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St. Petersburg Man on Death Row Has Case Reviewed

JAMES L. ROSICA, Associated Press
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Robert Waterhouse execution will go ahead tonight.  (Photo Credit: Florida Department of Corrections)

Robert Waterhouse execution will go ahead tonight. (Photo Credit: Florida Department of Corrections)

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The attorney for a man set to be executed next week told the Florida Supreme Court Tuesday that newly discovered evidence should spare his client from the death penalty.

Robert Waterhouse, 65, was sent to death row for the rape and murder of a 29-year-old woman in St. Petersburg in January 1980. Gov. Rick Scott already has signed a death warrant and Waterhouse is scheduled to be put to death next Wednesday.

Robert Norgard, Waterhouse’s lawyer, tried to convince the justices that a lower court judge was wrong when he found a new witness in the case to be not believable. That person came forward recently to claim he saw Waterhouse leaving a bar with two men and not with the victim on the night she was killed.

Justice Barbara Pariente dominated the questioning. Her line of inquiry, though aimed at making sure her court wasn’t making a mistake, also suggested she was leery of disturbing Senior Judge Robert Beach’s finding.

Barring the new witness, “the evidence against (Waterhouse) really hasn’t changed in the last 32 years,” she said.

Waterhouse confessed that “he was having sex with (the victim), then sort of went crazy, that hasn’t changed,” Pariente added.

Norgard disagreed, saying Waterhouse never admitted to having sex with Deborah Kammerer, whose nude body was found in the mud flats of Tampa Bay. Norgard also said that blood found in Waterhouse’s automobile was never proved to be Kammerer’s.

“But there was blood all over the car,” Pariente said. “Isn’t that indicative of a violent struggle?”

Norgard offered that Waterhouse and his friends often got into bar fights, and the blood could have come from one of the friends.

Assistant Attorney General Stephen Ake said Beach got it right, especially considering that the new witness waited so long to come forward.

“He has no reason other than his conscience bothering him,” Pariente said.

At least one person saw Waterhouse and Kammerer leaving a St. Petersburg bar together on the night of Jan. 2, 1980. Investigators said Waterhouse later raped Kammerer, then beat her in the head and throat about 30 times with what was believed to be a tire iron.

Waterhouse drove to the edge of Tampa Bay, dragged Kammerer into the water and left her to drown, according to the prosecution.

Waterhouse was in St. Petersburg after his parole for the 1966 murder of a 77-year-old New York woman, records show. He was nearly executed in Florida’s electric chair in 1985 but his execution was held up by judges.

The state Supreme Court in 1988 ordered a new sentencing hearing because jurors were told they could not consider certain factors in deciding whether to recommend a death sentence, including that Waterhouse had been severely abused when he was a child and was an alcoholic. In 1990, however, he received another death sentence.

An attorney in 2005 tried to get Waterhouse removed from death row because DNA evidence in his case had been mistakenly tossed out by a court clerk. But the state Supreme Court eventually sided against him.

Norgard again rose that issue Tuesday, saying it could have been another factor tending to show Waterhouse’s innocence.

The court heard the case without Justice Peggy Quince, who was recused. A message left with a court spokesman about her recusal was not immediately returned.

It was not clear Tuesday when the court is expected to rule. In any case, Norgard said he likely will file additional challenges in federal district court and the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Follow James L. Rosica on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jlrosica

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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