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Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Rape - Robbery
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: June 19, 1995
Date of birth: April 9, 1967
Victim profile: Claretha Reynolds
Method of murder: Stabbing with knife
Location: Sarasota County, Florida, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on October 20, 1995

Florida Supreme Court


opinion 86775

opinion SC04-651


DC# 764970
DOB: 04/09/67

Twelfth Judicial Circuit, Sarasota County, Case #95-1588, 95-1951
Sentencing Judge: The Honorable Harry Rapkin
Trial Attorney: Charles Williams - Assistant Public Defender 
Attorney, Direct Appeal: Douglas S. Connor - Assistant Public Defender
Attorney, Collateral Appeal: Peter Cannon & Daphney Gaylord – CCRC-M

Date of Offense: 06/19/95

Date of Sentence: 10/20/95

Circumstances of Offense:

Ernest Whitfield was convicted and sentenced to death for the 06/19/95 murder of Claretha Reynolds.

In June of 1995, Ernest Whitfield visited the home of Claretha Reynolds.  While there, he asked Reynolds, Willie Mae Brooks (who lived with Reynolds) and Estella Pierre for money.  Estella Pierre was Whitfield’s former girlfriend. 

When all three women refused, Whitfield attempted to grab Pierre’s purse.  Reynolds put Whitfield into a headlock and proceeded to throw him out of her house.  Before leaving, Whitfield exclaimed, “I am going to kill all three of you bitches.” 

In the early morning of 06/19/95, Whitfield tried to get Brooks to let him into Reynold’s home.  Brooks turned him away and went back to sleep in the room she shared with her one-year-old child. 

Whitfield then broke into Reynolds’ home armed with a large knife.  Whitfield proceeded into the bedroom where Brooks and her child lay sleeping.  He raped Brooks and motioned that he would stab her if she made any noise. 

Whitfield left Brooks and went into the bedroom where Reynolds and her five children were sleeping.  A few moments later, Reynolds staggered into Brook’s room, asking her to lock her door.  Whitfield had stabbed Reynolds numerous times and she told Brooks that she was dying.  Brooks and one of Reynolds’ daughters escaped through the bedroom window and ran to a neighbor’s house to call for help.

Whitfield fled the scene and Reynolds died soon after the police arrived.  After his arrest, Whitfield confessed to stabbing Reynolds and showed authorities to the murder weapon.  Whitfield also admitted to being high on crack cocaine at the time of the crime.  


Trial Summary:

07/07/95          The defendant was indicted on the following charges:

Count I:           First-Degree Murder

Count II:          Armed Burglary

Count III:         Sexual Battery w/Deadly Weapon

09/28/95          The defendant was found guilty on all counts charged in the indictment.

09/28/95          Upon advisory sentencing, the jury, by a 7 to 5 majority, voted for the imposition of the death penalty.

10/20/95          The defendant was sentenced as followed:

Count I:           First-Degree Murder - Death

Count II:          Armed Burglary - Life

Count III:         Sexual Battery w/Deadly Weapon - Life


Case Information:

On 11/02/95, Whitfield filed a Direct Appeal in the Florida Supreme Court.  In that appeal, he argued that the trial court erred in removing him from the courtroom during jury selection.  The Florida Supreme Court noted that Whitfield asked to be removed from the courtroom.  Despite Whitfield’s counsel’s request to send him back to his cell because his behavior was instilling prejudice in his case, the trial judge made extraordinary efforts to convince Whitfield to stay.  The Florida Supreme Court found that the trial judge did not abuse his discretion on the issue.  Whitfield also contended that the trial court erred in admitting testimony regarding the incident where Whitfield attempted to snatch Pierre’s purse and that the prosecutor introduced irrelevant evidence during the penalty phase.  Whitfield additionally argued the consideration and application of aggravating and mitigating circumstances.  The Florida Supreme Court affirmed the convictions and sentence of death on 09/11/97.

Whitfield next filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari in the United States Supreme Court, which was denied on 10/05/98.

Whitfield filed a 3.850 Motion in the State Circuit Court on 11/09/98.  Whitfield raised 21 claims in the motion all of which the court denied relief.  The motion was denied on 03/17/04. 

Whitfield then filed an appeal of the 3.850 Motion decision in the Florida Supreme Court.  Whitefield raised six claims in his appeal, five of which related to ineffective assistance of counsel.  Whitfield argued that his trial defense counsel failed to do the following: adequately present the voluntary intoxication defense to first-degree murder, provide a speedy trial, call additional witnesses to corroborate his background information, request jury instruction, and object to the prosecutor’s presentation of nonstautory aggravators.  Whitfield’s final claim was that his rights were violated under Ake v. Oklahoma, 470 U.S. 68 (1985), by failing to obtain an adequate mental health examination.  On 11/03/05, the Florida Supreme Court denied all of Whitfield’s claims and affirmed the Circuit Court’s denial of postconviction relief.



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