Gary Whitton was sentenced to death by the State of Florida for a robbery murder. According to court documents Gary Whitton would stab to death James Mauldin before robbing him of his money. Gary Whitton would be arrested, convicted and sentenced to death
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The Florida Supreme Court took the opportunity Thursday to admonish trial judges to be more careful with jury notes while rejecting a death row inmate’s appeal.
Gary Richard Whitton was convicted of the 1990 fatal beating and stabbing of James Mauldin during a robbery. They met at a halfway house for alcoholics.
Whitton’s attorneys argued the jury sent five notes to the trial judge that the defendant was unaware of until recently. He claimed the secret notes violated the rules of criminal procedure.
The court’s unanimous, anonymous opinion decided two notes were not “communication within the scope” of the rule. As for the others, the court said Whitton’s alleged lack of awareness was refuted by his attorney’s testimony that he remembered the contents of at least two of the notes.
The justices claimed the error, if there was one, was harmless.
But the court was concerned about the incompleteness of the record and emphasized the importance of ensuring a complete trial record.
The court advised trial judges, “Any communication with the jury outside the presence of the prosecutor, the defendant and the defendant’s counsel is so fraught with potential prejudice that it cannot be considered harmless.”
Chief Justice Jorge Labarga wrote a separate concurrence addressing what he called “the lack of clarity in the record” on jury notes and emphasizing the need for proper handling.
“It is of paramount importance that both parties be made aware of any inquiries from the jurors and that the treatment of these inquiries is fully reflected in the record,” he said. Justice Barbara Pariente concurred with Labarga.