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James Aren DUCKETT





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Police officer - Rape
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: May 12, 1987
Date of birth: September 4, 1957
Victim profile: Teresa McAbee, 11
Method of murder: Drowning
Location: Lake County, Florida, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on June 30, 1988

Supreme Court of Florida


opinion 72711

opinion SC01-2949


DC#  112232
DOB:  09/04/57

Fifth Judicial Circuit, Lake County Case # 87-1347 & 88-0262
Sentencing Judge: The Honorable Jerry T. Lockett
Attorney, Trial: Jack Edmund – Private
Attorney, Direct Appeal: Jack Edmund – Private
Attorney, Collateral Appeals:  Mary Elizabeth Wells – CCRC-S

Date of Offense: 05/12/87

Date of Sentence: 06/30/88

Circumstances of Offense:

James Duckett was the only police officer on patrol on the night of 05/11/87 in the city of Mascotte, Florida. 

Around 10:00 p.m., eleven-year-old Teresa McAbee walked to a convenience store to purchase a pencil and, after leaving the store, stopped to talk to a sixteen-year-old boy outside the store. 

Duckett arrived at the convenience store shortly afterward and, after asking the store clerk the age of McAbee, he approached McAbee and the boy.  After a brief conversation, Duckett told McAbee to go home, leaving the boy to wait for his uncle.  When the boy’s uncle arrived, the boy and his uncle witnessed McAbee getting into the passenger side of Duckett’s patrol car.

At 11:00 p.m., McAbee’s mother walked to the convenience store, looking for her daughter.  The store clerk told the mother that McAbee had left with Duckett and was probably at the Mascotte police station. 

When no one was found at the Mascotte police station, the mother drove to nearby Groveland police station, where she reported her daughter missing.  The Groveland police officer contacted a Mascotte police officer, and Duckett arrived at the Groveland police station within twenty minutes.  Duckett used a picture of McAbee to make a flyer that he said he would post at convenience stores in the area, however, he failed to do so.

The store clerk reported that the police drove by the store every hour, but she reported that Duckett came by at 9:30 p.m. but did not return for a few hours.  Additionally, Duckett made no radio calls between 9:50 p.m. and 12:10 a.m.

The next morning McAbee’s body was found in a lake less than one mile from the convenience store where she was last seen.  Medical testimony demonstrated that she was sexually assaulted while alive and then drowned.  Blood and a pubic hair, later identified as probable matches to Duckett, were found in her underpants and semen was found on her jeans.

Distinct tire tracks found at the scene were matched to the tires found on the Mascotte Police Department patrol cars.  Duckett’s and McAbee’s fingerprints were found on the hood of the car, indicating that she was sitting backwards on the hood of the car.

At trial, three girls between the ages of seventeen and nineteen testified that in the six months prior to the murder, Duckett had given rides to each of them and had made sexual advances.  One of the girls testified that she participated in sexual acts with Duckett.

Trial Summary:

10/27/87          Indicted for First Degree Murder (Case# 87-1347)

03/01/88          Information presented charging one count of Sexual Battery by an Adult                         of a Victim Under the Age of 12 (Case# 88-0262)

04/11/88          Cases ordered consolidated

05/10/88          Jury returned guilty verdicts

                       Jury recommended a death sentence by a vote of 8-4

06/30/88          Sentenced as follows:

                       First Degree Murder – Death

                       Sexual Battery – Life Imprisonment

Case Information:

On 07/05/88, Duckett filed a Direct Appeal with the Florida Supreme Court, citing the following trial court errors:  circumstantial evidence did not exclude all reasonable hypotheses of innocence, admitting testimony of the three girls, qualifying a state witness as an expert in hair analysis, and imposition of the death penalty.  The FSC affirmed the convictions and sentences on 09/06/90.

On 05/01/92, Duckett filed a 3.850 Motion with the circuit court that was amended on 06/12/92 and 11/14/94 and denied on 08/10/01.

On 09/28/01, Duckett filed a 3.850 Motion Appeal with the Florida Supreme Court, raising the following issues: ineffective assistance of counsel; failing to present exculpatory evidence, including DNA evidence; prosecutorial misconduct; applying vague aggravating circumstances; and improper jury instructions.  On 10/06/05, the FSC affirmed the denial of the motion.

On 06/07/02, Duckett filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus with the Florida Supreme Court, raising the following issues: ineffective assistance of counsel and Ring issues.  On 10/06/05, the FSC denied the petition.



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