First Judicial Circuit, Okaloosa
County, Case# 89-966C
Sentencing Judge: The Honorable
Trial Attorney: Robert Elmore –
Assistant Public Defender
Attorney, Direct Appeal: David
A. Davis – Assistant Public Defender
Attorney, Collateral Appeals:
Linda M. McDermott – Registry
Attorney, Collateral Appeals
(federal): Pro Se
Date of Offense: 07/12/89
Date of Sentence: 04/25/90
Circumstances of the Offense:
On 02/11/89, Daniel Jon Peterka
was scheduled to report to authorities in Nebraska to begin serving two
consecutive one-year prison terms for theft. Prior to surrendering,
Peterka revealed to his girlfriend at the time that he did not want to
go to jail and that he wanted to get a job and establish himself
Peterka appeared in Niceville, Florida, in late February
1989. He moved in with Ronald LeCompte. LeCompte bought a .357 magnum
handgun for Peterka as a favor.
In April of 1989, Peterka moved
to a duplex that he shared with John Russell. Witnesses stated that the
two did not have a good relationship.
On 06/27/89, Peterka acquired a
driver’s license with Russell’s name and his own picture. He then cashed
a $300 money order sent to Russell by a relative. When Russell realized
that he had not received the money order, he became suspicious of
Russell obtained a copy of the money order from a relative and
related his suspicions to the bank. A bank employee, in turn, stated
that a formal charge of forgery could begin only when the original copy
of the money order was received. A number of witnesses testified that
Russell did not plan on confronting Peterka about the missing money
order because he was uncomfortable due to the gun being in the house.
Peterka’s girlfriend, Frances
Thompson, stated that Russell helped her move her belongings out of the
duplex on the morning of 07/12/89.
According to Thompson, on the night
on 07/12/89, Peterka appeared at Thompson’s job driving Russell’s car.
He took Thompson out to dinner and explained that he was a fugitive and
that he did not want go to prison. Frances stayed the night at the
duplex and then left for work the next morning.
Russell did not show up
for work on the morning of 07/13/89. A co-worker, Gary Johnson, went to
the duplex around 9:00 a.m. and stated that he saw Russell’s car in the
driveway. Concerned about Russell, the coworker let himself into the
duplex via a window when no one answered the door.
He noticed that the
cushions from the couch were missing and, after locating the gun, noted
that it was unloaded. He returned after work and questioned Peterka
about Russell. Peterka denied any knowledge of Russell’s whereabouts,
stating only that he had left with someone the night before. Johnson
filed a missing person report with the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s
Department that night.
Deputy Harkins went to the
duplex to follow up on the report. Peterka again reiterated that he did
not know where Russell was, stating only that he had left with “a long
haired guy” the night before. Peterka gave Deputy Harkins a birth
certificate as identification, stating that he had lost his driver’s
Deputy Harkins ran a computer
check on Peterka and learned that he was a fugitive from Nebraska and
was considered “armed and dangerous.” Peterka was arrested on 07/14/89,
at 1:30 a.m.
The deputies searched the duplex and found the gun. Peterka
told the deputies that the gun belonged to a friend and showed them the
bill of sale. The gun was not confiscated. The deputies found a driver’s
license with Peterka’s picture and Russell’s name, Russell’s Social
Security card, other identification belonging to Russell, $407, a
newspaper clipping advertising jobs in Alaska, and Peterka’s Nebraska
driver’s license in Peterka’s wallet.
Peterka phoned Frances Thompson
from jail and asked her to remove some items from the duplex and save
them. Frances found a shovel in the trunk of the victim’s car and
noticed that the cushions for the couch were outside. She called the
Sheriff’s Department and reported her findings.
The gun was transferred
to the deputies’ possession and a police search revealed possible
bloodstains on the couch were the cushions had been and on the carpet
beneath the couch. Bloodstains were also found in the trunk of the car
and on the tail lights.
On 07/18/89, Peterka called his
boss, “Shorty” Purvis, and asked him to visit him in jail. During their
meeting, Peterka admitted killing Russell. Peterka told police that he
had forged Russell’s signature on the money order and that he had paid
Russell $100 to use his identification.
When discussing the money order,
Russell started shoving Peterak and the two ended up fighting in the
living room. Both reached for the gun, and Peterka won. As Russell got
up from the couch, the gun accidentally went off and shot Russell in the
top of the head. Peterka wrapped Russell’s body in a rug and drove him
to a remote part of Eglin Air Force Base and buried him in a shallow
Peterka took officials to the
body. The medical examiner testified that the wound was consistent with
the victim being shot from behind while he was in a reclining position.
A firearms expert testified that the gun used to kill Russell was in
good working order and that it would not fire accidentally, due to the
fact that the gun had two safety mechanisms.
08/10/89 Indicted as
Count I: First-Degree Murder
entered a written plea of not guilty
03/05/90 Jury returned
guilty verdicts on all counts of the indictment
recommended death by a vote of 8-4
04/25/90 Sentenced as follows:
Count I: First-Degree Murder – Death
Peterka filed a Direct Appeal to
the Florida Supreme Court on 05/14/90. He raised 12 issues on the appeal
pertaining to pretrial motions, evidence admitted at trial, and factors
relating to mitigation and aggravation. The Court found no merit, no
abuse of discretion, or no error with each of the issues.
affirmed the conviction and sentence of death on 04/21/94. The rehearing
was denied on 08/05/94, and the mandate was issued on 09/06/94.
Peterka filed a Petition for
Writ of Certiorari to the United States Supreme Court on 11/02/94. The
petition was denied on 01/23/95.
Peterka filed a 3.850 Motion to
the Circuit Court on 03/24/97. The motion was pending for five years due
to public records issues. On 05/02/02, the Circuit Court denied
Peterka’s 3.850 Motion.
Peterka filed a 3.850 Appeal to
the Florida Supreme Court on 06/26/02, which was affirmed on 09/30/04.
Peterka filed a Petition for
Writ of Habeas Corpus to the Florida Supreme Court on 03/21/03, which
was denied on 09/30/04.
On 01/25/05, Peterka filed a
Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus to the United States District Court,
Northern District. The petition was amended on 02/04/05. The petition
is currently pending.
On 03/21/05, Peterka filed a
Petition for Writ of Certiorari to the United States Supreme Court,
which was denied on 06/30/05.
Daniel Jon Peterka