TALLAHASSEE - A pizza delivery man sentenced to death after a fatal 1996 stabbing in Land O' Lakes should get a new trial, the Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
The court unanimously upheld a lower court's 2010 decision to grant a retrial to Michael Peter Fitzpatrick, 51, based on findings that he had ineffective help from his trial attorney.
"Ineffective assistance compromises not only the trial, but the entire judicial process," the opinion said.
The justices agreed with a circuit judge that, among other things, Fitzpatrick's attorney should have consulted with experts on the DNA and other forensic evidence used against him.
Fitzpatrick, formerly of Spring Hill in Hernando County, was convicted in March 2001.
He was charged with raping and killing 28-year-old Laura Romines, whose boyfriend had recently kicked her out of the Motel 6 room where they had been living.
On the night of August 17, 1996, passers-by found Romines stumbling on the side of a rural Land O' Lakes road, nude and "covered in blood - the result of a slit throat," records show.
She died from her injuries three weeks later.
Fitzpatrick was delivering pizzas that night. He reportedly had picked Romines up after a delivery, taking her from a convenience store to a motel, where they had sex.
Because witnesses had seen the two together, investigators focused on Fitzpatrick.
He eventually gave a blood sample, and his DNA profile matched evidence taken from Romines at a hospital, according to reports.