JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — A Florida man who spent more than three years behind bars on murder and arson charges walked out of jail Wednesday after a prosecutor admitted the case against him is weak.
Randal Wagoner was scheduled for trial next week on charges he killed Kathy Johnson in March 2014 and burned down her home. Judge James Daniel granted his release without bond Wednesday but he still faces the murder and arson charges.
The Florida Times-Union (http://bit.ly/2pVnaJ5 ) reports Wagoner walked out of the jail with a Bible in hand. “Three years,” said Waggoner, who’s always maintained his innocence. “Three years. Man.”
As the investigation into Johnson’s death continues, Wagoner will stay at his mother’s house and attempt to get his old job as a truck driver back. He’ll have a curfew and he won’t be allowed to contact Johnson’s family. He’ll also have to submit to random drug tests.
As Wagoner’s case worked its way through the judicial system, defense attorneys were able to cast doubt on almost all of the state’s expert witnesses.
“I’ve never had a person with charges like this released,” said Wagoner’s lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Micahel Bateh. He credited Assistant State Attorney London Kite, who started working on the case in November just before his original trial date.
“She was really the white knight in this case,” Bateh said. “When she kept looking, we would tell her something and she would say, ‘you’re right,’ and we need to dig deeper, and that’s what we wanted. We wanted her to dig deeper.”
Wagoner’s release may also signal changes at the state attorney’s office, since Melissa Nelson beat former State Attorney Angela Corey in a November election. One of Nelson’s first decisions was not to retain 11 employees, including Peter Overstreet who led the prosecution in Wagoner’s case.
In Wagoner’s case, the newspaper reported, a medical examiner initially said Johnson died by blunt force-trauma. After the defense hired a prominent medical examiner to review the case, the prosecution’s witness changed his opinion.
On Wednesday, Kite said the medical examiner still believes it’s a homicide, but he now has reservations.
In addition, newly analyzed DNA evidence found under Johnson’s fingernails appears to belong to a man, but the DNA is not consistent with Wagoner. Kite says she wants more DNA testing.
Information from: The (Jacksonville) Florida Times-Union, http://www.jacksonville.com
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