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Judge denies convicted murderer’s plea for new trial


A man convicted of first-degree murder saw a ray of light when Judge Cynthia Cox allowed him a hearing to plead for a new trial on Oct. 13, but the glimmer was extinguished five days later when Cox denied his request.

The hearing came one year after Lucian Dort filed a handwritten motion for post-conviction relief from inside the walls of a men’s prison. Dort was convicted in 2013 for his role as the getaway driver in the murder of John Torres, a Sebastian businessman whom prosecutors say was killed after his son-in-law hired three Palm Bay hitmen to shoot him.

The men’s trials, rife with salacious details, grabbed local headlines for days. News reports mentioned a prostitute, an affair, a secret abortion and allegations of drug use and piles of cash. 

The man accused of commissioning his father-in-law’s death, Daniel Duffy, lived a brash, luxurious lifestyle.

Two of the defendants in the 2009 slaying – Brian Smith, the accused shooter, and Dort’s brother, Marciano Dort – pled guilty to murder in the second-degree and conspiracy. But Lucian Dort, the youngest of the trio, fought the charges.

He was outside flirting with girls while the crime was planned, he said. The only reason he was driving the car was because he was the only one with a valid driver’s license.

He said he and his brother didn’t hear the gunshots because they were inside the car at the time of the murder playing loud music with the windows up.

That defense didn’t sit well with a jury. Dort, then 28, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. His brother and their acquaintance, who both pled guilty, got lesser sentences.

Dort lost his appeal in Florida’s Fourth Circuit in 2015. He then appealed to the Florida State Supreme Court before asking the 19th Circuit for post-conviction relief.

Post-conviction relief is a one of the final legal recourses available to defendants who believe they are wrongly convicted. It requires the defendant to prove that his attorney was so deficient it deprived them of a fair trial.

Dort submitted the hand-written motion a year ago, acting as his own attorney from the Santa Rosa Correctional Institution, a men’s prison located northeast of Pensacola, and Cox scheduled an Oct. 13 hearing on the matter.

Dort said his lawyer failed to investigate, depose and call two witnesses on his behalf. He argued that their testimony would have shown the court “the heinous motive” of the shooter whose testimony helped convict him.

Even the prosecution seemed baffled as to why witnesses were never called. In a response to Dort’s motion, Assistant State Attorney Nikki Robinson conceded that an evidentiary hearing was necessary on that matter.

But less than a week after the hearing, Cox denied Dort’s request for a new trial. In an Oct. 18 ruling, she found that his attorney was deficient for failing to present the witnesses, but that their testimony wouldn’t have changed the outcome of the trial.

The allegations wouldn’t be enough to sway the jury, Cox said. Limited information was presented and both witnesses could have been impeached because of their prior felony convictions. “These facts were insufficient to rebut the specific and detailed facts testified to by Smith at trial concerning the defendant’s month-long role in the planning and execution of the homicide,” she said.

After the hearing, the prosecutor said the judge made the right decision.
Dort’s legal challenges, however, still might not be over. The defendant has 30 days to appeal Cox’s ruling.

“That’s the problem with the criminal justice system,” said Robinson “It’s never final. There are still other options.”