Thomas Gudinas was sentenced to death by the State of Florida for a sexual assault and murder. According to court documents Thomas Gudinas would sexually assault and then murder Michelle McGrath. Thomas Gudinas would be arrested, convicted and sentenced to death
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|GUDINAS, THOMAS L
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Gudinas and three of his roommates arrived at an Orlando bar, Barbarella’s, between approximately 8:30 and 9 p.m. on May 23, 1994. Prior to arriving at the bar, the group drank beer and smoked marijuana at their apartment and in the car on the way to the bar. While drinking throughout the night, Gudinas and his roommates periodically returned to their car to smoke marijuana. However, when the bar closed at 3 a.m Gudinas could not be located. One of Gudinas’ roommates, Todd Gates, testified that he last saw Gudinas in the bar at approximately 1 a.m.
Rachelle Smith and her fiancé arrived at the same bar between 11 and 11:30 p.m. They stayed until about 2 a.m. Rachelle left the bar at that time, while her fiancé remained inside saying goodbye to friends. She initially went to the wrong parking lot where she saw a man watching her while crouched behind another car. Realizing she was in the wrong parking lot, Rachelle walked to the lot where her car was parked. Because she felt she was being followed, she immediately got into her car and locked the door. Looking into her mirror, she saw the same man she had just seen crouched behind a car in the other parking lot. After trying to open Rachelle’s passenger side door, the man crouched down, came around to the driver’s side and tried to open the door. While screaming at Rachelle, “I want to f___ you,” the man covered his hand with his shirt and began smashing the driver’s side window. Rachelle blew the horn and the man left. Upon hearing of the murder that occurred nearby that same night, Rachelle contacted police, gave a description of the man, and identified Gudinas from a photographic lineup as the man who tried to attack her. [FN 1] She also identified Gudinas at trial.
[FN 1] Two other witnesses, Culbert Pressley and Mary Rutherford, also positively identified Gudinas from the same photo lineup. They had each seen Gudinas near the scene of the murder later that morning.
The victim, Michelle McGrath, was last seen at Barbarella’s at approximately 2:45 a.m. She apparently had left her car in the same parking lot where Rachelle Smith first saw Gudinas crouching behind a car. Between 4 and 5 a.m., Culbert Pressley found Michelle’s keys and a bundle of clothes next to her car in the parking lot. [FN 2] Her body was discovered at about 7:30 a.m. in an alley next to Pace School. [FN 3] Michelle was naked, except for a bra which was pushed up above her breasts.
[FN 2] Several hours later, shortly after 7 a.m., a man whom Pressley subsequently identified as Gudinas came walking down the sidewalk. When the man saw Pressley holding the car keys, he said, “Those look like my keys. I’ve been looking for them all morning.” Pressley gave him the keys in exchange for a promised $50 reward. The man then walked away.
[FN 3] Pace School employee Jane Brand discovered the victim in the alley. In the preceding half hour before seeing Michelle’s body, Ms. Brand had arrived at school and encountered a young man inside the gated area on the steps leading to the school’s front door. The man, whose back was to Ms. Brand, remained seated and did not look at her. She described him as about eighteen years old with short brown hair and wearing dark, loose-fitting shorts and a loose shirt. After being told to leave the school grounds, the man jumped the fence and ended up in the alley. About ten minutes later, Ms. Brand heard a loud crash in the alley. She looked outside and saw Michelle’s body. She later identified Gudinas as the same man she saw in the courtyard that morning after seeing him in a television report.
Jane Brand flagged down Officer Chisari of the Orlando police bicycle patrol. Officer Chisari had been informed by a deputy sheriff on the scene that Pressley had found some keys. Pressley then told Chisari he had just given them to “that guy,” referring to a man walking south. As Chisari then rode toward the man, Ms. Brand screamed as she spotted Michelle’s body. Chisari returned to where Ms. Brand was. Subsequently, he saw a man he later identified as Gudinas driving a red Geo Metro from the parking lot where Michelle had parked her car. Pressley wrote down the car’s license plate and the tag number was traced to Michelle McGrath. The car was later recovered at 7 p.m. that night at the Holiday Club Apartments. [FN 4]
[FN 4] Gudinas’ apartment was less than a half a mile from where Michelle’s car was found.
During the jury trial, all four [FN 5] of Gudinas’ roommates testified that he was not at their apartment when they returned from Barbarella’s. Frank Wrigley said he next saw Gudinas that afternoon; he had blood on his underwear and scratches on his knuckles, allegedly from a fight with two black men who tried to rob him. Todd Gates testified that Gudinas was at the apartment when he awoke between 8:30 and 9 a.m., wearing boxer shorts covered with blood, allegedly from a fight with a black man. Fred Harris offered similar testimony. Fred added that later that day, after being asked if Michelle was “a good f___,” Gudinas replied, “Yes, and I f___ed her while she was dead.” Dwayne Harris likewise testified that he heard Gudinas say, “I killed her then I f___ed her.”
[FN 5] These were Frank Wrigley, Todd Gates, and brothers Fred and Dwayne Harris. The Harris brothers are Gudinas’ first cousins.
Dr. Hegert, the medical examiner, testified that the cause of death was a brain hemorrhage resulting from blunt force injuries to the head, probably inflicted by a stomping-type blow from a boot. He found severe cerebral edema and determined that Michelle died thirty to sixty minutes after the fatal injury, the forceful blow to the head. Dr. Hegert also found defensive wounds on one of Michelle’s hands and two broken sections of a stick, one inserted two inches into her vagina and the other inserted three inches into the area near her rectum. In addition, Dr. Hegert also determined that Michelle had been vaginally and anally penetrated by something other than the sticks, as indicated by trauma to her cervix. He also found that Michelle had a blood alcohol content of .17% at the time of her death. While Michelle might have lived longer without that amount of alcohol in her system, Dr. Hegert testified that the head injury would have been fatal anyway. He estimated the time of death to be between 3 and 5 a.m.
Timothy Petrie, a serologist with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, testified that he found semen on the vaginal swab of Michelle’s thigh. Amanda Taylor, a latent fingerprint examiner with the Orlando Police Department, identified a latent fingerprint on the alley gate pushbar as Gudinas’ right palm and thumbprints on Michelle’s car loan payment book as Gudinas’. Taylor acknowledged she had no way of knowing when the prints were made.