In 2007, a jury convicted Liberty City native Harrel Braddy of kidnapping a 5-year-old and leaving her to die on the side of Interstate 75, where she was eaten alive by alligators. Eleven jurors believed Braddy should be put to death, but one disagreed.
It was an important holdout: The split decision means that ten years later, Braddy will be granted one more chance to avoid the death penalty.
Thursday, the Florida Supreme Court vacated Braddy's death sentence, calling it unconstitutional under a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court decision that invalidated the state's sentencing practices. Although it's possible that Braddy could be resentenced to death, he is now entitled to return to court so his sentence can be reconsidered.
The 40-page ruling recalls gruesome details of Quatisha Maycock's murder and the attempted murder of her 22-year-old mother, who survived the attack and later testified against Braddy. On November 6, 1998, Braddy put the mother and daughter in his rented Lincoln Town Car and took them on a horrifying ride to Broward County, where Shandelle Maycock was thrown out of the car and choked unconscious, prosecutors say. Quatisha's body was found three days later in a canal off Interstate 75 near mile marker 34.
Though the official cause of her death was blunt force trauma to the head consistent with being thrown onto rocks near the canal, the medical examiner said she was still alive when an alligator bit her head and torso. At the time the girl's body was recovered, her left arm had also been ripped off by alligators.
Questioned by detectives, Braddy gave inconsistent stories about why he left the girl in the Everglades in the middle of the night, but admitted he "knew she would probably die." At one point, he told investigators he was worried Quatisha would tell people what he had done to her mother.
Following a two-week trial in 2007, Circuit Judge Leonard E. Glick agreed with the jury's recommendation to send Braddy, a dangerous felon with previous convictions for armed burglary and attempted first-degree murder of a correctional officer, to death row.
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"The defendant... caused this 5-year-old to die, alone in the wilderness, and to be mutilated by monsters of the swamp," Glick wrote in his sentencing order. "Adults are supposed to protect children from monsters; they are not supposed to be the monsters themselves."
Braddy appealed his case from prison, but Florida Supreme Court justices denied his petition in 2012.
The decision to vacate Braddy's death sentence was supported by all but one justice, Charles Canady, who says he does not believe the 2016 Supreme Court decision should be applied retroactively. A second justice, Alan Lawson, says he does not agree with the Supreme Court ruling but will uphold it as the current law of the land.