By DEREK SIMMONSEN AND MICHAEL PELTIER
July 6, 2007
TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Supreme Court denied appeals Thursday from two Treasure Coast residents sentenced to death for separate murders in Indian River and St. Lucie counties.
The court upheld the conviction and death sentence of Richard Allen Johnson, 29, who was sentenced in the 2001 kidnapping, rape and murder of Tammy Hagin, 35, a Vero Beach waitress. After the killing, he dumped her body in the Savannas State Park where it was discovered by police.
The court also denied relief to David Alan Gore, 53, who was appealing the quality of his legal representation during his trial, among other claims. Gore, a former Indian River County sheriff's auxiliary deputy, was sentenced to die for the 1983 murder of 17-year-old Vero resident Lynn Elliot and received five consecutive life sentences for the killings of five other Indian River County women.
Johnson and his accomplice, John Vitale, met Hagin at Club Babylon, a gay nightclub, now defunct, in Port St. Lucie.
After the bar closed at 2 a.m., the three drove to the Savannas State Preserve in Port St. Lucie where Johnson and Hagin had sex, court records state.
Witnesses said the three went to the home Johnson and Vitale shared about 7 a.m. and saw Hagin being forced into the house despite screaming that she wanted to go home.
At Johnson's trial, Vitale and others said Johnson took Hagin into his bedroom. An hour later, he emerged in tears, saying, "She's gone."
Johnson raised a variety of issues on his direct appeal, including the trial court wrongly dismissed a juror in the case, allowed certain hearsay evidence that should not have been let in, let prosecutors ask improper questions on cross-examination and that the death sentence was disproportionate to sentences given for similar crimes, among other claims. The high court rejected all of his arguments.
In 1989, a federal district judge overturned Gore's death sentence, saying Gore didn't get the opportunity to introduce evidence about his alleged intoxication at the time of the murder. In December 1992, after a second trial, Gore again was convicted and sentenced to death. The Florida Supreme Court upheld the conviction in 1998.
State law, however, requires a second appeal on death-row cases to ensure defendants are properly defended and no constitutional rights were breached. The state Supreme Court on Thursday said the trial and conviction were valid.
In his current appeal, Gore made several claims, including his attorney did not object to certain statements, did not present certain witnesses who could have aided the case and didn't present evidence related to his claims that toxic citrus groves allegedly caused him neurological problems. The court rejected all of these arguments.