Mike Fiers, the 34-year-old journeyman pitcher whose two career complete games are also no-hitters, one of those as a Houston Astro, nearly four weeks ago blew the whistle on a technology-driven, sign-stealing scheme allegedly
run by those Astros. Major League Baseball has questioned dozens of
potential perpetrators, accomplices and witnesses (including Fiers) in an investigation that threatens to expose the finest era in Astros history as, at best, suspicious.
pitched for the Astros for 2 1/2 seasons, the last in 2017, during
which, he told The Athletic, the team devised and integrated a system
that identified catchers’ signs and relayed them to hitters in the
batter’s box. The Astros won the World Series.
Fiers, whose ERA that season was 5.22 (and nearly 10 in the final two
months), was not on the rosters for any of their three postseason
series. He was non-tendered a month later. And, he told The Athletic, he
spent the next two seasons warning teammates with the Detroit Tigers and Oakland A’s of the Astros’ deviousness.
This October, the Astros returned to the World Series. In November, Fiers went public. The league and the Astros might never be the same. Fiers, too.
who is Mike Fiers and why now? Of the dozens of people who would have
seen or been aware of (and benefitted from) the illegal setup described
by Fiers — a system protected by a code of secrecy that dates to the
first locker room — what moved Mike Fiers, and only Mike Fiers, to
reveal the scheme, potentially crippling careers and an organization? At
risk, too, was Fiers’ place in the fraternity of generations of
ballplayers who went along, who shrugged and decided it — whatever that
day’s it was — was someone else’s problem. Teammates don’t rat.
Teammates are loyal. Even ex-teammates. What happens in the clubhouse —
in this case, allegedly, down the hall from the clubhouse — remains
forever there. It’s how the game and the people in it have survived each
other. Or, perhaps, how we got here.
call to Fiers’ agent, Bob Garber, brought a promise to ask Fiers if he
would discuss the reasons he made his public accusations.
he would explain why he’d waited two years before doing so. If he’d
considered the consequences, both for the Astros and himself. What the
reaction of his fellow players has been since. If he would describe what
was in his heart and head when he’d chosen this course. If it has
played out like he’d hoped. If this was meant to reflect who he is as a
man, if he’d stood for the integrity of the game, or if he’d intended to
settle a score. If he was proud of what he’d wrought, and all that is
Subsequent phone calls were ignored, however. Follow-up messages went unreturned.
representative for the Oakland A’s, Fiers’ current team, said he would
speak to Fiers. He called back to say Fiers would “pass” on the story.
Hero or snitch, depends on the lighting, and maybe Mike Fiers doesn’t care which.
said one current American League West player. “Takes big nuts to call
bull— on people and stand there and take the heat that follows. I
“Freakin’ punk-ass bitch,” said a former Astro.
“Mike Fiers?” said a current Astro. “Then give back your ring and your World Series share.”
“He did the right thing,” said a player whose team lost to the Astros in the 2017 postseason. “But I don’t think he’s a hero or a villain. I just hope he doesn’t get demonized.”
immediate fallout for Fiers appears to be minimal, beyond the news of
the investigation and a date with a league investigator. Astros players
and management have not publicly challenged his accusations. Opposing
players — whether supportive of Fiers or not — have been silent, for the
most part. As in the steroid era, omerta comes first, even at the
expense of wins and paydays and fairness, and also in the interest of
self-preservation. The Astros are not the only team to have tested the
boundaries — drawn or assumed — of sign stealing. Public outrage may be
cleansing. It also draws unwanted attention. Major League Baseball does
seem to be in an investigative mood.
the teammate has been described as well-liked, approachable, usually
part of the leadership clique wherever he goes. To the media, he is
cordial and often insightful. He has been honest, by all appearances,
sometimes to his detriment. Two years ago, during an unsightly start
against the Los Angeles Angels,
he threw a pitch near the head of Luis Valbuena, a former teammate. In
an earlier at-bat, Valbuena had homered and flipped his bat with
uncommon flair. Asked afterward about the pitch, Fiers told reporters,
“What he did to me, I took it as disrespect.” Fiers was suspended for five games. Hardly anyone admits to throwing at hitters. For Fiers, it seemed, right was right, and he cared not who knew.
Two years later, he told the world the Astros were cheats. He would live with the consequences, as would they.
Hero or snitch?
complicated,” said a National League senior baseball operations
official. “I mean, ‘snitch,’ for me, is more as it’s happening or to get
out of some trouble. So it’s not snitch. I see it as gray. This falls
wouldn’t feel too good about him,” a player agent said. “You have to
ask him why he chose to do it. I think he’ll have a hard time. I don’t
know if he can be trusted.”
two-year gap keeps him from being a hero,” a major league scout and
former major league player said. “I would not have gone public, but I
don’t condemn him for going public. … In the end, I probably would
have fallen back on the sanctity of the clubhouse. Would I have felt
good about it? Probably not.”
Snowden, Julian Assange, hero or snitch?” said a former big-league
player. “Guess it depends which side of the fence you’re on. I will say
the Astros weren’t very discreet about their tactics.”
Waytz, psychologist, associate professor in the Kellogg School of
Management at Northwestern, author of “The Power of Human: How Our
Shared Humanity Can Help Us Create a Better World” and an expert on the
subject of whistleblowers (and, for NBA fans of a certain age and mood, a
founder of the brilliant and defunct FreeDarko.com), says the
conversation often can be pared to the concepts of — and, perhaps, the
tug between — loyalty and justice. This would be especially true in
sports and, for another, a military culture, he says, where the root
value is loyalty. The I-got-your-back-you-got-mine brotherhood of the
arena. When one of them strays, the backlash can be swift and
baseball,” says Waytz, who grew up in Minneapolis as a Minnesota Twins
fan, “there is some sacredness to the team culture. It’s seen as more of
a betrayal in this context. … We don’t air it to the public.”
did not expose the Astros at the time he alleges they illegally stole
signs. When, two years later, after presumably weighing the factors of
loyalty and justice (and watching the Astros return to the World
Series), he did make his accusations, they were not directed to Major
League Baseball, but to a media outlet. According to MLB sources, Fiers
did not first seek satisfaction through the league. That path ensured
not only a formal investigation, but also a very public trying of the
Astros, their players, coaches, front office and a span in which the
team has won 311 games (and two AL pennants) in three seasons.
Whistleblowers in other arenas — banking, energy, government, corporations — would go to the media, Waytz said, if they perceived the standard enforcement protocols (superiors, human resources, investigative bodies) to be insufficient and often as a last resort. If Fiers had communicated his information to teammates and coaches, if he knew other teams had reported suspicious activity to the league without remedy, then perhaps he saw public pressure as his only weapon for change.
question is, do you view MLB as legitimate and a system that really
cares about this stuff?” Waytz says. “I don’t think there’s really a
right answer for what the whistleblower should do. They go to the source
that provides the justice they’re looking for.”
an environment such as Major League Baseball, those suspected of
skirting the rules — big or small, game-altering or incidental, cameras
and trash cans or dabs of pine tar — can be viewed as more respectable
than those who would condemn them for it. There are, too, hardball
versions of misdemeanors and felonies. Some get a brushback pitch.
Others get chased by MLB investigators.
go to the lengths the Astros supposedly did,” says Waytz, “nobody makes
a bad decision overnight. To become this unethically severe, it
happened along a slippery slope. By the time you get to a decision to
commit a serious crime, you’ve already been committing small crimes
along the way that make the big crime more palatable.
you’re a psychopath, and less than 1 percent of the population is, they
rationalize. We’re good at rationalizing and we need to be good at it,
because we do dumb things by nature. … The rationalization is, ‘I’m only
one part of a large system. Everybody else does it.’ So when I teach
ethics, I say that it’s not really the people. When unethical things
happen, it’s not necessarily because of bad people. It can be the
organizational structures that incentivize people to engage in this.”
revelations brought the investigators and dire consequences,
potentially damaging the clubhouse he once left and perhaps chilling the
next one he walks into. So far, it is unknown if any of those ‘17
Astros also wondered, “What are we doing here?” Or, “Is this the way we
want to win games?” Or, even, “Can everyone be trusted?”
Hero or snitch? Depends on the lighting.
“Both?” said a former big-league player. “I think it would be more heroic had this come out when he witnessed it. … He did snitch, but usually snitching, at least in the contemporary sense, is self-serving. He doesn’t really benefit from this. I guess the predominant thought in my head would be, ‘This is going to make me wildly unpopular.’”
Boosie Badazz chatted with VLADTV about the recent death of Juice WRLD and he placed the blame directly on Juice’s pilot.
Allegedly, the pilot called authorities on Juice and his entourage after learning that they had firearms on the plane. Once the plane landed at Chicago’s Midway Airport, authorities searched Juice and his crew’s luggage. Juice allegedly ingested multiple unknown pills to try to hide them from the federal agents. He suffered a seizure and was transported to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Boosie spoke about never being able to meet the late rapper and also spoke about how the pilot is a “snitch” for telling on Juice and his crew. He said, “I ain’t never get to meet Juice WRLD. I DM’d
him a couple times, but I ain’t never get to meet him face-to-face.” The
“Wipe Me Down” rapper said since Juice WRLD’s passing, he has learned
more about him. “This dude’s had talent since middle school. Like, this
dude been knew he was destined to be great,” he continued.
“I would beat that fuckin’ pilot ass.” Boosie added, “Somebody need to beat that fuckin’ pilot ass, bro. The one who told the fuckin’ people they had guns on the plane. Bitch, you shouldn’t…you the one [who] made the people come search the plane. That’s why he swallowed the shit.”
”A rat! Fuckin’ snitchin’,” the rapper said. “A worldwide
fuckin’ epidemic. Snitches. Ol’ snitchin’ ass bitch driving the plane
gon’ alert the authorities. You snitchin’ ass hoe. You a hoe. If you
listenin’, bitch.” Boosie agreed that when the police comes, you have to get rid of any illegal
substances, but said “he took too much of that shit. That shit had me
Boosie went on to say that people who are rich at a young
age make poor decisions. “You don’t make the right decisions when you
gotta lotta money and you young. That money will f*ck you up, dawg.
Millions of dollars at f*ckin’ 19, 20-years-old? Bro. R.I.P. Juice WRLD.
That was some f*cked up sh*t, dawg.”
Paul Skalnik has a decadeslong criminal record and may be one of the most prolific jailhouse informants in U.S. history. The state of Florida is planning to execute a man based largely on his word.
This article is a partnership between ProPublica, where
Pamela Colloff is a senior reporter, and The New York Times Magazine,
where she is a staff writer. Sign up to get email updates about her ongoing investigation into jailhouse informants.
When Detective John Halliday paid a visit to the Pinellas County Jail on Dec. 4, 1986, his highest-profile murder case was in trouble. Halliday, who was 35 and investigated homicides for the local sheriff’s office, had spent more than a decade policing Pinellas County, a peninsula edged by white-sugar-sand beaches on Florida’s Gulf Coast, west of Tampa. It is a place that outpaces virtually all other counties in the nation in the number of defendants it has sentenced to death. Prosecutors who pursued the biggest cases there in the 1980s relied on Halliday, who embodied the county’s law-and-order ethos. Powerfully built and 6-foot-4, with a mane of dirty blond hair and a tan mustache, he was skilled at marshaling the facts that prosecutors needed to win convictions.
had worked the case for the past year and a half, ever since the body
of a 14-year-old girl named Shelly Boggio was found, nude, floating in
an inland waterway near the town of Indian Rocks Beach. Her murder was
singular in its violence. Her body bore 31 stab wounds, many of them to
her hands, as if she had tried to shield herself from the ferocity of
the attack. She was most likely still alive, the medical examiner
determined, when she was dragged into the water and left to drown. Her
older sister identified her by the silver ring, eagle-shaped and inset
with turquoise, that she wore on her left hand.
The crime scene yielded few clues. No murder weapon was left behind, and no fingerprints or other forensic evidence was recovered. If Boggio was sexually assaulted, the medical examiner found, any trace of sperm may have been washed away during her time in the water. “It was one of Pinellas County’s cruelest murders,” The St. Petersburg Times observed, “and there was little evidence.”
Halliday’s investigation quickly zeroed in on two men, Jack Pearcy and James Dailey, who lived together and were new to Pinellas County. The facts, what few there were, pointed overwhelmingly to Pearcy, a 29-year-old construction worker with a history of arrests for violence against women. Pearcy pursued the teenager before her death, and Pearcy picked her up on the last afternoon of her life, when she was thumbing a ride with her twin sister and a friend. The girls spent the afternoon and evening with Pearcy, Dailey and other housemates, drinking wine coolers and smoking marijuana. After the other two girls went home, Pearcy took Boggio to a beachfront bar, where she was last seen, barefoot and disheveled, around midnight.
Pearcy acknowledged that he drove her to the lovers’ lane along the Intracoastal Waterway where she was killed. But he tried to shift blame to Dailey, claiming that he picked up his housemate before he and Boggio headed down to the water. And while Pearcy admitted to the police that he stabbed Boggio at least once, and he provided details about the crime that were known only to investigators, he insisted that it was Dailey who was the actual killer.
was all that connected Dailey, a 38-year-old itinerant Vietnam veteran,
to the crime: the word of its prime suspect. No physical or forensic
evidence linked him to the murder, nor did any discernible motive. He
would later say he had been asleep in the early-morning hours when
Pearcy was out alone with Boggio, only to be awakened by Pearcy, who
said he needed to talk; Pearcy drove him to a nearby causeway, where
they drank beer and smoked a few joints at the water’s edge. Pearcy’s
girlfriend and a longtime friend of Pearcy’s said they saw the two men
come home together that morning, hours before Boggio’s body was found,
and that Dailey’s jeans were wet.
The state attorney’s office in Clearwater pressed forward with the most serious charge it could bring against the men, ensuring that they would be tried for first-degree murder — a crime punishable by death. Pearcy’s trial came first and ended with a guilty verdict in November 1986. But at the penalty phase, the jury recommended that he be sentenced to life in prison. It was a blow to the state attorney’s office, which would argue, in a forceful sentencing memo to the court, that “no evidence exists that Pearcy was not the main actor in this child’s brutal murder.” Pearcy had dodged the electric chair after participating in, and most likely carrying out, one of the county’s most monstrous crimes. Prosecutors had only one more chance to secure a death sentence for Boggio’s murder.
days after the conclusion of Pearcy’s trial, Halliday visited the
Pinellas County Jail. At his direction, jailers began pulling inmates
who were housed near Dailey out of their cells. One by one, the men were
taken to a small, windowless room, where Halliday was waiting. He
pressed each man for information. Had Dailey ever talked about his case?
Ever admitted to anything?
men who were questioned that day testified at a 2018 evidentiary
hearing to the same unsettling detail in the interview room. Newspaper
articles about Boggio’s murder were laid out conspicuously before them.
“I got a very uneasy feeling looking at the newspaper articles,” Michael
Sorrentino, one of the four, testified at the hearing. “Had I wanted to
say something, or fabricate something, all the tools were there to give
them whatever they might be looking for.”
testified at the hearing that there were no newspapers in the interview
room. Either way, no one gave Halliday any useful information that day.
In a slender, lined notebook, the detective recorded what each inmate
told him. “Nothing,” he jotted down after one interview. After others,
Said Dailey denies charge
doesn’t know a thing
Knows nothing. Didn’t even know Dailey.
stays to himself. Knows nothing.
Refused to come to be interviewed.
“Wish I could have helped you but its a little outa my league.”
Halliday’s visit was a bust. But in the Pinellas County Jail, the word was out: The Boggio case needed a snitch.
In jail, it is widely understood that helping prosecutors and the police can earn extraordinary benefits, from reduced sentences to dismissed charges. By the time Dailey’s trial began the following summer in Clearwater, in June 1987, no fewer than three inmates had come forward claiming to have heard Dailey confess to the killing. The first two worked in the jail’s law library, where they professed to have heard Dailey say about the murder, “I’m the one that did it.” They also told the jury of ferrying several handwritten notes between Dailey and Pearcy; in the letters shown to the jury, Dailey appeared eager to appease his co-defendant, whom prosecutors planned to put on the stand. But the two jailhouse informants were eclipsed by a third inmate, who had contacted Halliday to say that he had some information. He told a much more damning story — one that placed Dailey at the scene of the crime and put the knife in his hand. It was exactly what prosecutors needed.
That witness was Paul Skalnik, a familiar figure around the Pinellas County Courthouse. He had appeared before the court numerous times as a jailhouse informant and was skilled at providing the sort of incendiary details that brought a defendant’s guilt into sudden, terrible focus. Skalnik began working with Halliday in 1983, when the detective was investigating a triple homicide, and Skalnik helped send two men to death row, cementing his status as an invaluable resource. Because he was a known snitch, he was held in protective custody, in a single cell where he was shielded from inmates who might want to do him harm. Despite this considerable impediment, Skalnik claimed — just a few weeks before jury selection in Dailey’s trial began — to have procured Dailey’s confession.
State Attorney Beverly Andrews called Skalnik to the stand before
resting her case on a Friday afternoon, ensuring that Skalnik’s words
would be left to linger in jurors’ minds over the weekend. Pearcy — the
only person to have offered an account of the murder — had by then
refused to testify against Dailey, leaving a gaping hole at the center
of the state’s case. Skalnik, who was facing 20 years in prison on
charges of grand theft, stepped into the void. Dark-haired and stocky,
with olive skin that offset his gray-blue eyes, Skalnik had a wide,
expressive face that was malleable like an actor’s, registering emotions
with almost vaudevillian embellishment. His words had a stagy yet
Andrews began by leading him through a series of questions that were designed to establish his trustworthiness. No, he had not been promised anything in return for his testimony, he assured the jury solemnly. And yes, he conceded, he had been convicted of some felonies — “five or six, if I am not mistaken” — but he was quick to tell the jury that he had not only assisted the state numerous times as a jailhouse informant; he had also once been a police officer. “I still do have law enforcement inside of me,” he said.
story he told the jury was simple but arresting. He was passing by
Dailey’s cell early one morning, he explained, when Dailey sought his
counsel. Dailey was under the impression that Skalnik had worked as a
private investigator, Skalnik said, and wanted his legal advice.
was then, Skalnik testified, as they stood at the bars of Dailey’s
cell, that Dailey came clean, confiding that he had stabbed the girl and
then thrown the knife away. What Dailey said “was so hard to comprehend
and to accept,” he told the jury earnestly. “I had seen this gentleman
walking in the hallways, laughing and kidding with other inmates. And
all of a sudden, to see a man’s eyes, and to describe how he can stab a
young girl — and she was screaming and staring at him and would not die.
“Were those Mr. Dailey’s words as best you can remember?” Andrews asked.
“As best I can recall,” Skalnik said gravely. “‘She is screaming, staring at me, and would not die.’”
didn’t matter that Skalnik had few other details about the murder. Any
questions as to his truthfulness were put to rest when Andrews called
Halliday as her final witness. The detective vouched for Skalnik,
testifying that the inmate had supplied him with reliable information in
other cases, yielding “extremely positive results.”
would not testify on the advice of his attorneys, but Skalnik offered a
vivid, first-person account of a confession. In a trial that had been
long on conjecture but short on hard evidence, his testimony became the
linchpin of the state’s case — so much so that Andrews would cite him
more than a dozen times in her closing argument. She assured the jury
that Skalnik was “honest” and “reliable.”
It was with that imprimatur of credibility that jurors found Dailey guilty. They also recommended, by a rare unanimous vote, that he be executed. Judge Thomas Penick Jr. of the Circuit Court formally sentenced Dailey to death on Aug. 7, 1987.
Five days later, Skalnik was released from jail. A Florida Parole and Probation Commission memo stated that his release was “due to his cooperation with the State Attorney’s Office in the first-degree murder trial.” It was a remarkable turn of events given that he had been identified as a flight risk just a year earlier, after violating the terms of his parole. “This man has been, is and always will be a danger to society,” his parole officer had warned. Now he was released on his own recognizance and did not have to post bond. Skalnik was a free man.
then, Skalnik had been in and out of jail half a dozen times. One of
his earliest brushes with the law came nearly a decade earlier, in
Texas, through an unusual series of events that began with a misbegotten
Christmas present for his third wife, Rozelle Rogers. Their whirlwind
romance started in 1977, when Rogers, a divorced mother of two, was
leading a quiet life near her well-to-do parents in Friendswood, south
of Houston. “He just came in out of nowhere and swept her off her feet,”
said Rogers’ daughter, Lisa Rogers.
At 28, Skalnik already had two brief marriages behind him, but Rogers, who knew little about his past, saw the promise of a new future in the magnetic, seemingly worldly man who lavished her with rapturous flattery and told her he was a top executive at Southwest Airlines. He was less conventional than someone in the corporate world — he wore a gold necklace and a diamond-studded watch with his three-piece suit — but he seemed like a catch.
After getting married in Las Vegas, Skalnik moved into Rogers’ condo, where he soon established a routine. On weekday mornings, he bounded out the door, briefcase in hand, telling Rogers he was headed to the airport to fly to Dallas, where Southwest is headquartered, and assuring her that he would be back home in time for dinner. He always carried a business-size checkbook with him, with which he was profligate, treating her to jewelry, stays at posh big-city hotels and box seats at University of Texas football games, where he boasted of once having been a running back for the team. He tried to outdo himself with each ostentatious flourish, giving Rogers not just one but two brand-new vehicles: a baby blue Lincoln Continental and a customized Dodge van with red velvet curtains and CB radios. Once he presented Lisa, then 14, with a gold-nugget Seiko watch that sparkled with diamonds. When the eighth grader asked him, point blank, if it was real, Skalnik grinned and replied, “Looks real to me.”
had taken note of Skalnik’s idiosyncrasies: how he filched the robes
and towels from their luxury hotel rooms and squirreled away the purple
velvet bags that his Crown Royal came in after he had drained the
bottles. It didn’t escape her attention, either, that he always kept his
handgun within reach, even stashing it under the driver’s seat when he
was behind the wheel. In the months that followed, Skalnik’s behavior
became more unpredictable, and he began heading out of town “on
business,” he said. Eventually, his absences stretched into weeks and
then months, until he disappeared altogether.
Unknown to Rogers — who would ultimately have to post notices in the newspaper announcing her intent to divorce him — Skalnik had, by the spring of 1978, landed in the Harris County Jail, in Houston, for passing a dozen bad checks, one of which he had used to buy Rogers a microwave for Christmas. Everything Skalnik had told her was a lie. He had financed their new vehicles, and nearly everything else, on the strength of her good credit, taking out loans he never paid back, opening credit cards in her name and draining her checking account. Rogers, who died in 2005, was left reeling. “He wrecked my mom’s credit, and he wrecked her life,” Lisa said.
His arrest was the first time he found himself in serious trouble, though he had been grifting since at least the early 1970s, when he worked as a police officer. He had lasted just 14 months with the Austin Police Department, stepping down in 1973 after he wrote a string of bad checks. After apologizing for any embarrassment he had brought upon the department, he was never charged. He got off easy again when he was arrested for grand larceny in Orange County, Florida, three years later, after he posed as a furniture salesman and pocketed $700 from an unwitting customer. Even though the police found evidence in his car that suggested he was running another scam — he had a stash of checks, IDs and stationery bearing the seal of the Texas State House of Representatives — he received probation. Only his arrest in Houston in the spring of 1978, which violated the terms of his Florida probation, brought his lucky streak to an end. Suddenly he was behind bars and looking at jail time in another state.
was here, at the Harris County Jail, that Skalnik’s career as an
informant began. As he sat contemplating his future, Thomas Hirschi, a
defendant in a case that was all over the news, was booked into the jail
and placed in a nearby cell. Hirschi was one of the “Moody Park Three,” a trio of anti-police-brutality activists whom the DA’s office had
charged with inciting a riot at Moody Park, in Houston, that left 15
people hospitalized. The uprising came a year after the death of a
23-year-old laborer named José Campos Torres at the hands of Houston
police officers. The officers who beat Torres and pushed him into a
bayou to drown — “Let’s see if the wetback can swim,” one famously
taunted — received only slaps on the wrist. City leaders blamed “outside
agitators” like Hirschi, who had called for Torres’ killers to be
brought to justice, for the riot rather than acknowledging that years of
police brutality pushed the Mexican American community to its breaking
point. To the Moody Park Three’s supporters, it was a frame-up. To
prosecutors, it was a case they needed to win.
would later place a call to the DA’s office, claiming to have
information on the case. Prosecutors put him on the stand when Hirschi
and his co-defendants, Travis Morales and Mara Youngdahl, were tried
together in May 1979.
first time testifying as a jailhouse informant was less sure-footed
than his later turns as a witness for the state, but he hewed closely to
a story line that he would use again and again in the years to come. He
told the jury that he was standing outside Hirschi’s cell when the
young activist decided to unburden himself and confess that Morales’
plan all along had been “to incite the Mexican American youngsters,”
Skalnik said. As Skalnik spoke, Hirschi sat at the defense table in
disbelief. “I’d never seen the guy before,” Hirschi told me. “Never seen
his face, didn’t know his name.”
and his co-defendants were looking at up to 20 years in prison if
convicted. “We weren’t naive, but to actually see this unfold in front
of us — to watch him lie when our lives were on the line — was pretty
shocking,” Hirschi said.
strategy paid off. Prosecutors prevailed in the end; the Moody Park
Three were found guilty, though the jury declined to give them any
prison time. After Skalnik spent two months in jail in Houston, he was
sentenced that November to a year in the Orange County Jail, in Florida,
for violating his probation. But four days before Christmas, a Florida
Circuit Court judge abruptly reversed course, stating that he had
“received a recommendation” that Skalnik be moved from the jail to a
work-release program — a privilege normally forbidden to repeat
offenders. The judge did not specify whether Texas prosecutors were
behind that recommendation. But the lesson was unmistakable: The best
way for a man behind bars to help himself was to help prosecutors.
two months later, in February 1980, Skalnik was not only out of jail
but also married to a woman who believed that her clean-cut, churchgoing
husband was a law student. It was this marriage — his fourth — that
brought him to Pinellas County. While living with her in St. Petersburg,
he got engaged to another woman in nearby Largo, telling her he was a
Dallas attorney who wanted to move his law practice to Florida. He
persuaded her to take out $3,500 in loans to help him set up his new law
office — money he promised to pay back but never did. His wife learned
of his engagement only when he was arrested for grand theft. Skalnik,
who faced up to five years in prison, was left in the Pinellas County
Jail to await his trial.
had another plan. As he had done in Houston, he placed a call to
prosecutors. So began a yearslong working relationship between Skalnik
and the state attorney’s office in Clearwater, which would extend
through much of the 1980s and involve at least 11 local prosecutors.
“The state attorney’s office has always characterized me as an honest,
forthright witness,” he later wrote to a judge, “and together, we never
lost a case.”
days before his grand-theft case went to trial in August 1981, Skalnik
provided the state attorney’s office with information on three different
defendants who were charged with murder but whose cases had not yet
gone to trial. In return, prosecutors offered him a deal. If he pleaded
guilty, they would recommend that he spend no more than three years in
prison — two fewer than he was facing. They also left open the
possibility that he could secure a sweeter deal if he cooperated
further. (“Probation was discussed!” states a handwritten note in the
state attorney’s files.) Skalnik took the plea, and his sentencing was
postponed while he quietly went to work as a jailhouse informant.
Prosecutors would hold off on making a sentencing recommendation until
they saw exactly how much Skalnik had to offer and how helpful he could
be to them. In the meantime, he would remain in jail, a snitch.
made himself busy that fall and winter, and into the following June,
testifying for the state in two drug-trafficking trials and providing a
damaging deposition in a high-profile murder case. In each case, Skalnik
could truthfully say under oath that he had not been promised anything
in return for his testimony because no specific agreements had yet been
struck. The narratives he told were strikingly similar, featuring
inmates who not only freely admitted their guilt but also did so
spontaneously in the same oddly stilted language. In a drug-trafficking
case that ended in a guilty verdict, Skalnik testified that the
defendant had struck up a conversation with him — midway through the
accused’s trial, no less — that began with the declaration, “We were
loading the boat with 24,000 pounds of marijuana in Colombia.”
Skalnik was rewarded on June 30, 1982, when, with the backing of the state attorney’s office, he was sentenced to probation. For someone who had racked up five criminal charges in nearly as many years and left the state the last time he was on probation, it was an astonishing feat.
deep in thousands of pages of court records spread across two states
lies evidence to suggest that Skalnik was one of the most prolific, and
most effective, jailhouse informants in American history. “I have placed
34 individuals in prison, including four on death row,” he boasted in a
1984 letter to Sen. Lawton Chiles of Florida, in a request for
favorable treatment — a number that, while inflated at the time, would
ultimately prove accurate. During a single six-year span, from 1981 to
1987, Skalnik testified or supplied information in at least 37 cases in
Pinellas County alone. Many were cases in which people faced the most
serious possible charges and the most severe penalties. Eighteen
defendants whose cases Skalnik provided information on were under
indictment for murder. A vast majority of their cases ended in
convictions or plea deals. Four were sentenced to death.
state attorney’s office in Clearwater, in an emailed statement, said
Skalnik independently got fellow inmates to confide in him, then
contacted prosecutors or the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. “He at no
time was an ‘agent’ of the sheriff’s office or the state attorney’s
office,” it said. “The state attorney’s office never provided any
leniency to Paul Skalnik in exchange for his testimony.” All information
provided by Skalnik, the statement said, was independently verified,
and the office has never received any information to indicate that his
testimony was “incorrect.”
Skalnik’s journey through the criminal-justice system affords a rare
opportunity to see exactly how prosecutors and jailhouse informants work
together. These insights are possible because of a rare confluence of
forces, including Skalnik’s extensive history of informing and Florida’s
strong public-record laws, which enabled ProPublica and The New York
Times Magazine to obtain thousands of pages of police reports, arrest
records, jail logs, probation and parole records, pretrial interviews
and correspondence that document his activity in sometimes granular
detail. This reporting follows decades of litigation waged by public
defenders and pro bono attorneys representing death-row inmates in whose
cases Skalnik played a role. The full record provides a vivid picture
of how jailhouse informants are used, showing which benefits Skalnik was
afforded, which crimes he eluded punishment for and, most clearly, how
the state attorney’s office put this witness, who was dubbed “a con man
extraordinaire,” in the words of one warrant for his arrest, on the
stand in cases where defendants’ lives hung in the balance.
response to detailed questions about the Dailey trial, Beverly Andrews
(now Beverly Andringa), who prosecuted the case, said in an email that
she has “very little memory” of the more-than-30-year-old case, but she
said that she “never willfully and intentionally provided false evidence
or testimony to a court or jury on any case.” Robert Heyman, a
prosecutor who tried the case with her, pointed out that Skalnik had
been vetted by law enforcement and called to testify by other
prosecutors. “If we did not believe that his testimony was truthful, we
wouldn’t have had him testify,” Heyman said.
again and again, prosecutors have shown that they are willing to rely
on the testimony of witnesses like Skalnik, even in cases in which the
death penalty is in play. “Jailhouse informants are common in
prosecutions of very serious crimes, including ones that carry life and
even death sentences,” said Michelle Feldman, the Innocence Project’s
state campaigns director, whose work focuses on legislative efforts to
regulate the use of jailhouse informants. “Since the courts don’t track
them, it’s hard to say which jurisdictions use them the most or how
often they testify. But they remain an entrenched feature of criminal
prosecutions, even though they are the most unreliable kind of
What makes them so unreliable, she emphasized, is the widespread understanding in jail that prosecutors can offer substantial benefits in exchange for cooperation — rewards that may include not just reduced sentences or improved jail conditions but cash payments. “There is a very strong incentive to lie and very little disincentive not to,” Feldman said.
consequences of snitch testimony can be catastrophic. Of the 367 DNA
exonerations in the United States to date, jailhouse informants played a
role in nearly one in five of the underlying wrongful convictions. A seminal 2004 study conducted by Northwestern Law School’s Center on Wrongful Convictions
found that testimony from jailhouse snitches and other criminal
informants was the leading cause of wrongful convictions in capital
cases. Today nearly a quarter of death-row exonerations — 22% — stem
from cases in which prosecutors relied on a jailhouse informant.
Informants often end up on the stand when other evidence is weak; a case that is based on rigorous forensic work or witness testimony that can be independently corroborated does not need a snitch to paper over the gaps. The most unreliable witnesses, then, may testify in the least sound cases — and in cases in which the stakes are the highest.
Given how opaque and unchecked prosecutors’ use of jailhouse informants is, it is impossible to quantify how often they factor into criminal cases. Usually the only glimpse of the government’s reliance on them comes when a scandal erupts, as it did in Los Angeles in the late 1980s, after a serial snitch named Leslie Vernon White went public. In an interview for “60 Minutes,” he demonstrated how easy it was to manufacture a confession, procuring key details of a murder on camera in the course of just a few phone calls. His claims led to a grand-jury investigation into jailhouse informants that was the first of its kind. The inquiry exposed extensive prosecutorial misconduct and the widespread misuse of jailhouse informants, who had concocted persuasive-sounding confessions in a variety of ingenious ways. Some impersonated law-enforcement officers to make calls eliciting information; others sent friends and relatives to court hearings to suss out other defendants’ cases. Many were fed information by law enforcement, who shared arrest reports, photos and case files with inmates, even escorting them to crime scenes so they could better shape their testimony to fit the evidence. The grand jury identified upward of 150 cases, and perhaps as many as 250, that were affected.
In the wake of the scandal, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office instituted reforms to provide more oversight of prosecutors who put jailhouse informants on the stand, but beyond Los Angeles, little changed. The Chicago Tribune raised the alarm in 1999, when it highlighted prosecutors’ overreliance on jailhouse informants in death-penalty cases in Illinois, and found that such testimony had helped convict or condemn four of the state’s 12 death-row exonerees. In the aftermath of the report, which identified numerous problems with the death penalty in Illinois, Gov. George Ryan declared a statewide moratorium on executions, but nationally, the harms of jailhouse informants went unaddressed.
In the 1990s and 2000s, the accrual of DNA exonerations — made possible by the advent of a then-new and revelatory technology — laid bare the fact that snitch testimony had contributed to wrongful convictions across the country. Nevertheless, the authors of the 2004 Northwestern Law study were fatalistic, writing, “The reality is that neither legislatures nor courts are about to ban snitch testimony in the prevailing tough-on-crime political climate.”
In 2014, a quarter-century after the Los Angeles snitch scandal began, another scandal broke in neighboring Orange County. A local public defender was able to show that for years, sheriff’s deputies had engaged in a practice of strategically planting informants in the cells of defendants who were awaiting trial. Inmates who produced incriminating information — including “confessions” they elicited with threats of violence — were rewarded with money and sentence reductions.
Orange County’s top prosecutors and law-enforcement officials were implicated, and according to a pending ACLU lawsuit against the county’s district attorney’s office and Sheriff’s Department, at least 140 cases were tainted. Though no law-enforcement officials were fired or disciplined, the scandal contributed to voters’ ouster of Orange County’s longtime district attorney, Tony Rackauckas, and convictions in dozens of cases were subsequently challenged.
Alexandra Natapoff, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, who is the nation’s foremost legal scholar on criminal informants, said the parallels between the two California scandals show how little has changed in 30 years and how little we know about how often jailhouse informants continue to be used across the country. “In Orange County, a sophisticated jailhouse-informant system remained under the radar, not disclosed in court cases for decades,” Natapoff said. “The accident is that we know about it, not that it happened.”
The benefits jailhouse informants receive, she added, are rarely apparent to jurors, because prosecutors often bestow them on the back end, after a trial’s conclusion. “Many jailhouse informants can truthfully state to the jury that they have not been promised any benefit, even though realistically they expect to be compensated for their testimony,” Natapoff said. “Ironically, jurors will often be the only people in the courtroom who do not understand this arrangement.”
Karen Parker was 12 when she crossed paths with Skalnik. “He appeared out of nowhere,” she told me. “He befriended my mom and dad, and suddenly he was in our life.” It was July 1982, the middle of a long and restive summer, and Parker usually passed the time at the beach or riding her bike around her working-class neighborhood in Seminole, south of Clearwater. Skalnik — who had found work with her next-door neighbor’s brother, a private investigator — was often around, holding her father rapt with stories of his days as a police officer. He struck Parker as impossibly cool, a sharp dresser with a certain louche charm. “He was magnetic, out of the ordinary — not like other people I knew,” she said. “And he was very attentive to me. He’d give me that extra look, and I had the sense that he was interested. I was drawn in.” She was thirsty for male approval; at home, where her father was stern and critical, she received none. To Parker, Skalnik’s attention was exhilarating.
day that July, she went fishing with her next-door neighbors in Largo,
and Skalnik joined them for the outing. It was dark when they returned
to Seminole, and he summoned her to come sit beside him in the front
seat of his silver Cadillac. By then, her neighbors had gone inside.
Suddenly he was kissing Parker, his hands slipping under her T-shirt.
Then his fingers were inside her. “He took my hand and put it on his
penis,” she said. “He had me masturbate him until he ejaculated.” Parker
had just finished the seventh grade. Skalnik was 32.
voice turned cold afterward, she said, when he advised her, obliquely,
to keep quiet. “One of these days you’re going to open your mouth too
many times,” he said, suggesting that doing so could land her in “JDC” —
juvenile detention. “The only one who is going to be in trouble is
Parker spoke to only one person about what had happened, a 16-year-old girl who lived next door and glimpsed Skalnik kissing her in the car. But the story eventually leaked out later that year, after Skalnik was arrested for grand theft. Upon learning of the assault, Parker’s parents took her to the sheriff’s office. Skalnik was charged in December 1982 with “lewd and lascivious conduct on a child under 14,” a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
case against him was a strong one. Parker’s description of the assault
was bolstered by the eyewitness account from the 16-year-old neighbor
she confided in and another from the 16-year-old’s boyfriend, who, as he
approached the car, saw “movement in the suspect’s lap (suspect’s hand
or victim’s) of a masturbatory nature,” according to the police report.
And unlike some victims of child sexual abuse, Parker was old enough to
clearly articulate what happened to her and was willing to testify. “I
don’t think it is right that he is calling me a liar and I am not,” she
told investigators. There were also the results of a polygraph
examination that the sheriff’s office administered to Parker. (“Have you
ever heard of a 12-year-old girl having to take a polygraph?” she asked
me, still incredulous.) Polygraphs have since been shown to be unreliable and are not generally admissible in court,
but they were central to many law-enforcement agencies’ investigations
in the 1980s; the fact that Parker passed, and that her account of the
assault was found to be truthful, was meaningful at the time. All told,
prosecutors had a case they could take to trial. Child sexual-assault
cases are routinely prosecuted on far less.
the state attorney’s office would ultimately decline to try Skalnik. In
a plea hearing that took place on March 10, 1983, prosecutors agreed to
dismiss the molestation charge. In return, Skalnik pleaded no contest
to new charges of grand theft, for which he had been arrested the
previous November. (True to form, Skalnik had tricked a woman into
giving him nearly $5,000 on the promise of starting a travel agency
together, and defrauded a couple out of more than $20,000 by assuring
them that he could deliver discounted cars that were forfeited to the
state in narcotics cases — all of which violated his probation in the
previous grand-theft case involving his fiancee.) These charges carried
much lighter punishments than child molestation. The state attorney’s
notice to the court dismissing the lewd-and-lascivious conduct charge
said simply, “There is insufficient evidence available at this time.”
took the plea deal, for which he received concurrent five-year
sentences. But instead of being sent to state prison to serve out his
punishment, he would remain in the Pinellas County Jail, where he could
continue to work as a jailhouse informant, gathering information on
defendants who had not yet gone to trial. (Prosecutors argued that
keeping him in the county jail was for his safety, given that his
testimony had helped send men to prison.) And with the child-molestation
charge out of the way, Skalnik came across to jurors as a far more
innocuous figure than he actually was — that is, as a former police
officer turned small-time scam artist, rather than as a child molester.
Parker belongs to a group of crime victims who remain forgotten in a criminal-justice system that allows jailhouse informants to be released, and to continue committing crimes, because prosecutors exchanged leniency for their testimony. Parker never knew about prosecutors’ deal with Skalnik, only that he was never punished for what he did to her. “No one ever said, ‘That’s wrong,’” she told me. “The message I got was that what he did was OK — that it wasn’t serious, it wasn’t a crime.” In her father’s eyes, she said, it was she who was to blame for what happened. “Everyone liked Paul, and they believed Paul, and I was seen as the troublemaker,” she said. After Skalnik’s arrest, her father’s harsh criticism of her escalated, until it became unbearable. Parker ran away the following year, when she was 13, and left home for good when she was 14, taking refuge at a runaway shelter. “I didn’t trust anyone for a long, long time,” she said.
Skalnik, meanwhile, continued to be valuable to the state attorney’s office after his molestation charge was dismissed in 1983. That year and the next, he testified in four high-profile murder trials, three of which ended with death sentences. All three of the men who were condemned to die — Richard Cooper, Kenneth Gardner and J.D. Walton — had, without question, been present at the scenes of the horrendous crimes they stood accused of. But because several people were charged in connection to each murder, the key question at Cooper’s, Gardner’s and Walton’s trials was one of culpability: How much of a role did the accused play, and were his actions egregious enough to warrant the electric chair? Prosecutors used Skalnik to show that each man was not just guilty but also deserved death.
the time, in the 1980s, appearing soft on crime was a surefire way to
be voted out of office. “In Florida, prosecutors, judges, the attorney
general, the governor — everyone wanted to prove how tough they were,”
Stephen Bright told me. Bright, one of the nation’s preeminent capital
defense attorneys and a visiting lecturer at Yale Law School, went to
Clearwater in 1985 to challenge the conviction and death sentence of a
man who was bound for the electric chair. Gov. Bob Graham of Florida,
who earned the nickname Governor Jell-O because he was seen as weak and
ineffective, reinvented himself by signing death warrants, increasing
the number of warrants he signed when he ran for reelection in 1982, and
again when he ran for Senate in 1986. “In Florida,” Bright added, “it
seemed like there couldn’t be enough death sentences.”
so, Pinellas County stood out. For a three-year period, from 1982 to
1984, it sent more people to death row than any other county in Florida.
At the time, the state attorney’s office was run by a hard-charging
prosecutor named James T. Russell, who stood just 5-foot-5 but enjoyed a
fearsome reputation. A perfectionist whose moral universe had no shades
of gray, Russell pursued a law-and-order agenda that appealed to his
constituents, who were disproportionately older and overwhelmingly
white. “Put more criminals in prison, and there will be less crime on
the streets,” he told a local civic group in 1981, condemning what he
perceived to be a system that placed too much emphasis on rehabilitating
people who broke the law. (Russell died in 2006.) Few questioned the
bare-knuckled tactics behind his office’s conviction rate, which reached
92% in 1990. So fierce was the drive to rack up wins that prosecutors
“sought the death penalty in nearly every first-degree murder case,”
according to a 1988 survey by a local public defender — a strategy that
allowed them to leverage the threat of the electric chair to extract
guilty pleas from defendants.
demand for convictions and long, tough sentences made Skalnik’s
testimony invaluable. The confessions he recounted were lurid and
dramatic, strewn with provocative details that prosecutors used not just
to show the guilt of the defendants but also to establish that they
were diabolically evil. Skalnik told of victims’ begging for their lives
and of remorseless killers who laughed after their slaughters, boasting
that they had outsmarted prosecutors and the police. Gardner, who was
convicted in a grisly stabbing death of a hardware-store owner,
supposedly bragged to Skalnik, “I killed him, but they’ll never prove
it.” Walton, who was found guilty of carrying out the execution of three
men after a botched robbery, considered the whole thing “a funny joke,”
Skalnik told jurors. And Cooper, one of Walton’s co-defendants,
supposedly introduced himself to Skalnik with the brash declaration,
“I’m one of the men involved in the triple-murder slayings they thought
was a Mafia gangland killing.”
Cooper might have earned the jury’s mercy because he was a teenager,
Skalnik turned that potentially mitigating fact on its head by sharing
an offhand comment he attributed to Cooper. “He said no jury would ever
sentence him to the death chair,” Skalnik testified, “because he’s 19
years old and because he’s got that little baby face.” The jury
recommended that Cooper be put to death. (Gardner and Cooper would
eventually be resentenced to life in prison.)
confessions he claimed these men volunteered to him — and that the
state attorney’s office had him repeat to juries — were all the more
extraordinary given that he was held in protective custody and that his
reputation as a snitch was well known to other men in the jail.
“Beginning to encounter more and more inmates who recognize him,” stated
a note in his file from January 1983. Nevertheless, Skalnik was
sometimes moved closer to, or even into the same cell as, a defendant in
a newsworthy case. Cooper was assigned to a two-man cell with Skalnik;
Gardner was later assigned to a cell that adjoined Skalnik’s. It was
during their brief time in proximity to him that each supposedly came
clean. A third inmate, a co-defendant of Cooper’s named Terry Van Royal,
protested when Skalnik was moved into his cell. “I told the guard I
would not be in the same cell with him,” Van Royal later wrote in an
affidavit, “because I knew who he was and what he did.”
If defense attorneys tried to suggest that Skalnik’s preternatural ability to extract men’s most closely held secrets was too good to be true, Skalnik would insist that he stood to gain nothing from his testimony, as he did during the 1983 murder trial of Freddie Gaines. A 24-year-old handyman, Gaines was charged with stabbing his girlfriend’s ex-lover to death in a bar brawl — a chance encounter, Gaines told the jury, that turned violent. But Skalnik’s testimony jettisoned any notion that Gaines acted spontaneously; to hear him tell it, Gaines had carried out a calculated, coldblooded murder. Skalnik said Gaines boasted of bringing a knife to the bar and seeking out the victim, telling Skalnik he should have been charged “with open-heart surgery.” Skalnik’s voice swelled with emotion as he spoke, so much that he once appeared to be on the brink of tears.
told me that he was floored when he heard Skalnik testify and that he
leaned over and told his lawyer: “He’s sitting right there telling a
lie. Me and this man ain’t never talked before.” But Skalnik’s testimony
was effective, recasting a possible crime of passion into a
premeditated execution — a distinction that would help earn Gaines a
conviction for first-degree murder and a life sentence, rather than a
lesser charge like manslaughter, which carried a penalty of up to 15
assured the jury that he had come forward with no other motive than to
preserve public safety. “I used to be a police officer,” he said, adding
that he became an informant after hearing other men in the jail brag
that they were going to beat their charges. Assistant State Attorney
Bruce Young bolstered the idea that Skalnik’s intentions were selfless.
“It’s your understanding that nothing can be done for you as far as
eliminating or reducing your sentence?” Young asked.
“That’s correct,” Skalnik replied.
continued, “Even if your lawyer wanted to go in front of a judge, the
judge would have no jurisdiction to reduce the sentence, is that
“Yes, sir,” Skalnik said with a note of resignation. “That’s correct.”
three months later, Young wrote to the Florida Department of
Corrections to request leniency. “Mr. Skalnik has been a state witness
in a number of very important cases, including several first-degree
murder cases, and his testimony has been honest and truthful in all
cases,” Young said. Expressing concern for Skalnik’s safety, he asked
that his star witness not be sent to state prison but remain in the
jail; better yet, Young proposed, the state of Florida could simply
release him. “If Mr. Skalnik is eligible for parole,” he wrote, “I would
urge that Mr. Skalnik be considered for parole.” (Young did not respond
to detailed requests for comment.)
of Skalnik’s most loyal supporters would also go to bat for him. John
Halliday — the detective who previously worked with Skalnik and would
later receive key information from him in the Dailey case — called the
parole board that fall on his behalf. “Mr. Halliday would like the
commission to know the subject has been of great assistance to the
sheriff’s office,” reads an interoffice memo documenting the call.
Halliday wrote directly to a parole commissioner the next month, urging
him to consider Skalnik for release. “I have never done this for an
inmate during my 10 years in law enforcement,” Halliday added.
declined to review a detailed request for comment, referring it to
Keith Johnson, an investigator for the state attorney’s office. Johnson
referred the request to the state attorney’s office, which declined to
comment about Halliday, as did a spokeswoman for the Pinellas County
Sheriff’s Office, who noted that the cases in question took place long
March 19, 1985, Skalnik was paroled. Having served about half of his
five-year sentence for grand theft, he was free, despite assessments
from the Department of Corrections that judged him to be a “con artist
of the highest degree” who was at “high risk of further unlawful
behavior.” Sure enough, after Skalnik was released, he cheated an
elderly woman out of tens of thousands of dollars for two Lincoln Town
Cars he never delivered; conned another woman out of thousands more with
a phony real estate deal; and duped a jewelry-store clerk into taking a
check from what turned out to be a defunct bank account for a $6,100
gold Rolex. He also married and divorced his fifth wife.
By Nov. 24, 1986, he was back in the Pinellas County Jail, where he would claim, the following summer, to have procured James Dailey’s confession. “Mr. Skalnik’s deceitful nature knows no bounds,” an unknown person wrote in a handwritten letter to the state attorney’s office, urging prosecutors to punish him as harshly as the law would allow. “How many chances will this man be given? How many more people will he hurt and victimize?”
reform-minded prosecutors have swept into office over the past five
years in cities like Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas, Philadelphia and
Boston, some district attorney’s offices have begun to reevaluate the
way they have always done business. “People in these communities have
made very clear that a win-at-all-costs approach is not what they want
anymore and does not make them safer,” said Miriam Krinsky, a former
federal prosecutor and executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution, a
network for progressive prosecutors. In an effort to stem mass
incarceration, reformers have focused their energy on trying to address
the big, structural problems that most directly affect people’s liberty,
like changing the cash-bail system and diverting defendants to drug
treatment instead of prison.
far, the use of jailhouse informants has received relatively little
consideration. “It’s an issue that is just starting to gain attention,”
Krinsky said. “There is a new dialogue about whether prosecutors should
institute safeguards that would allow them to continue using jailhouse
informants but proceed with caution, or whether to steer clear of
jailhouse informants completely.”
In some state legislatures, the idea of bringing greater scrutiny to jailhouse informants has slowly begun to gain traction. In 2017, Texas lawmakers tried to strip away the secretive nature of snitch deals by compelling
prosecutors to keep track of and disclose the sort of rudimentary
information that defendants and their lawyers are often lacking. This
includes a full accounting of the benefits that jailhouse informants
have received for their testimony, their criminal records and the
previous cases in which they testified. Last year, Illinois passed legislation that requires judges to hold pretrial “reliability hearings” to
evaluate whether informants, in light of the benefits they have been
promised and their histories as informants, should be allowed to
testify. In July, Connecticut became the first state to enact a statewide tracking system for
jailhouse informants that documents where and when such witnesses have
previously testified and what benefits they received in return.
Florida took action after a staggering number of its death-row inmates were exonerated; to date, 29 condemned men have been cleared of their convictions,
more than in any other state. A commission appointed by the Florida
Supreme Court to study wrongful convictions recommended that prosecutors
disclose the deals they make with jailhouse informants, and in
response, the court changed the rules of criminal procedure in 2014 to require the disclosure of such deals as well as other
details related to the informant. The new requirement was intended to
introduce transparency — but in practice, it does not address the common
problem that prosecutors may not need to make explicit promises at all,
because the potential for leniency is implicit and well understood.
hope that new legislation, though imperfect, could still deter
prosecutors from relying on jailhouse informants. “When you put reforms
in place that require tracking and disclosing information about these
witnesses, what often comes to light is a good deal of information that
could discourage prosecutors from wanting to move forward,” says Rebecca
Brown, director of policy for the Innocence Project. “Once they have a
fuller understanding of all the factors that would underlie that
informant’s testimony, they have to confront questions like: Is this
reliable enough to move forward with?”
But in a vast majority of states, no reforms have been passed at all. Perjury charges for jailhouse snitches are very rare, even when their testimony is later proved to have been demonstratively false. So, too, are any meaningful consequences for prosecutors who fail to disclose agreements made with a jailhouse informant at the time of trial, or who mislead juries into thinking that an informant will not receive rewards after testifying, or who conceal facts about a jailhouse informant’s criminal history that might undermine his credibility. No legislation has yet addressed the outsize but largely invisible role that jailhouse informants play in plea deals, in which prosecutors may use the mere specter of an informant’s future testimony to intimidate defendants into not taking their cases to trial. And more radical ideas — like an outright ban on jailhouse informants in capital cases — have stalled, allowing prosecutors to continue using snitch testimony to secure the starkest, most irrevocable punishment.
Aug. 7, 1987, five weeks after James Dailey’s trial ended in a guilty
verdict, the 41-year-old Vietnam veteran came to court to be formally
sentenced to death. He had remained mute throughout his trial, but that
day, he finally rose to speak. Tall and angular, with dark hair and a
long, mournful face, he began by recognizing the “terrible kind of pain”
Shelly Boggio’s murder had caused her twin sister, and the anguish felt
by her family members, who sat in the courtroom, weeping. “I say these
things as a caring human being and as a person wrongfully convicted of
this heinous crime,” he declared. He had been condemned by Pinellas
County’s “win at all costs” system of justice, he said, in which “truth
is allowed to be manipulated and paid liars are allowed to testify.” His
trial, he added before he was led away in shackles, had been a “mockery
Skalnik, who was released five days later, was supposed to be back in court that October for his trial on charges of grand theft. But by the time his trial date rolled around, he had skipped town, having absconded with a rented Lincoln Town Car shortly before he was due to marry a woman who believed he worked undercover for the FBI. Prosecutors were left in the lurch; their star witness, who was slated to testify in three coming murder trials, was suddenly a fugitive from justice.
meanwhile, was hiding out in Austin, Texas, where he was busy
practicing a sort of absurdist performance art. Passing himself off as
“J. Paul Bourne,” a high roller who was flush with oil money, he managed
to buy $27,000 worth of jewelry with forged checks while also running
“a new unknown type scam,” according to documents from the Travis County
district attorney’s office — a con that involved opening bank accounts
on the promise that millions of dollars would be wired in. He also
married, and soon divorced, his sixth wife.
his arrest on a forgery charge in February 1988, he tried to reprise
his role as a snitch, but an assistant district attorney in Austin saw
what should have been clear to any prosecutor. Skalnik, she warned in an
interoffice memo, “is a BIG con artist.” Skalnik was soon extradited
back to Florida, where he was booked, once again, into the Pinellas
then, his relationship with the state attorney’s office had soured, his
decision to bolt to Texas having made a farce of the trust it had put
in him. But if prosecutors thought they could distance themselves from
Skalnik, they had failed to discern the game he was playing. When they
balked at his demands for a lenient plea deal in the summer of 1988, he
turned on them.
the help of his public defender, Skalnik filed a motion with the trial
court in which he claimed a history of extensive prosecutorial
misconduct. In the motion, he asserted that prosecutors had coached him
on how to testify in numerous cases so as to give jurors the false
impression that he “had actually heard all these ‘confessions,’ and had
no agreement with the state for a reward for his testimony.” Prosecutors
“knew of the potential questionability of said confessions,” the motion
charged. Skalnik provided the names of 11 prosecutors whom he accused
of misconduct but provided few specifics. He claimed to have given
information or testimony in more than 50 cases and suggested that much
of that evidence was tainted.
as the men whom Skalnik leveled outrageous claims against over the
years had faced accusations that were maddeningly difficult to disprove,
prosecutors found themselves on the defensive, scrambling to discredit
what Skalnik claimed was the honest truth. In formal responses submitted
to the court, the state attorney’s office categorically denied his
assertions, dismissing them as “falsehoods, ranging in degree from gross
exaggeration to preposterous fabrication” — a richly paradoxical
about-face for an office that had asked scores of jurors to take him at
his word. Trying to preserve the integrity of the cases Skalnik had
participated in, prosecutors simultaneously argued that his earlier
testimony as a state witness “was credible, was often independently
substantiated and withstood extensive cross-examination.”
fact, behind the scenes, an investigator with the state attorney’s
office had difficulty verifying that Skalnik had provided information
that could be independently corroborated. Of the two examples Halliday
provided — he said Skalnik’s tips led law enforcement to a ski mask worn
during the committing of a murder and to a gun used in another killing —
only the claim about the ski mask checked out; of the other, the
investigator wrote: “This information is incorrect. The information from
Skalnik was accurate; however it came months after the gun was
brought forth his grievances, the state attorney’s office told the
court, only after he failed to blackmail prosecutors into cutting him a
favorable deal. Yet in the end, Skalnik got exactly what he wanted.
After Skalnik withdrew his motion claiming that they had engaged in
misconduct, he and prosecutors arrived at what appeared to be a mutually
beneficial arrangement — one that would both appease Skalnik and send
him far from Pinellas County. For a total of six felonies — four counts
of grand theft and two counts of failure to appear in court — he would
receive a five-year sentence. He entered his plea on the condition that
his sentence be served in Texas, where he had time left on a
ended up evading even that relatively meager punishment. In November
1989, after completing seven months in prison in Huntsville, Texas, on
the bail-jumping charge, the state of Texas — which never agreed to
allow him to serve his Florida sentence there — released him. Ultimately
Florida abandoned its efforts to extradite him. “The commission has
received information which has caused it to conclude that return of said
person is not warranted,” read one notably oblique 1991 Florida Parole
Skalnik had been let loose on the world again.
1991, Misty Anderson was living with her mother and two younger sisters
in Friendswood, Texas — the same town where Skalnik passed himself off
as an airline executive in the late 1970s. Her mother, who declined to
be interviewed for this article and whose name is being withheld to
protect her privacy, wed Skalnik after a short courtship; she did not
know that he was already married, much less that she was his eighth
wife. (Skalnik married his seventh wife shortly after his release from
prison.) Masquerading as a prosperous real estate developer, Skalnik
lavished Anderson’s mother with gifts: big bouquets of roses, jewelry,
even a used Jaguar. He also began sowing division between her and her
his campaign to undermine the 15-year-old, who disliked him from the
start, Skalnik accused her of stealing the engagement ring he had given
her mother — a ring whose glittering gemstone, he said, was a 7-carat
diamond. Anderson, whose most fervent wish was for her parents to get
back together, saw Skalnik as an interloper, and a calculating and tacky
one at that. She was stunned when he accused her of stealing the ring,
which she suspected was actually set with a cubic zirconium. “He said
I’d taken it,” she told me. “He set me up.”
punishment, Skalnik grounded Anderson, insisting that she could be
reformed only through a punishing regimen that he ordered her to carry
out over her summer vacation, when temperatures soared into the 90s.
“Every day I had to dig holes in the ground along our fence line, under
the hot sun, with no water,” Anderson told me. “I was not allowed to
shower, not allowed to brush my teeth. I was only allowed to eat once a
day. I would get so faint that I would see stars.” When Skalnik
permitted her to come inside, she had to stay in her room, shut off from
the rest of the world. Only after a month of isolation, when she was at
her most desperate and vulnerable, did Skalnik offer her a way out. “He
came in my bedroom and said, ‘I have an idea that’s going to make
things better between us,’” she said.
did not speak a word about the sexual abuse that followed — “I didn’t
think anyone would believe me,” she explained — until late that summer,
when she summoned the courage to confide in a family friend. “She told
me that she had to report the abuse, and that’s how it all started,”
Anderson said. The spell Skalnik seemed to have cast over her mother
was, in an instant, broken. “As soon as my mother heard what he’d been
doing, she called the police,” Anderson said. Skalnik was arrested and
charged with sexual assault of a child.
the eyes of the law, Skalnik was a first-time sex offender. “With a
prior conviction for sexual assault of a child, he would have been
looking at 25 years to life,” said Margaret Hindman, the former
assistant district attorney in Galveston County who prosecuted him.
Instead, he faced two to 20 years. Still, Hindman pursued him with a
vigor that Pinellas County prosecutors had not. She was astonished when I
told her of Skalnik’s long run as a state witness. “This guy clearly
was grandiose, delusional and had narcissistic-personality disorder,”
she said. “He boasted that he was with the FBI, that he was with the
CIA, and none of it checked out. It’s hard to believe prosecutors relied
professed his innocence, but he pleaded no contest in exchange for a
10-year prison sentence — a deal that was not as harsh as Anderson would
have liked, though it spared her from having to endure a trial. She was
in college when Skalnik first came up for parole, and she wrote to the
parole board’s members, urging them not to grant him early release, and
they abided by her wishes.
2002, he was released after serving a decade in prison. Rather than
register as a sex offender, as he was required to do by law, he simply
disappeared. He was arrested the following year in Middlesex County,
Massachusetts, just west of Boston, for larceny and forgery after he
stole thousands of dollars from unsuspecting clients who had hired him
under the false belief that he was an attorney. He pleaded guilty and
served time in state prison, then fled the state around 2009 after
repeatedly violating the terms of his probation.
managed to live under the radar for the next six years in East Texas,
where he went by the name E. Paul Smith. Claiming to be an attorney, an
undercover Homeland Security agent, an ex-fighter pilot who had been
shot down over Vietnam and a terminally ill cancer patient, he worked a
variety of small-time scams. “He was writing up people’s wills, and
doing legal work for them, and investing their money, though no one ever
saw any returns,” said Shirley Saathoff, a retired U.S. Marshals senior
inspector who began investigating Skalnik in the summer of 2015 after
the daughter of one of his love interests figured out his real name and
looked up his criminal record. “He hurt and used a lot of women,”
Saathoff added. Everything, even his wedding to a woman named Judy
Smith, who would have been his ninth wife, turned out to be a sham, down
to the phony marriage license he had her date and sign. (She is now
Judy Beaty.) “Paul put just enough truth into a lie to make you believe
it,” she told me.
When law enforcement finally caught up with him that October and arrested him for failing to register as a sex offender, he had over 30 fake IDs in his possession — as well as a framed law-school diploma, a legal dictionary embossed with the words E. PAUL SMITH, ESQ., ATTORNEY AT LAW and a handgun. After he was arrested, he asked to speak to law enforcement. “He wanted to cut a deal,” James Ferris, an investigator with the Panola County Sheriff’s Department, told me one morning in his tidy office in Carthage, Texas. “He started telling me that he could be useful inside the jail, and I told him I was not interested in speaking with him further.” Ferris was emphatic about why he wouldn’t want to work with Skalnik. “I would never be able to say on the stand that I believed the information he gave me was true and credible.”
James Dailey’s appeals slowly advanced through the courts, his
attorneys at the Capital Collateral Regional Counsel — a state agency
that represents indigent death-row inmates — argued that the state had,
by putting Skalnik on the stand, used false testimony to convict him. To
prove it, they pointed to the claims Skalnik himself made in 1988, when
he accused prosecutors of knowing that the confessions he recounted
were highly suspect and of concealing from juries the rewards he was
given for his testimony. But the courts were indifferent. In a 2007
opinion, the Florida Supreme Court noted that Skalnik’s claims of
prosecutorial misconduct had never been substantiated. “Skalnik
disavowed the accusations,” read the opinion, and “unequivocally stated
that they were false.” The court also accepted the government’s
assurances that prosecutors had not engaged in wrongdoing. “The
prosecutor in Dailey’s case also testified that she believed Skalnik’s
testimony to be truthful at the time of trial,” its justices wrote in
their opinion. And with that, any hope of challenging the veracity of
Skalnik’s testimony effectively came to an end.
years later, in 2015, the Florida Commission on Offender Review
declined to recommend Dailey’s case for a clemency hearing. By then,
Dailey and another man, J.D. Walton, were the only people Skalnik
testified against who remained on death row. Dailey’s prospects looked
grim; after several rounds of appeals, the inexorable fact of his
following year, a new attorney at the CCRC, Chelsea Shirley, started
digging into his case. Shirley, who was less than three years out of law
school, brought fresh eyes and indefatigable energy to the decadeslong
case file and the effort to win Dailey a new trial. At 27, she was
younger than the case itself.
Shirley read the numerous accounts that Dailey’s co-defendant, Jack
Pearcy, had given about the night of the crime, she saw nothing to
suggest that her client had actually taken part in the murder. “Through
the years, Pearcy suggested — but never explicitly said — that he
committed this crime by himself,” Shirley told me. She was particularly
struck by a sworn statement he made to Dailey’s attorneys in 1993. In
it, Pearcy divulged that he had been alone with Boggio in the
early-morning hours of May 6, 1985, making him the last known person to
see her alive; he did not say what happened to Boggio, only that he
returned home alone. “I went in, got Jim up,” Pearcy said of Dailey. “I
told him, ‘Come on, let’s go smoke a couple joints, drink a beer or
something.’” He and Dailey then drove to a nearby causeway, he said, and
began tossing a Frisbee around. “He ended up going out in the water,”
Pearcy said, “while we was playing Frisbee. We drank beer, we smoked a
couple of joints.” His account provided an explanation for why Dailey’s
jeans were wet when the two men returned home. It was the same story
Dailey had told his attorneys before his own trial — a story they warned
him sounded too far-fetched to repeat to a jury.
April 20, 2017, Shirley drove to Sumter Correctional Institution in
Bushnell, Florida, an hour north of Tampa, to see Pearcy. She was still
in the early stages of her investigation; she did not yet know that she
would interview two men who had been incarcerated with Pearcy at
different times, who would tell her that Pearcy told them Dailey had
nothing to do with the murder. Shirley went to see Pearcy only with the
hope that he might be ready, after 30 years, to talk.
a compact, muscular man with penetrating blue eyes, did not seem
surprised that she had come to visit him, and he agreed to meet with
her. She began by reviewing several previous accounts he had given of
the hours surrounding Boggio’s murder, in which he suggested that Dailey
was at home when he and the teenager headed out into the night. Pearcy
listened and nodded along. Finally he asked if he could look at a
document she had placed on the table between them; it was an affidavit
she had prepared that summarized his previous statements, but it
concluded with a declaration that went one step further. “James Dailey
was not present when Shelly Boggio was killed,” it read. “I alone am
responsible for Shelly Boggio’s death.”
read the affidavit line by line, and when he finally spoke, his voice
was devoid of emotion. “If you can give me a pen, I’ll sign it,” he told
Shirley. He said that he would be willing to testify in court to attest
to the accuracy of the affidavit; he just wanted to tell his mother
first, he said, to prepare her. It was an astounding admission — and it
was enough, Shirley hoped, to win her client a new trial.
affidavit helped persuade a judge to grant an evidentiary hearing,
which was held on Jan. 3, 2018. Shirley brought some additional legal
firepower. Laura Fernandez, a clinical lecturer and research scholar at
Yale Law School, had recently joined Dailey’s legal team. She — along
with her colleague Cyd Oppenheimer, also a Yale-trained lawyer — would
become a driving force in the effort to overturn Dailey’s conviction.
But when Pearcy was called to the stand, he had a change of heart. He
explained that he had spoken to someone with the state — he did not
specify whom — and was worried about how his testimony could affect his
chances for parole. “I spoke with all my family, and they told me I
needed to do what I thought was right, but that I needed to not make a
rash decision, since my parole just got denied for seven years,” he
said. His family had advised him, he said, to “think about what I was
doing.” When questioned about the truthfulness of his affidavit, he
invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The judge
denied Dailey’s bid for a new trial.
lawyers appealed the decision to the Florida Supreme Court, citing
information they had uncovered that, they argued, warranted a new trial.
This included revelations about the other two jailhouse informants,
Pablo DeJesus and James Leitner, who testified against Dailey in 1987.
Travis Smith, who was incarcerated at the Pinellas County Jail at the
same time as the two informants, testified at the evidentiary hearing
that he heard them concoct a fictitious story about Dailey, which they
planned to take to prosecutors so they could win reduced sentences.
(Pablo DeJesus died in 2012; Leitner has never publicly recanted his
testimony.) The state attorney’s office’s records reflect that DeJesus
and Leitner — who told jurors they would receive no reward for their
testimony — haggled with prosecutors for reduced sentences in the months
leading up to Dailey’s trial, a benefit they were each granted after
Florida’s highest criminal court was unmoved, finding that Smith’s
account, and other evidence Dailey’s lawyers presented, including proof
that Skalnik misrepresented his criminal record at Dailey’s trial, had
come to light too late. “Dailey neglects to explain why this information
could not have been discovered earlier,” the court stated in an opinion
on Oct. 3 — in essence blaming Dailey’s lawyers for not uncovering
facts that prosecutors had spent years obfuscating.
was the end of the road for Dailey. A week earlier, Gov. Ron DeSantis
had signed his death warrant. “This was one of the most gruesome crimes
in the history of Pinellas County,” DeSantis, a native of the county who grew up just north of Clearwater, later told reporters. “This has
been litigated over and over and over, and so at some point you need to
do justice.” The day and time of Dailey’s death was set: His execution
was to be carried out on Nov. 7 at 6 p.m.
this fall, I went to see Skalnik in a nursing home in the East Texas
town of Corsicana. I found him alone in a drab, cluttered room where the
blinds were drawn and a television was on low. He had been released
from prison in June, after having romanced the mother of another inmate,
persuading her to fill his commissary account each week. He lay in bed,
shirtless, his thinning gray hair uncombed. Even flat on his back, he
cut a shockingly large, Falstaffian figure. He was bedridden and ill —
though with what, he did not say. Every so often, nurses turned him so
that he did not develop bedsores, and he sometimes grimaced in pain as
he spoke. “I think I’m going to die,” he whispered.
the afternoon I spent with him, and on a subsequent visit, it became
clear that the last person who could provide a deeper understanding of
Paul Skalnik was Skalnik himself. He was a master of misdirection,
sidestepping hard questions while portraying himself as the unfairly
maligned hero of a story that featured a supporting cast of cunning and
vindictive women who were after his riches. Of both charges of child
molestation, he insisted that he had been wrongly accused, a victim of
girls who lied to the authorities.
As we talked, I eyed his tattoos. His right shoulder was emblazoned with United States Marines iconography, and his left shoulder bore the words “From Texas to Vietnam.” Skalnik told me that the scar on his right knee was a result of being shot down over Laos when he fought in the Vietnam War. In fact, his available military records show that he was never on combat duty and never served overseas.
insisted that his testimony in Dailey’s trial, and in the many other
cases he played a role in, had been truthful. “I never lied on the
stand,” he told me. “At least to the best of my knowledge.” When I told
him of Dailey’s impending execution, he was unmoved. But he seemed
surprised when I mentioned that Freddie Gaines — the 24-year-old who
stabbed his girlfriend’s ex-lover in a bar brawl — was still in prison,
36 years later. “I think that was a crime of passion,” Skalnik said. “He
doesn’t need life,” he added, of Gaines’s sentence. “I’d give him 10
and let him go home.”
I reminded Skalnik that he was the witness whose testimony established
premeditation at Gaines’s trial, he appeared shocked. “This was your
testimony, that he had planned this,” I reminded him. “Does that ring
true to you? Do you think he told you that?”
Skalnik cried. “No.” He shook his head resolutely. But when I later
tried to return to his apparent recantation, his tone shifted. There is
no statute of limitations on perjury in Florida in capital felony cases,
and Skalnik was reluctant to reverse himself. “I won’t retract what I
said,” he told me. “Whatever I testified to was fact.”
Proudly, he told me more than once, “I never lost a case.”
week later, I went to Florida State Prison in Raiford, west of
Jacksonville, to interview Dailey. He had recently caught an unexpected
break. On Oct. 23, a Federal District Court judge granted him a limited stay of execution, to provide his newly appointed federal attorneys more time to research and present their appeals.
State Prison is a monolithic, 1960s-era penitentiary hemmed in on all
sides by level farmland and coils of razor wire. It is also home to the
so-called death house, where inmates with active death warrants are held
in the weeks leading up to their executions. For our meeting, Dailey
was led into the tiny, fluorescent-lit room where final interviews with
the condemned are conducted. His hands were manacled to a chain belt at
his waist, and his feet were bound by leg irons. At 73, he moved slowly.
Behind his thick-framed, prison-issued glasses, he had heavy circles
under his eyes.
Dailey had been granted a stay, it was clear that what lay ahead
weighed heavily upon him. He had been convicted in the era of Old
Sparky, the straight-backed oak chair in which 240 prisoners went to
their deaths before 2000, when the Florida Legislature made lethal
injection the preferred method of execution. As Dailey passed days, and
then weeks, in the death house, he experienced another, different kind
of torment: the anticipation of waiting. His cell was just 30 feet from
the execution chamber. At the time of our interview, he had already been
measured for his state-issued burial suit.
more than three decades in prison, Dailey seemed even-tempered,
agreeable, even acquiescent. A lieutenant at the prison would later take
me aside to tell me that Dailey’s disciplinary record was almost
nonexistent — a feat for anyone who has been incarcerated for so long.
asked Dailey about an observation his mother made when she testified
during the penalty phase of his trial, hoping to persuade the jury to
show him mercy. “I sent two lovely young men to the Air Force and
Marines,” she said of Dailey and one of his brothers, “and they came
back, and they were different boys.” Dailey closed his eyes at the
memory. “I was messed up,” he said. He explained that he was sent to
Bien Hoa, an air base northeast of Saigon,
in 1968 during the Tet Offensive; after rocket attacks hit the base, he
and other soldiers assisted the injured — men whose limbs had been
blown off, their faces ravaged, who drifted between life and death. “I
wasn’t built for that,” he told me. “I started drinking real bad.” To
sleep, he had to finish as much as a fifth of alcohol. After three tours
in Vietnam, he found no relief when he returned home. He sank into
addiction and became, he told me, “a vagabond.”
relationship with Pearcy, whom he met in a bar in Kansas, was
elemental. “We smoked dope together,” Dailey said simply. He insisted
that he had nothing to do with Boggio’s murder and that he believed
Pearcy was driving Boggio home when Pearcy left the house with the
teenager, and he went to sleep.
understood that any chance of proving his innocence was lost when
Skalnik took the stand. “I never talked to Paul Skalnik in my life,” he
told me, his voice rising. “We all knew he was an infamous snitch and an
ex-police officer. We knew everything about him. We knew how many guys
he had snitched on. There wasn’t any hiding the fact. The officers would
tell us! The officers that worked in the dang jail, they’d say, ‘Don’t
talk to him.’
was impossible for him to get my confession the way he said he got it,”
he continued. Even if Skalnik — under protective custody, and a
stranger to Dailey, no less — had somehow managed to strike up a
conversation, the distance between the two men would have prohibited any
sort of meaningful or intimate discussion. “He would’ve had to holler
at me,” Dailey said. “And I would have had to speak loudly to confess to
told me something that he’d thought back to many times over the years:
He had been moved from one cell to another shortly before his trial was
slated to begin. Jail logs, in which inmates’ cell assignments are
recorded, confirm that on May 1, 1987 — just 18 days before Dailey’s
scheduled trial — Dailey was moved from the lower G wing of the jail to
the upper G wing, where Skalnik was held. “Right away, I told the
sergeant, I said, ‘Get me out of here,’” Dailey told me. “‘This is a
damn setup.’” Skalnik claimed to have elicited Dailey’s confession just
two days later. Five days after that, he was talking to the state
attorney’s office. It was one of many troubling facts that the jury in
Dailey’s trial never heard.
Dailey’s stay of execution will remain in place through Dec. 30. After that, DeSantis can set a new execution date for as soon as January. When that day comes, Dailey will be asked to walk from his cell to the execution chamber, where he will lie down on the gurney. Leather restraining straps will be fastened across his body, and an IV line will be inserted into his arm. Finally, the signal will be given to the executioner to begin the flow of lethal drugs. At that moment, the state of Florida will be asking its citizens to trust that Dailey killed Shelly Boggio that night beside the dark water, and that he received a fair trial, and that justice has finally been served. It will be asking them, as it has time and time again, to believe the word of Paul Skalnik.
The rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine was sentenced to two years in prison and five years of supervised release in a Manhattan federal court on Wednesday.
Paul Engelmayer, the judge overseeing the case, castigated Tekashi, whose real name is Daniel Hernandez,
but praised his cooperation with prosecutors. Hernandez pleaded guilty
to several crimes related to his involvement with the Nine Trey Gangsta
Bloods and testified against fellow gang members.
cooperation was courageous,” Engelmayer said. “The danger to you is
multiplied by your music career, which I understand you intend to
continue. The fact that you are unusually recognizable does not help
Both prosecutors and the attorney representing Hernandez had
asked Engelmayer to give the rapper a reduced sentence. He faced up to
life in prison for his crimes, with a minimum sentence of 37 years.
Engelmayer spoke to Hernandez — his long, rainbow-dyed hair faded to black and blond and pulled back in a ponytail — in front of a nearly full courtroom. Few friends or family members were in attendance, as the defense said Hernandez’s mother, brother, and girlfriend feared for their safety. At least one row was filled with a group of middle-aged men who appeared to be undercover cops. In another row, sat Hernandez’s biological father, who Hernandez hadn’t seen since he was 9 years old.
“I failed these people. They believed in Daniel Hernandez. I was too busy making the negative image in my 69 persona,” Hernandez said at his sentencing,
wearing a blue jail uniform. “I know God has a bigger plan for me. I
want to inspire the youth that it never too late to change.”
13 months Hernandez has already spent in jail will count toward his
sentence, so he must spend an additional 11 months in prison. Engelmayer
also imposed 300 hours of community service and a $35,000 fine.
told the court that he hoped one day Hernandez is remembered for “doing
the right thing” by cooperating with law enforcement. He said some
commentary of the case had “romanticized” Nine Trey and made a joke out
of Hernandez’s testimony.
“I appreciated the memes, whether at your expense or mine. But I need to say, Nine Trey was violent, not to be glorified. Cooperation of criminal insiders is a necessary tool,” he said.
Hernandez was arrested in November 2018 on charges including
racketeering, illegal firearms possession, and aiding in an attempted
murder. He pleaded guilty in January.
In the months that followed, Hernandez provided officials with information about the inner workings of Nine Trey — an East Coast offshoot of the Bloods — and testified in September against Anthony “Harv” Ellison and Aljermiah “Nuke” Mack, whom prosecutors have described as high-ranking members of the organization.
In his testimony, Hernandez named several famous people he believed
to be part of the Nine Trey gang, including Jim Jones, his former
manager Kifano “Shotti” Jordan, and the rapper Mel Matrix. He detailed his beefs with the rappers Casanova, Trippie Redd, and Chief Keef, as well as started another with Cardi B.
said Hernandez had been “both incredibly significant and extremely
useful,” and said that he “provided an insider’s view of Nine Trey and a
first-hand account of many acts of violence” that they “otherwise did
Other members of the rap community had criticized Hernandez over his testimony, prosecutors said, questioning whether he would be safe in public or in jail.
“There is no question that the defendant’s life will never be the same because of his cooperation in this case,” prosecutors said in their memo.
At Hernandez’s sentencing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Longyear
told Engelmayer that Hernandez gave investigators insight into the
structure and leadership inside the Nine Trey gang.
“Mr. Hernandez was truthful, he was forthcoming, he was an open book,” Longyear said, adding that there was a major risk factor in Hernandez testifying. “He will forever have to look over his shoulder. He will have to take extra precaution, certainly for the near future and for quite some time.”
One day before the sentencing, prosecutors filed two letters from
people who were robbed by Hernandez and his cohorts in April 2018.
Skyy L. Daniels, a publicist, and her assistant, whose name was withheld in the letter, said they were robbed by Hernandez at gunpoint in midtown Manhattan, causing them longtime stress. Both asked that Hernandez remain in prison.
“As a result of this entire ordeal, I have suffered greatly from mental anguish and emotional distress,” Daniels wrote. “So traumatized by this aftermath, that over a year later, I have had a difficult time getting past the incident suffering from what we believe is post-traumatic stress disorder. To add insult to injury, he released the video of me escaping from the clutches of his thugs on social media and it went viral accumulating millions of views as the public laughed. I am a mother and grandmother first and it is so hard to describe what it feels like to survive that occurrence.”
Her assistant said he could not sleep alone anymore and had to move
out of his New York apartment, which he learned was blocks from
“For a long time I practiced putting the terrible
memories away in my mind,” the assistant said. “Thinking about it is
still really painful. Sometimes I just go into staring spells when I am
caught thinking about what happened and not paying any attention to my
surroundings. Everyday of my life I live in constant fear that someone
(his goons/supporters/constituents) will be sent to finish the job. It
hurts me so much.”
A woman who was shot in the foot at a July 2018 shooting orchestrated by Hernandez spoke at the sentencing hearing, saying her life had been permanently changed.
The woman, identified only as LL, said July 16, 2018, was the “worst day” of her life and called herself a “victim of Daniel Hernandez’s actions.”
LL was shot in the foot in crossfire at a Brooklyn public housing
area nicknamed “Smurf Village.” She was an innocent bystander in the
shooting. Hernandez wasn’t present at the time of the shooting but is
believed to have orchestrated it as a hit on a rival.
scars on my back, I have scars on my knee, I have scars on my foot,” LL
said, adding that she’s still in physical therapy more than a year
later. “I want him to apologize and admit what he did. At the end of the
day, he was the mastermind.”
In his statement to the judge, Hernandez apologized to LL and offered to pay all of her medical bills.
Hernandez’s lawyer had asked for time served in the case. In his statement to Engelmayer in court, Hernandez, took responsibility for his actions, described his relationship to the Nine Trey Gangsta Bloods gang, and told the court about this childhood in Brooklyn.
“To be honest, I can’t blame anyone but myself. I’m not a victim,”
Hernandez said. “I put myself into this position since day one. Whatever
my lawyer calls them — gang members or leeches — I allowed them in. It
was my decision.”
He broke down in tears at one point, when he turned to apologize to LL for the July 2018 shooting, he saw his father sitting in the fourth row.
Hernandez didn’t know his father until he was 9 years old, Lazzaro,
Hernandez’s lawyer, told the judge before the sentencing. Hernandez’s
father moved in with his family, but Hernandez’s mother kicked him out
once she realized he was doing heroin around the children, Lazzaro said.
Hernandez then became more close to his stepfather, who he viewed as a father figure. He was murdered when Hernandez was 14.
After taking a pause to compose himself, Hernandez apologized to his two daughters, the rest of his family, and his fans.
made a lot of bad choices, but that doesn’t make me a bad person … I
was more worried about fame and success than my own and others’
well-being,” he said. “I was weak and easily influenced.”
He told the judge that he had always hoped to be an example for others, showing that a kid who grew up in Brooklyn, could become a world-famous musician.
Hernandez also mentioned the charity work he has taken part in, including spending time with sick children.
“When people see me, they don’t always see the arrogant person the
news wants you to see,” he said. “They see me. I’m human, with organs,
like everyone else in this room.”
Hernandez’s attorney, Lance Lazarro, applauded Hernandez for cooperating with law enforcement, describing it as “courageous.”
“People who call Mr. Hernandez a coward for testifying are the real cowards,” he said.
In court documents filed by his lawyers ahead of the sentencing, Hernandez’s mother, Natividad Perez-Hernandez; his brother, Oscar Hernandez; his girlfriend, Rachel “Jade” Wattley; and several other associates asked the judge for leniency.
In his own letter, Hernandez told the judge that he had disassociated from the gang, which came “with a price.”
“I’m truly sorry for the harm that I’ve caused,” Hernandez wrote. “If given a second chance, I will not let this Court down and I will dedicate a portion of my life to helping others not make the same mistakes that I’ve made.”
“I now know that I am remorseful for what happened because I was blessed with the gift of an opportunity that most people dream of but I squandered it by getting involved with the wrong people and misrepresenting myself when I should have been true to myself and my fans,” he wrote.
“I’m sorry to the victims who were affected by my actions, to my fans
who look up to me and were misled, to my family who depends on me and
to this courtroom for this mess that I contributed to,” he continued.
Rapper Tec is accusing Gunna as a snitched after he posted a Crimestoppers video that went viral.
The internet went into an uproar this weekend after Louisiana rapper Tec posted a video showing Gunna on an episode of Crimestoppers,
which is a serious sin in gangster rap. The Atlanta rapper has had an
amazing year in hip hop, where he was one of the most sought after
artistes in the game for collaborations. Despite his hugely successful
year, Gunna, aka Wunna, is closing out the year with a nightmarish
scenario. According to Tec, Wunna is a rat and not a spider.
It’s unclear what beef Tec and Gunna have before the Louisiana native
decided to slander one of the most talented MCs in the game this year.
Moments before he posted the clip, Tec went on Instagram Live to let his
fans know that the Gun was a rat, and he plans to prove it by releasing
a tape on social media. He made good on his promised and dropped the
video much to the dismay of some fans who appears to don’t know how to
feel about it. Some of his fellow rappers like Blueface and YFN Lucci
have reacted to the video in a trolling way.
Tec and his crew were yelling over the video, so it’s not entirely clear what Gunna was saying, but he responded to the clip saying that fans should do their research before rushing to judgement. We researched it and came up with nothing except that it appears that he was speaking about a case involving a relative. He also commented on the video saying that the clip is not on Crimestoppers and that Tec is lying.
Chinese nationalists have rallied in central Hong Kong in support of besieged police officers and accused the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of whipping up anti-Government sentiment in the former British colony.
Hundreds of activists waving flags gathered at Hong Kong’s police headquarters late on Tuesday in a demonstration to counter the democracy movement that has taken hold in the Chinese territory.
Many of the pro-Beijing supporters who gathered in support of Hong
Kong’s Government and police told the ABC they believed US intelligence
agencies were largely responsible for the city’s recent unrest.
“Americans give Hong Kong, some of the people here, a lot of support — like the CIA,” says Jimmy Wong, a Hong Kong-born man who attended the rally.
A similar view was expressed by Angelo Giuliano, a European citizen who has lived on the Chinese mainland for 25 years, but regularly visits Hong Kong.
Some of the nationalists who attended the rally carried slogans
depicting pro-democracy protestors as “cockroaches”, while urging Hong
Kong’s embattled leader Carrie Lam to take a harder line against them.
“I hope she can change the law or something like that to stop people doing any more damage on the streets,” Mr Wong said.
On Tuesday, Beijing’s official news agency Xinhua reported that Chinese President Xi Jinping had demanded “unswerving efforts” to end the violence in the Hong Kong and punish those responsible “to safeguard the well-being of the general public.” Continue reading: West’s Hong Kong color revolution
CIA — 71 Years of Torture, Narco Trade & Regime Change
Joshua Adam Schulte, a former CIA employee accused of leaking classified material to WikiLeaks, sought to mount a new defense Tuesday months beyond the deadline to do so.
Edward S. Zas, a public defender for Mr. Schulte,
asked a federal court judge to accept a tardy pretrial motion
challenging the constitutionality of federal espionage and larceny
statutes under which his client has been charged.
Mr. Schulte, 31, has been jailed for nearly two years while waiting to stand trial in connection with multiple counts related to allegedly leaking top-secret CIA material later published online by the WikiLeaks website. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges, and his trial is currently set to start in early 2020 following a series of developments and delays.
In a four-page sworn declaration, Mr. Zas said that Mr. Schulte’s
legal team did not learn they could seek to have the charges dropped as
unconstitutional until several months after a July deadline to submit
pretrial motions had passed. He filed it in Manhattan federal court
along with a memorandum making his case for dismissal.
“This was not a tactical, strategic or reasoned decision,” said Mr. Zas. “Counsel simply and inexcusably overlooked that the constitutionality of these statutes is open to serious question and vigorously debated by courts, journalists and commentators. Counsel also overlooked that neither the Supreme Court nor the Second Circuit has definitively resolved whether these statutes are unconstitutionally overbroad or vague in their current form, particularly as applied to news organizations and their sources.”
Mr. Zas said that the defense team did not realize that a “viable
motion to dismiss under the Constitution” was possible until around Oct.
22. He did not immediately return a message requesting further details.
The tardy pretrial motions seeks dismissal of four counts brought under the U.S. Espionage Act and one count brought under the larceny statute, both stemming from Mr. Schulte allegedly leaking a collection of CIA hacking tools that were publishing by WikiLeaks beginning in March 2017. He would face a maximum sentence of 50 years imprisonment if found guilty of all five counts, Mr. Zas noted, arguing it would be be “fundamentally unfair” to penalize Mr. Schulte for his own “unreasonable failure” to file the motion to dismiss on time.
“Scholars, journalists, and judges have long feared that the
Espionage Act, 18 U.S.C.§ 793, and the federal larceny statute, 18
U.S.C. § 641, are so vaguely worded—and have been construed so
broadly—that the government could use them to prosecute news
organizations, and their confidential sources, for obtaining and
revealing truthful and important information about government activity
to the public,” Mr. Zas wrote in the memo. “In this case, those fears
have been realized.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan declined to comment.
Passed during World War I, the Espionage Act has been used several times this century by prosecutors to bring criminal charges related to leaking classified material, including recently in the federal case pending against Julian Assange, the Australian-born editor and founder of WikiLeaks. He was indicted in May on 17 counts of violating the Espionage Act for soliciting and publishing classified U.S. military and diplomatic documents nearly a decade earlier, marking the first time in history the Justice Department has ever prosecuted a publisher under the statute.
Mr. Assange, 47, has been jailed in London since April fighting
extradition to the U.S. He too faces decades behind bars if found
Several candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020 have condemned his prosecution under the Espionage Act or called for the charges to be dropped.