Thursday, May 24, 2007

Fla. Supreme Court reverses 2 death sentences

Associated Press Writer

The Florida Supreme Court reversed the death sentences Thursday of a deranged dishwasher from Panama City and an Ocala man, both convicted of killing their estranged wives in unrelated cases.

The justices reduced the death sentence of Christopher Offord, 31, who has a history of severe mental illness, to life in prison without parole.

Offord moved to Panama City in February 2004, met Dana Noser at a bar in March or April, married her four days later and killed her in July with a claw hammer.

The high court unanimously found the death penalty was a disproportionate punishment in Offord's case due to his mental disabilities.

"In fact, Offord's case is notable because it is one of the most documented cases of serious mental illnesses this court has reviewed," the justices wrote in an unsigned opinion.

Medical records show he suffers from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and has been in and out of institutions since he was 5 or 6 years old.

Offord pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and then a jury unanimously recommended death.

Circuit Judge Dedee Costello imposed that sentence although she found he committed the murder under the influence of extreme mental or emotional disturbance and lacked the capacity to appreciate the criminality of his conduct. She ruled the heinous nature of the attack - the victim suffered more than 30 hammer blows - outweighed those mitigating factors.

The Supreme Court ordered a new trial for William Michael Kopsho, 53, who was convicted of armed kidnapping and first-degree murder. Witnesses testified he shot his 21-year-old wife, Lynne, after she jumped out of a truck along a roadside in Marion County.

The justices found Circuit Judge David B. Eddy erred by refusing to dismiss a prospective juror for cause. The prospective juror said he believed Kopsho should be required to testify at his trial although defendants have a constitutional right to remain silent.

The case was moved to Sumter County because of extensive publicity in Marion.

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