The Florida Supreme Court today threw out the death sentence of convicted cop killer Paul Beasley Johnson because “the record here is so rife with evidence of previously undisclosed prosecutorial misconduct that we have no choice but to grant relief.”
In October, Gov. Charlie Crist ordered Johnson to be put to death by lethal injection in November.
The high court stayed the execution and heard oral arguments on the case in which Johnson was convicted of going on a drug-induced killing spree in Polk County in 1981. Johnson was convicted of murdering three men, including a Polk County Sheriff’s deputy.
In its ruling today, the court found that prosecutors intentionally got a jailhouse informer to get information from Johnson, take notes and give the notes to investigators. Prosecutors then lied about their role in soliciting the information at Johnson’s trial in 1981.
At a later trial in 1988, a different prosecutor used the same testimony that helped persuade the jury to hand down a 7-5 vote in favor of the death penalty, the court ruled today.
Johnson’s death sentence is now thrown out and he will have to be resentenced.
The court blamed Hardy Pickard, the original prosecutor, for today’s ruling.
“His misconduct tainted the State‘s case at every stage of the proceedings and irremediably compromised the integrity of the entire 1988 penalty phase proceeding. This is not a case of overzealous advocacy, but rather a case of deliberately misleading both the trial court and this Court. It must be emphasized that in our American legal system there is no room for such misconduct, no matter how disturbing a crime may be or how unsympathetic a defendant is. The same principles of law apply equally to cases that have stirred passionate public outcry as to those that have not,” the ruling reads.
“In our system of justice, ends do not justify means. Rather, experience teaches that the means become the end and that irregular and untruthful arguments lead to unreliable results. Lawlessness by a defendant never justifies lawless conduct at trial…The State must cling to the higher standard even in its dealings with those who do not. Accordingly, we must grant relief,” the opinion concludes.
Justice Ricky Polston dissented and Justices Peggy Quince and Charles Canady recused themselves.