TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Little more than two weeks before Death Row inmate James Dailey was scheduled to be executed, a federal judge Wednesday issued a stay that will keep Dailey alive until at least the end of December.
U.S. District Judge William Jung imposed the stay through Dec. 30 because new attorneys were appointed to represent Dailey on Oct. 1. Jung wrote that the attorneys in the Capital Habeas Unit of the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the Middle District of Florida needed more time to review and make filings in the case.
Gov. Ron DeSantis last month signed a death warrant for Dailey and scheduled the execution for Nov. 7. Dailey was sent to Death Row in the May 1985 murder of 14-year-old Shelly Boggio, whose nude body was found with multiple stab wounds in Pinellas County.
In the five-page order Wednesday, Jung said the stay would allow time for the new attorneys to file a habeas corpus petition, a legal procedure that generally challenges the constitutionality of a prisoner being incarcerated. Dailey's supporters have scurried in recent weeks to prevent his execution by arguing that he did not commit the murder.
"While this court takes no position on any potential habeas application that Dailey's new counsel might file between now and the due date … -- or even if such application would be reviewable on its merits without approval from the
Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals -- it is in the interests of a just and fair system for Mr. Dailey's new counsel to have the statutory grant of time to review and present habeas issues to this court," Jung wrote. "Mr. Dailey has been on Death Row since 1987. Staying his execution for 53 days to ensure that Dailey's right to counsel is meaningful is scant prejudice to respondents (the state)."
Dailey, now 73, and another man, Jack Pearcy, were convicted in the murder of Boggio, who had been hitchhiking before her death. Pearcy, now 64, was sentenced to life in prison, while Dailey was sentenced to death.
Along with Jung issuing the stay, Dailey's supporters have made a series of filings at the Florida Supreme Court to try to block the execution. The supporters, including attorneys with the Innocence Project of Florida, argue that Pearcy has confessed to the murder and cleared Dailey of killing Boggio.
DeSantis this week disputed that such arguments should prevent the execution of Dailey.
"The injustice that I see in this case is that he (Pearcy) didn't get the death penalty," DeSantis said. "I mean, he got life in prison. He should have had the death. …This was one of the most gruesome crimes in the history of Pinellas County. You have the family. It was just terrible. So I think the record, to me, is satisfactory. We're willing to listen to things, but this has been litigated over and over and over. So at some point, you need to do justice."
But Seth Miller, executive director of the Innocence Project of Florida, said in an interview last week with The News Service of Florida that evidence undercuts key pieces of the state's case and points to Dailey's innocence. He said, for example, that Dailey's death sentence was based, in part, on testimony from jailhouse snitches, who were "incentivized" to pin the crime on Dailey.
"The system is not designed to overturn a wrongful conviction. It's designed to preserve a conviction at all costs," Miller said. "How can you go forward to execute someone when the key pieces of evidence used to convict them have been so thoroughly discredited?"
Jung's order granting the stay said he appointed the Capital Habeas Unit of the Office of the Federal Public Defender to represent Dailey after previous attorneys sought to withdraw because of an alleged conflict of interest. The order did not detail that conflict.
The state objected to granting a stay, Jung wrote.