Paul Skalnik is a sex offender and con man whose jailhouse “snitch” testimony was used by Florida and Texas prosecutors to convict more than 37 defendants, including four who were sentenced to death. His testimony that James Dailey (pictured) allegedly confessed to the brutal 1985 stabbing and drowning death of 14-year-old Shelley Boggio contributed to Dailey’s conviction and death sentence, despite the prosecution’s admission that no “physical evidence,” “no fingerprints,” and “no hair or fibers” linked Dailey to the crime.

Whether Dailey—who has consistently maintained his innocence—lives or is executed may depend on whether he is able to get a federal court, which granted him a temporary stay of execution that expires on December 30, 2019, to review his claims of innocence.

A December 4, 2019 exposé by Pamela Colloff for ProPublica in partnership with the New York Times Magazine has shined a light on Skalnik’s career as a serial prison informant, often obtaining or overhearing “confessions” from pretrial detainees who said they never met or talked to him. In exchange for his testimony, he was regularly rewarded by prosecutors with favorable treatment on charges ranging from child molestation to grand theft to fraud, and neither his expectation of benefits nor the benefits themselves were disclosed to the defense.

Between 1983 and 1987, the Tampa Bay Times reported, Skalnik obtained “confessions” in eight first-degree murder cases during various prison stints in Pinellas, Florida, including four during one seven-month incarceration between January and June 1987. The arrest warrant for that incarceration for grand theft described Skalnik as a “Con-man extraordinaire.”

At the time of Boggio’s murder, Dailey lived in an extra room at the home his housemate Jack Pearcy shared with his girlfriend. Pearcy, who had a history of violence against women, had spent the afternoon and evening with Boggio. She was stabbed 31 times, and police found a knife belonging to Pearcy near her body. To divert blame from himself, Pearcy told police that Dailey had killed her.

Pearcy was tried for the crime first but received a life sentence. Prosecutors then sent investigators into the prison to try to obtain inculpatory information against Dailey, showing potential witnesses news stories containing details about the murder. Three jailhouse witnesses came forward claiming Dailey had confessed, and Pearcy—who later recanted—claimed Dailey was the killer. The informants falsely testified that they had not received any benefits or favorable treatment for their testimony. Each had in fact received reduced charges in exchange for their cooperation.

Skalnik provided the most damning testimony. Claiming to have seen Dailey “walking in the hallways, laughing and kidding with other inmates,” Skalnik said Dailey then “all of a sudden” gave a confession so disturbing that Skalnik found it “hard to comprehend and to accept.” Skalnik told the jury he had seen Dailey’s eyes and heard him describe how he stabbed Boggio. He testified that Dailey then said: “‘She is screaming, staring at me, and would not die.’” In her closing argument, the prosecutor cited Skalnik’s testimony more than a dozen times, assuring jurors that he was “honest” and “reliable.”

On April 20, 2017, Pearcy signed an affidavit stating, “James Dailey was not present when Shelly Boggio was killed. I alone am responsible for Shelly Boggio’s death.” On October 3, 2019, a Florida court declined to review Dailey’s claim that this constituted new evidence of innocence, saying he should have raised the issue sooner. Three weeks later—and two weeks before his scheduled November 7 execution—a federal district court granted Dailey a stay of execution to provide his new federal lawyers until December 30 to investigate and present evidence supporting his claims.

Official misconduct and false accusation are the leading causes of wrongful capital convictions. A DPIC review found that at least one of those factors has been present in at least 18 of the 29 cases since 1973 in which wrongfully convicted Florida death row prisoners have later been exonerated. An analysis by the Northwestern University School of Law Center on Wrongful Convictions of the first 111 death-row exonerations found that false “snitch testimony” had contributed to 45.9% of those wrongful capital convictions.

Dailey was the fourth man sent to death row based on Skalnik’s testimony. “Amazing, isn’t it, that people come right up to his cell to confess to him?,” Dailey’s trial lawyer, Hank Andringa, told the Tampa Bay Times. “He tells a story well.” Frank Louderback, who represented the first defendant sentenced to death based upon an alleged confession obtained by Skalnik, said “It’s just too much of a coincidence. It’s unusual, don’t you think, that he finds out who’s charged with first-degree murder?”

One month after Pearcy’s trial, a detective visited prisoners in the unit in which Dailey was incarcerated awaiting trial. Prisoners later reported that the detectives had shown them news articles about the murder and asked them if Dailey had told them anything about it.

One prisoner whom detectives had interviewed described having been shown press accounts of the murder. “I got a very uneasy feeling looking at the newspaper articles,” Michael Sorrentino said. “Had I wanted to say something, or fabricate something, all the tools were there to give them whatever they might be looking for.”

About the same time, 18 days before his trial was set to begin, Dailey was transferred to a new part of the jail, near Skalnik’s cell. “Right away, I told the sergeant, I said, ‘Get me out of here,’” Dailey said of the move. “‘This is a damn setup.’” Two days later, Skalnik claimed that Dailey had confessed to the murder.


Pamela Colloff, How This Con Man’s Wild Testimony Sent Dozens to Jail, and 4 to Death Row, New York Times Magazine, December 4, 2019; Pamela Colloff, He’s a Liar, a Con Artist and a Snitch. His Testimony Could Soon Send a Man to His Death., ProPublica, December 4, 2019; Scott Martelle, Opinion: A Florida death row case indicts the entire cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment sys­tem, Los Angeles Times, December 5, 2019; Pat Meisol, Tampa Bay Times, Serial jail­house infor­mant Paul Skalnik has deep local his­to­ry, December 7, 2019; Editorial, Florida is poised to kill a man who may be inno­cent, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, October 182019.