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Sweet v. State

Supreme Court of Florida

May 24, 2018

WILLIAM EARL SWEET, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF FLORIDA, Appellee.

         NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION AND, IF FILED, DETERMINED.

          An Appeal from the Circuit Court in and for Duval County, Angela Cox, Judge - Case No. 161991CF002899AXXXMA

          James Vincent Viggiano, Jr., Capital Collateral Regional Counsel, Mark S. Gruber, Julie A. Morley, and Margaret S. Russell, Assistant Capital Collateral Regional Counsel, Middle Region, Temple Terrace, Florida, for Appellant

          Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, and Lisa A. Hopkins, Assistant Attorney General, Tallahassee, Florida for Appellee

          PER CURIAM.

         William Earl Sweet appeals the postconviction court's order denying his sixth successive motion for postconviction relief based on a claim of newly discovered evidence after an evidentiary hearing.[1] For the reasons that follow, we affirm the postconviction court's order denying Sweet relief.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         In 1991, a jury convicted Sweet of one count of first-degree murder, three counts of attempted first-degree murder, and one count of burglary. Sweet v. State (Sweet I), 624 So.2d 1138, 1139 (Fla. 1993). On direct appeal, this Court explained the details underlying Sweet's convictions:

On June 6, 1990, Marcine Cofer was attacked in her apartment and beaten and robbed by three men. She could identify two of the men by their street names. On June 26, 1990, she was taken by Detective Robinson to the police station to look at pictures to attempt to identify the third assailant. When Robinson dropped Cofer off at her apartment, William Sweet was standing nearby and saw her leave the detective. Unknown to Cofer, Sweet had previously implicated himself in the robbery by telling a friend that he had committed the robbery or that he had ordered it done. Cofer asked her next-door neighbor, Mattie Bryant, to allow the neighbor's daughters, Felicia, thirteen, and Sharon, twelve, to stay with Cofer in her apartment that night. Mattie agreed, and the children went over to Cofer's apartment around 8 p.m.
At approximately 1 a.m. that evening, Sharon was watching television in the living room of Cofer's apartment when she heard a loud kick on the apartment door. She reported this to Cofer, who was sleeping in the bedroom, but because the person had apparently left, Cofer told Sharon not to worry about it and went back to sleep. Shortly thereafter, Sharon saw someone pulling on the living room screen. She awakened Cofer. The two then went to the door of the apartment, looked out the peephole, and saw Sweet standing outside. Sweet called Cofer by name and ordered her to open the door.
At Cofer's direction, Felicia pounded on the bathroom wall to get Mattie's attention in the apartment next door, and a few minutes later Mattie came over. The four then lined up at the door, with Cofer standing in the back of the group. When they opened the door to leave, Sweet got his foot in the door and forced his way into the apartment. Sweet's face was partially covered by a pair of pants. He first shot Cofer and then shot the other three people, killing Felicia. Six shots were fired. Cofer, Mattie, and Sharon were shot in the thigh, ankle and thigh, and buttock, respectively, and Felicia was shot in the hand and in the abdomen.

Id.

         Following the jury's recommendation for death by a vote of ten to two, the trial court sentenced Sweet to death. Id. In imposing the death sentence, the trial court found the following aggravating factors:

(1) Sweet had previously been convicted of several violent felonies, including armed robbery, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, riot, resisting arrest with violence, and the contemporaneous attempted murders and burglary; (2) the murder was committed to avoid arrest; (3) the murder was committed during a burglary; and (4) the murder was cold, calculated, and premeditated.

Id. at 1142. "The court found no statutory mitigating circumstances, but found as nonstatutory mitigation that Sweet lacked true parental guidance as a teenager. This mitigation was given slight weight." Id.

         On direct appeal, this Court affirmed Sweet's convictions and sentence of death. Id. at 1143. Sweet's sentence of death became final in 1994. Sweet v. Florida, 510 U.S. 1170 (1994).

         Sweet's Initial Postconviction Motion

         In 1995, Sweet filed his initial motion for postconviction relief, raising twenty-eight claims. Sweet v. State (Sweet II), 810 So.2d 854, 857 n.4 (Fla. 2002).[2] The postconviction court granted an evidentiary hearing on four of Sweet's claims. Id. at 858.

         At the evidentiary hearing, Sweet presented the testimony of Anthony McNish, a witness who was subpoenaed to testify at Sweet's trial, but did not appear. Id. at 861. McNish's testimony at the evidentiary hearing was summarized by this Court as follows:

McNish stated that the three men at Cofer's door walked differently than Sweet, and that the three men each had a different skin complexion and physical build than Sweet. . . .
The State established on cross-examination that McNish had been convicted of seven felonies, including crimes involving dishonesty. Further, although he stated at a pretrial deposition that he could not see any of the three mens' faces at Cofer's door, that it was dark, and that he had bad eyesight, he explained at the evidentiary hearing that, after thinking about it, he had a good idea of what the three men looked like. However, he repeated at the evidentiary hearing that he had bad eyesight and never got a good look at the three men. Moreover, McNish never saw any of the men wearing a mask, and he did not actually see the men knock on the door. Finally, McNish stated at the evidentiary hearing that he could identify one of the men that was at Cofer's door now, but he refused to reveal the name of the person. He did state that the man is not Sweet.

Id. at 861-62. Also at the evidentiary hearing on his initial postconviction motion, Sweet presented the testimony of Solomon Hansbury, a witness at Sweet's trial who testified "that Sweet confessed to the murder while they were in jail together." Id. at 867. At the ...


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