Thursday, May 8, 2008

New trial set in Dollar General murder case

Back in court — Roy Lee McDuffie, convicted and sentenced to death for the 2002 murders of his co-workers, Dawniell Beauregard and Janice Schneider, at a Dollar General store in Deltona, is back in court April 18. He will get a new trial.

By Pat Hatfield

posted May 8, 2008 - 2:36:13pm

Roy Lee McDuffie, convicted for the October 2002 Dollar General murders in Deltona, has won a new trial based on errors in his first trial.

McDuffie’s trial is now scheduled to start Monday, Sept. 22. Circuit Court Judge James R. Clayton set the date, and is expected to preside over the proceedings at the Volusia County Courthouse in DeLand.

“We’re working diligently on the case, and will be ready for trial in September,” Robert A. Sanders Jr., McDuffie’s attorney, said.

He is weighing whether he should ask for a change of venue. “It’s under consideration,” Sanders said.

The murders of two of McDuffie’s female co-workers, and the original 2005 trial, generated strong feelings and media attention in Volusia County.

A Volusia County jury convicted McDuffie of the first-degree murders of Dawniell Beau-regard and Janice Schneider, employees of the Dollar General Store in Deltona where McDuf-fie had started work earlier in the week before the murders.

In November 2007, the Florida Supreme Court overturned the conviction and remanded McDuffie, who was on death row, for a new trial.

The Supreme Court, in its reversal per curiam, stated, “We conclude that errors occurred during the course of the trial, which when viewed cumulatively, are not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Defense attorney Sanders said, “There were three evidentiary errors. The court kept out a key defense witness, and limited cross-examination by the defense on a couple of state witnesses.”

In addition, he said, there was blood at the scene that belonged to neither McDuffie nor the victims, indicating another person was there. Sanders said DNA testing should be performed on that blood.

Hair found on duct tape used to bind one of the victims should have been subjected to mitochondrial DNA testing. It was tested only to determine race, Sanders said.

At the trial, prosecutors said McDuffie’s motive was money. They painted him as broke, in debt and desperate for money, which he suddenly had the day after the robbery and murders. The prosecution produced evidence McDuffie bought money orders totaling $1,450 the morning after the killings.

Beauregard and Schneider were found in the store’s back room the night of Oct. 25, 2002, dead from close-contact gunshots to the head. The day’s cash receipts of $4,946.17, along with checks in the amount of $1,467.76, were missing, and never recovered. The gun used to kill them was also missing.

The only physical evidence implicating McDuffie was half of a palm print found on duct tape used to bind Beauregard’s wrists. Schneider was not bound, and it appeared she had started to cut Beauregard free before being attacked herself. She was shot first in the abdomen, then later in the head.

Both women received non-fatal cuts to their necks before they were shot.

Circumstantial evidence and witnesses placed McDuffie at the scene around the time of the murders, believed to be between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m.

McDuffie told investigators he left the store shortly after another employee, Carol Hopkins, left. Records showed Hopkins clocked out at 8:34 p.m.

McDuffie said he then went with his wife to pay a bill, then ate dinner at McDonald’s, then went home.

The defense called McDuf-fie’s friend Anthony Wiggins to testify. Wiggins sent McDuffie a couple of Western Union money transfers totaling $340. Wiggins was the only non-family member who could testify he loaned money to McDuffie in the weeks before the murders.

The state objected to Wiggins’ testimony. Wiggins had been listed as a penalty-phase witness only, not a guilt-phase witness. He produced a $40 Western Union receipt dated Oct. 18, 2002, on the day in 2005 he was to testify. He said he had no receipts for the other $300 he said he sent McDuffie.

The Supreme Court found the trial judge excluded the receipt and testimony without exploring alternatives, such as a short delay for a deposition.

The Supreme Court also found defense counsel was denied sufficient cross-examination of a couple of prosecution witnesses, to lay grounds for impeaching them.

A landlord’s testimony of threats McDuffie left on a voice mail after the landlord filed an eviction notice on him, should not have been admitted, the Supreme Court determined.

The landlord had erased the tape, but was allowed to testify to its contents, over defense objection. The prosecution said it went to show McDuffie’s state of mind leading up to the robbery and murders.


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