By Suevon Lee
Published: Tuesday, October 7, 2008 at 6:33 p.m.
OCALA - The capital murder retrial for William Michael Kopsho won't proceed as planned next week.
Circuit Judge David Eddy ruled Tuesday to grant a defense motion to continue the trial on the grounds that the four days remaining wasn't enough time to depose a new witness the state recently announced for the trial's penalty phase.
The earliest the new trial could occur is February 2009 because of conflicting schedules the rest of the calendar year.
The penalty phase, which comes after the guilt phase in capital cases, is when jurors hear testimony from family members and other witnesses close to the defendant to help guide them toward a recommendation of a life sentence or the death penalty.
Kopsho is facing a possible death penalty if convicted on charges he shot and killed his wife, Lynne, in October 2000. The 54-year-old was previously convicted and sentenced to death during a high-profile case in 2005. Due to pretrial publicity, the case was moved from Marion to Sumter County.
However, last June the Florida Supreme Court vacated the conviction and ordered a new trial based on a technicality during jury selection.
Kopsho's lawyer, Chief Assistant Public Defender Bill Miller, expressed somber relief at the judge's decision to continue the case.
"I know I've got a lot more work to do in the next four months," he said. "I don't make those motions lightly."
As he told the court Tuesday, Miller was concerned about the narrow window of time he had in which to depose the new witness, Debra Dahlen — Kopsho's first wife — and a person who Miller said "could put my client in a death chamber."
Prosecutors plan to use Dahlen to rebut statements Kopsho made to psychologist Elizabeth McMahon that suggest he was victimized by all his former wives, of whom there were five, because they either cheated on him or left him.
That was Kopsho's only real shot at mitigating evidence, prosecutors said Tuesday.
"She is the impeachment of Dr. McMahon's analysis of Kopsho," State Attorney Brad King said of Dahlen, who lives in Indiana.
Kopsho is charged with first-degree murder and armed kidnapping for shooting his 21-year-old wife at close range three times along State Road 40 while preventing bystanders from coming to her aid. The couple was estranged at the time and earlier court testimony revealed that jealousy factored into the strained three-year relationship.
Judge Eddy expressed reluctance to continue the trial but, in making his ruling Tuesday, said the defense had the right to properly depose Dahlen, a non-expert, material witness.
Eddy, who presided over the case the first time around, will keep the case, despite a docket change scheduled for January 2009 in which the judges will trade dockets.
"I've had this case since the inception of this case," Eddy said in court. "I think it's the only feasible way to proceed."
Suevon Lee may be reached at email@example.com or 867-4065.