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Florida Supreme Court rules for millionaire in slaying

Published Sep. 9, 2005

(ran ET edition of Tampa & State)

Alan Mackerley was convicted of murder in 1998, but the Florida Supreme Court has overturned his conviction.

A millionaire sentenced to life in prison for the murder of a New Jersey business rival won a reversal Thursday from the Florida Supreme Court.

In an unsigned 5-2 decision, the court overturned Alan Mackerley's conviction in the February 1996 murder of Frank Black, an Andover, N.J., man whose body was never found.

Mackerley was convicted of luring Black to Florida, shooting him and dumping his body into the Atlantic Ocean.

A year ago, Mackerley won a partial victory when the 4th District Court of Appeal overturned his kidnapping conviction but upheld the murder conviction. That decision was key in Thursday's ruling.

At Mackerley's 1998 trial, prosecutors told jurors they had a choice: They could convict him of murdering Black as part of a deliberate plan, or they could convict him of killing Black as part of another crime, such as kidnapping.

But because the kidnapping conviction was later vacated, the Supreme Court ruled, Mackerley's murder conviction also must be reversed _ even if there is evidence he planned the murder.

At Mackerley's trial, a friend testified that Mackerley confessed to shooting Black in the head and dumping the gun and the body at sea.

Two years ago, Mackerley's girlfriend broke a three-year silence and said she agreed to lure Black to Florida to meet with Mackerley because Mackerley wanted to buy Black's school bus business.

Lisa Costello said she drove Black from the West Palm Beach airport to Mackerley's Stuart home, then went upstairs.

When she came back down, Black, 58, was dead in the foyer, she said.

Mackerley was the only other person in the house, Costello said.

She provided that testimony in a deal with the state that included a no-contest plea to third-degree murder. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Thursday's opinion was supported by Justices Leander Shaw, Major Harding, Harry Lee Anstead, Barbara Pariente and R. Fred Lewis. Chief Justice Charles Wells and Justice Peggy Quince dissented.

Celia Terenzio, an assistant attorney general in West Palm Beach, said her office will ask the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision.

Failing that, Fort Pierce prosecutor Lawrence Mirman said the state will retry Mackerley for Black's murder.

When Black and Mackerley met four decades ago, it was on a school bus. Black was behind the wheel, and Mackerley was a high school student eager to learn the bus business.

They became friends, but their relationship deteriorated as the men challenged each other for lucrative contracts in New Jersey school districts.

Over four decades of competition, they became bitter rivals.

When Black flew to West Palm Beach on Feb. 24, 1996, he told his daughters he was going to meet with a woman who'd called him several times with an enticing deal to sell 60 vans to Chile.