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Florida Supreme Court upholds James Dailey’s death sentence

Dailey claims he’s innocent in a 1985 Pinellas County murder. Justice Jorge Labarga dissented from the majority opinion.
James Dailey, who faces execution for the 1985 murder of Shelly Boggio in Indian Rocks Beach, Dailey, center, is seated in court in Pinellas County, Thursday, March 5, 2020.
James Dailey, who faces execution for the 1985 murder of Shelly Boggio in Indian Rocks Beach, Dailey, center, is seated in court in Pinellas County, Thursday, March 5, 2020. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]
Published Sep. 23
Updated Sep. 24

The Florida Supreme Court has affirmed a lower court’s decision upholding the conviction and death sentence of James Dailey, whose lawyers have argued that he is innocent of a 1985 murder of a teenage girl in Indian Rocks Beach.

In an opinion Thursday, the state’s highest court rejected several claims from Dailey’s defense, including arguments that his conviction should be overturned based on a 2019 affidavit signed by his codefendant, Jack Pearcy, that included a statement in which Pearcy took sole credit for the crime. Pearcy later claimed the statement in the document was untrue and refused to testify when called to court in March 2020.

Six of the court’s seven justices concurred with the ruling. Justice Jorge Labarga dissented.

In his own opinion, Labarga noted that there is no forensic evidence linking Dailey to the murder of 14-year-old Shelly Boggio, and that the state’s case against him hung on the testimony of three jailhouse informants who claimed he’d made incriminating statements while awaiting trial.

The dissent noted concerns about the reliability of jailhouse informant testimony. It also noted 30 people have been exonerated from Florida’s death row since 1972.

“Thirty people would have eventually been put to death for murders they did not commit,” Labarga wrote. “This number of exonerations, the highest in the nation, affirms why it is so important to get this case right.”

Related: Dailey's co-defendant refuses to testify in Pinellas death penalty case

Almost exactly two years ago, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a death warrant ordering Dailey’s execution. A federal judge later issued a temporary stay of execution amid a deluge of litigation that questioned Dailey’s guilt.

The stay later expired, but no new death warrant has been signed. Florida has not conducted any executions since August 2019.

Dailey, 75, and Pearcy, 66, were convicted in separate trials for the murder of Boggio, whose body was found one morning in May 1985 in the Intracoastal Waterway near the Walsingham Road Bridge. She had been beaten, choked, stabbed 31 times and ultimately drowned.

The two men were among the last people seen with her. Although Dailey got the death penalty, Pearcy received a life sentence. Over the years, he has given conflicting statements about whether Dailey was involved in the crime.

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

In late 2019, he signed an affidavit claiming sole credit for the murder, but later disavowed the claim. Pearcy refused to testify in a subsequent court hearing, and claimed that he is the one who is innocent.

A judge found that there was no admissible evidence to warrant a new trial. The high court upheld that decision.