Paul Hildwin Set Free After 35-Year Struggle for Justice
Hildwin Spent 29 Years on Florida’s Death Row Before His Murder Conviction Was Overturned by New DNA Evidence.
(Hernando County, FL – March 9, 2020) — Today, Paul Hildwin accepted a plea agreement in a 1985 Hernando County murder prosecution to avoid a second death penalty trial, becoming a free man for the first time in nearly 35 years. The Court ordered Hildwin released with time served after he pled no contest to second degree murder, ending Hildwin’s long fight for justice — during which he spent nearly 30 years on Florida’s death row for a murder he always maintained he did not commit. He is expected to walk free from the Hernando County jail today.
Investigator Kate O’Shea and Lyann Goudie, one of Paul’s attorneys, were the first to welcome him into freedom. pic.twitter.com/HcAYAvhmyv
— Innocence Project (@innocence) March 9, 2020
In 2014, while Hildwin was represented by Fort Lauderdale attorney Martin McClain and the Innocence Project, the Florida Supreme Court reversed Hildwin’s capital murder conviction and death sentence. The Court’s ruling was based on DNA testing and a court-ordered search of the national DNA database which proved that critical evidence originally used to tie Hildwin to the crime actually belonged to the victim’s estranged boyfriend, whom Hildwin had always contended was the likely true killer.
“Paul Hildwin’s unwavering determination to one day walk free enabled him to survive three and a half decades behind bars, during which he battled four bouts of cancer.”
Despite the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling that the new DNA evidence created reasonable doubt about Hildwin’s guilt that “would probably produce an acquittal on retrial,” prosecutors from the Fifth Judicial Circuit announced they would retry Hildwin — and would once again seek the death penalty. The Innocence Project then recruited renowned Tampa criminal defense attorney Lyann Goudie to defend Hildwin at his retrial. Goudie tirelessly represented Hildwin for more than five years pro bono and, on the eve of his second death penalty trial, negotiated the plea agreement that set Hildwin free today.
While on death row, Hildwin — now age 60 — not only survived the State’s efforts to execute him, but also three separate bouts of cancer. He suffered a fourth recurrence in March 2019, while awaiting retrial, but prosecutors still refused to drop the case. His cancer is now in remission.
“Paul Hildwin’s unwavering determination to one day walk free enabled him to survive three and a half decades behind bars, during which he battled four bouts of cancer,” said Nina Morrison, Innocence Project Senior Litigation Counsel, who helped represent Hildwin on his appeals from 2004 to 2014. “It is outrageous that Paul was held in jail for five more years after the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the new DNA would likely lead to his acquittal. And while we hoped that he would be fully exonerated, we are thrilled that Paul will not spend another day behind bars or face another death penalty trial.”