New trial is delayed in decades-old Hernando murder case as defendant prepares for cancer treatment

Jury selection was to begin Monday in the case of Paul Hildwin, who spent 28 years on death row before his sentence was overturned in 2014.
Paul Hildwin sits in a courtroom during a 2014 pretrial hearing. Hildwin, who spent nearly 30 years in prison after being convicted of a 1985 murder in Hernando County, had his conviction overturned in 2014. Times (2014)
Paul Hildwin sits in a courtroom during a 2014 pretrial hearing. Hildwin, who spent nearly 30 years in prison after being convicted of a 1985 murder in Hernando County, had his conviction overturned in 2014. Times (2014)
Published April 1
Updated April 1

BROOKSVILLE — More than 33 years after he was arrested in the slaying of a Hernando County woman, and nearly five years after the Florida Supreme Court overturned his death sentence, Paul Hildwin will have to wait even longer for a new trial.

Jury selection in the case, in which the state is again seeking the death penalty, was slated to begin Monday morning. But late Friday, Judge Stephen Toner received word that Hildwin, 59, has been diagnosed with cancer. With Hildwin awaiting an oncologist's treatment recommendation, Toner said Monday he believed the best step was for the court to halt proceedings.

"I think it's probably prudent to cancel the trial," he said. "And I'm not even sure we're in a position to reschedule it."

Toner and attorneys on both sides agreed to do a status update on May 6, when they should have a clearer picture of Hildwin's condition and treatment schedule.

Hildwin has tonsil cancer, his attorney Lyann Goudie said, though it may have spread to other parts of his body. Hildwin underwent treatment for lymphoma while in prison, but Goudie said his new diagnosis is not a recurrence of that cancer.

"I think the court knows I'm ready to try this case," Goudie said. "Certainly, Mr. Hildwin has waited 34 years to get some semblance of a new trial. ... Some sort of treatment is going to be ordered. Based on that, we've unfortunately got to move this case."

In 1986, Hildwin was convicted of murder in the 1985 death of 42-year-old Vronzettie Cox, whose body was found stuffed in a car in remote Hernando County. In 2014, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the prosecution had relied on science now known to be faulty when it connected semen and sweat stains from the crime scene to him.

Last month, Hildwin's attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the murder indictment. Goudie argued his attorney in the 1986 trial was incompetent and that many of the witnesses are now dead or unavailable, making it impossible for him to get a fair trial. Toner has not yet ruled on that motion.

Contact Jack Evans at [email protected] Follow @JackHEvans.

Advertisement