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Judge who granted execution delay rejects Dailey appeals

In a series of written orders, U.S. District Judge William Jung rejected appeals from lawyers who argue James Dailey is innocent of a 1985 Pinellas County murder.
James Dailey, 73, faces execution for the 1985 murder of 14-year-old Shelly Boggio. Left: Dailey at his 1987 trial, where he was convicted and sentenced to death. Middle: Dailey in 1993, when he was again sentenced to die. Right: The most current photo of Dailey on Florida's Death Row. [Times]
James Dailey, 73, faces execution for the 1985 murder of 14-year-old Shelly Boggio. Left: Dailey at his 1987 trial, where he was convicted and sentenced to death. Middle: Dailey in 1993, when he was again sentenced to die. Right: The most current photo of Dailey on Florida's Death Row. [Times]
Published Dec. 11, 2019
Updated Dec. 11, 2019

TAMPA — The same judge who effectively canceled James Dailey’s execution six weeks ago appears unconvinced by claims that the death row inmate might be innocent of a 1985 Pinellas County murder.

U.S. District Judge William Jung, who in October granted Dailey a temporary stay of execution to give his lawyers more time to research and present their appeals, rejected a number of Dailey’s new appeals in the past week. In his most recent opinion, published late Tuesday, Jung expressed skepticism of some of the key defense claims, noting that he took time to read the entire record of the 34-year-old case.

“A thorough review shows the state’s trial case against James Dailey was not strong, but it was sufficient," Jung wrote.

Related: Doubts linger, but James Dailey is set to die for murder of Pinellas girl

Shelly Elizabeth Boggio was 14 when she was murdered in 1985. The Kenneth City girl was beaten, choked and stabbed 31 times, then held underwater until she drowned, authorities said. She was found near the Indian Rocks Beach bridge. James Dailey, now 73, was convicted and sentenced to death.

Dailey, 73, was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of 14-year-old Shelly Boggio, whose nude body was found one morning in May 1985 in the Intracoastal Waterway in Indian Rocks Beach. She had been beaten, choked, stabbed 31 times and held under water until she drowned.

One of the last people seen with the teen was Jack Pearcy, who was Dailey’s roommate. When questioned, Pearcy ultimately admitted participating in the killing, but also implicated Dailey.

Pearcy is serving a life sentence for the crime.

No physical evidence or eyewitness testimony linked Dailey to the murder. His conviction relied heavily on the use of jailhouse informants.

One of them was Paul Skalnik, who testified that Dailey confessed to him while they were housed near each other in the Pinellas County Jail. Skalnik’s questionable history as an informant in numerous criminal cases was the subject of a lengthy investigative report published last week by ProPublica and the New York Times Magazine.

Related: Serial jailhouse informant Paul Skalnik has deep local history

The judge’s most recent order did not directly address concerns about Skalnik’s reliability. Jung did note that jailhouse informant testimony is often problematic and opined that prosecutors use such testimony too frequently.

But in Dailey’s case, the judge noted testimony from two other jailhouse informants who worked in the prison law library and helped Dailey exchange notes with Pearcy. The text of the notes bolstered the informant testimony, the judge said, and supported the notion that Dailey and Pearcy were accomplices in the same crime.

Jung was also critical of claims, touted by Dailey’s defense, that Pearcy has since claimed sole responsibility for the murder. Such claims are inaccurate, the judge wrote. He noted that Pearcy signed an affidavit to that effect, but later testified in court that statements in the document were inaccurate.

The judge also pointed to a lengthy statement Pearcy gave in 1985 in which he offered a detailed description of the murder consistent with evidence at the crime scene.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a death warrant in September, setting Dailey’s execution for Nov. 7.

But on Oct. 23, Jung granted a stay to give Dailey’s newly appointed federal attorneys more time to research and present their claims.

Related: Federal judge grants James Dailey temporary stay of execution

The judge’s recent orders leave no appeals pending in the local federal court. It is likely that Dailey’s legal team will launch a new appeal in the Atlanta-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.

Josh Dubin, a member of Dailey’s defense team, said in a statement Wednesday that courts have repeatedly denied Dailey’s appeals on procedural grounds rather than judging them on their merits.

“We are pleading with Gov. DeSantis to give James Dailey a clemency hearing and are hopeful that he will indeed give us that forum so that all of the facts surrounding the unreliability of Mr. Dailey’s conviction will be brought to light," the statement read.

The stay of execution that Jung imposed in October remains in place until Dec. 30.

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