Monday, January 11, 2010

Today's Sun

King's Lawyers file death penalty appeal

SARASOTA -- Attorneys for Michael King have listed 21 reasons why he should not be put to death, including that the death penalty is "unconstitutional" and the state should not have used eyewitness 911 calls as evidence during his trial.

On Dec. 21, King's attorney, Assistant Public Defender Carolyn Schlemmer, filed a motion to the Attorney General Criminal Appeals and the Clerk of the Florida Supreme Court appealing a judge's decision to sentence King to death.

Last year, King was found guilty in the kidnapping, rape and murder of 21-year-old Denise Amber Lee.

King held Lee at gunpoint when he took her from her North Port home on Jan. 17, 2008. Her remains were found two days later, buried in a wooded area of Toledo Blade Boulevard.

After a three-week trial at the Sarasota County Courthouse that ended in September, all 12 jurors recommended a death sentence.

During the December sentencing, 12th Circuit Judge Deno Economou became emotional while reading into the record what King did to Lee. He agreed with the jury, sentencing King to death.

Florida law requires an automatic appeal in all capital murder cases such as King's.

In Schlemmer's appeal, she calls the death penalty -- reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976 -- unconstitutional. The appeal states the defense counsel should have been allowed to further interview jurors, and criticizes a unanimous decision needed for the jury to conclude in the penalty phase of the trial, as well as "unreliable and misleading evidence" from a state Department of Law Enforcement firearms analyst.

It goes on to state the 911 call Lee made while trapped inside of King's Camaro should not have been allowed in court, as well as another 911 call played in court made by witness Jane Kowalski, who saw King's car on the evening Lee was taken. Kowalski reported someone -- now known to be Lee -- screaming and slapping the window in the back seat of the Camaro, stopped at a traffic light next to her.

The prosecution's use of bullet casings, voice identification and allowing state doctors to evaluate King during the trial is also being appealed. Schlemmer being denied a motion for a mistrial and an acquittal are also listed as grounds for an appeal, according to the attorney.

Schlemmer wrote that King was denied a change of venue outside Sarasota, therefore, he was not given a "fair trial." The suppression of certain evidence and the court's finding of King's competency during the trial are also listed.

Schlemmer noted there were "errors" made in the sentencing order, as well as "the court's error" in allowing "certain portions of victim impact statements during the penalty phase" of the trial.

However, before the trial, Schlemmer filed motions to have some evidence suppressed -- such as King's demeanor when he was arrested and early evidence collected in a police raid of King's North Port house where Lee was raped -- and won.

Schlemmer could not be reached for comment.

Assistant State Attorney Lon Arend said he believed King, who stared straight ahead and was emotionless through most of the trial, faked a mental illness.

"He was competent to stand trial," Arend said. "We had tapes from the night he was arrested showing Michael speaking and moving around. They were suppressed, so the jury never saw them."

Arend said an appeal is the appropriate step in King's case.

"It is important that each and every issue brought up by the defense in the trial be included on the notice of appeal so that they can be reviewed by the Supreme Court," he said. "In order for a just, true sentence to be carried out, everyone has to be ensured that the defendant received a fair trial, and the Supreme Court review is an automatic part of the process.

"The fact that his attorneys have so thoroughly documented every possible argument is a testament to their professionalism, and should assist the Florida Supreme Court in what hopefully will be a thorough yet expeditious review of the trial," he said.

Arend said that if King's appeal is not overturned, he could be executed -- most likely by lethal injection -- in five years.

"It should not take 15 years," he said. "Laws have changed to make executions more speedy when appeals have been exhausted."



North Port Community News Editor