Fitzpatrick v. State

Citation900 So.2d 495
Decision Date27 January 2005
Docket NumberNo. SC01-2759.,SC01-2759.
PartiesMichael Peter FITZPATRICK, Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Florida

James Marion Moorman, Public Defender and Robert F. Moeller, Assistant Public Defender, Tenth Judicial Circuit, Bartow, FL, for Appellant.

Charles, J. Crist, Jr., Attorney General, Tallahassee, FL and Kimberly Nolen Hopkins, Assistant Attorney General, and Katherine V. Blanco, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Tampa, FL, for Appellee.


We have on appeal a judgment of conviction of first-degree murder and sexual battery of Laura Romines, and the corresponding sentences of death for first-degree murder and thirty years' imprisonment for sexual battery. We have jurisdiction. See Art. V, § 3(b)(1), Fla. Const. For the reasons stated herein, we affirm the conviction of first-degree murder and sentence of death. However, we vacate the sentence for the non-capital offense of sexual battery and remand for resentencing after a guidelines scoresheet has been prepared and considered by the trial judge.


The charges against appellant, Michael Peter Fitzpatrick, resulted from the stabbing and sexual battery of Laura Romines, who was found nude and bleeding on the side of a road, and later died from her injuries. Fitzpatrick was tried and found guilty of first-degree murder and involuntary sexual battery with great force. The jury recommended death by a ten-to-two majority. The trial court sentenced Fitzpatrick to death on the charge of murder in the first degree and sentenced him to thirty years imprisonment on the charge of sexual battery to run concurrent with his murder sentence. This direct appeal followed.

The evidence presented at trial indicated that on August 18, 1996, at approximately 3 a.m., several individuals found Romines walking on the side of the road, nude and bloody with her throat slit. When questioned at the scene, and then again at the hospital, Romines gave conflicting responses with regard to who attacked her. At the scene, she separately advised an individual who found her, a paramedic, and the first deputy to arrive that "Steve" had attacked her and that he lived at Water's Edge Apartments.1 Romines also told the paramedic that "Steve" was a 30-year-old male. The paramedic testified that Romines was in and out of consciousness and possibly did not understand the question when she stated "Steve." Romines also stated that she was stabbed at the location where she was found and that she arrived there in a vehicle. Romines was airlifted to the hospital. At the hospital, detectives Jeff Bousquet and Peter Weekes asked Romines if "Steve" had attacked her and she shook her head no.

Rita Hall, an advanced registered nurse, who was accepted by the trial court as an expert in the field of the examination of sexual assault victims, conducted the SAVE (sexual assault victim examination) on Romines at the hospital. Hall testified that she found a bloody undergarment wrapped around Romines' waist near her breasts, Romines' breasts were deep purple, there was a penetrating wound in the breast area that was either another stab wound or a bite mark, there was puffiness around her head, there was bruising on her arms, her legs were covered in scratches, and there was a cigarette burn on her leg.

Hall also examined and swabbed Romines' vaginal and anal areas. Hall concluded that sexual activity occurred within a fairly close proximity of time, a maximum of an hour or two, from when Romines was found. Hall also concluded that Romines never had the undergarment on after the sexual activity, due to the absence of semen on the undergarment. Hall detected several areas in the vagina and anus that were either a very deep pink or red, indicating there was pressure from something penetrating the areas. In addition, Hall testified that her findings were consistent with forced sexual activity; however, she could not determine conclusively if the sexual activity was forced. Further, the evidence established that the DNA profile developed from Romines' vaginal swabs was consistent with the DNA profile that was developed from Fitzpatrick's blood sample. According to the medical examiner, the cause of death was hemorrhage and aspiration of blood due to incised wounds of the neck, penetrating the larynx and esophagus. The medical examiner could not indicate with any degree of precision the original length of the wound; however, the deepest penetration appeared to be one to one and a half inches.

With regard to Fitzpatrick's involvement with Romines, the evidence established that on August 17, 1996, Romines was dropped off at a 7-Eleven between 7:30 and 8 p.m. Fitzpatrick, who was delivering pizzas for Pro Pizza, saw Romines at the 7-Eleven. In his police statement, Fitzpatrick stated that when he stopped at the 7-Eleven to get gas and cigarettes he saw Romines crying and asked her if she needed a ride to the Sunny Palms Motel. Fitzpatrick stated that he then dropped off Romines at the motel, and later returned to the motel to check on her, but never saw her again. The 7-Eleven surveillance tape from that night revealed that Romines entered the store. The tape also revealed Fitzpatrick at the store.

Two State witnesses, Cindy Young and Jessica Kortepeter, testified that they witnessed a Pro Pizza delivery man arrive at the Sunny Palms Motel with Romines on the night of August 17 between 8:30 and 9 p.m. After Romines informed Kortepeter she was looking for a place to stay, Kortepeter recommended her friend Albert J. Howard. Kortepeter testified that Howard arrived at the Sunny Palms Motel, talked to Romines for about ten to fifteen minutes, and drove off with her at approximately 9 p.m.2 Young and Kortepeter's testimony was consistent with Howard's, who admitted that he went to the Sunny Palms Motel between 8:30 and 9 p.m. to talk to Romines, and talked to her for fifteen to twenty minutes before she decided to go with him to his house.

The evidence at trial established that Fitzpatrick clocked out with his time card at 11:45 p.m. on August 17, and took a pizza with him. Sally Goodwin, Kortepeter's mother who was visiting Kortepeter at the Sunny Palms Motel, testified that she saw a Pro Pizza truck at the motel that night, but could not remember what time she observed the truck at the motel. Goodwin also testified that she left the motel and drove to Howard's house, where she recalled seeing the same Pro Pizza truck that left the motel. Howard confirmed that a pizza delivery man, whom he identified in court as Fitzpatrick, arrived at his house with a pizza, informed him the pizza was free, and asked him if Romines was there. Howard testified that it was approximately midnight when Romines left with the pizza delivery man "arm in arm."

Howard's testimony was consistent with that of Melanie Yarborough, who was at Howard's house on August 17, 1996. At some point that night, Yarborough observed a Pro Pizza delivery man arrive at Howard's house. Yarborough recalled either helping place Romines' bags in the pizza delivery man's truck or handing the bags to Romines, who then placed the bags in the truck. Yarborough testified that she saw Romines leave Howard's house with the pizza delivery man.

At trial, evidence was presented that Fitzpatrick was seen carrying a knife before the stabbing occurred, but not afterward. Specifically, Fitzpatrick's Pro Pizza employers, Bradford and Degele, testified that during the time frame that Fitzpatrick worked for Pro Pizza he carried a knife on his person, but that after the stabbing they never saw that knife again. Degele, however, did not remember the last time he saw Fitzpatrick with the knife before the stabbing. According to Degele, he confronted Fitzpatrick regarding not carrying the knife after the stabbing, and Fitzpatrick indicated it would not be very smart to carry a knife around because the police were conducting a murder investigation.

During the investigation, Fitzpatrick made several statements to Detective Jeffrey Bousquet denying involvement in the crime. Fitzpatrick admitted that he picked Romines up at the 7-Eleven and dropped her off at the Sunny Palms Motel. Fitzpatrick denied ever seeing Romines again. Diane Fairbanks, who resided with Fitzpatrick at the time of the murder, and was still Fitzpatrick's girlfriend at the time of trial, testified that Fitzpatrick was home between 12:30 and 1 a.m. on August 18, 1996, roughly the same time other witnesses testified to seeing Fitzpatrick with Romines leaving Howard's house.3 Fitzpatrick also denied having sexual intercourse with Romines, until the detective confronted him with the DNA results. At that point, Fitzpatrick admitted that he had sexual contact with Romines on August 17, 1996, between 9:30 a.m. and noon at the Water's Edge Apartments. Fitzpatrick stated that he saw Romines at the dumpster at Water's Edge and then they went to his house, had sexual intercourse on the couch, and he paid her twenty-five dollars. Bousquet also inquired whether Fitzpatrick would submit a blood sample to the police, which Fitzpatrick ultimately did. Evidence presented revealed that Fitzpatrick asked Dawn Moore, his sister who was a nurse, for a couple of vials of blood. Moore informed Fitzpatrick that she could not obtain blood samples for him.


Fitzpatrick presents eleven claims on appeal.4 We address each claim in turn. We also address whether Fitzpatrick's death sentence is proportionate. As is more fully addressed below, we affirm the convictions and sentence of death, and vacate Fitzpatrick's sentence for the noncapital offense of sexual battery and remand for resentencing in a manner consistent with this opinion.


As his first claim on appeal, Fitzpatrick asserts that the trial court erred in denying his motion for judgment of acquittal...

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