TAMPA — A federal judge on Wednesday granted a stay of execution for 73-year-old death row inmate James Dailey, who was set to be executed on Nov. 7 for a 1985 Pinellas County murder.
U.S. District Judge William Jung imposed the stay until Dec. 30 to give Dailey’s newly appointed federal attorneys more time to research and present their case.
Prosecutors can appeal the decision. A spokeswoman for Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said her office was evaluating how to respond.
Dailey’s legal team has argued in state court that new evidence suggests he is innocent of the 1985 murder of 14-year-old Shelly Boggio. They have said that his co-defendant, Jack Pearcy, is solely responsible for the crime. Pearcy, now 64, is serving a life sentence.
Boggio’s body was found one morning in May 1985 in the Intracoastal Waterway in Indian Rocks Beach. The Kenneth City girl was beaten, choked, stabbed 31 times and held underwater until she drowned. She had 18 defensive wounds on her hands, suggesting she fought for her life.
Witnesses said she had been with Pearcy, Dailey and another man the previous night. When questioned, Pearcy implicated Dailey.
But no physical evidence or eyewitness testimony linked Dailey to the crime. His conviction relied heavily on the testimony of three jailhouse informants, who claimed they heard him make incriminating statements.
In 2017, Pearcy signed an affidavit saying he alone was responsible for the murder. But when he was called the testify in court, he said certain statements in the affidavit were not true and invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Dailey has been on Florida’s death row since 1987.
Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Dailey’s death warrant in September. Shortly thereafter, the lawyers who handled Dailey’s state-level appeals withdrew from representing him in federal court, citing legal conflicts of interest.
A judge appointed a unit of the federal public defender’s office. That office rapidly reviewed Dailey’s case, but said the imminent execution date did not give them enough time to properly pursue his claims. They asked for a stay until Dec. 15.
Prosecutors opposed the request, noting that Dailey has already had a full round of federal appeals.
In his Wednesday order, Jung cited a federal law that allows for a 90-day stay of execution under such circumstances. He imposed the stay until Dec. 30. The judge wrote that “it is in the interests of a just and fair system” to give the lawyers more time to research and present their claims.
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The execution could still happen as scheduled — 6 p.m. at Florida State Prison in Starke — if the state persuades an appeals court to reverse the judge’s decision. If not, though, the execution date would have to be rescheduled for some time after the stay expires.