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Death Sentence Tossed Out In Child’s Murder

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

The Florida Supreme Court has ordered a new sentencing hearing for a man convicted of murdering a 5-year-old girl whose body was found in a South Florida canal with evidence of being bitten by an alligator.

Justices on Thursday vacated the death sentence of Harrel Franklin Braddy, who was found guilty of murdering Quatisha Maycock in November 1998.

The Miami-Dade County case involved Braddy kidnapping the girl and her mother, Shandelle Maycock, who was an acquaintance of Braddy. Braddy drove to a remote area where he choked Shandelle Maycock into unconsciousness, the Supreme Court ruling said. More than two days later, fishermen found the body of Quatisha Maycock floating in a canal along Alligator Alley.

A medical examiner said the child died of blunt-force trauma to her head. Her arm had been bitten off by an alligator after she died, and there was evidence that she suffered alligator bites to her arm and head while still alive, though she likely was not conscious at the time, according to the medical examiner's testimony recounted in the Supreme Court case.

A jury in 2007 found Braddy guilty of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, two counts of kidnapping and other charges. It also voted 11-1 to recommend the death penalty in the murder.

The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the conviction but said Braddy should receive a new sentencing hearing because of a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a case known as Hurst v. Florida and a subsequent Florida Supreme Court decision. The U.S. Supreme Court ruling found Florida's death-penalty sentencing system was unconstitutional because it gave too much authority to judges, instead of juries.

The subsequent Florida Supreme Court ruling said that juries must unanimously agree on critical findings before judges can impose death sentences and must unanimously recommend the death penalty. Thursday's majority opinion in the Braddy case said that “in light of the non-unanimous jury recommendation to impose a death sentence, it cannot be said that the failure to require a unanimous verdict here was harmless.”