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Oba Chandler seeks to throw out his death sentence
Fri Oct 21, 2011 11:24am

LARGO — Oba Chandler filed a motion in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court on Monday seeking to throw out his death sentence.

A hearing on the motion is scheduled for 1 p.m. Friday, but Chandler is not expected to attend.

A jury found Chandler guilty in the 1989 murders of Joan Rogers and her teenage daughters, Michelle and Christe, of Ohio. He lured them to his boat, bound and gagged them, likely sexually assaulted them, tied concrete blocks to their necks and tossed their bodies into Tampa Bay.

Gov. Rick Scott recently signed a death warrant for Chandler, and the execution is set for Nov. 15.

Chandler's motion, prepared by attorney Baya Harrison III, argues that a jury, and not the presiding judge, should have weighed whether there were "aggravating factors" that indicated Chandler should be executed or "mitigating factors" that indicated he should not.

This argument relies on the principle that everyone has the right to a trial by jury, and that the facts of the case — including the existence of those aggravating and mitigating factors — should be decided by a jury.

The system used in Chandler's trial was the same as in other death penalty cases in Florida. A jury listened to the facts in Chandler's case and convicted him. But in Florida's system, jurors have an advisory role on the death penalty. So the jury recommended putting Chandler to death, but it was then-Judge Susan Schaefer who actually imposed it.

The motion refers to a federal court decision in Miami that "peels away all of Florida's sophistry and makes it absolutely clear that (Florida's death penalty law) cannot be reconciled with Chandler's Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury in the manner described above."

The document says "Florida's death penalty statute is fatally flawed."

It also anticipates "technical arguments" from the state but says, "Legal technicalities should not stand in the way of affording an accused his most important constitutional right to a trial by jury, especially when his life is depending on it."

The state has until Wednesday to file a response.

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