Saturday, February 28, 2009
Picture: Scott Mansfield, convicted of the Oct. 15, 1995 first-degree murder of Sara Robles, has been granted a new trial. (Florida Department of Correction, Florida Department of Correction / February 27, 2009)
A federal judge has granted a new trial to a death-row inmate convicted in the sexual mutilation and strangulation of a woman more than a decade ago in Osceola County.
U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Presnell in Orlando ruled that a videotape of Scott Mansfield being interrogated by Kissimmee police should not have been shown to a jury because he was not warned of his Miranda rights to remain silent and contact a lawyer.
The judge wrote that the tape "consisted of two hours of accusations by the police and unconvincing denials and contradictions by Mansfield," who disavowed killing Sara Robles.
"The Court has little doubt that the videotape had a substantial and injurious effect on the jury's verdict," Presnell wrote in an opinion published late Thursday.
Mansfield was sentenced to death Jan. 30, 1998, for the first-degree murder of Robles, 31. A jury unanimously recommended the sentence.
The partly naked body of Robles, a mother of six, was found near a Winn-Dixie in the Buenaventura Lakes neighborhood Oct. 15, 1995. She had been strangled in what trial Judge Belvin Perry, now chief of the Orange-Osceola Circuit Court, ruled a "conscienceless, pitiless and unnecessarily torturous" death.
Mirza Valladares, grandmother of Robles' four daughters, told the Orlando Sentinel Friday that the latest ruling worries her family. She, her husband and her son, the girls' father, have been raising them. Robles' two sons are grown.
"This takes our peace away," Valladares said. [But] we're Christians. We just believe in the justice of the Lord."
Attorneys for Mansfield, 47, had previously appealed the case to the Florida Supreme Court, which ruled that the trial court's denial of Mansfield's bid to have the videotape thrown out was harmless. The federal court disagreed.
Kissimmee police Capt. Warren Shepard, one of the investigators who questioned Mansfield, said the department views the latest ruling as one in a series of legal developments.
"We stand by the work in this case," Shepard said. "It was a solid case. There was definitely physical evidence, strong physical evidence."
Mansfield's conviction was based partly on a medical examiner's conclusion that a Grim Reaper ring he wore could have made marks on Robles' neck. Other evidence included a knife and food stamps found in his room, and testimony of a jailhouse informant. The federal court wrote that the informant had a motive to lie and the other evidence was inconclusive.
The strongest evidence included Mansfield's pager, found near Robles' body, and the fact that the two were seen together at nearby Rosie's Pub, where they shot pool, and at the Winn-Dixie, where they bought potato chips, doughnuts and sunflower seeds about 2:30a.m.
A woman on her way to church found the body at 9:10 a.m. The murder was thought to have happened at 3 a.m.
James Driscoll, lead defense attorney, said the federal ruling is important.
"The Constitution is never a technicality," he said. "It's the law that we've lived under for over 200 years."
Presnell ordered Mansfield released if the state does not retry him within 120 days. But the Florida Attorney General's Office, which is handling the case, plans to appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.
Posted by XXX at 6:43 AM