The Florida Supreme Court last week rejected ex-Mascotte Police Officer James Duckett’s latest death sentence appeal.
Duckett, now 56, was convicted in 1988 for the 1987 sexual battery and murder of 11-year-old Teresa McAbee. His latest appeal focused mainly on allegations that the testimony of an FBI hair and fiber analyst was false and misleading, and that a witness later recanted her testimony.
The high court rejected Duckett’s challenge of the analyst’s qualifications as an expert and said his trial testimony was “by no means the only evidence supporting the conviction in this case.” The analyst had testified that a pubic hair found in McAbee’s underwear was consistent with Duckett’s.
Duckett also claimed that witness Gwendolyn Gurley later recanted her testimony about seeing a police car parked near a convenience store on the night of the murder, seeing McAbee outside the store, hearing Duckett call her name, and later seeing a big man and a small person driving away in the cruiser.
Duckett had offered as newly discovered evidence a pair of affidavits from Gurley’s children that she lied at trial in order to get favorable treatment from law enforcement regarding certain offenses.
However, the high court said, “On review, we held that the recantation evidence did not merit a new trial and confidence in the verdict was not undermined.”
Other trial evidence against Duckett included him asking the store clerk about McAbee’s name and age on the night of the murder, her fingerprints found on the hood of his patrol car and tire tracks found at a local lake matching the tires on his cruiser. The girl was assaulted, strangled and drowned in that lake.
In addition, it was brought up during trial that over a five-month period, Duckett allegedly picked up three other young women in his patrol car while on duty, reportedly making sexual advances toward two of them and engaging in sexual activity with the third.