Sunday, February 8, 2009

Trial starts Monday in murder of Gadsden County confidential informant

QUINCY - Six years after Constance Dupont was gunned down through the front window of her Havana apartment, the drug dealer accused of ordering the confidential informant killed for being a “snitch” will stand trial for her murder.

Jury selection in the case against Hernandez Lopaz Daniels begins today. The 36-year-old Daniels, currently serving a life sentence on federal drug-dealing charges, is the first person to face the death penalty in Gadsden County in more than a decade.

Assistant State Attorney Richard Combs is saving for trial his reasons for seeking the maximum punishment against Daniels. But police reports detail a calculated and brutal crime, which culminated with a knock on Dupont’s window in the early morning hours of Aug. 3, 2002, her pulling back the blinds and bullets ripping into her chest.

At the time she was killed, the 39-year-old grandmother was working for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Leon County Sheriffs Office to bust Daniels for drug crimes. She was recruited by officers after being caught in a car with cocaine.

Another man, Fernando Taylor, is also charged in her murder. A jailhouse informant told investigators Taylor said Daniels paid him $5,000 to kill her. He will be tried separately later. If Daniels is found guilty and sentenced to death, Taylor also will face the death penalty, said his attorney Greg Cummings.

Dupont’s family has waited a long time to see the inside of a courtroom. It took more than three years for Daniels and Taylor to be charged with her murder, and another three to see the case brought to trial.

Dupont’s daughter, La Sharka Jones, will be watching from the spectator benches this week.

“I’ll be glad when it’s over so I can put it all behind me,” said the 27-year-old, who spent years plagued by nightmares and depression. “It’s not going to bring her back, but I’ll know justice will be done.”

Much of the case against Daniels is built on the statements of inmates who shared jail cells with him, court records show. He was found guilty on federal drug trafficking charges in 2003. Prosecutors used Dupont’s killing to help win a conviction in that case.

Witnesses in that case said Daniels learned Dupont was working as a confidential informant when an officer accidentally answered a cell phone she had been given to contact him.

Unlike the recent high-profile killing of confidential informant Rachel Hoffman, Dupont’s death received little media attention at the time, and law enforcement’s role in it was never scrutinized.

Daniels’ attorney Clyde Taylor did not return a call for comment. But court records show the defense will likely focus on the unreliability of “snitch witnesses” and witness reports that point to the possibility that others could have killed Dupont or wanted to see to see her dead.

Dupont’s brother, Bernard Hunter, is optimistic about the outcome of the trial. But more than anything, he is ready for closure.

“I’m glad it is coming to a head,” said Hunter, who will testify at the trial. “I’m just ready to get it over with because it just brings back too many memories.”

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