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Killer Backed by 8 Others Gets 2nd Death Sentence

February 25, 1988|Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. — An inmate who had called eight killers to the stand as character witnesses was sentenced a second time Wednesday to die in the electric chair for the rape-murder of his 13-year-old stepniece.

Judge Gary Formet said the convicts' statements on behalf of 31-year-old James Hitchcock were believable "but fall short of convincing this court" to spare his life.

Testifying last week under extraordinary security, the eight Death Row inmates from Florida State Prison had portrayed Hitchcock as a model prisoner, a peacemaker, teacher and generous person who should be spared execution.

A jury later recommended by a 7-5 vote that the judge impose the death penalty.

'Heinous, Atrocious, Cruel'

Formet was free to set aside the recommendation but cited Hitchcock's confession, which the inmate later recanted, and agreed with the prosecution that the 1976 slaying of Cynthia Driggers was "heinous, atrocious and cruel."

Hitchcock's original death sentence was overturned in April by the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled the original jury in 1977 had not considered mitigating evidence of the defendant's character and background.

Prosecutors Steve Wallace and Belvin Perry had denigrated the testimony of the "eight despicable criminals."

"All these murderers stated their opposition to the death penalty while seeming oblivious to the fact that each had himself imposed that ultimate penalty upon innocent victims," the prosecutors said.

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