A Florida prisoner who has spent half of his life on death row for a murder that he maintains he did not commit, is fighting for a new trial based on DNA evidence pointing to another man.
Attorneys for Paul Hildwin, who was convicted of the 1985 rape and murder of Vronzettie Cox, argued to overturn his conviction at an evidentiary hearing Monday after bodily fluids recovered from the crime scene excluded Hildwin and matched the victim’s boyfriend, William Haverty. Cox’s nude body was found in the trunk of her car in Hernando County, and her death was ruled a strangulation. Investigators also suspected that she had been sexually assaulted.
Martin McClain, who has defended Hildwin for the past two decades, said that evidence was withheld from jurors and the scientific evidence presented was flawed, reported the Hernando Today news. McClain was joined in court by Innocence Project Senior Staff Attorney Nina Morrison who is co-counsel on the case.
Hildwin became a suspect in the murder after stolen property from the vehicle was found in his possession. When questioned, he told investigators that he had hitched a ride with the victim and her boyfriend several days earlier, and admitted stealing property from the vehicle, including the victim’s checkbook. But he denied assaulting or murdering her, and insisted that he left the victim with her boyfriend by the roadside after the two got into an argument and pulled over the car.
At trial, the prosecution presented inaccurate evidence that the bodily fluids found at the crime scene matched Hildwin and not Haverty. That evidence came from a FBI forensics expert who claimed that only 11% of the world’s white male population could have left the fluids behind. The Hernando Today reports:
“Now we know as a result of the (recent) upload that information was false,” said McClain during Monday’s hearing. “That’s the problem in this case.”
In the eyes of jurors, the old forensic evidence excluded Haverty as a legitimate suspect in Cox’s slaying. The new findings — along with more information that has since surfaced — would likely result in a different outcome if the trial were held today, said McClain.
Earlier suspicions about Haverty were overlooked, and witnesses who told investigators they saw Cox with Haverty after she was thought to have died were never called to testify. McClain has contended for years that the state withheld evidence and presented incorrect data presented to jurors, which ultimately led to Hildwin’s conviction. A ruling in the case is expected within the next 60 days.