JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacob John Dougan Jr., who was sentenced to die over 40 years ago for the brutal, racially motivated murder of an 18-year-old man in Jacksonville, will get a new trial, the Florida Supreme Court decided.
The Court has upheld a lower court's 2013 ruling that granted Dougan a new trial because the prosecution's star witness lied on the stand and Dougan's attorney had several conflicts of interest during the trial, including having an affair with Dougan's sister.
Dougan, now 69, was convicted in the torture and killing of Stephen Orlando, whose body was found off a dirt road in Jacksonville Beach on June 17, 1974. He had been stabbed in the stomach, chest and back and had been shot twice in the head.
According to a New York Times article, Orlando, a white man, had been playing pool with friends at a Howard Johnson motel the night before and was last seen walking five blocks to his car.
According to testimony from Dougan's trial, the then-27-year-old and a group of young men drove around on the night of June 16, 1974, “seeking to find and kill a white person at random.”
Orlando's body was found the next day with a note lying nearby that read:
Warning to the oppressive state. No longer will your atrocities and brutalizing of black people be unpunished. The black man is no longer a slave. The revolution has begun and the oppressed will be victorious. The revolution will end when we are free. The Black Revolution Army. All power to the people."
The New York Times article said Orlando had been “pummeled and then tortured with a knife. He had been shot in the left cheek. And then in the left ear.”
After the body was found, WJXT and several other Jacksonville TV stations, police and Orlando's family received cassette tapes in the mail that contained recordings describing the gruesome murder.
UNCUT: Tom Wills recalls 1974 race war threats
"Channel 4 got one of these cassettes that had voices on them that were threatening a race war,t hat this murder was the beginning of a race war and that oppressed blacks should stand up and there will be murders of other white people," said Tom Wills, Channel 4's longest-serving anchor. "Remember, this was only a few years after the race riots born out of the Martin Luther King assassination. A lot of people's nerves were on edge. This was believed. This was not taken as a hoax."
According to a 2010 Florida Times-Union article, the tape sent to Orlando's family said:
He begged. Oh, yes, he begged for mercy, as did my people when you murdered them. And we gave him, that’s right, no mercy, for every time I pulled the trigger, every time I saw the knife go into his body, satisfaction came to me.”
An FBI handwriting expert identified Dougan's handwriting on the note, and another expert identified his fingerprints on the envelope used to mail the tapes.
The state's star witness, William Hearn, testified that his car was used by the group and that his .22-caliber pistol was the murder weapon. Hearn also testified that Dougan wrote the note found by Orlando's body and that he directed the others on what to do that night.
Hearn testified that another man stabbed Orlando, Dougan shot him twice and two of the men in the group tried to pin the note to Orlando's chest with a pocketknife.
Three other witnesses testified that they were present during the tape-recording sessions and that Dougan took credit for shooting Orlando and scripted most of what was said on the tapes.
Dougan and a co-defendant were convicted of first-degree murder, and two other co-defendants were convicted of second-degree murder. Hearn later pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in Orlando's death.
Dougan, considered a leader in the black community before his 1975 conviction, was resentenced to death three times before Thursday's decision ordering a new trial.
Harry Shorstein, who served as State Attorney for the Fourth Judicial Circuit from 1991-2008, inherited the case as it made its way through several appeals. He said Dougan's defense never once asked for him to be released, but did want to see life versus death.
"I met with the victim's father, who is a former (police) officer. I drove down there to met with him, and he said, 'I don't have any problem with that,'" Shorstein said.
According to the Florida Supreme Court, Dougan's conviction and death sentence were overturned because the state failed to disclose the full extent of its plea deal with Hearn and allowed Hearn to testify falsely that he was going to receive a life sentence.
At his sentencing, the state recommended, and Hearn received, only 15 years in prison.
FROM THE WJXT VAULT:
Dougan's 1987 resentencing begins | Victim's father talks about sentencing
According to the lower court, “Mr. Hearn’s lack of truthfulness in his testimony regarding the sentence he was going to receive calls the credibility of his testimony as a whole into doubt.”
The court also found that Dougan's attorney, Ernest Jackson, was operating under two conflicts of interest during the trial: He represented two of Dougan's co-defendants in their appeals, and he was having an affair with Dougan's sister, which Dougan did not know.
The court also found that Dougan's attorney “essentially presented no defense” during the trial.
The unanimous decision -- a rarity in death penalty cases in which convictions are overturned -- came amid intense scrutiny of the death penalty in Florida. The state's high court last week struck down a portion of a new death penalty law as unconstitutional because it does not require unanimous jury recommendations for the sentence to be imposed.
In a concurring opinion, Justice Barbara Pariente wrote that the 1974 case “is a sad reminder of the turbulent times that existed in Jacksonville at that time.”
“It would be overly simplistic, however, to characterize this murder and trial merely as a byproduct of an earlier time when Jacksonville was dealing with deep wounds of past racial discrimination,” Pariente wrote.
Dougan's sentence should have been reduced to life imprisonment, Pariente wrote, agreeing with three dissenters in a 1992 Florida Supreme Court decision that upheld his death sentence.
“Justice is at times an elusive word,” Pariente wrote, “but by granting Dougan a new trial, we restore some small measure of justice to remedy the injustices that occurred at the time of his original trial.”
She noted that the case is a tragedy for Orlando's family and for Dougan, who has spent most of the last 40 years on death row and now faces a retrial. Shorstein agreed with Pariente's opinion.
"If you were convicted in '75 for a crime in '74 and our government hasn't executed you in 40 years, isn't there an argument that that in and of itself is a form of cruel and unusual punishment?" Shorstein said.
The New Service of Florida contributed to this report.