George Shrader was convicted after police in 2007 reopened an investigation into the January 1986 slaying of a woman whose body was found in the middle of a dirt road in Hillsborough County.
Wednesday's ruling by a divided panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal did not name the victim, but Tampa Bay Times
stories in 2011
identified her as Sharon Lorraine Moss, 23. She was wearing only a T-shirt when found in an area known as Whiskey Stump south of Gibsonton, aka Florida's "Carny Town."
Shrader, now 50, was indicted by a grand jury in 2011 after authorities matched DNA on evidence gathered at the murder scene with a sample he submitted in an unrelated case, according to Wednesday's ruling. Shrader, whose sperm cells were found in the victim's vagina and anus, was convicted in 2013 of felony first-degree murder and two counts of sexual battery and was sentenced to life in prison.
But in the appeal, Shrader argued that the state had not proven sexual battery occurred. The jury declined to find Shrader guilty of premeditated murder but based the felony murder conviction on the sexual-battery charges.
In Wednesday's ruling, the majority of the appeals court agreed that sexual battery had not been proven and, as a result, the murder conviction could not stand. It ordered a new trial on a charge of second-degree murder.
"In the case before us, there is no evidence of the timing of the sexual intercourse between the victim and Mr. Shrader," said the ruling, written by Judge Douglas Wallace and joined by Judge Stevan Northcutt. "The sexual activity between them could have occurred well before the infliction of the fatal injuries, and there is no medical evidence to suggest that the victim suffered any sexual trauma. Instead, the medical evidence was inconclusive regarding the use of force in connection with the sexual encounter that had occurred. It is entirely possible, based upon the evidence presented, that Mr. Shrader and the victim had consensual sexual intercourse and she was killed subsequently for reasons unknown."
But Judge John Badalamenti dissented, writing that prosecutors presented "competent, substantial evidence" that nonconsensual sexual acts occurred.
"There is record evidence of a struggle by a woman who is not alive to testify that she did not consent," Badalamenti wrote. "The state presented evidence that drops of blood containing Mr. Shrader's DNA were found in proximity of the victim's bludgeoned body, containing 36 stab wounds and semen that tested positive for Mr. Shrader's DNA."
Shrader, who was 19 at the time of the woman's death, is an inmate at Hamilton Correctional Institution, according to the state Department of Corrections website.
More than 30 years after the body of a woman was found partially clad with 36 stab wounds, a state appeals court Wednesday ordered a new trial for a man convicted of first-degree murder and sexual battery.