Will the Supreme Court Allow Resentencing for a Florida Inmate Over a Broken Promise?

April 9, 2024 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements, Violent Crimes

There are multiple reasons why a judge may allow a resentencing phase for a criminal case. This can include the prosecutor initiating resentencing, new evidence or legal developments, or changes in sentencing laws. One Florida inmate, however, is attempting to request a resentencing of his death penalty case based on a promise made to the victim’s mother.

This page will provide the case details, along with the most recent update with the defendant asking for a new sentence.

Case of Matthew Lee Caylor

Defendant Matthew Lee Caylor was accused of killing 13-year-old Melinda Hinson at a Panama City motel in 2008. According to the case text, Hinson’s family had been staying at the Valu-Lodge Motel for around a month. On June 25, 2008, Caylor checked into the motel. Caylor spoke with Hinson’s family friend Daryl Lawton on several occasions, including asking to borrow duct tape and a steak knife.

Melinda would often walk the two dogs belonging to their neighbors and was last seen alive after bringing the dogs back on July 8, 2008. Hinson’s parents reported her missing after she did not return to their motel room. Two days later, Hinson’s body was found naked and laying face down under the motel bed. The motel records revealed it was the room belonging to Caylor.

At the time, Caylor had already been apprehended for a different offense and was in custody at the Bay County Sheriff’s Office. When detectives with the Panama City Police Department questioned Caylor, he confessed to killing the teen and gave a recount of the incident. Caylor alleged that Hinson came to his door requesting a cigarette and coming inside, which led to her making a move on him and leading to intercourse.

Caylor claimed that after previously being convicted and registered for a sex crime he says he did not commit, he became frustrated and went to Panama City to relax before serving jail time to be done with the sentence and its restrictions. However, Caylor also acknowledged that he did not receive permission by his probation officer to leave Georgia. He later told the trial court he felt that, “[i]f I’m going to be in trouble for having sex with this girl being in my room, I might as well have sex with this girl.”

The defendant went on to explain how he began choking the 13-year-old and that “she was flipping out and I just wanted her to go away.” The two then fell to the floor, and Caylor said he used the phone cord from the wall to strangle Hinson. When Caylor believed the teen was dead, he said he lifted the mattress to put her and her clothes underneath the bed. Then he left the room. Based on his confession and the evidence collected, Caylor was charged with first-degree murder, sexual battery involving great physical force, and aggravated child abuse.

During the first trial, Caylor was convicted by the jury on all three charges, which led to the penalty phase. The jury recommended the death penalty by a majority 8-4 vote.

Caylor requested a Spencer Hearing, which was held on November 18, 2009. Caylor testified for his own defense and claimed that despite his original confession to police, he had been under the influence of drugs on the day of Hinson’s death. He maintained that he did not rape Hinson and that he felt remorse for killing her. However, the trial court still imposed the death sentence based on the following aggravating circumstances:

  1. The capital felony was committed by a person who was previously convicted of a felony and under a prison sentence, placement on community control, or felony probation;
  2. The capital felony was committed while the defendant was engaged in the commission of sexual battery and aggravated child abuse; and
  3. The capital felony was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel.

Caylor appealed the sentence and raised six claims to which the Court affirmed their decision and sentence. Based on the legal changes from Hurst v. Florida (2016), Caylor was entitled to a new penalty phase in 2017. However, prior to the second penalty phase beginning, Caylor waived his right to a jury trial. This meant the judge would be the sole person determining his sentence based on the available evidence.

In February 2023, Matthew Caylor was sentenced to the death penalty for a second time. According to the press release by 14th Judicial Circuit, Judge Christopher Patterson provided a 13-page Sentencing Order explaining that the aggravating factors outweighed the mitigating circumstances.

“I originally prosecuted and convicted the defendant 13 and a half years ago and I remember well the agony caused by his horrific actions,” said State Attorney Larry Basford. “I also remember the tireless efforts of the Panama City Police Department and others to investigate and solve this case. In 2009 a Bay County jury and judge Dedee Costello decided that death was the appropriate sentence for sexually battering and killing this child.”

Request for Resentencing

The most recent update in the Caylor case is his request for a resentencing. The death row inmate claimed that he had promised the deceased teen’s mother, Rhonda McNallin, that he would forgo a jury trial in his resentencing phase to prevent the family from dealing with a “lengthy, difficult legal battle.” Caylor claims that since McNallin passed in 2021 from cancer, he should no longer be obligated to maintain that promise.

As of now, the Supreme Court appears skeptical to consider the most recent appeal from Caylor and his defense counsel. Justice John Couriel challenged, “Let’s say he had made the determination to waive his rights because he had no objective belief in the afterlife and then he found religion and now he wants to change his waiver because he thinks he has to do some kind of thing with his life. Your rule would allow him to take that external consideration.”

Caylor’s public defender, Barabara Busharis, argued: “When somebody has made it clear throughout the proceedings that his goal in waiving is a promise, when that promise is impossible because of the death of the promisee and the person is not informed, then that person should be given the opportunity to reflect.”

Government prosecutor Charmaine Millsaps provided that Caylor’s right to waive the jury trial was not legally affected by a promise made outside the courtroom.

We will continue to provide updates on the Supreme Court’s decision.

Contact Pumphrey Law Firm  

Violent crimes, especially ones that involve the death of another person, are often extremely complex and can take a long time for trial and sentencing. Whatever criminal offense you’ve been accused of, finding top-quality legal defense should be your priority. The attorneys with Pumphrey Law Firm have decades of combined experience representing those in need of criminal defense.

We offer free consultations to go over case details and determine a defense plan. Contact our office at (850) 681-7777 or fill out our online form.

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