Death row inmate says he's facing execution based on lying jailhouse snitch's word

James Dailey says he may be executed without physical, eyewitness evidence

October 22, 2020, 1:07 PM

The clock is ticking for death row inmate James Dailey, and the jailhouse informant who helped put him there said he has no regrets about his participation in the case.

Dailey has spent more than three decades on Florida’s death row for the brutal 1985 murder of 14-year-old Shelly Boggio. He has appealed, time and again, each time unsuccessful, and he’s running out of options.

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Since his 1987 conviction, Dailey, a 74-year-old Vietnam War veteran, has maintained his innocence. Dailey’s legal team said there’s no evidence -- eyewitness, physical or forensic -- to tie Dailey to the teen’s killing, and that prosecutors relied on the word of jailhouse informants to win a conviction, one of whom was Paul Skalnik.

Skalnik was a storied con man with a long rap sheet. Yet, he served as a witness in 35 different cases, helping send dozens to prison and three others to death row.

During Dailey’s trial, his current legal team said Skalnik lied on the witness stand when cross-examined about his past criminal history and lied when he claimed Dailey had confessed to him he committed the crime.

ABC News tracked down Skalnik in a nursing home, in Corsicana, Texas, in January. He agreed that he helped put Dailey on death row.

When asked if he lied on the stand, as Dailey alleged, Skalnik said, simply, “there’s a time and a place to talk.”

Did he have any regrets? “Not to my knowledge,” Skalnik said.

Dailey has had one stay of execution, but a new date could be set at any moment. He said he has nothing to say to the man who helped put him there.

“I wouldn't say anything to him [Skalnik],” Dailey told ABC News' Matt Gutman in an interview from death row. “He wouldn't hear [it]. He's just so self-absorbed, so narcissistic, such a big con man, and he's a child rapist.”

PHOTO: James Dailey speaks to ABC News during an interview on Jan. 9, 2020.
James Dailey speaks to ABC News during an interview on Jan. 9, 2020.
ABC News

Dailey’s legal team hasn’t given up the fight. Josh Dubin, Dailey’s co-lead counsel, is an Innocence Project advisor and renowned advocate for the wrongfully convicted. In 2018, Dubin won a case that freed an innocent man from Florida’s death row. Now he’s on Dailey’s case with the same goal.

Skalnik died two months after speaking with ABC News. Dailey’s co-defendant, Jack Pearcy, who is serving a life sentence for the murder of Boggio and was Dailey’s housemate at the time of the murder, signed a declaration last December stating that he alone killed Shelly.

“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.”

But Pearcy refused to testify to this at a hearing on March 10, instead insisting he was innocent.

“I've done 35 years for a crime I didn't commit and I don't plan on testifying against somebody else to help the State kill them and that will be all my testimony could basically do, so I have nothing else to say,” Pearcy said at the hearing.

PHOTO: In an evidentiary hearing in the case of James Dailey, who faces execution for the 1985 murder of Shelly Boggio, co-defendant Jack Pearcy leaves the courtroom after refusing to testify, March 5, 2020 in Clearwater, Fla.
In an evidentiary hearing in the case of James Dailey, who faces execution for the 1985 murder of Shelly Boggio, co-defendant Jack Pearcy leaves the courtroom after refusing to testify, March 5, 2020 in Clearwater, Fla.
Scott Keeler/Tampa Bay Times via ZUMA Wire via Newscom, FILE

Now, Dailey’s legal team is appealing for a new trial to the Supreme Court of Florida or clemency from Florida Gov. Ron Desantis.

What happened to Shelly Boggio?

On May 5, 1985. Shelly Boggio and her twin sister were with a friend near St. Petersburg, Florida, when they were picked up by Pearcy, then 29, Dailey, then 38, and Oza Dwain Shaw, Pearcy’s friend from Kansas, then 28.

Dailey said, “we drove back to our place and smoked some dope and drank some beer.”

Afterwards, Dailey said he, Pearcy, Shelly, Shelly’s sister, their friend and Gayle Bailey, Pearcy’s pregnant girlfriend at the time, got back in the car. Dailey said they dropped Shelly’s sister and the friend off and then the four that remained went to a local bar.

PHOTO: Shelly Elizabeth Boggio was killed at the age of 14 on May 5, 1985. Her killer, James Dailey, now 73, is set to be executed on Nov. 7, 2020.
Shelly Elizabeth Boggio was killed at the age of 14 on May 5, 1985. Her killer, James Dailey, now 73, is set to be executed on Nov. 7, 2020.
Tampa Bay Times/Tampa Bay Times via ZUMA Wire via Newscom, FILE

Dailey said they left the bar around midnight and went back to the house. According to Dailey, Pearcy said he would drive Shelly home.

Shaw had not gone to the bar but stayed behind at the house. When Pearcy said he was going out again to drop Shelly off at home, Shaw told police in a 1985 interview that he asked him for a ride to the payphone to call his girlfriend, which Pearcy agreed to do.

Dailey insists he did not go with them. “I went in my bedroom, went to sleep,” he said.

While he was at the payphone, Shaw told police Pearcy and Shelly waited in the car. After a bit, he told authorities Pearcy and Shelly “got impatient and was honking” so he told them to leave him.

Chelsea Shirley, Dailey’s former appellate attorney, told ABC News that they have the telephone records to confirm this call was placed at 1:15 a.m.

The medical examiner would later determine that Shelly was murdered sometime between 1:30 and 3:30 a.m.

After hanging up with his girlfriend, Shaw told authorities he walked back to the house. In a 1985 police interview, a detective asked Shaw: “Where was Jimmy [Dailey] this time you came back from making your phone call?”

“He wasn't in the living room or I think he was in bed, in the bedroom,” Shaw said. “I'm not sure.”

Shaw told detectives Pearcy returned to the house hours later, alone, around 4 a.m. Dailey said Pearcy then came into his room and woke him up.

“[He] said, ‘I've got a couple of joints. Let's go smoke them,’ and grabbed a six pack of beer out of the fridge," Dailey said.

Dailey said he got out of bed and he and Pearcy drove out to the Belleair Causeway, a bridge near St. Petersburg. He said he and Pearcy threw a frisbee around by the waterside there. The frisbee went into the water and he got his pants wet when he fished it out, he said, and then after a while, the two men returned home.

“The next morning, the bridge tender finds Shelly's body mutilated and she's naked and she's dead,” Carol Martin, a juror who served on the trial, told ABC News.

Shelly's body was found floating in the waters of the Intracoastal Waterway near the Indian Rocks Beach drawbridge. She had been stabbed more than 30 times. Authorities said she had fought back and had a number of defensive wounds.

Shelly’s cousin Andrea Boggio recently went to the place where her body was found 35 years earlier for the first time. She still couldn’t believe something so horrific had happened to the young teen, whom she described as being "very kind, very sweet" and "very soft spoken."

“How could somebody kill a little girl and just leave them in the water,” Boggio said. “What drives somebody to do that? The devil. An evil, evil person.”

VIDEO: Shelly Boggio’s family says they will not stop seeking justice in 1985 murder case
Kalli Boggio said her sister Shelly’s “life mattered and it still matters.” Boggio said she and her family “will never stop until we seek justice.”

Dailey and Pearcy go to trial

Dailey and Pearcy were arrested and indicted on first-degree murder charges. At the time, Pearcy told authorities that Dailey killed Shelly and that he was sleeping in his car when the murder took place.

Dailey maintained that he never saw Shelly again after she, Pearcy and Shaw left to go to the payphone.

Both Shaw and Bailey told police in 1985 interviews that Dailey's pants were wet when he and Pearcy returned home the morning of May 6.

The two men were tried separately, with Pearcy going first in 1986. The jury convicted him quickly, but recommended life in prison instead of a death sentence. The following summer, Dailey’s case went to trial.

“The state's theory was that Jack, Jim Dailey, and Shelly left and that they drove around, then they went to the waterside,” Shirley said.

Dubin told ABC News “there was just no evidence” to tie Dailey to the killing, adding that Dailey "didn't have a history of violence against women. He didn't have a motive.”

PHOTO: James Dailey is seen here in a 1986 booking photo.
James Dailey is seen here in a 1986 booking photo.
Pinellas County Sheriff's Office

At trial, prosecutors called a trio of jailhouse informants who were in jail with Dailey while he was awaiting trial. Two of them testified that Dailey made incriminating statements, but then the third inmate, Skalnik, took the stand, and Dailey’s attorneys claim he was a show-stopper.

At the time, Skalnik was in jail on a pending charge for grand theft. He testified that 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.”

When asked about his reaction to Skalnik’s testimony, Dailey said, “Well, other than disbelief, other than trying to tell my attorney that never happened, it was just sickening.”

Dailey said he didn’t kill Shelly and never confessed to Skalnik or anybody else. “Absolutely not.”

He said everyone in the jail knew Skalnik was a snitch. He maintains that weeks before his trial, he was moved to the same wing of the Pinellas County Jail as Skalnik. Skalnik, Dailey says, was in a single cell, and that he was in a pod of about 16 prisoners.

“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,’” Shirley said. “So according to Skalnik, they talk. Mr. Dailey says, you know, he killed her."

In other words, Dailey said, “I would have had to yell my confession to him, and there's always guys sitting at the table right there, playing cards.”

VIDEO: Why James Dailey says he could not have confessed to jailhouse snitch
Paul Skalnik testified that Dailey confessed to him in jail, but Dailey insisted he never confessed and said he "would have had to yell" a confession "in a pod of about 16 guys."

The jury was told by both the prosecution and Skalnik that he was not promised anything or given a deal in exchange for his testimony against Dailey. The jury never heard Dailey's explanation for having wet pants because he never took the stand, though Dailey said he wanted to testify.

“I wanted to get up and tell what really happened,” he said. “I don't know why-- my attorney at that trial said that he didn't want me to testify because he couldn't believe that we played Frisbee.”

But because Dailey never testified, Martin, a juror on the case, said Skalnik’s testimony was the only information the jury had that "supposably" came from Dailey.

“If we were to believe what the snitches were saying, that was the only way we could hear James Dailey's voice,” said Martin. "It was very interesting, listening to the snitches."

Dailey was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death in 1987.

“I went out, sat down on a bench,” Dailey said. “And there was a mental health guy there. And I just started crying. He says, ‘What's the matter?’ And I said, ‘Well, I was just sentenced to death for a crime I didn't commit.’”

Five days after Dailey was sentenced to death, Skalnik was released from jail on his own recognizance, which meant he did not have to put up bail on the pending grand theft charge. Then he skipped town.

The perfect liar?

Born in 1949, Skalnik was adopted young, raised in League City, Texas. He started out on the right track, according to school yearbooks: student council, the Key Club, and he was even voted president of the Future Business Leaders of America. After high school, he went to the New Mexico Military Institute for a short stint. Then went on to become a police officer, for just over a year, in Austin, Texas.

But then his life took a drastic turn.

“He was charged with theft,” said former Texas prosecutor Margaret Hindman. “It was a bunch of hot checks.”

Skalnik was allowed to resign from the force and slipped into a new career as an insurance agent. By age 30, Skalnik had divorced twice. His third wife was Penny Rogers.

According to Rogers’ daughter, Skalnik was a master manipulator who at first swept Penny right off her feet when they met in 1977.

“I thought my mother had found the most wonderful guy,” Lisa Rogers told ABC News. “He told me I was his princess and that I could call him Dad, but I never did. He told her that he was CEO of Southwest Airlines. He would get dressed in a three-piece suit, all his gold and diamonds.”

Not long after her mother married Skalnik, Lisa Rogers said, “He got to be very abusive. He would lock my brother up in a room, beat him. My mom, he would beat her. He ... started touching me inappropriately. I was like, ‘What did I do? What did I do to make him do that?’”

Skalnik never faced charges for crimes Rogers said he committed against her and her family, but by spring 1978, Skalnik found himself in a Houston jail for passing a dozen bad checks. Once he was released, Rogers said Skalnik disappeared.

“He was engaged to another woman in Florida while being married to my mom,” Rogers said.

Skalnik continued committing crimes. In 1982, Karen Parker was just 12 years old, a 7th grader, when she says Skalnik showed up “out of the blue,” an acquaintance of a neighbor, in Florida. Skalnik was 32 at the time.

One day, Parker says, she and others in the neighborhood were supposed to go fishing when Skalnik summoned her to his car.

“It was dark,” Parker said. “His windows were tinted. And he pulled me in and started kissing me on the mouth-- like an adult would kiss an-- another adult. And-- he grabbed my hand and put it in his pants. I couldn't believe it was happening. I felt like where's all the adults?”

Ultimately, Parker told authorities and Skalnik was charged with lewd and lascivious conduct on a child. He was facing 15 years if convicted. 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 committed the crime. Still, the charge was dropped because the state attorney's office determined there was insufficient evidence and Skalnik instead pleaded no contest to a pending grand theft charge.

When asked about Dailey, Parker said she doesn't know if he's innocent or guilty of murdering Shelly Boggio but that "if any of his sentencing is based on the testimony of Paul Skalnik, that should be wiped away and start over because he's a perfect liar."

Skalnik's plea deal kept him in the Pinellas County Jail.

While in Pinellas County Jail, Skalnik claimed that a fellow inmate, Kenneth Gardner, 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," Frank Louderback, who represented Gardner, told ABC News.

Gardner was convicted, and Skalnik, was later paroled after serving half of a five-year sentence for grand theft. But Skalnik wouldn’t stay out of jail, and he kept gathering confessions.

“Prosecutors used him an awful lot,” Ronnie Crider told ABC News.

Crider, an attorney who defended Pearcy, said he became familiar with Skalnik during another case and even took his deposition.

“I asked him how many times he'd actually been listed as a witness by the state,” Crider said. “And he told me 28.”

Documents obtained by ABC News reveal that Florida used Skalnik as a witness in 35 cases in Pinellas County alone.

“Suddenly Skalnik, who was unknown to me... became known as what appeared to be the state attorney's go-to witness,” said Louderback.

VIDEO: A look at how Paul Skalnik was repeatedly used as jailhouse informant
Skalnik testified in at least 35 cases for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office and was once described as “the Florida State Attorney’s go-to witness.”

In one case involving Skalnik as an informant, the state’s attorney’s case file included a handwritten note that says that if Skalnik’s assistance "in previous discussed cases is substantial, the state will be seeking to mitigate -- Probation was discussed!"

Skalnik was not just a witness for the state attorney's office. In 1984, one Pinellas County detective, John Halliday, wrote to the parole board in support of granting Skalnik’s parole while he was serving time for the grand theft conviction, saying "Skalnik has to my knowledge testified in excess of thirty (30) criminal trials in which six (6) inmates received the death penalty.

Skalnik was paroled. But not for long. Just two years later, Skalnik was back in Pinellas County Jail again, where he would claim Dailey confessed to him.

Five days after Dailey is sentenced to death, Skalnik was released from jail, “due to his cooperation in the first-degree murder trial where he was a witness,” according to internal Florida Parole Commission documents obtained by ABC News. Skalnik was released from jail without having to post bail on the pending grand theft charge. Then he skipped town.

Halliday declined to be interviewed by ABC News for this story.

Stephen Thompson, a spokesperson for the 6th Circuit prosecutor's office submitted a statement to ABC News saying, “we don’t typically comment on any cases… The judges' decisions in court speak for themselves.”

What happened to Skalnik after Dailey's trial

After the Dailey case, Skalnik made his way back to Texas where he met the mother of Misty Anderson. But before long, Anderson said, Skalnik was sexually assaulting her. “The horrible things he did still live in my nightmares.”

“I was an assistant criminal district attorney,” Margaret Hindman told ABC News. “This was a sexual assault of a child-- he had really groomed this little girl. Of course, he denied it.”

VIDEO: How a sexual assault survivor’s words led to arrest of her attacker
Misty Anderson said she quickly felt something wasn’t right about Paul Skalnik, and after he started to abuse her, Anderson said, “I told my mother and my mother, in that moment, became my hero."

Hindman says Skalnik claimed to be working for the CIA as an informant for the FBI and used the alias “Jason Paul Bourne,” seeming to refer to the Robert Ludlum novels.

Skalnik was convicted in 1993 of sexual assault of a child and sentenced to 10 years in a Texas prison.

When ABC News caught up with Skalnik, he had been released after serving his time in prison for the Anderson case. He said that in the years since then, he had moved to Massachusetts, had more brushes with the law, served more time, and was back in Texas.

When asked if he wanted to see Dailey put to death, Skalnik said, "there are times and moments, yes."

Skalnik died two months after our interview.

Robert Heyman, one of the prosecutors at Dailey's trial, said the state was aware Skalnik was a professional con man when he testified against Dailey.

“Skalnik, you know, we vetted him,” Heyman said. “I know he's been under attack as a professional snitch… we checked him out.”

Heyman maintains that justice has been served in Dailey’s case.

“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.”

PHOTO: James Dailey speaks to ABC News during an interview on Jan. 9, 2020.
James Dailey speaks to ABC News during an interview on Jan. 9, 2020.
ABC News

And now, at any moment, the governor of Florida could sign a death warrant for Dailey.

"I'm not afraid to die," Dailey said. "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.”

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