Man on death row for teen's murder freed

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- A man on death row for 16 years was released from prison Friday after prosecutors concluded they do not have enough evidence to retry him for the 1986 murder of a Tampa teenager.

"I'm on top of the world," Rudolph Holton, 49, said as he wiped away tears under his sunglasses.

Holton was convicted of raping and killing 17-year-old prostitute Katrina Graddy and setting her on fire in an abandoned drug house.

About 10 days before the slaying, Graddy told police another man had raped her. Holton's attorney was not given the police report. Because of that error, Florida's Supreme Court ruled in December that Holton deserved a new trial.

But prosecutor Mark Ober decided against another trial, citing the unreliability of witness testimony and a lack of physical evidence.

"I am not saying loud and clear that Rudolph Holton is innocent," Ober later told reporters in Tampa. "I am saying we cannot prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."

Holton attorney Martin McClain said: "Though we are certainly pleased that the state attorney has dropped the charges, this does not change the awful fact that Rudolph Holton served over 16 years on death row for a crime that he did not commit."

McClain said that in addition to the failure to turn over the police report, were other problems with the case. A hair in Graddy's mouth that prosecutors said came from Holton was later tested and found to be her own, he said. Also, jailhouse witnesses recanted their testimony against Holton.

Holton was picked up Friday from northeastern Florida's Union Correctional Institution in Raiford by his lawyer. He said he was going to travel back to Tallahassee to be reunited with his son and daughter.

Holton becomes the second person to be released from Florida's death row in about a year.

Juan Melendez walked out of prison a free man last January after he won a new trial and prosecutors declined to try him again.

In 2000, DNA evidence cleared death row inmate Frank Lee Smith of a 1985 murder. But it was too late for Smith, who had died of cancer 11 months earlier.