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Two men are in prison for the same Florida murder. One may be innocent. He also may be executed.

The case of James Dailey, facing a death sentence for the 1985 Pinellas County murder of a 14-year-old girl, is full of contradiction, ambiguity and doubt. Court records tell the terrible story.
Jack Pearcy, left, and James Dailey, right, as they appeared when they each entered Florida's prison system in 1987. Both men were convicted of taking part in the murder of 14-year-old Shelly Boggio in Pinellas County. Pearcy got a life sentence. Dailey got the death penalty. Dailey's lawyers have argued that Pearcy is solely responsible for the crime. [Florida Department of Corrections]

INDIAN ROCKS BEACH — On a June morning in 1985, a 30-year-old jail inmate named Jack Pearcy sat in an administrative room of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. He agreed to be hooked up to a machine designed to detect lies.

Did you really see Jimmy Dailey stab Shelly Boggio?

Yes.

Do you really believe Jimmy Dailey killed Shelly Boggio?

Yes.

Initial results suggested Pearcy was telling the truth. But there was more.

Did you stab Shelly Boggio?

No.

Did you hold her down so Jimmy Dailey could stab her?

No.

Did you help Jimmy Dailey throw her into the water?

No.

Pearcy was told the test registered “significant emotional responses," an indication he could be lying. He admitted then that he hadn’t been completely truthful.

He started to cry.

He spoke again about what had happened in the dark a month earlier on an early morning in May. Ever since, he said, he had nightmares. In them, he saw a man straddling a young girl. He saw the man plunging a knife into her body. He saw the man’s face, his features distorted but recognizable.

The face was his own.

Mug shots of Jack Pearcy when he entered Florida's prison system in 1987. Pearcy was given a life sentence in the 1985 murder of 14-year-old Shelly Boggio in Indian Rocks Beach. [Florida Department of Corrections]

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More than three decades after 14-year-old Shelly Boggio’s brutally stabbed body was pulled from the waters near a bridge in Pinellas County, Jack Pearcy and James Dailey remain in prison. Pearcy is serving life, while Dailey was long ago condemned to death.

In September, after years of legal wrangling, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered Dailey to die. With his death warrant came a frenzy of new appeals, with arguments long dismissed by state courts, that Dailey might be innocent. His attorneys have said that Pearcy is solely responsible, that he implicated Dailey to shift the blame.

Complicating Dailey’s case is the controversial use of jailhouse snitches, the lack of physical evidence tying him to the murder, and his co-defendant’s ever-evolving story. More than once, Pearcy has said Dailey was not involved in the crime.

Though Dailey, now 73, won a stay of execution while his attorneys argued to save him, that expired late last month. The governor could reset his execution any day.

The tale of what happened that night 34 years ago is told in hundreds of pages of tattered police reports, court transcripts and legal papers filed as part of Dailey’s most recent appeals.

It is a hideous story, full of violence, contradiction, ambiguity and doubt.

James Dailey, right, during his 1987 trial in Pinellas County for the murder of 14-year-old Shelly Boggio. [Tampa Bay Times]

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A bridge tender spotted the body after sunrise on May 6, 1985.

Police in Indian Rocks Beach were directed to a rocky strip of land just north of the Walsingham Road bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway. The spot was known as “The Loop,” a local lover’s lane.

The dead girl was nude. Cuts, gashes and deep puncture wounds — more than 30 of them — marked her hands, back, head and face. She wore a turquoise ring on her left hand. Her underwear, jeans and blouse were strewn nearby.

Police found drag marks over dirt and rocks to the shore. Further west, two large blood spots marked the ground. Nearby was a puddle of vomit.

Family members identified Shelly Boggio after seeing news reports. She was 14.

Shelly Elizabeth Boggio, 14, was killed May 5, 1985. The Kenneth City girl was beaten, choked and stabbed 31 times, and ultimately drowned, authorities said. She was found the next day near a bridge. [Tampa Bay Times]

She grew up poor, with a father who had little money to buy his children clothes. They moved to Florida months earlier from Battle Creek, Mich.

A truant officer for the local school system found the family using an open oven to keep warm on a cold day. Boggio was a troubled teenager, already smoking and frequently absent from school, often staying away from home overnight. She and her twin sister, Stacey, attended the Sixteenth Street Middle School, now John Hopkins Middle School.

It was Stacey who told detectives about Jack Pearcy.

He was with Dailey and another man in a white Toyota the night before when they picked up the sisters and their friend after spotting the girls hitchhiking in Kenneth City. Shelly recognized him. He had bought marijuana from their father, Frank Boggio, who chastised Pearcy for his interest in Shelly.

Pearcy was a construction worker, brawny, with wild eyes and a cocky attitude. He had a checkered history that included allegations of domestic violence and involvement in a thwarted murder-for-hire plot. The latter earned him the notice of cops in his hometown of Olathe, Kan., who knew him as a “hit man.”

He and Dailey were friends and roommates whose relationship revolved around drinking and drugs. They had met at Sue’s Bar back in Kansas in the early 1980s.

Dailey was no saint. He once bragged to his ex-wife that he dressed up all in black and broke into a sporting goods store just to see if he could do it and not get caught. He also boasted that he could beat a polygraph test because he lied so much. He was known to have been in fights and had been treated for alcoholism.

But those who knew Dailey said there was another side. In Kansas, he rescued a couple from drowning. He wrote original poetry in cards to his teenage daughter. He served several tours at the height of the Vietnam War as an electronics technician in the Air Force. He played folk guitar and liked mystery TV shows.

He came to Florida in early 1985 with plans to make a go of a new life. He lived with Pearcy and Pearcy’s then-girlfriend, Gayle Bailey, in a little house in Seminole. Another friend of Pearcy’s, Oza Dwain Shaw, joined them, seeking a respite from a troubled marriage.

That night, the men took the teenage girls to Sunset Beach. They tried to get into a bar, but a bouncer stopped Shelly Boggio and told them to leave.

They drove back to the house, ate hamburgers, baked beans and potato salad, drank beer and wine coolers and watched Alfred Hitchcock on TV. Pearcy rolled joints and passed them around.

The group headed to Jerry’s Rockin’ Disco in St. Petersburg. Dailey asked Boggio to dance. She declined. She danced with Pearcy instead.

Pearcy’s girlfriend, who was pregnant with his child, took umbrage at her boyfriend’s apparent interest in the teenager. By the time they all returned home about midnight, she planned to take the girl home herself. But as she stepped into a bathroom, Pearcy and Boggio left with Shaw in the Toyota. Dailey wasn’t with them.

They left Shaw at a pay phone where he stopped to call his wife.

Deborah North, a bartender who knew Boggio, would later say she saw the girl at Hank’s Seabreeze Bar in Treasure Island sometime before 1:45 a.m. A man was with her. They asked for help getting a car unstuck from the sand.

Shaw would later testify that Pearcy returned to the house sometime early that morning. Boggio wasn’t with him when he entered. Pearcy went to Dailey’s room and roused him. The pair left.

They returned sometime later. Dailey’s pants were wet below his waist.

The next morning, Pearcy rose early and told the group they were heading to Miami.

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Fifteen days after Boggio’s body was pulled from the water in Pinellas County, police in Olathe, Kan., stopped Pearcy on the road. Florida detectives flew up that night. He was read his rights. He said he wanted a lawyer.

He also said this: “I just want you to know that I got out of the car and tried to stop Jimmy D. from stabbing her, but when I saw it, I puked all over the place.”

A month later, Pearcy sat beside a public defender in a little room in the Pinellas County Criminal Court Complex and agreed to let a prosecutor ask questions. He admitted he was with Boggio at the murder scene.

“I was wanting to go home,” he said. “She still wanted to party. So, she said, ‘Get Jimmy D. and see if he wants to go.’”

They picked up Dailey, Pearcy said, and drank at another bar. Back on the road, he said, Dailey told him to pull off at a secluded spot along the Intracoastal Waterway, a place the men had gone fishing before.

He said Dailey and Shelly got out and he stayed in the driver’s seat, drinking a wine cooler and listening to the radio.

Pearcy said he heard a noise, looked over and saw Dailey straddling the girl’s back. He said he saw his right arm moving in an “in-and-out motion.”

He gave a vivid description of watching her being stabbed and seeing her try to grab the blade. He described the knife in detail: a survival-style blade with a nut on the back and a leather handle grip, a serrated edge about 6 inches long with a groove down the middle.

By his telling, it was Dailey who owned the knife and kept it stuffed between the seats of Pearcy’s girlfriend’s car, Dailey who did the stabbing, Dailey who held her feet and pulled her into the water.

Pearcy said he tried to pull Dailey off the girl but fell into some bushes. He said on the way home, Dailey told him to pull over, got out and threw the knife and sheath into Walsingham Reservoir.

Pearcy said he scolded his friend: “You killed her and they electrocute people down here for that."

Detectives were uncertain if Pearcy was telling the truth. They gave him the polygraph exam the next day.

Confronted with accusations that he was being deceptive, Pearcy broke down. Gradually, he acknowledged being more than a bystander. He admitted he held the knife.

“I think I cut her," he told them, “but I don’t think I stabbed her ... I’m blocking it out. I don’t want to remember. I don’t remember stabbing her in the head. I don’t know how many times I might have cut her.”

This view from the Walsingham Road bridge shows the area of the Intracoastal Waterway in Indian Roacks Beach where the body of Shelly Boggio was found in May 1985. This image was taken Jan. 14, 2020. [DAN SULLIVAN | Times]

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Dailey was arrested months later in California. Unlike Pearcy, he said nothing to the cops.

But he would later give an explanation for his wet pants that morning: Pearcy woke him about 2:30 a.m. and wanted to talk. They grabbed some beers and drove out to the Belleair Causeway. They tossed around a Frisbee that at one point flew into the water. Dailey said he waded in to retrieve it.

Dailey would later say his attorneys found the Frisbee story so implausible they refused to let him talk about it at trial.

Prosecutors suggested the crime was sexually motivated. They sought the death penalty for both men.

Pearcy was found guilty in November 1986. There was emotional testimony on his behalf at his sentencing hearing. The jury declined to recommend a death sentence.

“Other than his own self-serving statements,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo, "no evidence exists that Pearcy was not the main actor in this child’s brutal murder.”

Dailey’s trial came the following June. Pearcy refused to testify.

The most incriminating testimony came from three jailhouse informants. Two said they helped exchange notes between Dailey and Pearcy in which the pair seemed to be on friendly terms. They also claimed Dailey made incriminating statements.

Dailey was found guilty. A jury was unanimous in recommending a sentence of death.

Mug shots show James Dailey when he arrived on Florida's death row in 1987. Dailey was sentenced to death after a jury convicted him in the 1985 murder of 14-year-old Shelly Boggio in Indian Rocks Beach. Dailey has maintained his innocence. [Florida Department of Corrections]

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Pearcy’s story would change. And change again.

In March of 1993, Pearcy, then 37, gave a sworn statement in a bid to get Dailey a new trial.

By then Pearcy had exhausted his own appeals. His attorneys were long gone. He seemed resigned that he would stay in prison for good.

This time, he said he made up his earlier story about what Dailey had done. “It was just a self-serving statement to exonerate myself,” he said.

“I was in custody and they were going to charge me and I was just trying to get around it, that’s all," he said. "Lay the blame somewhere else.”

Five years later, in a note he sent to the dead girl’s twin sister, Pearcy stuck to the story that Dailey stabbed her. “I’ve beat my head on the wall because I was there & was so high on drugs and drinking that by the time I realized what was going on it was too late,” he wrote.

Two fellow inmates later claimed Pearcy told them Dailey wasn’t involved.

In 2017, Pearcy signed an affidavit saying Dailey wasn’t there that night, that Pearcy alone was "responsible for Shelly Boggio’s death.” But when called to testify, Pearcy said certain statements in the document were untrue.

In December, responding to an email from a Tampa Bay Times reporter, Pearcy wrote that "Dailey killed Shelly by himself.”

But before Dailey’s stay of execution expired Dec. 30, there came a new declaration from Pearcy: “James Dailey had nothing to do with the murder of Shelly Boggio," it read. "I committed the crime alone.”

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James Dailey, 73, is set to be executed on Nov. 7 for the 1985 murder of 14-year-old Shelly Boggio. The Kenneth City girl was beaten, choked and stabbed 31 times, then held underwater until she drowned on May 5, 1985, authorities said. She was found the next day near the Indian Rocks Beach bridge. He was sentenced to death in 1987 and has spent 32 years on Florida’s Death Row. [Florida Department of Corrections]

Only two people know for sure who’s responsible for Shelly Boggio’s death. One of them may soon be killed for it.

Unlike his co-defendant, Dailey’s story never changed.

“I am innocent,” he told the state’s parole commission in 2015. “Jack Pearcy killed that girl, but I have no way to prove that.”

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