Decades to justice for Florida man on death row for 1985 murder

Tue Jul 15, 2014 2:21am EDT
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By Letitia Stein

TAMPA Fla. (Reuters) - From his cell on Florida's death row, Paul Hildwin has spent 28 years fighting for his life, waiting between cancer treatments for the state to acknowledge decade-old DNA evidence supporting his claims of innocence.

More than two weeks after the Florida Supreme Court threw out his death sentence for a 1985 murder, Hildwin remains in a cell measuring 6 by 9 feet (1.8 by 2.7 meters), one of 395 inmates on the nation's second-largest death row.

In Florida, two dozen death row inmates have been found innocent, the most in any state. But as Hildwin's fight shows, a court backlog can delay justice even when strong DNA evidence exists.

"Hildwin really is a report card that there is a serious problem in the system that took this long," said Martin McClain, his attorney. "They were hoping he would die, and it would go away."

McClain visited with Hildwin on Monday at a state prison in Raiford, in northern Florida, where he is waiting to be transferred to a local jail. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi's office said last week it would not challenge the 5-2 state Supreme Court decision ordering a new trial for Hildwin.

Prosecutors say it may take several months to decide whether to retry the case, or drop the charges.

"We are literally back to square one," said Ric Ridgway, chief assistant state attorney for Florida's Fifth Judicial Circuit Court.

Now 54, with his blood cancer in remission, Hildwin was the second death row case in a month overturned by the Florida Supreme Court.   Continued...

Paul Hildwin is pictured in this undated handout photo courtesy of Florida Department of Corrections. REUTERS/Florida Department of Corrections/Handout via Reuters