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Supreme Court of Florida
Dec 2, 2010
Willie James Hodges was convicted of first-degree murder for the killing of Patricia Belanger in 2001. Hodges was sentenced to death. This case is before the Court on appeal from the conviction and death sentence. We have jurisdiction. See art. V, § 3(b)(1), Fla. Const. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the conviction and sentence.
The evidence presented at trial established that on the morning of December 19, 2001, Hodges entered Belanger‘s home, fatally stabbed and bludgeoned her, and then fled through a window.
Several of Belanger‘s relatives testified that they drove to her house that morning to take Belanger to the airport. The family was going to visit out-of-town relatives for the holidays. Stanley Clinton Taylor, Belanger‘s son-in-law, explained that when he, his wife, their children, and his father arrived at Belanger‘s home, her front door was closed and locked. The family knocked, but no one
answered. Debra Taylor, Belanger‘s daughter, used her key to unlock the door, but once unlocked, the door would not open. The family looked for an unlocked window and tried the front door again. That time, the door opened but only about an inch. After walking around the house, Stanley returned to the front door and found it completely closed and again locked. As Stanley unlocked the door, he heard his stepson say that he saw someone in the house, and at about the same moment, he heard glass break. Stanley was then able to reach in the door and move the chair that was blocking it. Joe Taylor, Stanley‘s father, similarly testified that as they entered in the house, he heard crashing noises and glass breaking.
Debra described him as taller than five feet four inches but shorter than six feet tall. The man was carrying something, but Debra could not identify the object because it appeared to be wrapped in black cloth. Debra never found her mother‘s purse, her wallet, or her driver‘s license in the house. Stanley and Joe called 911. Michael Rayborn, an officer with the Escambia County Sheriff‘s Office (ECSO) in December 2001, was dispatched to Belanger‘s home. After being told about the man seen fleeing from the house, Rayborn called for a K-9 unit. Robert Nowlin, Jr., an officer with ECSO in December 2001, and his canine partner Rex arrived about fifteen minutes later and began to track the suspect from the east side of the residence where a window was broken. Rex immediately jumped the fence in Belanger‘s yard. Nowlin found a white sock just over the fence. Rex then tracked to the rear of the neighbor‘s yard and jumped another fence. Nowlin found another white sock. Rex tracked through a swampy area, in which Nowlin found a shoe. Rex continued to a clay pit, where Nowlin saw footprints from someone running barefoot. Rex and Nowlin continued through a wooded area into an open field. They followed the wood line to Hollywood Drive, where Rex lost the scent. Nowlin then had the dog track in reverse. As they returned to Belanger‘s home, Nowlin found another shoe and a Members Only jacket.