Florida Supreme Court Overturns Death Sentence on DNA Evidence

Twenty-eight years after Paul Hildwin was convicted of rape and murder, the Florida Supreme Court has overturned his conviction and death sentence based on the discovery of DNA evidence that “completely discredits” the prosecution’s case against him.  In a 5-2 decision, the court ruled on June 26 that Hildwin should be given a new trial, but it remains unclear whether prosecutors will seek to retry him.

At his original trial, Hildwin was convicted using DNA found at the scene of the crime, which prosecutors told jurors was “unusual” and consistent with Hildwin’s.  No evidence of an exact match was presented. In 2003, new testing proved that Hildwin was not in fact a match for the DNA found at the scene, but the Florida Supreme Court refused to grant him a new trial on this basis.

In 2010, The Constitution Project organized an amicus brief signed by William S. Sessions, former director of the FBI and federal district judge, Harry L. Shorstein, former five-term State Attorney for the Fourth Judicial Circuit of Florida, and Sandy D’Alemberte, past president of the American Bar Association and former dean of Florida State University College of Law.  Their brief asked the Florida Supreme Court to grant Hildwin’s “all writs” petition filed by the Innocence Project by testing the original DNA sample against the CODIS and FDLE national databases.  The signatories argued that “justice will not be done in this case until the unidentified DNA sample is compared against the profiles contained in the CODIS and FDLE databanks… [and]opposition is an obstacle to the search for truth and simply cannot be tolerated.” The Court then ordered that the original DNA be tested against the national database.  It was found to match the victim’s boyfriend at the time, who is currently in prison for sexual battery against a child.

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