Jailhouse informant became Florida prosecutors’ repeat witness: Part 7

ABC News found that prosecutors in Pinellas County, Florida, alone used jailhouse informant Paul Skalnik as a witness in 35 cases while he was in jail.
7:38 | 10/24/20

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Transcript for Jailhouse informant became Florida prosecutors’ repeat witness: Part 7
By the early '80s, Paul skalnik has left behind four wives and a trail of victims in Florida and Texas. But at this point his crimes are catching up with him, and he lands in the pinellas county jail in Florida, where he begins a new role as a jailhouse snitch. He claims that a fellow inmate, a guy by the name of Kenneth Gardner, has confessed to him for the murder of a hardware store owner in Clearwater, Florida. Skalnik was claiming at that time that Mr. Gardner had made a statement to him to the effect of, I killed him, but no one will be able to prove it. Gardner is convicted, and skalnik is later paroled after serving only half of a five-year sentence for grand theft. But skalnik can't stay out of jail. And he also can't get murderers to stop confessing to him. Prosecutors used him an awful lot. I had a case in the mid-'80s, and it was a triple homicide. Three gentlemen were murdered execution style. And skalnik was a witness in that case. And I remember taking his deposition. And asking him, how many times have you testified before? He said, 28. Was skalnik benefitting from his testimony? Well, in one case, a handwritten note found in the state's attorney's file says that if skalnik's assistance in previous cases is substantial, quote, the state will be seeking to mitigate and, quote, that probation was discussed. Now, this is not to say that skalnik gave up his own criminal career. It seemed that whenever skalnik got out of jail, he found a new victim, and more than once, it was a young girl. We lived in a cul-de-sac. All the families had kids. And we'd go outside in the evening after school, ride our bikes together, and play at each other's houses. Always going to the beach. How old were you when you met Paul skalnik? I think I was -- just turned 12. Do you remember how you met him? I remember he showed up out of the blue. An acquaintance of our neighbors who were my mom and dad's best friends. Had a very magnetic personality, so kind of drew you in. Did it seem abnormal that a 32-year-old, good looking, wealthy-looking man would want to spend so much time with a 12-year-old? I knew it wasn't right. Can you tell me about that July day when you all went to go fishing? We made plans with the neighbors to go to a friend of our neighbor's house. They had a pond, and we were all going to go fishing, have a picnic, and he was invited. I think initially, I got out of the car with everybody and we went in. He stayed in the car. And then he summoned me back out to the car. And I went back out. I know this is obviously very hard for you, but can you tell me what happened then? It was dark. His windows were tinted. I remember the car was dark. And he pulled me in and started kissing me on the mouth, like an adult would kiss another adult. And he grabbed my hand and put it in his pants. He begins sexually assaulting her. Keep in mind that Karen parker is just a 7th grader at this time, 12 years old. And she's sitting with skalnik, in this car. I couldn't believe it was happening. I felt like, where's all the adults? And I felt like I didn't really have a choice to do what he wanted me to do. The evidence was pretty strong, pretty graphic. Skalnik was charged with lewd and lascivious conduct on a child, and he faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted. Now, Karen parker passed a polygraph. There were witnesses who say they saw this. And in a strange bit of irony, skalnik allegedly told someone in jail that he did this. Still, the charge was dropped. He was given a grand theft conviction instead. I don't know how you get from molesting a child to grand theft. That's quite a leap in plea bargaining, but he pulled it off. Skalnik's plea deal kept him out of prison, leaving him in the pinellas county jail where he would be useful to authorities. When he got in trouble, the first thing he did was start snitching, and he became a valuable informant in pinellas county. He was always there, and he was always conveniently in the right spot to hear a unsolicited confession from someone who barely knew him. He testified in 35 cases for the pinellas county sheriff's office, which is an exorbitantly high number in my opinion. Suddenly skalnik became known as the state attorney's go-to witness. And he wasn't just a witness for the state's attorneys office, but there was one pinellas county detective, John Halliday, who thought so highly of Paul skalnik, that he actually went to bat for him with the parole board. Detective Halliday writes to the parole board in 1984 and says, Paul skalnik has essentially benefited the state. He's helped with information on dozens of inmates. Put several people behind bars and on death row. And asks the parole board to give him parole basically. That he deserves to be out in the streets for his service. Sure enough, his letter works. They let him out. The coziness of using the same informant over and over and over again, and helping him get off and re-offend, that is improper practice. Stephen Thompson, a spokesperson for the 6th circuit prosecutor's office, did respond to our request for an interview or comment, writing, we don't typically comment on any cases, and he wrote, the judges' decisions in court speak for themselves. We reached out to detective Halliday, but he declined an interview with "20/20." Paul skalnik is out on parole, but not for very long. Because just two years later, he's back in the pinellas county jail, just in time to help detective Halliday and the state attorney's office win yet another conviction -- this one, James Dailey's. Even though prosecutors said that Paul skalnik was not getting rewarded for his testimony in the James Dailey case, this document that we have obtained shows that he was released from prison five days after Dailey was sentenced to death. And I quote, due to his cooperation in the first-degree murder trial where he was a witness. Skalnik spends the next several years in a revolving door of the system, committing crimes, getting caught, and quickly released. But he's about to meet his match. Two women who take him down. Transcription is rolling now. I don't know what made me so special.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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