The judge who presided over the March murder trial of Peter Hedvall disqualified himself from the sentencing portion of the case after defense attorneys accused him of showing bias.
Circuit Judge Wayne Miller stepped down Monday, leaving court officials with the job of appointing another judge to sentence Hedvall, who was convicted March 27 of the second-degree murder of Jonathan Alvarado Perez, 32.
A new judge hadn't been appointed as of Tuesday, and a sentencing date for Hedvall hasn't been scheduled.
The victim, Perez, was a server in Key West until Oct. 28, 2011, when he was found dead beneath a commercial truck parked on Grinnell Street.
His last moments occurred just a few blocks away from the local bar Dons' Place, 1000 Truman Ave., where Hedvall and Perez had interacted the night before.
After a 10-day trial, followed by eight hours of deliberations, a local jury decided Hedvall strangled Perez, using wire from the wings that were part of Perez's Fantasy Fest costume, and bludgeoned him with a 20-pound coral rock.
A DNA expert for the state told jurors that Perez's blood was found on a motorcycle boot and a white costume suit worn by Hedvall the day of the murder.
In addition to their accusations of bias on the part of Miller, public defenders in the case have also asked for a new trial for Hedvall, citing one juror's claim that she was bullied into supporting the guilty verdict, and arguing that Judge Miller improperly allowed prosecutors to enter evidence for the first time during closing arguments.
Prosecutors showed jurors glitter found on the clothes Hedvall wore the night Perez was killed -- glitter that came from the fairy wings Perez wore for Fantasy Fest, they argued.
Public defenders also say the judge repeatedly denied their proper objections and called them "unethical, engaging in showmanship and being intoxicated during trial or breaks."
During cross-examination of a key state witness, Miller called one defense attorney a liar, according to the defense attorneys' motion to disqualify the judge, which Miller granted without comment on Monday.
Florida case law has held that even the appearance of impartiality by a judge is enough to warrant a recusal, "even if the record is lacking of any actual bias or prejudice on the judge's part," public defenders representing Hedvall wrote in their motion to disqualify Miller.
"The judge repeatedly during jury selection and throughout the trial allowed gratuitous and irrelevant testimony regarding [Perez's] sexuality and the nature of 'gay friendly' bars," wrote Assistant Public Defender Jason Smith.
Attached to the motion is a sworn statement by juror Christina McClay, who said she was bullied into voting guilty and "participated in sending an innocent man to prison."
McClay said the jury foreperson wouldn't allow her to send a note to the judge saying the jury was deadlocked and couldn't render a verdict.
"I was holding out for a 'not guilty' verdict along with one other juror at the end," McClay said in an affidavit. "We were made to deliberate after a long day in court."
Hedvall was originally charged with first-degree murder but never faced the death penalty.
With a second-degree murder conviction, Hedvall faces a potential maximum sentence of life in prison, but could receive less depending on a presentencing investigation report completed by the Florida Department of Corrections. That report details Hedvall's criminal history and other factors when suggesting a prison term to the judge.