DeSan­tis must not be conned into ex­e­cut­ing James Dai­ley

Orlando Sentinel - - OPINION -

Ron DeSan­tis was elected gov­er­nor be­cause mil­lions of Florid­i­ans trusted his judg­ment. Now it ap­pears he might be fall­ing for a hor­rific con job.

The vic­tim won’t be the gov­er­nor. It will be James Dai­ley, who has spent the past 32 years on death row.

He was sched­uled to be ex­e­cuted in Novem­ber but was granted a stay. It ex­pired Mon­day, and DeSan­tis must de­cide whether to grant the 73-year-old Dai­ley a clemency hear­ing or sign a new death war­rant.

If he chooses the lat­ter, DeSan­tis will be­tray the faith vot­ers had in him.

Dai­ley was con­victed of killing 14-year-old Shelly Bog­gio in 1985. We don’t know what truly hap­pened that night, but it has be­come starkly ob­vi­ous the case against Dai­ley was built on baloney.

The key wit­ness was some­one the Depart­ment of Cor­rec­tions termed “a con artist of the high­est de­gree.”

That would be Paul Skalnik, whose re­sume in­cludes child mo­lesta­tion, eight wives, at least 25 con­vic­tions of crimes of fraud and dis­hon­esty and a well-de­served rep­u­ta­tion as an all-time great jail­house snitch.

Author­i­ties in Pinel­las County re­lied on him for a con­vic­tion af­ter Bog­gio’s 1985 mur­der. Her nude body was found float­ing in a wa­ter­way near In­dian Rocks Beach.

Bog­gio had been stabbed 31 times, dragged into the wa­ter and left to drown. Police ar­rested Dai­ley and his house­mate, Jack Pearcy.

He was spot­ted with Bog­gio at a bar and had a long crim­i­nal record and his­tory of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence. Pearcy tried shift­ing the blame to Dai­ley, who said he was home asleep dur­ing the crime.

Pearcy was tried first and found guilty of mur­der. The jury gave him a life sen­tence, but not the death penalty an en­raged public wanted.

Pearcy re­fused to tes­tify against Dai­ley, and there was no foren­sic ev­i­dence link­ing Dai­ley to the crime. So pros­e­cu­tors turned to an old, re­li­able jail­house in­for­mant.

Skalnik was fac­ing 20 years in prison for grand theft, but in­for­mants rou­tinely re­ceive fa­vor­able treat­ment if they help pros­e­cute other crimes. Though he was a well­known snitch, Skalnik said Dai­ley ad­mit­ted the crime to him.

Skalnik’s elab­o­rate re­count­ing of Bog­gio’s mur­der was cru­cial. The jury unan­i­mously rec­om­mended the death penalty for Dai­ley.

Skalnik told the jury he wasn’t promised spe­cial treat­ment for tes­ti­fy­ing. Yet five days af­ter Dai­ley’s con­vic­tion he was re­leased from jail.

Dai­ley’s plight gained na­tional at­ten­tion last month af­ter an ex­pose by Pamela

Colloff for ProPublica in part­ner­ship with the New York Times Mag­a­zine. The story shined a damn­ing light on the whole jail­house snitch busi­ness.

Of 367 DNA ex­on­er­a­tions na­tion­wide, in­for­mants played a role in 20% of wrong­ful con­vic­tions. Florida has had 29 ex­on­er­a­tions, more than any other state.

That alarm­ing fre­quency prompted a 2014 law that re­quired pros­e­cu­tors to dis­close to ju­ries the deals they make with in­for­mants. If there were a Jail­house Snitch Hall of Fame, Skalnik would be a first-bal­lot shoo-in.

From 1981 to 1987 alone, he tes­ti­fied or pro­vided in­for­ma­tion in at least 37 cases in Pinel­las County. When he was seek­ing le­niency in 1984, he boasted about his record in a let­ter to then-Sen. Law­ton

Chiles.

“I have placed 34 in­di­vid­u­als in prison,” Skalnik wrote, “in­clud­ing four on death row.”

He was slated to tes­tify in three more mur­der tri­als af­ter Dai­ley’s con­vic­tion, but he skipped town in a stolen rental car. Skalnik has spent most of the past 30 years in and out of Texas pris­ons.

Dai­ley’s ap­peals were slowly ex­hausted and he seemed des­tined for ex­e­cu­tion un­til two years ago. The Cap­i­tal Col­lat­eral Re­gional Coun­sel, a state agency that rep­re­sents in­di­gent death-row in­mates, took up his case.

Lawyers even­tu­ally vis­ited Pearcy, who told them he alone mur­dered Bog­gio. They ap­pealed to the Florida Supreme Court for a new trial.

The court re­fused, say­ing, “Dai­ley ne­glects to ex­plain why this in­for­ma­tion could not have been dis­cov­ered ear­lier.”

So it’s Dai­ley’s fault for not ex­pos­ing Skalnik sooner?

Dai­ley’s fate now rests solely with DeSan­tis. When he signed the death war­rant in Septem­ber, he said, “This has been lit­i­gated over and over and over, and so at some point you need to do jus­tice.”

But what is jus­tice?

Pearcy says he will tes­tify that Dai­ley did not kill Bog­gio. Even if you dis­miss him as a liar with noth­ing to lose, the fact re­mains there were no wit­nesses or phys­i­cal ev­i­dence ty­ing Dai­ley to the crime.

The strong­est thread was Skalnik, a man whose word the state ad­mits is worth­less.

If that’s not enough to war­rant a clemency hear­ing, Gov. DeSan­tis, what is?

PAT SUL­LI­VAN/AP

Gov. Ron DeSan­tis should grant death row in­mate James Dai­ley a clemency hear­ing. If he doesn't, ev­i­dence in­di­cates Florida may well ex­e­cute an in­no­cent man.

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