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As execution looms in Pinellas case, fuzzy memories squander defense efforts

James Dailey’s execution remains set for Nov. 7. On Monday, a judge denied efforts to overturn his death sentence after a former prosecutor testified.
James Dailey, 73, is set to be executed on Nov. 7 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. [Tampa Bay Times]
Published Oct. 14
Updated Oct. 14

LARGO — Days after the governor signed James Dailey’s death warrant, defense lawyers spoke with James Slater, a former prosecutor, who remembered visiting the scene in Indian Rocks Beach where 14-year-old Shelly Boggio was murdered in May 1985.

Slater signed an affidavit saying he remembered law enforcement officers telling him that a man named Jack Pearcy was responsible for the crime. He said he remembered being told Pearcy wanted to have sex with the girl, but had trouble performing. He said he was told that Pearcy became angry when Boggio teased him, and that he’d stabbed the girl.

Dailey’s lawyers wanted to use Slater’s memories to corroborate their claim that it was Pearcy alone who killed Boggio. They say Dailey is innocent.

But on the witness stand Monday in a Pinellas County courtroom, Slater’s memory was foggy.

He couldn’t remember whom he talked to that day 34 years ago. He couldn’t remember if Pearcy was a suspect. He couldn’t even remember the victim’s name.

“I don’t know if I got it confused with another case,” Slater said.

After hearing the testimony, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa denied the defense’s request to overturn Dailey’s conviction and death sentence.

Shelly Elizabeth Boggio was killed at the age of 14 on May 5, 1985. The Kenneth City girl was beaten, choked and stabbed 31 times, then held underwater until she drowned, authorities said. She was found the next day near the Indian Rocks Beach bridge. James Dailey, 73, was sentenced to death for the crime. Dailey maintains his innocence. [Tampa Bay Times]

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

Dailey, 73, listened to Monday’s hearing via phone. He is set to be executed Nov. 7.

His lawyers can still seek a stay of execution from the Florida Supreme Court. There is also an appeal pending in federal court.

Dailey and Pearcy were both convicted of killing Boggio. While Dailey got the death penalty, Pearcy is serving a life sentence.

Boggio’s body was found the morning of May 6, 1985, in the Intracoastal Waterway, near the Walsingham Road Bridge. She had been stabbed more than 30 times, choked and ultimately drowned.

Pearcy implicated Dailey in the crime, but over the years, according to court documents, he has been inconsistent about whether Dailey participated in the killing.

Most recently, he signed an affidavit that contained the statement: “I alone am responsible for Shelly Boggio’s death.” But when questioned under oath at a 2018 court hearing, Pearcy said statements in the affidavit were not true. He invoked the Fifth Amendment when asked about specific paragraphs.

Slater’s testimony was the sole issue on which the judge allowed the defense to hold a hearing this week.

Defense lawyers have raised a number of other issues, which they say bolster their claim that Dailey is innocent. Those include the words of men who have served time with Dailey, who say they remember a detective showing them news articles about Boggio’s murder and asking if Dailey ever talked about his case.

Dailey’s conviction was largely based on the words of three jailhouse informers, who testified in his 1987 trial that they heard him make incriminating statements.

Attorneys for the state have argued that Dailey’s claims are not new, that he has argued the same things for more than 30 years, and that courts have always rejected his appeals.

Since the signing of his death warrant, Dailey’s case has attracted the attention of capital punishment opponents. Among them are members of the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg, who called on Gov. Ron DeSantis to withdraw the death warrant amid doubts about Dailey’s guilt.

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