Murder trial for man who killed cellmate delayed after newspaper report

The capital murder trial of an inmate who brutally murdered his cellmate at the Panhandle’s Santa Rosa Correctional Institution was delayed Monday, one day after the Miami Herald published a story that raised questions about how the Florida Department of Corrections handled the investigation.

A judge in Pensacola granted an uncontested motion by the defense to postpone the trial, which was set to start Monday. Both the defense and the prosecution were caught by surprise on the eve of the trial by information that was reported by the newspaper.

In a letter on file with the court, the defendant, Shawn Rogers, 34, confessed to killing 24-year-old Ricky Martin, who was beaten senseless within hours of being bunked with Rogers at Santa Rosa on March 30, 2012. In the letter, the lifer with a history of abusing other inmates calls himself one of the most vicious and violent prisoners in Florida.

For reasons not explained, corrections officials placed Rogers in cell D1-117 with Martin, an inmate serving out the last two years of a six-year term, primarily for stealing a stash of guns and selling them. The much smaller Martin also had a history of disciplinary reports in prison, but mostly for cutting himself with razors, and for disruptive behavior.

Martin had been transferred to Santa Rosa three days before his death from the Northwest Florida Reception Center. In a grievance written to the DOC’s inspector general four months before his transfer, Martin claimed that his life was in jeopardy because he had reported that prison guards were running a fight club in the reception center’s chow hall.

The DOC denied Martin’s request for protection and he was sent to Santa Rosa, one of the state’s toughest prisons.

In the motion, Rogers’ attorney, Martin Lester, claims that Martin’s grievance wasn’t furnished to the court by the DOC and that other relevant evidence might not have been provided as well.

“It is also unknown whether other materials exist, either within DOC or elsewhere, that would corroborate the charges in the report or provide independent evidence of deliberate DOC involvement in the circumstances that led to Mr. Martin’s death.’’

Department spokesman McKinley Lewis said the agency will do everything possible “to provide any documents and assistance to fully cooperate” with both parties in response to the motion filed.

Martin, who was 5-foot-11 and weighed 140 pounds, was found unconscious, hog-tied, with his skull smashed in the blood-spattered cell. The DOC investigated the murder, interviewing more than 70 people, most of them inmates who were in the wing at the time of the beating. Several said they heard Rogers, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 210 pounds, screaming about killing Martin to avenge the death of Trayvon Martin, the black teenager fatally shot by a white neighborhood watchman in Sanford.

The Herald obtained unredacted copies of the DOC’s investigation of the murder, and also reviewed the lab reports, autopsy report, both inmates’ prison and criminal records, the fixed-wing surveillance video and crime scene photographs — as well has about 50 taped interviews by inmates.

Numerous inmates claimed that during the beating, two corrections officers, John Beaudry and Jacob Denmon, were told that Martin was in peril and that he needed to be removed from the cell he shared with Rogers.

Inmates stated that both officers shrugged off these warnings, as well as an earlier plea by Martin to be separated from his menacing cellmate.

Rogers himself told Beaudry to remove Martin because the cellmate was trying to kill himself, several inmates told the DOC inspector general’s office.

Beaudry said “let the next shift handle it,’’ or words to that effect, and walked on by, according to those inmates.

Rogers had assaulted inmates at least four times before. In two of the instances, he had hog-tied them in a similar manner, beating one of them unconscious.

The DOC did not conduct sworn interviews with any staff on duty that night except for Beaudry, who stated under oath that Rogers did stop him, but only to ask what time it was. He told DOC’s investigator that he looked inside the cell and Martin “was fine.’’ He denied any inmates told him that Martin was in danger. Surveillance video shows him stopping by cell D1-117 before moving on.

“If, in fact, DOC staff deliberately placed the defendant in the cell with Mr. Martin for the purpose of causing Mr. Martin harm and if DOC staff took actions designed to allow that harm to occur and to continue, then such evidence is relevant to the defendant’s moral culpability and thus to his sentence,’’ Lester’s motion said.

Although there is no question that Martin killed Rogers, other factors may have an impact on whether jurors believe Rogers deserves a death sentence, said David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor.

“The justice system is about the truth prevailing,’’ Weinstein said. “It would be bad for the trial to go forward and a person put to death without all the facts presented to the judge and jury.’’

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