By Colleen Jenkins, Times staff writer
Published Friday, November 7, 2008 8:34 PM
TAMPA — A month after issuing a stay of execution for Wayne Tompkins, the Florida Supreme Court on Friday denied the death row inmate's latest round of appeals.
But in a pointed dissent, one justice questioned the conduct of the Hillsborough prosecutor who handled Tompkins' case 23 years ago.
Justice Harry Lee Anstead argued that his colleagues should not dismiss allegations that Mike Benito, a former assistant state attorney, urged a key state witness to embellish his testimony.
"Indeed, if the claim is true, we have a state prosecutor who committed a criminal act in tampering with a witness," Anstead wrote. "Surely, common sense would tell us this is the kind of 'bombshell' disclosure that could change the jury's entire evaluation of the case."
In an interview last month, a jailhouse informer maintained that Tompkins had confided to him how he strangled 15-year-old Lisa DeCarr in March 1983. But the inmate said for the first time that Benito instructed him to tell jurors DeCarr was buried under her Tampa home with a purse, a detail the informer did not recall hearing from Tompkins.
Benito, now in private practice in Tampa, could not be reached Friday afternoon. He told prosecutors last month he never coached the witness.
"Absolutely not," Benito said, according to a transcript filed with the state Supreme Court. "I never tell a witness what to say."
No new execution date has been set for Tompkins. On Friday, a U.S. district judge dismissed the death row inmate's petition for federal relief.
Tompkins' attorney said he had more appellate options to pursue. The new revelation from the witness is just one of many concerns attorney Martin McClain has about the state's case.
"This is one of the most troubling cases that I have," he said. "The evidence against Mr. Tompkins is just absurd."
Colleen Jenkins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3337.