Monday, June 2, 2008

DNA From Moon Lake Stabbing To Be Retested


The Tampa Tribune

Published: May 30, 2008

NEW PORT RICHEY - Long-shot DNA testing may now be all that stands in the way of Samuel Jason Derrick's execution for stabbing a Moon Lake shopkeeper more than 30 times during a June 1987 robbery.

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a death sentence that had to be imposed a second time by Circuit Judge Stanley R. Mills after Derrick's 1988 conviction for the first-degree murder of Rama Sharma, proprietor of the old Moon Lake General Store.

Derrick, now 41, has spent about half his life on death row. The Supreme Court overturned the first death sentence that Mills imposed based on an 8-4 jury recommendation by the same panel that found Derrick guilty.

A second jury heard evidence in a second sentencing hearing before voting 7-5 in favor of the death penalty, a recommendation Mills again followed while citing the cruelty of the death Derrick inflicted on the 55-year-old shopkeeper.

On Thursday, the high court ruled that Derrick's attorneys provided competent and effective counsel during the second sentencing hearing, and upheld the death penalty.

Sharma knew Derrick and had often let him take home milk and bread on credit when Derrick was growing up, according to trial testimony. Derrick told witnesses Sharma had to die because he got a look at his killer as he was jumped while walking home after closing his store for the night.

A medical examiner testified that Sharma lived for 10 to 15 minutes after he was stabbed on a wooded path behind the store. DNA testing of a partially eaten hot dog found near the body, of a bloody piece of torn T-shirt and of scrapings from under Sharma's fingernails was inconclusive at the time.

Now, the Innocence Project, a New York-based nonprofit legal clinic that has freed 16 innocent death row inmates through the use of DNA testing, is intervening in Derrick's case.

With the blessing of prosecutors, Mills has ordered the remaining DNA evidence be shipped to a Texas laboratory, where the Innocence Project will pay to have it retested using advanced techniques.

That testing is expected to take months, said Eric Ferrero, spokesman for the Innocence Project.

During his trial, Derrick's defense hinged on an unsuccessful bid to convince jurors that his confession to detectives was coerced and that testimony from a friend who said Derrick told him about the murder was false.
The defense attempted to pin the slaying on either the friend, David Lowry, or a Moon Lake biker who goes by the name "Craze."

Assistant State Attorney Michael Halkitis, who prosecuted Derrick, said Thursday that he doubts the new DNA testing will point to a suspect other than Derrick.

Derrick has exhausted his last appeal in state court and is unlikely to raise an issue that would get the attention of a federal court, the prosecutor said.

"I don't see any federal appeals" making headway, Halkitis said.

He added, however: "Don't ask me when he's gonna get punished."

Reporter David Sommer can be reached at (727) 815-1087 or

No comments: