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Spaziano asks to be set free

Joseph "Crazy Joe" Spaziano, convicted of the torture-murder of an Orlando woman and the rape of another, asked Florida's Cabinet on Wednesday to set him free.

Spaziano's lawyer faxed a request for a clemency hearing to Gov. Lawton Chiles, arguing that a key witness in the 2-decades-old cases now doubts his own hypnosis-enhanced testimony.

The request comes the same week that Spaziano had been scheduled to die in the murder of 18-year-old hospital clerk Laura Harberts. Chiles stayed the execution two weeks ago after newspapers reported that Anthony Dilisio now doubts whether his testimony at the 1976 trial was true.

Chiles ordered the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate Dilisio's claims. What began as an interview with the Pensacola man has expanded into a full-scale investigation involving dozens of witnesses. A report is scheduled to be released next week, but sources said Chiles could be briefed as soon as Friday.

The challenge facing Chiles is which Diliso to believe _ the would-be biker who testified at age 18 that Spaziano showed him Harberts' mutilated body; or the 37-year-old lay minister with a history of substance abuse who says he can't remember the body and doubts Spaziano is a killer.

Dilisio also was an important witness tying Spaziano to the 1974 rape, for which the Outlaws motorcycle club member is serving a life sentence. Dilisio testified in a 1975 trial that Spaziano bragged about raping the 16-year-old Orange County girl, slashing her neck and eyes, choking her and leaving her for dead in woods.

Michael Mello, who represents Spaziano, said Wednesday that the Cabinet should free Spaziano because Dilisio was the strongest element in the two cases.

A spokeswoman in the governor's general counsel office said there would be no comment until the hearing request is reviewed. FDLE investigators and Chiles advisers have said previously, however, that Dilisio stopped short of recanting when questioned by investigators recently.

Spaziano last requested clemency in March, but officials refused to grant a hearing. In preparing that request, Spaziano's state-appointed attorneys interviewed Dilisio, but he told them he could shed no new light on the case.

Four months later, Dilisio said the hypnosis police used to coax memories from him was "witchcraft that poisoned a young, impressionable teenager's mind."

Mello also hopes to raise problems with the rape case.

Prosecutors had little physical evidence, such as the knife or sperm. Their case relied heavily on Dilisio and the victim.