This morning as I opened my browser and clicked on my home page I saw the headline “New Test Could Free Convicted Killer” . As is usual when I see or hear of stories like this, my mind traveled back to the summer of 1985 and a man named Paul Hildwin.
It was the summer of 1985, Hernando County Florida. The first husband and I not yet married were living together in a small country house near what locals referred to as “the pits.” In actuality the pits was just the area of the county located near the rock quarry and had nothing to actually do with the conditions of the area.
On an access road behind us three girls our age lived with their dad and grandfather. One of the girls who I will only refer to as J dated a man named Paul Hildwin.
Paul at this time was a scary looking man, and he cut a rather imposing figure. He was tall, muscular and his body was littered with jail house tattoos. He was dark skinned and hair bleached out from time spent in the sun. To be very honest, he was the kind of person that I would have avoided in public or would have turned and gone the other way if he was walking toward me. The fact that he had already been in prison just added to the bad ass mystique that surrounded him.
It was because of our friendship with J that we got to know Paul. He was actually soft spoken so much so that in certain circumstances you had to strain to hear him speak. Don’t get me wrong, he was by no means a gentle giant, but in the times I knew him, I never so much as saw him raise a finger to anyone, and he was given plenty of opportunity to do so.
Now fast forward to late summer early fall of 1985. Im at home getting ready to go out and the phone rings. On the other end a man identified himself as Detective Decker of the Hernando County Sheriff’s Department. He started asking me questions about Paul, J, etc. When pressed he told me that they had arrested Paul for the murder of Vronzetti Cox, the woman whose body had recently been found. To say I was dumbfounded, shocked and near speechless would have been an accurate description. The only thing that came out of my mouth was, “no shit.”
Detective Decker spent the better part of the phone call grilling me about how I knew Paul, and if I had ever been alone with him. I told him of what I knew of Paul. I had never seen him angry, fighting, etc and yes there was a time when I was alone with him when I picked him up on the road walking home because his car had broken down. The Detective asked me how he acted towards me during this car ride and I told him, he was never anything but a gentleman. Not toward with me not inappropriate in any way. This is the last I would hear from Detective Decker.
Paul went on trial, and it was alleged that he in a little over an hours time, stole from Ms Cox, raped her, killed her, drove her car into the woods, stuffed her body in the trunk of the car, walked about 5 miles round trip to forge her name on a check, cash it and then return to where he and J had run out of gas.
Now Paul has always admitted that he did steal her check, forge her name and cash her check but when he last left her she was with another man, and very much alive.
The one thing of many that convicted him was the blood typing, as DNA was not available at that time.
Since this time his DNA has been tested against the biologicals found at the scene that night, and they DO NOT match.
There have been many attempts to get Paul re-tried based on this new evidence, and other claims. All have been denied. His appeals have all but been exhausted, and now he has cancer and will most likely die on Florida’s death row a possibly innocent man.
Time has moved on for all of us. Everyone involved with or who knew Paul have moved on and for the most part moved out of the area. After having to appear in the trial and have every detail of their time together revealed J moved on to become a wife to someone else, a mother and a successful business woman. The other girls who lived with her have also moved on as did I and my now ex husband. Everyone that is, except for Paul.
Ive thought about Paul many times through the years. Do I think that he could have possibly murdered Ms Cox? Sure, we all have the capacity to commit murder given the right circumstances. Do I think he killed her? No, I never did.
I then think about what would happen if he were to get out of prison. How would he adapt? Could he adapt, and what kind of life would he have now given the fact that time has moved on, technology has moved on? Moved on for everyone but Paul. For Paul, time stopped when the doors to his cell on death row slammed. In 1986.
There are only two people that truly know what happened that night so long ago. One can no longer talk, and one continues to talk, but now it falls on Florida’s deaf ears.
I can only hope that when the time comes and Paul meets his maker, as we all will, he can do so in the light of truth and if indeed he was was innocent of this crime on Earth, he will be somehow compensated for it in death.