Florida Justices Asked to Stay Feb. 26 Execution of Paul Howell

By Bill Kaczor, for The Associated Press. View the original article here.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — New lawyers for a drug trafficker convicted of killing a state trooper 21 years ago with a pipe bomb asked the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday to stay his execution, which is set for Feb. 26.

Two attorneys recently hired by death row inmate Paul Augustus Howell‘s brother filed the request.

They contend two court-appointed lawyers previously assigned to the case should be removed because they have a conflict of interest and are woefully unprepared to handle last-ditch appeals in state and federal courts. One of those appeals is pending in the Supreme Court.

The new lawyers, Sonya Rudenstine and Michael Ufferman, wrote that Howell “effectively had no counsel” from the time Gov. Rick Scott signed his death warrant on Jan. 18 until they were hired nearly two weeks later.

Howell was convicted of gift-wrapping a microwave oven that was booby trapped with a pipe bomb with the intent of killing two Panhandle women because they knew too much about a South Florida drug ring.

Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Jimmy Fulford in February 1992 stopped a car that was carrying the bomb for a traffic violation on Interstate 10 east of Tallahassee before it could reach its intended victims in Marianna. Fulford was killed when the bomb exploded as he opened the package on the roadside.

The stay request includes a sworn statement by Clyde Taylor, one of the court-appointed lawyers, who agreed he had a conflict and should no longer represent Howell. Taylor also acknowledged he may have overlooked possible claims such as mental health issues in a prior appeal and that he was hampered in representing Howell because many of the case files were ruined when his garage, where they were stored, flooded years ago.

The alleged conflict is due to Taylor’s sharing office space and an administrative assistant with Howell’s original post-conviction attorney, Danielle Jorden, and serving as her mentor. Jorden was taken off the case after she missed a filing deadline for having it reviewed in federal court. Taylor later was appointed in 2002.

“I believe I can contribute evidence as a witness to support Mr. Howell’s … claims,” Taylor wrote in his statement.

It would be a conflict for Taylor to both testify and represent Howell.

Another court-appointed lawyer, Baya Harrison III, wants to remain on the case, but the new attorneys contend he also is tainted by Taylor’s conflict. They noted as well that Harrison previously indicated to a trial judge that he couldn’t or wouldn’t represent Howell after Scott signed his death warrant.

Circuit Judge Angela Dempsey subsequently refused to remove Harrison and Taylor from the case and denied Howell’s motion to appoint mental health experts, an investigator and mitigation specialist to his case.

Howell is appealing those rulings to the Supreme Court. He also contends Florida’s capital sentencing scheme is unconstitutionally arbitrary.

In a response to the appeal, the state opposes replacing Howell’s court-appointed lawyers, arguing that Taylor has no conflict because any testimony he gives would be in federal court. The state also contends defendants have no constitutional right to choose their own legal representation in post-conviction proceedings.

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