared at her door about 3 a.m. Oct. 21, 1985. He drove a car filled with items, including television sets, food, jewelry, coins and a mink stole with the initials "T. P." inside.

Schultz's testimony helped convict Czubak in 1988 on charges that he killed Peterson several months after moving into her Zephyrhills home. Peterson had a soft spot in her heart for down-and-outers, and invited Czubak to live with her when he told her he was a Korean War veteran. Her decomposed body was found on the sofa of her home more than 10 days after her murder.

But a slip in Schultz's testimony also gave Czubak a second chance at freedom: The Florida Supreme Court overturned his conviction in part because Schultz mentioned that Czubak was an escaped convict.

Schultz, who now walks with crutches and hears poorly even with a hearing aid, wept during her testimony and admitted she had been treated for a mental disorder and had been hospitalized for emotional problems at one time. But she got through her testimony Thursday without mentioning the fact that Czubak had escaped from prison, where he served time on an armed robbery charge.

The state's case did run into one hitch: Schultz's mother at one point pointed to an assistant state attorney when asked to identify Czubak in the courtroom.

Schultz and her mother said Czubak, whom they knew as "Danny Bax," stayed with Schultz for several weeks in late October 1985. He sold Schultz's mother a television set detectives say was from Peterson's home, and ordered Schultz to cut the initials out of a mink stole and store it in her refrigerator. Then one day, when the trio were planning a picnic, he suddenly asked to be taken to Tallahassee, where he boarded a train headed for Indiana, Schultz said.

He was arrested in Texas several months later.