From his cell on Florida’s death row, Paul Hildwin has spent 28 years fighting for his life, waiting between cancer treatments for the state to acknowledge decade-old DNA evidence supporting his claims of innocence.
More than two weeks after the Florida Supreme Court threw out his death sentence for a 1985 murder, Hildwin remains in a cell measuring 6 by 9 feet, one of 395 inmates on the nation’s second-largest death row.
In Florida, two dozen death row inmates have been found innocent, the most in any state. But as Hildwin’s fight shows, a court backlog can delay justice even when strong DNA evidence exists.
“Hildwin really is a report card that there is a serious problem in the system that took this long,” said Martin McClain, his attorney. “They were hoping he would die, and it would go away.”
McClain visited with Hildwin on Monday at a state prison in Raiford, in northern Florida, where he is waiting to be transferred to a local jail.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office said last week it would not challenge the 5-2 state Supreme Court decision ordering a new trial for Hildwin.
Prosecutors say it may take several months to decide whether to retry the case, or drop the charges.
“We are literally back to square one,” said Ric Ridgway, chief assistant state attorney for Florida’s Fifth Judicial Circuit Court.
Now 54, with his blood cancer in remission, Hildwin was the second death row case in a month overturned by the Florida Supreme Court.
Experts blame the backlog in addressing such appeals on the size of Florida’s death row and limited resources. The state, one of a very few where juries can recommend a death sentence without a unanimous vote, adds more new death sentences each year than almost any other.
“If you are innocent, delay is bad and justice is not being served,” said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington.
‘Just keeps being out of reach’
Hildwin was arrested after forging a check from Vronzettie Cox, a 42-year-old woman found strangled in the trunk of her car hidden in the woods in west-central Florida.
Hildwin said he hitched a ride with Cox and her boyfriend several days before the body was found, but said he left them by the roadside after the two got into an argument.
He was convicted after prosecutors linked Hildwin to a pair of semen-stained underpants in her car. Using available science, prosecutors argued it could not have come from boyfriend William Haverty, the person the defense said should have been the suspect.
A 2003 DNA test proved Hildwin was not the source. But the state opposed running the evidence through a DNA database to search for another match on procedural grounds, arguing the evidence was not eligible.
“It was just a stunning instance of foot dragging,” said Nina Morrison, an Innocence Project attorney representing Hildwin.
In 2011, the results matched the DNA to Haverty, who is finishing a 20-year sentence for child sex abuse. Hildwin thought his ordeal was done, his attorneys said.
Two and a half years later, he is still nervous after nearly three decades spent largely in isolation, imagining the night sky.
“It just keeps seeming to get closer, but it just keeps being out of reach,” said McClain.
Warren narrowly beats Sanders to take over second place for first time in new poll of 17,000 Democratic voters
U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has narrowly taken second place in a new, just-released Politico/Morning Consult nation-wide poll of more than 17,000 registered voters. Warren beat Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) for the first time in this specific poll. Former Vice President Joe Biden maintains his first place position.
Republicans keep dragging trolls, wackos and conspiracy theorists before hearings — are the Democrats finally fed up?
Republicans in Congress returned to Capitol Hill following their August recess last week and immediately set out to make a mockery of their constitutional obligation — inviting discredited witnesses to provide expert testimony in a manner that only served to derail, dismiss and diminish otherwise serious subject manners.
Former Turning Point USA communications director Candace Owens was again invited by Republicans to appear before a House Joint Oversight Subcommittee on combating white supremacy. Owens, who previously argued that the 2018 mail bombings targeting Democrats actually resulted from a conspiracy plot orchestrated by liberals, claims the NRA was founded as a civil rights organization (it was actually started by Civil War veterans to improve soldiers' marksmanship), and has said, "Black Americans are doing worse off economically today than we were doing in the 1950s under Jim Crow,” to downplay the threat of white supremacy.
Now Betsy DeVos is telling colleges what to teach
I’m delighted to learn that everything must be fine with America’s public schools, with student loans and debts, with the growth of community colleges, with affirmative action in our school communities, with a healthy diversity, school assaults and shootings, fair pay, teacher satisfaction and childcare issues.
I know this because otherwise, I would have no explanation for why Education Secretary Betsy DeVos would have time to interfere with the content of college abroad classes.
Last week, the Education Department ordered Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to remake their Middle East studies program run jointly by the two schools because it isn’t offering a positive-enough image of Judaism and Christianity in that part of the world.