A Vietnam War veteran, who has spent more than three decades of his life on death row, insists he was convicted for the murder of a teenage girl based on the testimony of a “con man”. 74-year-old James Dailey was given the death penalty for the 1985 murder of 14-year-old Shelly Boggio in St. Petersburg, Florida, the Daily Mail reported. Three fellow inmates of Dailey testified at his trial that he had made incriminating statements. One of them, identified as Paul Skalnik, said Dailey confessed to him that “the young girl kept staring at him, screaming and would not die. And he stabbed her and he threw the knife away.”
Speaking to ABC News’s ’20/20′ in an episode which aired Friday, Dailey recalled how he heard Skalnik’s testimony with “disbelief.” “Other than trying to tell my attorney that never happened, it was just sickening,” he told producers. Dailey said that on the day of Boggio’s murder, he met with the teenager and his housemate Jack Pearcy. They joined some friends at a bar and drank together before he went home alone and hit the sack, he said. Boggio was murdered sometime after 1:30 am, at which time Dailey says he was asleep. He did not see his housemate Pearcy until he returned home around 4 am.
The teenager’s body was found floating in the Intracoastal Waterway, per the report, with more than 30 stab wounds. Dailey maintained he didn’t kill her and never confessed anything of the like to Skalnik or any other inmate. He explained that it would have been impossible to confess to Skalnik because he was in a single cell, while Dailey was bunking with around 16 others. Dailey’s former appellate attorney Chelsea Shirley stated the following: “According to Paul Skalnik, as he’s walking down the hallway, Dailey shouts at him through this double layer of bars, “Oh hey, let me talk to you.” So according to Skalnik, they talk. Mr. Dailey says, you know, he killed her.” Dailey chimed in saying: “I would have had to yell my confession to him, and there’s always guys sitting at the table right there, playing cards.”
Skalnik reportedly had a long history of financial fraud, theft, domestic violence, and was a witness in 35 different cases. He was also accused of sexually abusing several children. Nonetheless, Skalnik was freed shortly after his testimony led to Dailey’s conviction and died of natural causes at a Texas nursing home in March this year.
The state knew Skalnik was a “professional con man” when he testified against Dailey, according to Robert Heyman, one of the prosecutors at Dailey’s trial. “Skalnik, you know, we vetted him,” Heyman said. “I know he’s been under attack as a professional snitch, we checked him out.”
But justice has been served in Dailey’s case, Heyman believes. “I think that’s an appropriate sentence under the law of the state of Florida,” he said. “Do you know how many times this has been reviewed by the courts, both in the state and the federal levels? And they seem to have been satisfied so far.”
Jack Pearcy, Dailey’s co-defendant, is serving a life sentence for the murder of Boggio and, as previously mentioned, was Dailey’s housemate at the time of the murder. Last December, however, he signed a declaration stating he had acted alone in killing the 14-year-old. “James Dailey had nothing to do with the murder of Shelly Boggio,” the declaration said. “I committed the crime alone. James Dailey was back at the house when I drove Shelly Boggio to the place where I ultimately killed her.”
However, Pearcy backtracked in March and refused to testify in court that his co-defendant was innocent. Meanwhile, Dailey has failed multiple appeals and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis could order his sentence to be carried out at any time. Nonetheless, Dailey’s legal team is working hard to secure clemency from DeSantis and is appealing for a new trial in the Supreme Court of Florida. “I’m not afraid to die,” Dailey told ABC’s 20/20. “What I’m afraid of is spending the rest of my life in prison for a crime I didn’t commit, not being able to clear my name for my kids and my grandkids and my great-grandkids.”