Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Judge denies motion on execution in Villages murder case

Defense attorney Henry Ferro, left, reviews information with his client Jarrord Roberts during a pretrial hearing in the 2006 slaying of a Villages resident.

Defense argued lethal injection is unconstitutional


OCALA - A Marion County judge rejected motions to overturn Florida's death penalty Tuesday, as the trial of two men charged in the death of a Villages woman draws near.

Circuit Judge Brian Lambert denied motions by lawyers for Renaldo McGirth and Jarrord Roberts to declare Florida's lethal injection method unconstitutional.

McGirth, 19, and Roberts, 21, are charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, and kidnapping in a July 2006 robbery that left Diana Miller dead and her husband, James, wounded. McGirth also is charged with fleeing police.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against both men. Their trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 22.

A third co-defendant, Theodore Houston, pleaded guilty in December and is expected to testify against McGirth and Roberts in exchange for a possible sentence of 25 years.

Prosecutors allege the men entered James and Diana Miller's home on July 21, 2006, allegedly to see the couple's daughter, Sheila Miller, 40, who was living with her parents while recovering from an auto accident.

Once inside, the men fatally shot Diana Miller, shot James Miller in the head and kidnapped Sheila Miller, prosecutors say. They were captured several hours later after a high-speed chase ended in a crash.

McGirth's lawyer, Candace Hawthorne, first asked Lambert to rule against lethal injection as a method of execution. The U.S. Supreme Court is currently reviewing a Kentucky case that argues the method of lethal injection used in most states with the death penalty is unconstitutional, Hawthorne noted.

"This particular method of death is cruel and unusual, and it it is our position that it is unconstitutional and this court cannot impose it," Hawthorne said.

Lambert responded that he couldn't make such a ruling.

"Absent the U.S. Supreme Court telling me it's unconstitutional, I don't have the authority," he said.

Lambert denied several other defense motions, including a motion to limit testimony on the results of gunshot residue tests performed on the defendants by police.

The judge allowed a defense request for a written questionnaire for prospective jurors, to be mailed in advance of jury selection.

Lambert also rejected a motion by the Star-Banner to quash a subpoena issued for former reporter Mabel Perez, who interviewed McGirth at the Marion County Jail shortly after his arrest.

State Attorney Brad King subpoenaed Perez to testify regarding the interview. Florida law gives journalists a limited privilege not to testify.

The newspaper's lawyer, James McGuire, argued that lawyers for both sides already have a transcript of the complete audio recording of the interview that was posted to the Star-Banner's Web site.

Star-Banner Managing Editor Tom McNiff said he was disappointed by the judge's ruling.

"We really appreciate that Judge Lambert took the time to weigh the needs of the prosecution and the rights of the defendant against the rights of the reporter," McNiff said. "He was inquisitive and thoughtful. But in the end, we think the state didn't prove that calling our reporter to the stand was necessary to serve the cause of justice."

Rick Cundiff may be reached at or at 352-867-4130.

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