Exonorees (Credit: Lance Oliver Photography)
Five men who spent years on death row for crimes they did not commit delivered a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis Tuesday, urging him to halt James Dailey’s upcoming execution and thoroughly review the evidence in his case.
Dailey, who is set to be executed Nov. 7, was convicted in the May 1985 murder of 14-year-old Shelly Boggio, who had been hitchhiking with her twin sister and another girl near St. Petersburg, according to court documents.
Dailey and another man, Jack Pearcy, were accused of taking Boggio to an area near Indian Rocks Beach, where her body was later found with multiple stab wounds. Pearcy was sentenced to life in prison for the murder, while Dailey received the death penalty.
The Tampa Bay Times has reported that, although the execution is set to go ahead, new evidence casts doubt on Dailey’s guilt.
James Dailey in court in 1993
The letter delivered to DeSantis — signed by members of Witness to Innocence Herman Lindsey, Joaquin Martinez, Juan Melendez, and Ralph Wright, Jr. — details the similarities between the issues in Dailey’s case and the issues in their respective cases, which the organization claims ultimately undermine the integrity of the original verdicts. Dailey is scheduled to be executed in just 16 days.
“I spent 17 years, 8 months and 1 day on death row in Florida. A paid police informant and convicted murderer lied on the stand and my co-defendant also lied in testifying against me to escape his own death sentence,” explained Juan Melendez at the state Capitol. Melendez was exonerated in 2002 after a transcript of the real killer’s taped confession was discovered. “It is in the memories of all the innocents who have fallen victim to a wrongful execution, that we call on Gov. DeSantis to halt the execution.”
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, one of the top causes of wrongful capital convictions is perjury or false accusation. Of the 29 death row exonerations in Florida since 1973, more than half had cases tainted by perjury, false accusation and the same types of unreliable jailhouse “snitch testimony” that is present in Dailey’s case.
Herman Lindsey, who was exonerated after a unanimous verdict by the Florida Supreme Court declared there was insufficient evidence to charge him of any crime, said: “What people don’t understand is that the appeals process is focused on legal errors, not on determining guilt or innocence. This means that innocent people are being executed.” Lindsay spent three years on death row, and is now a board member of Witness to Innocence.
In addition to Melendez and Lindsey, the letter to Gov. DeSantis was also signed by Joaquin Martinez, the first Spanish citizen to be exonerated after four years on death row; and Ralph Wright, a former Air Force sergeant and former Orange County deputy sheriff who spent three years on Florida’s death row.
All members of Witness to Innocence, the four men state in their letter:
“Each of us, and all of the other men who make up the 29 death row exonerees in Florida, are living proof that our court system does make mistakes … [In] James’ case, as in far too many of the cases where likely innocent people are executed, the State has opposed granting James a new trial even though his original jury never heard the vast majority of evidence relating to his innocence. We hope that you will find it as alarming as we do that the issues present in James’ case that call into question the integrity of the original verdict are the exact same issues that plagued each of our cases.”
Witness to Innocence is the nation’s only organization dedicated to empowering exonerated death row survivors to be the most powerful and effective voice in the struggle to end the death penalty in the United States. The organization also provides an essential network of peer support for the exonerated, most of whom received no compensation or access to reentry services when released from death row.