By: Bill Kaczor, Associated Press
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- The Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously denied a post-conviction appeal and stay sought by a drug trafficker who is facing execution on Feb. 26 for killing a state trooper with a pipe bomb.
An attorney for Paul Augustus Howell, 47, said additional appeals, though, will be filed in state and federal courts.
Howell was convicted of killing Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Jimmy Fulford in February 1992. Fulford had stopped a car carrying the bomb, hidden inside a gift-wrapped microwave oven, on Interstate 10 east of Tallahassee.
Authorities said the bomb was intended to kill two women in Marianna because they knew too much about a South Florida drug ring. Fulford was killed instantly when it exploded as he attempted to open the package.
"The key issue in this case was a substantial conflict of interest by his trial attorney," said Michael Ufferman, one of Howell's appellate lawyers.
Ufferman said Frank Sheffield, now a state circuit judge in Tallahassee, had a conflict that came because of a telephoned death threat Sheffield said his wife, then also his secretary, had received.
It came after Sheffield had told Howell the evidence against him was overwhelming in a separate drug trafficking case then pending in federal court. Sheffield said the anonymous caller asked to leave a message saying that "if Paul Howell goes down, Mr. Sheffield is going down also."
The federal judge let Sheffield withdraw from the drug case. Howell subsequently was convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to life in prison.
Sheffield, though, declined to withdraw from the murder trial that followed although prosecutors and Howell asked for him to be removed. The state judge allowed him to remain. The state prosecutors also said their investigation indicated the threatening phone call never happened.
Ufferman said the new appeals will be filed in federal court in Tallahassee and in state court in neighboring Jefferson County.
The trial lawyer conflict issue has never before been heard in federal court because Howell's initial appellate lawyer, Danielle Jorden, missed a filing deadline, Ufferman said.
The Supreme Court rejected a request by Ufferman and Sonya Rudenstine, who were hired by Howell's brother, to remove two court-appointed appellate attorneys from the case. They argued both had a conflict because one of them, Clyde Taylor, once shared an office with Jorden and would be called to testify for the upcoming federal appeal.
The high court, though, ruled it cannot address claims Howell may raise in federal court. The justices also concluded Howell hasn't been harmed by having all four lawyers on his case. They wrote that allowing a last-minute substitution of counsel could set a precedent and create "a standard delay tactic in any death warrant case."
The justices also rejected Howell's requests for the appointment of mental health experts and an investigator as well as his claim that Florida's lethal injection process is constitutionally flawed.