State v. Spaziano, No. 87364

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Florida
Writing for the CourtPER CURIAM; KOGAN; OVERTON; WELLS; OVERTON; WELLS
Citation692 So.2d 174
Decision Date17 April 1997
Docket NumberNo. 87364
Parties22 Fla. L. Weekly S193 STATE of Florida, Appellant, v. Joseph R. SPAZIANO, Appellee.

Page 174

692 So.2d 174
22 Fla. L. Weekly S193
STATE of Florida, Appellant,
v.
Joseph R. SPAZIANO, Appellee.
No. 87364.
Supreme Court of Florida.
April 17, 1997.

Robert A. Butterworth, Attorney General; and Margene A. Roper and Kenneth S. Nunnelley, Assistant Attorneys General, Daytona Beach, for Appellant.

Page 175

Gregg D. Thomas and Stephen F. Hanlon of Holland & Knight, Tampa; and James M. Russ of the Law Offices of James M. Russ, P.A., Orlando, for Appellee.

PER CURIAM.

In our decision in Spaziano v. State, 660 So.2d 1363 (Fla.1995), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 116 S.Ct. 722, 133 L.Ed.2d 674 (1996), we remanded this cause to the trial court for an evidentiary hearing on the newly discovered evidence of the recantation of trial testimony by a primary trial witness. In doing so, we gave the trial judge the responsibility to determine whether the recanted testimony of Anthony DiLisio required a new trial. After holding an extensive and thorough evidentiary hearing, the trial judge ruled that a new trial was required. The State appeals that order. We have jurisdiction. Art. V, § 3(b)(1), Fla. Const.

After carefully reviewing the facts and circumstances surrounding this case, we find that, while there was conflicting evidence presented, there was certainly competent evidence to support the trial court's decision. This Court, as an appellate body, has no authority to substitute its view of the facts for that of the trial judge when competent evidence exists to support the trial judge's conclusion. Consequently, we affirm the order entered by the lower court.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The procedural history of this case is extensive. Spaziano was convicted in 1976 of the first-degree murder of Laura Harberts. The jury recommended a sentence of life imprisonment. The trial judge overrode the jury's recommendation and sentenced Spaziano to death. On direct appeal, we affirmed Spaziano's conviction and vacated his death sentence. We remanded for a resentencing. Spaziano v. State, 393 So.2d 1119 (Fla.1981). Spaziano was again sentenced to death by the trial judge and this Court affirmed the resentencing on direct appeal. Spaziano v. State, 433 So.2d 508 (Fla.1983). The United States Supreme Court granted the petition for writ of certiorari and, thereafter, affirmed this Court's decision. Spaziano v. Florida, 468 U.S. 447, 104 S.Ct. 3154, 82 L.Ed.2d 340 (1984). Spaziano has subsequently been the subject of five death warrants. He has survived all five of those warrants. The last warrant expired after this Court ordered the evidentiary hearing at issue in this appeal.

FACTS

As directed by this Court, a comprehensive evidentiary hearing was held. Twenty-six people testified at the hearing. 1

The most critical testimony was the recantation offered by DiLisio. At Spaziano's original trial, DiLisio was the key witness for the State. In reality, the State's case at the original trial was almost completely dependant upon DiLisio's testimony. At the evidentiary hearing below, DiLisio recanted many statements made both before and during the original trial. To explain his recantation, he provided testimony as to his familial relationships. To that end, he clarified the relationships that both his father and step-mother had with Spaziano. He further testified that he experienced a devastating childhood. According to DiLisio, he was subjected to beatings by his father. Indeed, on one occasion his father slammed a door into his head about twenty times. The result of that particular incident was that both his nose and ears were bloodied. DiLisio also said that his father told him, prior to any of his testimony, that Spaziano was known to acquaint himself with girls and then injure them by cutting them up.

DiLisio proceeded to specifically deny those statements, made to law enforcement officers before trial and to the court during trial, that incriminated Spaziano. He expressly denied going with Spaziano to the

Page 176

dump site near Forest City Road in August of 1973. He also denied being in Spaziano's apartment during that month. DiLisio then explained the circumstances in which he was approached by detectives Abbgy and Martindale (and subsequently questioned about Spaziano). He testified that he wrote a false statement concerning Spaziano on the night of May 13, 1975. He then stated that, two days later, he was taken to a hypnotist's office in Orlando. When asked to describe his feelings during that experience, he said that he "was scared" and that

I was emotionally experiencing some kind of mental trauma. I was just like a little sponge, or something. Things were suggested to me and I just went along with it.

I opened the door to really bad things from my mind. I was already an emotionally mixed-up young man starving for love, and these men--I thought I was pleasing them.

DiLisio stated that the police took him to the dump site near Forest City Road after the first hypnotic session. He expressly denied leading the police to the dump. He also denied having ever been to the dump site prior to that visit. Asked how he felt during the second hypnotic session, DiLisio testified:

It was very painful. In a sense, it was a mental pain, that I didn't feel the physical pain. It was like, things that they were saying to me, and things that I said the day before to them as they were saying it to me, I was like making a story or a movie, or something. And it was like I started to feel like it was really happening. It was like I started to feel the trauma of really seeing dead bodies.

I mean, it started becoming real in my imagination and in my mind, to where it really messed me up in the head. Like, I did really see them. I started to smell the smell of bad things, and I started being able to describe the--describe the situation in detail. Between all of the stuff that they told me, I was able to complete, like, a story.

He concluded his direct testimony by stating that he falsely testified at Spaziano's first-degree murder trial. Then, on cross-examination, it was revealed that DiLisio had informed police officers months before the hypnotic sessions that he had once inquired of Spaziano as to the reasons behind the Altamonte dump murders. In response to the prosecutor's question asserting this fact, DiLisio responded, "If I told the officers that, that was a lie."

Apart from the recantation testimony offered directly by DiLisio, independent corroborating evidence was introduced that lent credence to DiLisio's description of the events leading up to his original statements. In fact, the trial judge wrote that "[DiLisio] now testifies that he did not tell the truth during the trial and provides a complicated explanation of the events which led up to his trial testimony. This testimony is credible and is corroborated by other evidence to a significant extent." There is little, if any, evidence to indicate that this period of DiLisio's life was anything other than traumatic.

ANALYSIS

In our decision remanding this case for an evidentiary hearing, we reaffirmed the principles to be followed when evaluating newly discovered evidence and recanted testimony. Spaziano, 660 So.2d at 1365. Those principles are set forth in both Armstrong v. State, 642 So.2d 730 (Fla.1994), and Jones v. State, 591 So.2d 911 (Fla.1991). In Armstrong, we addressed the issue of recanted testimony. There we stated that the "[r]ecantation by a witness called on behalf of the prosecution does not necessarily entitle a defendant to a new trial." Armstrong, 642 So.2d at 735. Further, we recognized that recanted testimony is exceedingly unreliable and instructed trial judges to examine all of the circumstances in the case. Id. In Jones, we clarified the standard by which newly discovered evidence is gauged. We announced that newly discovered evidence, in order to warrant relief, should be of such a nature as to make an acquittal probable on retrial. Jones, 591 So.2d at 915. In conducting the evidentiary hearing in this case, the trial judge was expected to adhere to these principles. The trial judge's order demonstrates that our remand instructions were scrupulously followed. He wrote:

Page 177

In order to prevail on newly discovered evidence the defendant must prove:

1. the evidence has been discovered since the former trial;

2. the evidence could not have been discovered earlier through the exercise of due diligence;

3. the evidence is material to the issue;

4. the evidence goes to the merits of the case and not merely impeachment of the character of the witness;

5. the evidence must not be merely cumulative; and

6. the evidence must be such that...

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45 practice notes
  • Clark v. Sec'y, Case No. 3:10-cv-547-J-39PDB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Florida
    • 14 August 2014
    ...1994). The trial court should also determine whether the evidence is cumulative to other evidence in the case. See State v. Spaziano, 692 So.2d 174, 177 (Fla. 1997); Williamson, 651 So.2d at 89. The trial court should further consider the materiality and relevance of the evidence and any in......
  • Mosley v. State, No. SC14–436
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Florida
    • 22 December 2016
    ...vantage point 209 So.3d 1263to see and hear the witnesses presenting the conflicting testimony." Id. (quoting State v. Spaziano , 692 So.2d 174, 178 (Fla. 1997) ). This case involves the testimony of a recanting witness, which this Court has observed is, "as a general matter, ‘exc......
  • Jones v. State, No. SC06-474.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Florida
    • 23 December 2008
    ...the facts for that of the trial judge when competent evidence exists to support the trial judges conclusion.) (quoting State v. Spaziano, 692 So.2d 174, 175 a. Agreement Jones claims that the State failed to disclose evidence of a promise it made to Kevin Prim, a key trial witness. While ev......
  • Jones v. State, No. 92234
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Florida
    • 17 March 1998
    ...for that of the trial judge when competent evidence exists to support Page 515 the trial judge's conclusion." State v. Spaziano, 692 So.2d 174, 175, 177 (Fla.1997); see also Blanco v. State, 702 So.2d 1250 (Fla.1997). A trial court's order on a motion for new trial will not be reversed......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
45 cases
  • Clark v. Sec'y, Case No. 3:10-cv-547-J-39PDB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Florida
    • 14 August 2014
    ...1994). The trial court should also determine whether the evidence is cumulative to other evidence in the case. See State v. Spaziano, 692 So.2d 174, 177 (Fla. 1997); Williamson, 651 So.2d at 89. The trial court should further consider the materiality and relevance of the evidence and any in......
  • Mosley v. State, No. SC14–436
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Florida
    • 22 December 2016
    ...vantage point 209 So.3d 1263to see and hear the witnesses presenting the conflicting testimony." Id. (quoting State v. Spaziano , 692 So.2d 174, 178 (Fla. 1997) ). This case involves the testimony of a recanting witness, which this Court has observed is, "as a general matter, ‘exc......
  • Jones v. State, No. SC06-474.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Florida
    • 23 December 2008
    ...the facts for that of the trial judge when competent evidence exists to support the trial judges conclusion.) (quoting State v. Spaziano, 692 So.2d 174, 175 a. Agreement Jones claims that the State failed to disclose evidence of a promise it made to Kevin Prim, a key trial witness. While ev......
  • Jones v. State, No. 92234
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Florida
    • 17 March 1998
    ...for that of the trial judge when competent evidence exists to support Page 515 the trial judge's conclusion." State v. Spaziano, 692 So.2d 174, 175, 177 (Fla.1997); see also Blanco v. State, 702 So.2d 1250 (Fla.1997). A trial court's order on a motion for new trial will not be reversed......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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