Florida Man Spent 29 Years on Death Row Before His Murder Conviction Was Overturned by New DNA Evidence

Florida Man Spent 29 Years on Death Row Before His Murder Conviction Was Overturned by New DNA Evidence

Innocence Project 

Paul Hildwin, 60, was released on from Hernando County jail on March 9 after spending 35 years in prison and over 29 of those years on death row. In 2014, while Hildwin was represented by Fort Lauderdale attorney Martin McClain and the Innocence Project, the Florida Supreme Court reversed Hildwin’s capital murder conviction and death sentence on the 1986 murder of a Hernando County woman. The Court’s ruling was based on DNA testing and a court-ordered search of the national DNA database which proved that critical evidence originally used to tie Hildwin to the crime actually belonged to the victim’s estranged boyfriend, whom Hildwin had always contended was the likely true killer.  

While in jail, Hildwin not only survived the State’s efforts to execute him, but also three separate bouts of cancer.  He suffered a fourth recurrence in March 2019, while awaiting retrial, but prosecutors still refused to drop the case. His cancer is now in remission. 

In 2003, DNA testing excluded Hildwin as the source of semen and saliva found on the two pieces of crime scene evidence. For the next seven years, the Innocence Project fought prosecutors to submit the DNA profile into the CODIS DNA database to determine the source of the DNA. In 2010,

the Florida Supreme Court finally ordered a DNA database search on the DNA profile, which was identified to the victim’s estranged boyfriend — an alternate suspect in the crime, who was convicted of 16 counts of sexual battery of a minor. 

Hildwin was represented at his 1986 trial by Daniel Lewan, a court-appointed lawyer with less than three years’ experience and who had never tried a murder case. As his retrial loomed, Goudie filed numerous motions arguing that Lewan’s ineffectiveness, along with the death of at least twelve witnesses, made it impossible for Hildwin to receive a fair trial 35 years later.

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