Decades of history behind old Duval County Courthouse

High-profile murder cases, shootings, interesting tidbits

By Jim Piggott - Reporter, Roxy Tyler - Web producer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - There have been many high-profile cases involving notorious crimes that have been tried at the old Duval County Courthouse over the past 50 years. There were also shootings inside the building, and some very interesting things happened during those decades.

One of the most notorious case that many people in Jacksonville will likely remember is the murder case against cab driver Paul Durousseau. He is a suspected serial killer who is now on death row after being convicted of one murder and suspected of six others.

Then there's the case of Rasheme Debouse, who was sentenced to death for the killing of 6-year-old Deshawna Davis, whose murder brought about changes in how Jacksonville addresses violent crime.

There's also the case of Earnest Dobber. He was convicted of killing his two young children in 1971. The bodies were never found and he was executed for the crime.

Court Magistrate Don Matthews, who is making the move to the new courthouse said he remembers some violent and deadly days in the old courthouse.

In 1971, he said, people were allowed to bring guns inside the courthouse and an attorney and one of his clients were shot and killed in the lobby.

"It was a husband and wife, and we were in a divorce action and each brought a gun. He shot her in the back and she turned around and shot him in the arm and the police officer killed her. (He) thought she was the bad guy, and she was just trying to defend herself," Matthews said.

But as tragic as some of the stories are, there are many others that caused some chuckles throughout the chambers. Matthews recalls a judge involved in an unusual misunderstanding.

"One was particularly hard of hearing and he tried to sentence or book a lady brought up for soliciting Avon products. He though it was for soliticing prostitution. So, he was reaming her out for 20 minutes, to a poor little housewife, and her husband finally got up and said, She has had enough," 

Court baliff Adam Fluker, 71, has been around the courthouse since it opened. He started as an officer then became a baliff in 1971. He has seen criminals come and go, but said he will always remember the time a woman was asked to identify the bad guy.

"They asked her, 'Do you see the person who robbed you in the courtroom?' She said, 'Yeah.' They asked, 'Can you point him out?' and she pointed at him and said that was him right there with the blue coat on.' And he said, 'You are telling a lie, I had a mask on,'" Fluker said. 

You can imagine the laughter in the courtroom after that comment. 

The old Jacksonville City Hall, behind the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville, and old Duval County Courthouse sit along the northbank of the St. Johns River.

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