Thursday, August 30, 2007

State supreme court denies appeal from man who killed Fort Pierce sergeant

By Derek Simmonsen

Originally published 12:04 p.m., August 30, 2007
Updated 12:04 p.m., August 30, 2007

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Florida Supreme Court denied an appeal Thursday from a man who shot a Fort Pierce police sergeant to death during a routine traffic stop in 1991.

Billy Leon Kearse, 34, is on death row for the murder of Sgt. Danny Parrish, who he shot 13 times after Parrish pulled him over for driving the wrong way down a one-way street in downtown Fort Pierce.

Kearse’s first death sentence was overturned by the Florida Supreme Court, which ruled the shooting was not “heinous, atrocious and cruel,” one of the aggravating circumstances prosecutors argued in pushing for death. After a second penalty phase in 1995, he was again sentenced to death. After that sentence, he received an automatic appeal to the Florida Supreme Court, which upheld the sentence.

On his current appeal, his lawyers argued his death sentence should be overturned because his trial attorney did not do a proper job. They said critical mental health information was not stressed enough during the penalty phase of the case.

The state countered that Kearse’s trial attorney did a professional job and provided sufficient mental health evidence in the form of two expert witnesses.

In its opinion release today, the Florida Supreme Court found there was no evidence that Kearse’s trial attorney was not prepared, failed to call enough experts, presented enough evidence or that he made poor strategy decisions.

The court ruled “new evidence” that an expert witness who testified against Kearse gave biased testimony in favor of the state at a trial in New Mexico was not strong enough that it would likely give Kearse an acquittal in his case.

The court also denied claims that his death sentence and the lethal injection procedure are unconstitutional.

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