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Archive for Sunday, January 26, 2003

25th inmate on Florida’s death row walks out of prison; state won’t retry

January 26, 2003

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— Rudolph Holton wandered through a shopping mall with his two grown children Saturday, his first day of freedom after 16 years on death row. He bought a Tampa Bay Bucs jersey and shoes, browsed through CDs and tossed pennies in a fountain.

He made a wish as he threw.

"For guys on the row who are left, trying to get help," he said.

Holton, 49, was released from prison Friday after prosecutors determined they didn't have enough evidence to retry him for the 1986 murder of a Tampa teen. He was the 25th Florida death row inmate to be freed in the last 30 years.

Holton had been convicted of raping and killing Katrina Graddy, a 17-year-old prostitute, and setting her body on fire in an abandoned drug house in Tampa.

About 10 days before she was murdered, Graddy told police another man raped her. But Holton's attorney was never given that report. There were other problems, too: Prosecutors said a hair found on Graddy came from Holton, but it was later found to be Graddy's, and jailhouse witnesses recanted their testimony against Holton.

In November 2001, a trial judge ruled that Holton deserved a new trial. The state Supreme Court upheld that decision last month.

The first thing Holton did when he arrived at Governor's Square Mall was read down the list of stores.

"I don't even know what I'm looking for," he said.

He did know he wanted a football jersey, a hat and dress shoes. And he wanted to get an adjustment made to the watch his son gave him Friday.

As he tried on the football jersey, his daughter gave her approval.

"Oh, Daddy, that's fine," said Sontrivette Daniels, 31.

Rudy Holton Jr., 28, gave his father advice on shoes.

Holton's case is similar to those of two other Florida death-row inmates.

In December 2001, Juan Melendez won the right to a new trial, but prosecutors declined to retry him. He walked out of prison a free man in early January 2002.

In December 2000, DNA evidence cleared another death-row inmate of a 1985 murder. But it was too late for Frank Lee Smith, who had died of cancer 11 months earlier.

As he left the mall Saturday, Holton alluded to the earlier releases.

"Too many people getting off death row," he said. "That should be telling them something, that the system's got a lot of holes in it."

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