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Gravedigger faces death sentence for the third time

Twice before, Hillsborough juries found Charlie Thompson guilty of murder and sentenced him to death for the 1986 killings of two co-workers. Both times, the convictions were thrown out by the Florida Supreme Court.

On Thursday, a third Hillsborough jury found the former gravedigger guilty of the murders. A hearing is scheduled today to determine whether he will receive another death sentence or life imprisonment.

Thompson, 42, was convicted of the 1986 killings of Nancy Walker and William Swack. Swack was a bookkeeper at Myrtle Hill Cemetery and Walker was his assistant. Thompson worked at the cemetery as a gravedigger and groundskeeper.

Prosecutors said the killings followed a dispute over disability pay demanded by Thompson. He forced Swack to write him a check for $1,500, then abducted and murdered Swack and Walker.

Thompson first was convicted in 1987. That decision was overturned, in part, because the Supreme Court ruled that black people were improperly excluded from his jury. Thompson's taped confession also played a role in the reversal.

After his arrest in 1986, Thompson admitted committing the murders. But at one point in the confession, he mentioned that he couldn't afford a lawyer. The Supreme Court ruled that jurors shouldn't have heard any of the confession that followed that statement.

In 1990, during Thompson's second trial, prosecutors used only the first part of the confession. Thompson was convicted again and again sentenced to death.

That conviction was reversed in January. The Supreme Court found that Thompson was read a Tampa Police Department form that listed a defendant's rights, but didn't specify that a lawyer would be appointed "without charge" for anyone who couldn't afford one. Because of the missing words, the court declared, none of Thompson's confession could be used against him.

He was convicted in the latest case without the confession. The case rested largely on physical evidence and the testimony of a jail-house informant.

In addition to the two first-degree murder charges, Thompson was found guilty on two counts of kidnapping.

_ PAUL HANSON

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