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Tuesday, May 21, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Death-Row Inmate May Keep Bombing Reprieve

(CN) - The U.S. Supreme Court refused to vacate a stay of execution granted to a Florida man convicted in the bombing murder of a state trooper.

Paul Howell was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death for the January 1992 murder of Jimmie Fulford, a state trooper in Florida.

Howell, who belonged to a drug ring, had intended to use the pipe bomb he made to kill Tammie Bailey at her home in Marianna.

Bailey allegedly had knowledge that would implicate Howell and his brother to a prior murder. Howell hid the bomb in a microwave oven, which was then gift-wrapped, and then paid Lester Watson to deliver the bomb to Bailey in a car he rented.

Trooper Fulford had pulled Watson over for speeding on Interstate 10 toward Marianna, and Watson, who did not have a valid driver's license, provided a false name and birth date.

Contacted about the stop by the radio dispatcher, the car rental company contacted Howell at home to find out if the car was stolen.

Howell told the dispatcher he had loaned the car to Watson but did not know he would be traveling so far with the vehicle.

Although the dispatcher told Howell that Watson was going to county jail, Howell never mentioned the bomb that would be left in the car.

After other officers arrived on scene, Watson gave them permission to search the rental car.

The deputies found the gift-wrapped microwave in the trunk and then left with Watson for the jail, leaving Trooper Fulford alone with the rental car.

Shortly thereafter the bomb exploded in Fulford's hands, killing him instantly.

Though Howell had no significant criminal history and had received an honorable discharge from the military, he was sentenced to death for the murder.

After failing to secure post-conviction relief, Howell also made a belated petition for federal habeas relief.

Finding that Howell had exceeded the deadline stipulated by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, and that he was not entitled to tolling based on attorney negligence, a federal judge dismissed the habeas petition as untimely and the 11th Circuit.

With his Feb. 26, 2013, execution date growing near, Howell then sought emergency relief based on supposed Supreme Court precedent that caused changes in law.

Howell also filed a claim of "actual innocence," arguing that, but for a conflict of interest error with his attorney, he would not have been found guilty of murder.

Chief U.S. District Judge M. Casey Rodgers denied Howell's motion for emergency habeas relief, and his concurrent emergency motion for stay of execution, on Saturday.

In a last ditch effort to save his life, Howell filed for a certificate of appealability in which he argued that his state post-conviction attorney did more than miscalculate his habeas filing deadline.

Howell claimed the lawyer abandoned him completely during the critical filing period because her first communication with him was only after the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act filing deadline had already passed.

Finding that Supreme Court precedent "did not address what level of attorney conduct beyond negligence in miscalculating a filing deadline would amount to an extraordinary circumstance" needed to meet the standard for reopening a habeas claim, Judge Rodgers gave Howell leave to appeal on Monday.

A three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit stayed Howell's execution Monday.

"Because the district court granted a certificate of appealability, we must grant a temporary stay of execution pending consideration of the merits of this appeal," the Atlanta-based panel court wrote.

Late Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to vacate that stay.

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