Reversing Death Sentence Because the Totality of Evidence Presented Provided a Reasonable Basis for Life Sentence

In Reilly v. State, 601 So. 2d 222 (Fla. 1992), the defendant was convicted of felony murder, sexual battery, and aggravated child abuse for the killing of a five-year-old boy who had gone fishing near a neighbor's dock. the autopsy revealed trauma and wounds to his head and neck, and his throat had multiple lacerations. The cause of death was determined to be asphyxiation due to strangulation. The jury recommended a life sentence by a vote of eight to four. However, the trial judge overrode the jury's recommendation and sentenced the defendant to death for the murder. In support of the sentence, the trial judge issued a thirty-page sentencing order where he found three aggravating factors and no mitigation. The three aggravators were: (1) previous conviction for a violent felony; (2) the homicide occurred during the commission of a sexual battery and an aggravated child abuse; (3) the homicide was committed in a heinous, atrocious, or cruel manner. Notwithstanding, on appeal, this Court reversed the trial court's imposition of the death sentence and held that the totality of the evidence presented at trial provided a reasonable basis for the jury's life sentence. Similarly, in Wasko v. State, 505 So. 2d 1314 (Fla. 1987), the court overturned the death penalty imposed by the trial court for the murder of a ten-year-old girl after the jury had recommended life even though three valid aggravators and only one factor in mitigation were found. Although these cases differ from Lukehart's in that the jury in both of these cases recommended a life sentence, the murders there were clearly more aggravated and less mitigated than the murder here.