Monday, 25 December 2006

Another FLORIDA death row inmate walks a free man after 13 yrs on row

Published Thursday, June 8, 2006
Thursday, June 8, 2006

Moody Won't Face New Trial in Slaying

Darryl Earl Moody
• May 16, 1994 -- Christopher Scott Mitchell, 32, is found dead in a grove maintained by his family. He had been shot twice in the head.

• May 7, 1998 -- Darryl Earl Moody, 36, is found guilty of first- degree murder, shooting at an occupied vehicle, burglary, grand theft and dealing in stolen property. In October, Circuit Court Judge Susan Roberts sentences Moody to death.

• Jan. 23, 2003 -- The Florida Supreme Court overturns Moody's first-degree murder conviction and death sentence and orders a new trial.

• Jan. 22, 2004 -- At his re-trial, a jury finds Mitchell guilty of third- degree murder and acquits him of four related felonies.

• Sept. 16, 2005 -- Judge Roberts orders a new trial because of jury misconduct.

• Nov. 9, 2005 -- The 2nd District Court of Appeal orders a halt to an approaching retrial of Moody.

• June 7 -- The 2nd DCA concluded Moody cannot be retried because it would violate his constitutional protection against double jeopardy.
BARTOW -- Darryl Earl Moody is expected to go free, ending what has been more than 12 years of legal battles in a murder case filled with twists and turns.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal in Lakeland ruled Wednesday that Moody should not go to trial for a third time for first-degree murder in the 1994 fatal shooting of Scott Mitchell, a member of a prominent Bartow citrus family.

The court also concluded that Moody, 44, of Lake Wales, couldn't be retried for a lesser crime of third-degree murder.

Moody's lawyer, Robert Norgard, said his client is trying to let the court's opinion sink in. "He is extremely happy that the court finally ruled and ruled in his favor," he said.

Norgard said the 2nd DCA's opinion in the Moody case concerns a fundamental constitutional right protecting people from "double jeopardy."

Looking back over the case's long history, Norgard said it has "been through some major procedural steps compared to a lot of other cases."

"I would definitely say the system has worked the way it is supposed to work," he said. "Unfortunately, it's a slow process."

Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist's office can request a rehearing, but the 2nd DCA's ruling seems to leave little room for argument.

"My fear is that this is the end of the road . . ." said State Attorney Jerry Hill.

Although disappointed upon hearing news of the opinion, Hill said he respected it.

"Objectively speaking, we are obliged to follow the law and the courts have told us what the law is," he said.

Hill said prosecutors have been committed to going forward in the case even as court decisions "nibbled away" at available evidence.

Scott Mitchell, 32, was fatally shot on May 16, 1994.

Investigators concluded that Mitchell, who was preparing to check on harvesting crews, was ambushed in a grove maintained by his family near Alturas.

Mitchell was shot while trying to back out of the grove in his red Chevrolet pickup truck. He had been shot twice in the head with two different weapons.

One weapon, a Rossi .38-caliber revolver, would later be recovered from a man who said he bought the handgun from Moody for $60. The second murder weapon has never been found.

Prosecutors theorize that Darryl Moody and his younger brother, Dexter, were stripping a stolen, green Buick Regal inside the grove when Mitchell surprised them. However, Dexter Moody has never been charged in Mitchell's death.

In 1998, a jury found Moody guilty of first-degree murder and related charges. He was sentenced to death.

About four years later, the Florida Supreme Court overturned Moody's conviction and sentence because of an illegal search of his car. A new trial was ordered.

In 2004, a second jury convicted Moody of third-degree murder but acquitted him of other charges. Shortly afterward, allegations of juror misconduct surfaced.

After conducting interviews with the second trial's jurors, Circuit Judge Susan Roberts concluded "an atmosphere of racial tension in the jury room prevented meaningful deliberations from taking place."

Roberts -- who has presided over Moody's case since his first trial in 1998 -- noted that one juror bullied other jurors by calling them racists.

She later ordered a new trial, saying the verdicts reached by the second jury were nullified.

Roberts described the situation as being somewhat similar to a mistrial, where a defendant can be tried on the same charges.

But the 2nd DCA disagreed with her.

"Moody's trial was not terminated by a declaration of a mistrial," the DCA opinion states. "It ended with a verdict convicting him of one lesser-included offense and acquitting him of all other charges."

The three-judge DCA panel -- consisting of Stevan T. Northcutt, James W. Whatley and Darryl C. Casanueva -- released its detailed, 12-page opinion Wednesday.

In addition, prosecutors won't be able to retry Moody for third-degree murder because the second jury has acquitted him of grand theft, which would be needed to prove the lesser murder charge.

A member of the Mitchell family said Wednesday the news of the opinion has been devastating for them.

Mitchell's brother, Roy Dan Mitchell, said his family has respect and compassion for capital crime victims, their families, law enforcement, the State Attorney's Office and trial judges.

But he said the Mitchell family has little compassion or respect for the Florida Supreme Court, the 2nd DCA and even less for the jurors in the second trial.

"We are just very saddened that our judicial system seems to be crumbling from the top," Mitchell said. "In business, when that happens, you will not succeed for long."

He said when his father, W.B. "Preacher" Mitchell, died from cancer in 1996, Moody faced the death penalty.

Now, Moody, who is being held in the Polk County Jail, appears to be going free.

"My brother, Scott, and his loved ones have no closure, no hope and no justice," Roy Dan Mitchell said. "Decidedly, it's a damn sad day for all of us law-abiding citizens."

Jason Geary can be reached at 863-533-9079.


Anonymous said...

Why doesn't the media report on the troubled life Scott lead.

Anonymous said...

Bartow is a small town where "everyone knows" each other. Scott Mitchell had his share of problems, but the media makes it appear the he was a "good boy". Those who know him, knows the truth.

Anonymous said...

Good boy, bad boy...what's the difference. No one deserves to be shot to death...let alone on their own property. It appeared that Scott was attempting to leave the grove when he was shot. The shooters did not shoot him in self defense. They shot him in an attempt to cover their tracks. I, personally knew Scott, and think of Scott fondly and full of life. He was a vibrant, young man shot down in the prime of his life.

Anonymous said...

We all have lives to lead, we all have problems we deal with. Scott was a good man and what happened to him was unfair and very tragic!! I am very sad just knowing he is not alive and enjoying his life, family and friends like he should be!!
Jill Reed