Monday, February 25, 2008

New Trial Granted in Tampa Non-DNA Innocence Case

This past Friday, the Second District Court of Appeal overturned the conviction of Michael Mordenti for a 1989 contract murder. The St. Petersburg Times has the goods:

Before he committed suicide, Larry Royston told his attorney that prosecutors had charged the wrong man with killing Royston's wife in a 1989 murder-for-hire plot.

But three separate juries never heard his claim.

Twice, St. Petersburg used car dealer Michael Mordenti was convicted of taking $17,000 from Royston to carry out the hit.

The Florida Supreme Court overturned the first conviction, saving Mordenti from death row. A second trial ended with a hung jury, and a third trial brought a life prison sentence with the possibility of parole after 25 years.

On Friday, the testimony jurors never heard won Mordenti his fourth shot at redemption.

In a 2-1 decision, an appellate panel overturned his conviction, saying Royston's statements to attorney John Trevena should have been admitted at trial and would exonerate Mordenti if believed by a jury.

This is a huge turn of events in a case that has gotten a lot of attention over the last twenty years while it wound its way through the court system.

IPF generally doesn't do non-DNA cases; those which do not involve biological evidence that can be tested for DNA. These cases generally involve witness recantations, the non-disclosure of exculpatory evidence by the prosecution, and other non-DNA-related newly discovered evidence claims. While it is our wish to move into this area, we have our hands full with DNA cases and the money is just not there to perform the intense investigation that is necessary to represent an inmate in a non-DNA innocence case.

Kudos to Marty McClain, who is representing Mr. Mordenti. Mr. Mordenti is now 66 years old and has been in prison since his first conviction in 1991. We'll keep you updated as the events of the newest trial unfold.

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