Thursday, November 22, 2007

Inmate on death row granted another trial

Kristen Reed

Sentinel Staff Writer

November 22, 2007

Roy Lee McDuffie, who has spent more than two years on death row for killing two Dollar General store clerks, is getting a second chance.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the trial judge made mistakes that could have affected the verdict and ordered a new trial. The justices, however, think there is still enough evidence to support a conviction and would not grant an acquittal.

One of McDuffie's defense attorneys was ecstatic.

"I still believe Roy McDuffie is innocent," attorney Rob Sanders said. "I'm glad he's been able to persevere this long. Hopefully, he will be successful in his new trial."

In 2005, a jury unanimously agreed McDuffie shot and stabbed store clerks Janice Schneider, 39, and Dawniell Beauregard, 27, inside a small back office at the Deltona store on Oct. 25, 2002. Beauregard's hands and feet were bound with duct tape, and one piece bore a partial palm print linked to McDuffie.

There was no DNA, blood, fibers or other evidence tying McDuffie to the slayings.

The state argued the killings were an inside job, committed by McDuffie, the manager trainee, who had insurmountable debts. About $6,000 in cash and checks was stolen, and the women were found inside a locked store. The palm print was near the center of a long piece of tape wrapped around Beauregard's wrists.

The defense argued the state's case was circumstantial and showed the jury other explanations for McDuffie's palm print. They also presented evidence of two "suspicious" men hanging around outside the store and offered testimony that pointed to an alternative suspect: Michael Fitzgerald, a convicted armed robber, drug addict and former boyfriend of Beauregard's sister.

The sister of one victim said the news of a new trial took the wind out of her.

"I feel beat up," said Kelli Lee, Schneider's sister. "I feel like somebody has punched me in the stomach."

McDuffie and other condemned killers are granted one automatic appeal to the Florida Supreme Court. He raised 10 issues, and the court highlighted three errors in its ruling.

The justices said the trial judge should have allowed a friend to testify that he gave McDuffie about $340 shortly before the killings. The witness's name was inadvertently left off the guilt-phase witness list, and he was not allowed to take the stand.

The high court also said defense attorneys should not have been restricted in their cross-examination of two eyewitnesses. A store clerk who left earlier in the evening testified she saw two men sitting outside the store. She was not allowed to tell the jury, however, that one of the men looked like Fitzgerald and the other resembled a man who had recently robbed a bank in the same shopping center.

The last error was allowing the jury to hear a threatening voice mail McDuffie had left for an attorney who had filed an eviction suit against him. The court said the "vulgar" message was irrelevant and highly prejudicial.

Assistant State Attorney Colleen Taylor said her office was reviewing the ruling and would prepare for a new trial as soon as possible.

"Of course we're disappointed in the decision. We're disappointed for the families," she said.

Lee, who said she was finally starting to block out some of the details and crime-scene photographs from the first trial, said she would be in court every day, again.

Kristen Reed can be reached at 386-851-7924 or

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