On the morning of September 9th, 1985, Paul Hild, with Low on Money and Out of Gas, was hitchhiking along just 19 when a squabbling couple fronts, Eddie Cox and William Haverty picked him up as their argument reached a fever pitch. The couple pulled over and got out of the car. Paul, use this opportunity to take a few things from the car, including Miss Cox's checkbook, before leaving the couple in their roadside scuffle four days later. On September 13th, Miss Cox's nude body was found stuffed in the trunk of her car, tucked into some woods.
Initially, Haverty became the obvious suspect until the investigation led to one of her checks having been cashed by Paul Hillwood and a search of his house turned up the stolen items from the car. Paul's trial counsel was woefully inadequate and was further handicapped by a team of prosecutors who buried witness statements that claimed Miss Cox had been alive up to 48 hours after Paul had seen her. Among many other pieces of misleading testimony, junk science and outright lies, an FBI serology expert falsely stated that fluid's found at the scene matched Paul, which led to a 34 year fight to free him from death row.
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Once you've completed a quick survey, you can enter for a chance to win a one hundred dollar Amazon gift card. Terms and conditions apply. Again, that's pod survey dotcom, wrongful conviction pod survey, dotcom slash wrongful conviction. Thanks for your help. Welcome back to Wrongful Conviction with Jason Flom, that's me, of course, I'm your host, and today I'm really excited because we have a woman who is in our wrongful conviction community considered a legal legend.
Her name is the N Gouty, a renowned defense attorney who has done phenomenal work on this case. So, LeAnn, welcome to wrongful conviction. Thank you. Thank you.
And with her is her client, Paul Hill, doing all served 35 years on death row in Florida for a crime everyone should have known from the outset he didn't commit. They may have known he didn't commit it, but one way or another, he survived 35 years on death row. He survived cancer. He survived. And he's here today to share his story with us. So, Paul, welcome to wrongful conviction.
Thank you, Jason. I'm glad to be here. And Paul just informed us that he's sitting on his porch breathing some fresh air and look at his green grass and stuff. So I'm glad to hear that you're living your best life to whatever extent is possible. So let's go back. Where did you grow up and what was your upbringing like? And if you can bring us right up to the time that this whole tragedy occurred.
I was born in a small town called Poughkeepsie, New York. I never really got to know my mother. She passed away when I was two years old, when I turned five. My father just decided he didn't want me so he would put me wherever he could. And there were some good places that I was at and there was some bad places in my teen years, you know, like Ellerton, most teenagers, you know, you experiment with drinking.
And it was all it's all kind of a haze. I was drunk so much. But when I turned 18 and I got in a little trouble, ended up doing a little prison time in New York and when I got out was nineteen eighty four, I was 24 years old. And I come down here to Florida to live with my father. One of the families that I lived with always taught me it doesn't matter what a parent does, you always have that respect because they are your parent.
And I always respected my father. I didn't really love them, but I respected him because he was my dad. So September 21st, 1985, is when I was arrested for the crime that put me on death row for a crime that I did not commit.
And Liane, can you walk us through this awful crime and how they managed to go off of the house would have seemed to be the obvious suspect and target, Paul.
Sure. So the victim allegedly went missing on September 9th of 1985, which would have been a Monday. And the reason why they zeroed in on that particular day is because, well, her sister and her would speak practically every day. Well, the sister had gone two or three days without hearing from the victim. So the sister went over to the trailer where her sister had lived with this boyfriend. William Haverty, the live in boyfriend, said, hey, she left on Monday.
She was going to go do laundry at the laundry. She was going to deposit her SSI check that had come in over the weekend at the bank. The victim had a little bit of a reputation for being somebody that would frequent bars and my randomly go home with a guy. So at first the sister wanted to see if maybe something like that had happened when she still hadn't heard from the victim. The next day she went back to the trailer and insisted that the boyfriend go with her to the police department to report her missing.
And so on Thursday, September 12th, in the evening, they go to the Hernando County Sheriff's Office. They report the victim, whose name was Franchetti Cox missing. And then the very next day, which was Friday, September 13th, a group of boys find a deserted car with a really bad smell. Police respond and they find the victim knew stuffed in the trunk of the car with a ligature around her neck. The immediate suspect is the live in boyfriend, William Haverty, who was about 20 years younger than the victim.
And he just appeared kind of squirrelly to the police. And so they focused in on him. What ended up happening was they wanted to see when she had gone to the bank to deposit the Social Security check. And so they discovered that the last check that came in on the victim's bank account was cashed by an individual named Paul Hilton one, and that he had come through the drive through of the bank on September 9th at approximately twelve thirty in the afternoon at that point in time.
Now, law enforcement shifts their suspicion from the boyfriend, William Haverty over to Paul and basically become extremely myopic and focused in with a tunnel vision only on Paul. Right.
And there was a lot of circumstantial evidence. Right. That was really just the result of an unfortunate coincidence, which goes back to the night of September 8th.
Myself and three friends went to a drive in movie, and I think it was a Clint Eastwood movie Pale Rider. We left there and I dropped the young man that was with I dropped him off at his house and then I started heading home. The two girls that were with me, they lived just down the street from me. I was taking them home as well. And I ran out of gas and I got like a dollar, something worth of gas, put it in the car.
I put a little bit in the car to try to get a start. But the way the car was setting it was on an angle like almost in a ditch and the gas wasn't getting pulled up into the engine. So I went to my house, my father's house, and I had to get a battery because I water battery down in the car trying to start it. So I got the battery and I got a ride back from a friend. Anyway, got back to the car.
Still won't start. So I wasn't going to run that battery down. So we got in the car and we ended up just falling asleep.
So when he's in route to take the girls home, the car runs out of gas and stalls in front of a bar called the Lone Star Bar. It's right off the U.S. team. Paul wakes up somewhere between eight thirty and nine a.m. Girls are still sleeping. He decides, I'm going to walk home and see if I can either borrow my dad's truck or get some money to try to put some more gas in his car. So he's walking north on us.
Nineteen and the victim and her boyfriend, William. Haverty are driving north on US 19. They pull over, he tells them, Hey, I'm trying to get up to my dad's house, he gets in the back seat, they're driving to the dad's house. She and the boyfriend start arguing about he's sick of her going out with other men. She's basically telling him of the fight is getting pretty loud and hostile. People sitting in the backseat in the back seat is the victim's purse.
Within her purse is like a separate checkbook holder. And the victim says, I've had enough of you. She stops the car. She says, get out. Boyfriend says, I'm not getting out. Victim says she's getting out. The two of them end up getting out. They slap each other around a little bit. All of this is going on at this pause, not that far from his house. So he grabbed the checkbook thing and leaves.
And the last thing he sees is that the boyfriend is on top of the victim and his hands around her neck. He's like, I'm not getting in the middle of this because the boyfriend has threatened them and he walks home. Once he gets home, his dad's not there. Get some leftover money hitches a ride back to where the girls are. He buys another two dollars worth of gas. They level out the car, he puts the gas in the car, drops the girls off at home in his car.
He then forges one of the victim's checks, goes to the bank, cashes the check, giving his I.D. The checks are seventy five dollars. Right.
So ultimately, because, Paul, you know, foolishly, let's call it what it is, took a few items from the car, a radio, a ring. And of course, the check that we talked about when the attention of the authorities shifts to him, they probably had some sort of eureka moment like, oh, look at this. We got sort of, for lack of a better word, the smoking gun. And at that point, you said the tunnel vision sets in.
He really needs a great lawyer. And that's not at all how this played out. Right. So on November 21st, they get a grand jury to indict him with first degree murder and they announce that they're seeking death. So this particular attorney, Dan Lewin, had just graduated from Florida State Law School. He had never done a murder case. He had never done even a serious robbery case. So on April 24th of nineteen eighty six, he gets appointed to this death penalty case and they pick a jury.
Four months later, on August. Twenty fifth, in between that time period, he conducted absolutely no investigation. This defense lawyer took depositions and the significance of that is the lack of thoroughness. In addition to that, it is also clear when you review those depositions that the prosecution was not giving him all the police reports. In addition to that, the Hillsborough County sheriff's office decide, you know what, we're not going to use the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which was the state agency that would do the lab work for the police agencies in Florida.
We're going to send this stuff to the FBI and it's at the FBI where they're doing the so-called serology hair examination and Hallmark examinations on some chrome strips that they believe came off of the alleged victim's car.
You just identified several of the key elements of junk science that we talk about in our podcast, Wrongful Conviction, Junk Science. But there's so much more to this. You have circumstantial evidence, you have tunnel vision, tons of junk science, and then you have incompetent defense attorney. And you also have experts that are willing to lie on behalf of the prosecution. And we know that the prosecutor at the trial presented a serology report from an FBI forensics expert who falsely claimed that bodily fluids found on two pieces of crime scene evidence, the underwear, the woman's underwear and a washcloth both matched Paul held when the expert also claimed that Paul was among only 11 percent of the world's white male population who could have deposited the fluids and that the fluids could not have come from the victim's estranged boyfriend.
So this is a mountain of shit.
I mean, there sure is the appropriate word. Thank you. I chose that care for you. In defense of Mr. Louann on this point, they sprung on the serology evidence that did not come out until opening statements and he immediately objected. And when they approached the bench, he said, this can't come in. I was told that the serology evidence was of no value. Everything was too degraded. They couldn't get anything of it. And now they're telling the jury that it leads my client and they can't use that.
And the prosecution goes, you want to bet that's on the record? And the judge says, yeah, no, this is opening. They can do it. We'll discuss it during the trial. And then when they come to the point where he objects again during the trial, it's the Friday before. Labor Day weekend, and the judge says, well, you've got till Tuesday, be ready three days and remember what we had to work with in 1985.
There wasn't Internet research when we researched case law. We went the old fashioned way into the law library, which took a lot of time. So he basically gives us inexperience, unqualified lawyer, three days to familiarize himself with serology evidence and or a non sequitur. You have got to be kidding me. So September 4th, 1986, he was found guilty. And September 17th, the jury, by a unanimous vote of 12 to nothing, sentence you to death, even though the defense was what it was.
I didn't expect that when they sentence me to death. I just I don't know. I think my mind just shut down after that. What I call the real living hell started. You're basically in that cell. Twenty four hours a day. You get three hours a week. You get to go to the yard twice a week and it's a little tiny yard, and if you don't go to the yard, you're just in that cell 24 hours a day and you become desensitized, really after like the first four years.
I just disconnected myself. I didn't care about time. I didn't care about holidays. I think, you know, none of that stuff mattered. What was important to me was just surviving. After my dad passed in nineteen ninety, I didn't have a visit until two thousand and six. My life was in that cell. I did everything I ate in there. I washed all my clothes and I mean my whole life was in that little box. Nineteen eighty eight, eighty nine.
Very good friend of mine, Kenny Hardwick, he gave up and he was in the cell next to me and I could see him. The windows were not in the cell. They were like eight to ten feet away from the front of the cell. The cell fronts were all open. Know we could talk, we could pass things back and forth. And I watched him hang himself. I couldn't stop them. I couldn't help them. You know, I went to scream for the police.
They come and tell me to shut my mouth.
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Stand together again. Conviction. I believe it was either 1989 or 1990. Governor Martinez signed his death warrant and Paul has the fortuitous opportunity to have a terrific lawyer named Marty McClain. And so Marty begins to investigate. And at that point, the state attorney is different. And so when Marty McClain issues the request for Paul's file and all the police reports of whatever, they actually turn it over. And that's when he discovers all these things that either were not disclosed to Mr.
Lewin or that Mr. Lewin just didn't bother to use, like the victim's nephew that says that he was having drinks with the victim on Monday night, September nine, until 11, 59 p.m. Meanwhile, according to the state's theory at trial, Paul had allegedly killed somewhere between nine, 15 and 10 in the morning. But yet the nephew is having drinks with her as the boyfriend was mad and sulking in a corner. Well, that never came out at trial.
That nephew was never deposed by Mr. Lewine. The boyfriend was allowed to represent this really fabulous relationship with Ron. So Marty McClain discovers that when law enforcement searched the victim and her boyfriend's house, there was a note in the garbage can that said, if you don't like living here, you can fuck off and die. That never came out during the trial.
I mean, it just went on and on and on. So he discovered all this stuff. He found what's called the 38 50 motion, which is a motion to find the defense lawyer ineffective of counsel, and that if Paul had had effective assistance of counsel or had received this Brady information and it had been used, it would have changed the outcome of the trial. And the judge denies both and says that Paul had effective assistance of counsel. It goes up on appeal to the Florida Supreme Court.
The Florida Supreme Court hangs her hat on the serology evidence to say, no, it wouldn't have affected the outcome of the trial in the first phase. But we do find that the penalty phase was ineffective and they grant Paul the opportunity to have a second penalty phase. And so that happens in 1997. The jury comes back eight to four for death. Remember at the time in Florida, it only required a majority of jurors to vote for death. So Paul gets death again.
And so CCRC, the group that Marty McClain worked for, contacts the Innocence Project they get involved in during all that investigation. They also discover another witness that said she had had a conversation with the victim at three o'clock in the afternoon on the Wednesday after she supposedly died. They also start attacking the serology and they see for it to get independently tested when they do. At this point, DNA is in existence. They discover that the DNA on the panties and on the washrag, which is what was sold to the jury in 1986, and what the Supreme Court relied upon in sustaining his guilty verdict both the first time and during the 30 50 hearing do not match Paul.
It was February of 2003. We went to the circuit court with the test results.
So that ends up happening that they discover, OK, it's not Paul's biological material on this. We want you to run it through the court system and they start getting pushback from the state and the attorney general's office. And this continues and continues to get litigated until 2011, where finally the Supreme Court says, put it in the quota system. When they've run the DNA into the quota system, it matches William Haverty, the victims live in boyfriend. And at the time, he was incarcerated for 16 counts of sexual battery for sexually molesting his stepdaughter.
And here we go again. I'm so sick of these stories where the wrong person gets locked up, the actual perpetrator remains free and goes on to commit these unspeakable acts against people who never should have been victimized in the first place if the system had worked the way it should.
So then at that point, Nina Morrison or Morty McClain are pushing the Supreme Court to give Paul, based on this newly discovered evidence, a new trial with the state giving pushback on the grounds. Hey, this was a sex crimes case. And finally, in June of 2014, the Florida Supreme Court grants Paul a new trial.
OK, but now how did this case of all the cases end up on your desk? Nina Morrison called me and asked, could I fly down to Tampa to meet with you and talk to you about this case, anybody that knows Nina Morrison, she's like, Sam, I am. Don't let her in your house because she's going to convince you to do whatever she wants you to do. And so she came into the office and persuaded me to agree to do this case pro bono.
Beginning in August of 2014, until concluded on March 9th of 2000, twenty two thousand three, the DNA proves DNA we're talking about.
Right. Was produced that proved that Paul didn't do it at a minimum, that the state's case was completely wrong and that the main piece of evidence that they said was proven false. And yet it took 17 more years to bring Paul home. And then even that comes with an asterisk. Right? You know, I get appointed to the case in 2014. And so the state, they still stood on the position that they felt that Paul was guilty. And so to them, the, quote, fair and, quote, option was to let him plead to second degree murder, get credit for time served and put him on lifetime probation.
So Paul's big mandate to me from the beginning was I would like to feel grass underneath my feet before I die.
And so I would talk to him about these offers the state was making and explain to him why it was basically a no brainer for us to say no to that and continue forward. But we did talk about would you take anything to guarantee that you would get out? And we kind of talked about why I would plead reluctantly, but I would plead no contest to a second degree murder and time served and or even take some probation afterwards, because I know I'm not going to commit any crimes until I'll do that.
So fast forward to Friday morning before trial, March 6th. And the prosecution says to me, would he still plead to a second date and time served, but we're going to want probation. And Paul was like, yes, you know, I want the bird in the hand. I want to know I'm going to get out. I don't want to take any risks.
So he pled, you know, was totally Paul's decision. We were 100 percent ready to proceed forward with the trial.
Paul, March 9th, 20, 20. I've watched the video of you walking out more times than I want to admit. So it's so incredible. What was that like?
And when I walked out the door of the jail, I was met by the Gowdy and Kate O'Shay. I actually couldn't believe that it was really happening that day when we left the jail. And it was the first thing I wanted to do was feel grass under my feet, my bare feet, just to walk on grass, goes inside the jail, then the prisons. I mean, it's all concrete and steel. That's it. You don't get to walk on the grass.
It's just the simplest thing. That was a big thing for me. And I wanted to walk on the grass.
And as the video shows and that's exactly what they did, they took me to a nearby park. And that was the most special part about it, really walking on grass.
People don't understand what we take for granted every single day of our life, closing the door by yourself, stepping on grass, smelling fresh cut grass. It made me realize just what, myself included, everybody takes for granted. Then Miss Goudey and her partner, Kim Kohn Kadosh and Anthony Scott, they took me to Cracker Barrel on the way down to Tampa, and I had never been to Cracker Barrel.
And that was my very first that was my very first Freedom Meal.
I just want to interrupt so nobody thinks I'm a cheapskate. It was the best restaurant in Hernando County. Thank you for clarifying.
Now, Paul, this was touched on a bit, but I mean, it wasn't bad enough that the state was trying to kill human cancer at first it was just recognized that I had a lump in front of my left ear and the gland in my throat on the left side was swollen up. And I went and I saw an ear, nose and throat doctor. And so he did a biopsy on both the lump and swollen gland and it came back to be non Hodgkin's lymphoma.
So I went through surgery, through radiation. Then I started chemo, you know, and thankfully, you made it.
But cancer wasn't done.
You still had to go through it two more fucking times in 2011 or 2012 when it showed up again the next time, I believe it was in 2016, 2017.
By that time, I was used to the weight loss, the sickness and. You know, here I lost every single piece of hair on my body, I had looked like Uncle Fester on Jesus, Paul, you're just really fucking hard to kill.
I don't know how else to.
I think I mean, the state can't answer. Can't know.
He survived cancer on death row. So clearly, you know, God didn't want to kill him. If he was supposed to be dead, he would be dead.
Speaking of the magic of the universe, I must take this opportunity to congratulate Liane on her election to the 13th Circuit Court judge Leon.
Thank you. Thank you. Typically, when you're a new judge, you do rotations through family law or one of the other areas prior to going over to criminal. But I'm being placed right in criminal, so I will be taking over a circuit criminal division.
So I'm very excited. That's amazing. And it makes me so happy both for you and also knowing that someone from the defense side of the bar will be sitting on the bench. So all the best. And on that note, we're now going to go to the segment of our show called Closing Arguments. It's the part where I first of all, thank both of you from the bottom of my heart for being here and sharing your story and, of course, your spirit with us.
And then I now I'm going to shut off my microphone, kick back in my chair, close my eyes and just listen to whatever you want to say. We'll start with you, Liane, and then finish with Paul.
You know, it was my privilege to represent Paul, and I'm so grateful that Nina Morrison entrusted his case to me. And I'm grateful that Paul trusted me to represent him. I think that it's always an honor when somebody that's accused of a crime puts their trust in you as a lawyer to do the best you can for them. And I'm just very, very grateful to God, frankly, that I was able to deliver on Paul's request to be able to let him feel grass underneath his feet before he died.
And hopefully you'll have many, many more years to live and continue smelling grass and cut grass and feeling it and living peacefully and happily out in society like he should be. Paul, over to you.
Leon and I have talked several times, you know, about my belief in God, and I believe that that's what got me through 35 years. I also believe to be the reason why Nina Morrison was put on my case, why Leon Gouty was put on my case. It was by the grace of God.
I've been blessed so much since I've been out because of the Innocence Project in New York, the Innocence Project in Florida. They are a nonprofit organization. And because of the donations is one reason, a big reason why I'm sitting here where I live now. There's an organization that helped me find this place in. It's called the Sunny Center. They are a nonprofit organization and they are the ones that have helped me since I've been out. They have been there every day, every step of the way.
They also need donations in order to help people in my position and exonerated. And, you know, they've gotten me health insurance. You know, they've helped me get my driver's license. They're there. I mean, but they won't be there if people don't make donations. And I believe they they were put there by God as well, you know, in my life. And I want to say thank you.
Like Lynn, freedom is so sweet. You know, you gave me back my life and I thank you with all my heart. Always, Paul. Always. Thank you for listening to wrongful conviction with Jason Flom, please support your local innocence projects and go to the link in our bio to see how you can help. I'd like to thank our production team, Connor Hall, Jeff Kleiber and Kevin Ortiz. The music on the show, as always, is by three time Oscar nominated composer J.
Ralph. Be sure to follow us on Instagram at wrongful conviction and on Facebook at Wrongful Conviction podcast. Wrongful Conviction with Jason Flom is a production of For Good podcast in association with Signal Company No. One.