Friday, May 25, 2012

Death-row inmate innocent?
Not so fast, prosecutor says

By John L. Guerra

Thomas Overton, a former Keys resident who now lives on Florida’s death row is innocent, the victim of mishandled DNA evidence, Overton's lawyer said last week.
On Wednesday, Monroe County State Attorney Mark Wilson said he has no doubt that Overton murdered a man and his pregnant wife after torturing them for hours in their own home.
"The DNA test showed 12 loci matched," Wilson said, explaining that a dozen points [loci] on a DNA strand taken from the crime scene matched the same 12 points on the DNA sample taken from Overton in 1996.
Overton was convicted of the August 1991 murders of Michael and Michelle MacIvor of Tavernier. Ms. MacIvor was eight months pregnant when Overton raped and murdered her.
"Unless Overton can come up with a non-criminal reason for being in the MacIvor home," he killed the couple and their unborn baby, Wilson said.
Overton's lawyer, Roseanne Eckert, said semen found on a comforter under Michelle MacIvor was not DNA tested until five years after the crime. In June 1993, the bedding samples were sent to FDLE for DNA testing. No match was found at that time.

Overton found in 1996 

Then, after Overton's 1996 burglary arrest, prison officials obtained Overton's blood when he cut his throat in an attempt to commit suicide. After testing Overton's DNA, serologists claimed a trillion to one result, which means that even with several Earths full of people, Overton would still be the perpetrator.
Eckert, however, says the evidence was mishandled.
"Doc" Donald Pope, a veterinarian-turned crime scene investigator and serologist for the Monroe County Sheriff's Office, swabbed Michelle's body at the scene and during autopsy. Pope testified that he found no evidence of sperm in the swabs he took from the victim's body.
"He then opined that he believed the absence of any evidence of sperm on the swabs taken from the victim's body was probably the result of deterioration due to weather and climate conditions," Eckert argued.
Pope also admitted during cross examination to having failed to properly collect and label the swabs in question. He also said dating on the samples did not accurately reflect the date on which the samples were obtained. The swabs also were lost and could not be found for a time, Eckert said.

 A bizarre twist 

The case took a bizarre turn in the time before Eckert became Overton's lawyer. Overton's earlier lawyer accused Monroe County Sheriff’s detectives of taking a violent inmate to the former La Concha Holiday Inn on Duval Street and plying him with drinks and confiscated drugs to convince him to testify against Overton.
The inmate, who called himself “James Pesci,” was a fan of Joe Pesci, the actor who plays psychopath mobsters. "James Pesci" inhabited a cell next to Overton after Overton's 1996 arrest. Pesci told jail officials that Overton had told him how he had murdered the MacIvors--including feeling the baby move as he sexually assaulted Ms. MacIvor.
Prosecutors wanted to put Pesci on the stand to recount the confession to a jury, but at one point, according to a motion from Overton's lawyers to prevent Overton's confession from being heard by a jury, Pesci balked at testifying.
To convince Pesci to testify, the motion states, detectives provided Pesci with prostitutes, alcohol, and drugs. Overton’s lawyer at the time claimed a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigator took Pesci from his jail cell in shackles and drove him to Key West where he bought him drinks at the La Concha. The FDLE investigator even went so far as to put his sports coat over Pesci’s shoulders so other bar patrons wouldn't notice Pesci's jail uniform, the motion said.
After “Pesci” had a few drinks, he was serviced by a prostitute in a hotel room upstairs as a detective stood outside the door in the hallway, the motion claimed.
On a second occasion, the motion claimed, detectives brought Pesci to Key West again, this time to meet a prostitute behind a local business. As an investigator stood outside a car, Pesci received services from a prostitute. Detectives also allegedly gave Pesci drugs police had confiscated from local drug defendants, the motion claimed.

Wilson: Pesci himself denied the story

When the motion was filed, the story of Pesci's Nights Out raised a lot of eyebrows, not to mention piqued the interest of the court. Wilson got to cross examine Pesci as well as a defense investigator who claimed Pesci could describe the hotel ballroom in the La Concha.
"Pesci himself said the story [about the trips to Key West] was false," Wilson said. "He recanted the entire story of his trips."
Pesci also got to testify what he said Overton had told him of his crime, including that Overton had first spotted Ms. MacIvor as she bought gas at the Amoco Station in Tavernier where Overton worked.
"Overton told Pesci details that only the perpetrator would know of the crime," Wilson said.
As for the defense assertion that a .22 pistol had been fired at the crime scene and that Overton did not own a gun, Wilson said the DNA match was more than enough proof that Overton is the killer.
The same goes for tire tracks that defense lawyers say don't match the treads on Overton's car, Wilson said.
"We have Overton's DNA under the body of Michelle MacIvor," he said.

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