On June 23, 1986, Katrina Graddy, a 17-year-old prostitute, was raped and strangled in an abandoned crack house in the Central Park Village housing project in Tampa, Florida. The house was then set on fire.
A neighbor told police he saw 33-year-old Rudolph Holton, a local drug addict with a $1,000-a-day habit and with more than two dozen arrests for theft and burglary, enter the house the night before.
After police found a pack of cigarettes with Holton’s fingerprints on it inside the house, Holton was arrested and charged with first-degree murder, sexual assault and arson.
Holton went on trial in the summer of 1987. The prosecution presented witness Johnny Newsome, who said he saw Holton in or around the house the night of the crime.
Flemmie Birkins, a Hillsborough jail inmate who had known Holton from the streets, testified that Holton admitted to the murder.
Further, the prosecution presented testimony that a pubic hair found in Grady’s mouth could have been Holton’s.
On June 30, 1987, a jury convicted Holton of murder and he was sentenced to death.
In the years after his conviction, much of the evidence used to convict Holton unraveled. Not only did Birkins and Newsome recant their testimony, DNA testing showed that the hair in Grady’s mouth was not Holton’s.
In addition, police records were found that show that at the exact hour that Birkins claimed Holton was confessing at the jail, he was at the Tampa Police Department, being interviewed by detectives.
At trial, prosecutors told the jury that Birkins got no deal in exchange for his testimony on pending charges for burglary and grand theft. But after Holton was sentenced to death, the prosecutor asked a judge for leniency for Birkins, who could have gotten life as a habitual offender. Instead, he got probation. Holton’s defense lawyers were never told of the deal.
Prosecutors also withheld evidence that Graddy had reported being raped days before she was murdered.
After numerous appeals, a Florida judge granted Holton a new trial in 2001, based on the evidence that had surfaced since his conviction. Prosecutors dismissed the charges and Holton was released on January 4, 2003, after he had spent 16 years on death row.
Birkins and Newsome were charged with perjury and both pleaded guilty. In November 2003, Birkins was sentenced to 13 years in prison and Newsome received a 14-year prison term.
In August 2003, Holton married a woman he met after his released. In June 2004, Holton pleaded guilty to aggravated battery for striking the woman with a golf club and to misdemeanor assault for a confrontation with a cousin. He was sentenced to two years in prison.
In 2006, Holton was convicted of attempted murder and domestic battery for choking his wife. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
- Karen Oprea