Juan Ignacio Blanco  


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Joel Dale WRIGHT





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Rape - Robbery
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: February 6, 1983
Date of birth: August 28, 1957
Victim profile: Lima Smith, 75
Method of murder: Stabbing with knife
Location: Putnam County, Florida, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on September 23, 1983

Florida Supreme Court


opinion 64391

opinion 74775


opinion SC00-1389


DC# 749768
DOB: 08/28/57 

Seventh Judicial Circuit, Putnam County, Case #83-376
Sentencing Judge: The Honorable Robert R. Perry
Attorney, Trial: Howard Pearl - Assistant Public Defender
Attorney, Direct Appeal: Larry Henderson - Assistant Public Defender
Attorneys, Collateral Appeals: Martin McClain & John Abatecola – CCRC-S  

Date of Offense: 02/06/83

Date of Sentence: 09/23/83

Circumstances of Offense:

On 02/06/83, the body of 75-year-old Lima Smith was discovered in the bedroom of her home.  Smith’s body was found by her brother, who became worried about her when she failed to answer the door.  Smith had been stabbed multiple times in her face and neck and had been sexually assaulted.  

Charles Westberry, a witness for the State, testified that, on the morning of 02/06/83, Joel Wright came to his home and confessed to killing Smith.  Wright acknowledged that he entered her home through an open window with the intention of stealing money from her purse. 

Wright admitted to killing her because she saw him in the hallway and could identify him.  Wright indicated that he did not want to go back to prison.  Wright then asked Westberry to provide an alibi for him.  Several weeks later, when Westberry informed his wife of the circumstances, she notified the police. 

Police reports indicated that Wright’s fingerprint was lifted from inside Smith’s home.  Evidence was also introduced that Wright had burglarized Smith’s home on a previous occasion, having gained access to the house through an open window. 


Trial Summary:

04/22/83          The defendant was indicted on the following charges:

Count I: First-Degree Murder
Count II: Sexual Battery
Count III: Burglary of a Dwelling
Count IV: Second-Degree Grand Theft

09/01/83          The jury found the defendant guilty of all counts charged in the indictment.

09/02/83          Upon advisory sentencing, the jury, by a 9 to 3 majority, voted for the imposition of the death penalty.

09/23/83          The defendant was sentenced as followed:

Count I: First-Degree Murder - Death
Count II: Sexual Battery – 99 years
Count III: Burglary of a Dwelling – 15 year
Count IV: Second-Degree Grand Theft – 5 years


Case Information:

On 10/17/83, Wright filed a Direct Appeal in the Florida Supreme Court.  In that appeal, he argued that the trial court erred by refusing to allow the proffered testimony of witness Kathy Waters.  Waters had followed the events of the trial and read about the case in the newspaper.  Prior to final arguments, Waters came forward with testimony indicating that, on the night of the murder, she saw a man fitting the description of the appellant walking along Highway 19 in the opposite direction of the victim’s home.  She also offered proffered testimony that she saw three unfamiliar men “congregated” near the victim’s house.  The State argued that allowing such evidence would be in violation of the rule of sequestration.  The Florida Supreme Court noted that “the trial judge erred in failing to exercise his discretion to determine whether exclusion was warranted under the circumstances, and, instead, applied the sequestration rule as a strict rule of law.”  The Florida Supreme Court, however, found this error to be harmless given that the admittance of such evidence would have not changed the verdict.  Wright also argued that trial court erred in allowing evidence of a prior crime and in its application of the “avoid arrest” aggravating factor.  Additionally, Wright contended that the consideration and application of the cold, calculated and premeditated (CCP) aggravating factor was an error.  The Florida Supreme Court agreed that the CCP factor was not proven beyond a reasonable doubt.  In light of the other aggravating factors and the limited mitigating circumstances, however, the Florida Supreme Court affirmed the convictions and sentence of death on 07/03/85.

Wright next filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari in the United States Supreme Court, which was denied on 01/21/86.

Wright then filed a 3.850 Motion in the State Circuit Court.  That motion was denied on 06/08/89, after which, Wright filed an appeal in the Florida Supreme Court.  On 05/09/91, the Florida Supreme Court remanded the case to the State Circuit Court for an evidentiary hearing on Wright’s claim that his “public defender’s service as a special deputy sheriff affected his ability to provide effective legal assistance.”  Following an evidentiary hearing on the matter, the State Circuit Court again denied all relief.  Wright filed an appeal of that decision in the Florida Supreme Court, which was affirmed on 07/03/03.

On 12/31/01, Wright filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus, which was also denied on 07/03/03.

On 01/08/04, Wright filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari in the United States Supreme Court.  The petition was denied on 03/29/04.

Wright filed a 3.851 Motion in the State Circuit Court on 08/06/04.  Wright raised two claims in his 3.851 Motion.  His first claim was that affidavits submitted by two individuals are Brady material or are newly discovered evidence.  The court found them to be neither.  Wright’s second claim was a request for testing of certain biological evidence that was collected at the scene of the crime.  The circuit court denied Wright’s second claim as well.  The motion was denied on 03/23/06.


Joel Dale Wright



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