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Spaziano to take case to governor instead of courts

Rather than prolong their client's stay on death row with legal appeals, the attorneys for Joseph "Crazy Joe" Spaziano want him declared innocent and pardoned by the governor.

"We have made the decision that after 20 years of being in the courts, Mr. Spaziano's best chance of justice lies with the governor," said Pat Doherty, one of Spaziano's attorneys.

Doherty and Spaziano's other attorney, Mike Mello, sent a letter to Gov. Lawton Chiles this week informing him of their decision to file a petition for clemency. In the petition, they will ask Chiles to pardon Spaziano, Doherty said.

Spaziano was scheduled to die June 27 for the 1973 murder of Orlando nurse Laura Lynn Harberts. But Tony Dilisio, a key witness against Spaziano, told Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents that he was manipulated by investigators and his testimony was false. On June 15, Chiles called off the execution indefinitely.

Dilisio has said he will sign the clemency petition, Doherty said.

Chiles spokesman Ron Sachs said he did not know if the letter had been received. If it had, it would be sent to the governor's lawyers for review.

Sachs described clemency as an act of mercy "approved sparingly, if at all, in capital cases."

Normally, with a stay of execution, the attorneys would be scrambling to appeal the case. Doherty said he and Mello feel it would take a long time to prepare a new case to go before the court. At any time, Spaziano's execution could be rescheduled, and the case might not be ready.

Many of the witnesses necessary to a new case are out of the country and it would take months, even years before a hearing could be set, Doherty said.

"The problem is the courts have had 20 years to set aside this case and they have chosen not to do so," Doherty said.

Besides, Doherty said, at this stage, the courts would be reviewing the case for technical violations in earlier trials. The merits of the case itself would not be discussed, and so the courts cannot give Spaziano what his lawyers say he deserves, vindication.

"We want him to walk," Doherty said. "He never committed this crime."

The attorneys realize the strategy is risky. Chiles has granted stays of executions in the past, only to re-sign the death order later.