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Florida death row inmate freed • Saturday January 25, 2003

Prosecutors will not retry case
AP, Jan. 25, 2003

RAIFORD, Florida (AP) — After 16 years on death row, Rudolph Holton stepped out from a prison’s razor wire fences and stood in the bright sunlight and crisp, cold air.

“Freedom is like a feeling you really can’t describe,” said Holton, who became a free man Friday when prosecutors determined they didn’t have enough evidence to retry him for the 1986 murder of a Tampa teen.

“I’m on top of the world,” Holton said as he wiped away tears, minutes after leaving the Union Correctional Institution. “I just want to take one day at a time. I forgive everybody.”

Earlier Friday, prosecutor Mark Ober had announced in Tampa that Holton would not face a new trial.

“Due to the unreliability of witness testimony and the lack of physical evidence, the state of Florida cannot proceed to trial,” Ober wrote in a document filed in Florida Circuit Court.

“I am not saying loud and clear that Rudolph Holton is innocent,” Ober later told reporters in Tampa. “I am saying we cannot prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Holton, 49, was convicted of raping and killing Katrina Graddy, a 17-year-old prostitute, and then setting her on fire in an abandoned drug house in Tampa.

About 10 days before she was murdered, Graddy had told police another man raped her. But Holton’s defense attorney was never given that report.

Because of that error, the state Supreme Court ruled in December that Holton deserved a new trial, upholding a November 2001 order by Circuit Judge Daniel Perry.

One of Holton’s lawyers, Martin McClain, said there were other problems with the case. For instance, a hair in Graddy’s mouth that prosecutors said came from Holton was proved by DNA testing to be from Graddy. Also, jailhouse witnesses recanted their testimony against Holton.

“Though we are certainly pleased that the state attorney has dropped the charges, this does not change the awful fact that Rudolph Holton served over 16 years on death row for a crime that he did not commit,” McClain said.

Gov. Jeb Bush has approved the use of DNA testing in death row cases were evidence is available to be tested. In December, he stayed the execution of Amos King to allow new DNA testing requested by King’s attorneys.

Holton became the second person to be released from Florida’s death row in about a year. Juan Melendez walked out of prison a free man last January after he won a new trial and prosecutors declined to try him again.

After his release, Holton said he wants to begin enjoying his freedom by becoming reacquainted with his children. He also said he wanted a Klondike bar and baby back ribs, and is looking forward to watching the Super Bowl on television.

He also weighed in on the death penalty.

“It’s got a lot of holes in it and doesn’t work,” he said. “The system needs rearranging.”

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