Friday, November 9, 2007

No trials for killer's other cases

By Paul Pinkham,
The Times-Union

Prosecutors have dropped the remaining five Jacksonville murder charges against accused serial killer Paul Durousseau, citing concerns about how the appeal process could affect the cases.

The decision opens the door for Durousseau to be tried next in Columbus, Ga., for a 1997 murder there. And this action doesn't preclude prosecutors from re-indicting Durousseau on the Jacksonville murder cases down the road.

"We did not think it was in the best interest of the case to try the remaining counts," Assistant State Attorney Jay Taylor said Thursday.

Durousseau, 37, was convicted in June of first-degree murder in the 1999 strangulation of Tyresa Mack in her Eastside apartment. A jury recommended the death penalty, and Circuit Judge Jack Schemer is scheduled to sentence Durousseau on Dec. 13. Jacksonville judges usually follow jury recommendations in death penalty cases.

Durousseau, a former taxi driver for Gator City cab, was charged with murdering five other women in Jacksonville between December 2002 and February 2003. But prosecutors dropped those cases last week after meeting with the remaining victims' families and their lawyers. All but one agreed with the decision, Taylor said.

Prosecutors used evidence from two of those cases in the Mack case. If a jury acquitted Durousseau in one of those cases, it could imperil Durousseau's conviction in the Mack case, Taylor said.

Conversely, evidence from Mack's murder could be used against Durousseau in the other murder cases. But if his conviction in Mack's case were overturned on appeal, it could threaten the other cases, according to an internal disposition statement obtained from the State Attorney's Office.

Assistant State Attorney Mack Heavener said the decision expedites the appeals process and Durousseau's sentence and will allow Georgia authorities to try Durousseau while the Florida appeals are pending. Appeals are automatic in Florida death penalty cases.

Because Durousseau waived his speedy trial rights early on in the case, prosecutors could re-indict him for any of the Jacksonville murders at any time, Heavener said.

Cynthia Davis, the mother of slaying victim Surita Cohen, reacted angrily when asked Thursday about the state attorney's decision. But other victims understood the decision, said Taylor and attorney Donald Brown, whose firm represents three of the families in a lawsuit against Gator City.

Public Defender Bill White, whose office represents Durousseau, said prosecutors also may have had financial concerns about prosecuting Durousseau five more times. The cases against him rely heavily on complicated DNA evidence, and the Mack case took three years to get to trial.

"Basically what they said is they don't want to spend the money or time if the death penalty holds up," White said. "Since everybody these days, including the state, has limited ... money, it makes sense not to use up all that money on one case."

White estimated his office spent $200,000 defending Durousseau. Heavener didn't have a comparable estimate, but said the State Attorney's Office spent less than that., (904) 359-4107

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