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Michael Duane ZACK





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Rape - Robbery
Number of victims: 2
Date of murders: June 12/13, 1996
Date of birth: December 14, 1968
Victims profile: Ravonne Smith / Laura Rosillo
Method of murder: Strangulation - Stabbing with knife
Location: Escambia County/Okaloosa County, Florida, USA
Status: Sentenced to death November 24, 1997

Florida Supreme Court
Briefs and Opinions

opinion SC03-1374 & SC04-201

Docket #SC03-1374 - Michael Duane Zack, Appellant, vs. State of Florida, Appellee. 911 So. 2d 1190; July 7, 2005.

initial brief of appellant answer brief of appellee
reply brief of appellant

Docket #SC04-201 - Michael Duane Zack, Petitioner, vs. James V. Crosby, Jr., etc., Respondent. 911 So. 2d 1190; July 7, 2005.

petition for writ of habeas corpus
amended response to petition for writ of habeas corpus
reply to amended response to petition for writ of habeas corpus

DC #124439
DOB: 12/14/68

First Judicial Circuit, Escambia County, Case #96-2517
Sentencing Judge: The Honorable Joseph Q. Tarbuck
Attorney, Trial: Elton William Killam - Assistant Public Defender
Attorney, Direct Appeal: David A. Davis - Assistant Public Defender
Attorney, Collateral Appeals: Linda McDermott - Private

Date of Offense: 06/13/96

Date of Sentence: 11/24/97

Circumstances of Offense:

Michael Zack was convicted and sentenced to death for the 06/13/96 murder of Ravonne Smith.

Prior to the murder of Ravonne Smith, Michael Zack resided in Tallahassee, Florida.  Zack became a regular at local bar and befriended the bartender, Edith Pope.  Through various conversations, Zack revealed that he witnessed his sister murder his mother with an axe.  Feeling sorry for Zack, Pope gave him odd jobs to do around the bar. 

On 06/04/96, Zack’s girlfriend called him at the bar and informed him that he was being evicted from her apartment.  Pope let Zack borrow her car to retrieve his personal belongings and he never returned.

Zack drove west to Panama City where he met and befriended Bobby Chandler at a local bar.  Chandler owned a local construction business and hired Zack to work for him.  Once Chandler discovered that Zack was living out of his car (Pope’s stolen Honda), he offered to let Zack stay with him temporarily.  On 06/11/96, Zack left Chandler’s home in the middle of the night, stealing a couple of guns and $42 from Chandler’s wallet.  Zack pawned the guns in Niceville the following day.

Zack then drove to Okaloosa County, stopping at another bar.  There he met Laura Rosillo.  Zack and Rosillo left the bar together and headed to the beach to reportedly do drugs.  Once at the beach, Zack attacked Rosillo.  He hit her head against one of the tires and tore her clothing.  Zack strangled her and hid her body behind a sand dune, kicking dirt over her face before he left.  The physical evidence suggested that Rosillo was sexually assaulted; however, the semen found in her body could not be linked to Zack.

Zack proceeded to Joe’s Dirty Bar near Pensacola.  It was there that Zack met Ravonne Smith, one of the bar’s employees.  The bar was not too busy that afternoon, giving Smith the opportunity to spend her time visiting with Zack.  Smith called her friend Russell Williams and asked him to come to the bar because she was bored. 

Around 7 p.m., Smith, Williams and Zack left the bar together.  Prior to leaving, Smith called her live-in boyfriend and told him that she would be working late.  The three drove to the beach where they smoked marijuana and then later, they returned to the bar.  After Williams departed, Zack and Smith proceeded to her house. 

Immediately after entering the house, Zack reportedly hit Smith over the head with a beer bottle.  Glass shards and blood splatter sprayed onto the interior of the door frame and the adjacent loveseat.  Smith ran down the hall to the master bedroom, leaving a trail of blood behind her.  Zack followed her into the bedroom and sexually assaulted her there.  Smith then staggered into the guest bedroom and, upon seeing this, Zack smashed her head down onto the wooden floor. 

At this point, Zack retrieved an oyster knife from the kitchen, returned to the guest bedroom where Smith lay and stabbed her four times in the chest.  Zack took the knife back to the kitchen to wash the blood off of it and stuffed Smith’s bloody clothes into a dresser drawer.  He stole Smith’s car, along with her television, VCR and purse.

That night, Zack removed the license plate and some personal belongings from Pope’s stolen Honda and abandoned it in a lot nearby.  He then drove back to Panama City in Smith’s car and attempted to pawn several of the stolen items.  The shop clerk suspected that the goods were stolen and asked Zack for identification.  Zack fled the shop and abandoned Smith’s car.  He was apprehended a few days later when he was found hiding out in an empty house.  

After his arrest, Zack confessed to the murder of Ravonne Smith and to the Pope and Chandler thefts. 

Additional Information:

At trial, Zack’s defense counsel argued that Zack suffers from fetal alcohol syndrome and posttraumatic stress disorder which are classified as a brain dysfunction and a mental impairment respectively.  These conditions have been claimed to make Zack impulsive and cause him to be under constant emotional and mental distress. 

Zack was convicted in Okaloosa County for the murder of Laura Rosillo.  He was sentenced to life.

Trial Summary:

06/25/96 - The defendant was indicted on the following charges:

Count I: First-Degree Murder (Ravonne Smith)

Count II: Robbery with a Firearm

Count III: Sexual Battery

09/15/97 - The jury found the defendant guilty of all counts charged in the indictment.

10/17/97 - The jury, by an 11 to 1 majority, voted for the imposition of the death

11/24/97 - The defendant was sentenced as followed:

Count I: First-Degree Murder (Ravonne Smith) - Death

Count II: Robbery with a Firearm - Life

Count III: Sexual Battery - Life

Case Information:

On 12/29/97, Zack filed a Direct Appeal in the Florida Supreme Court.  In that appeal, he argued that the trial court erred in admitting evidence of the crimes he committed during the weeks prior to Smith’s murder in violation of the Williams v. State.  Zack contended that “these crimes were not sufficiently similar to the crimes charged, did not prove intent or disprove involuntary intoxication, were not inextricably intertwined, and became a feature of the trial.”  The Florida Supreme Court found no error in the admission of the evidence in question. 

Zack also contended that the trial court erred in denying his motion for acquittal on the sexual battery and robbery charges.  Zack next argued that the State failed to prove the “avoid arrest” aggravating factor.  The Florida Supreme Court agreed, but found the error to be harmless in lieu of the weight of other valid, proven aggravators. 

Zack also argued that the “felony probation” aggravating factor could not be retroactively applied to him, noting that it was in October of 1996 that the Florida Legislature amended the statute, making the commission of a murder by a defendant on felony probation an aggravating factor.  The Florida Supreme Court agreed, but found the error to be harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.  As such, the Florida Supreme Court affirmed Zack’s convictions and sentence of death on 01/06/00.

Next, Zack filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari in the United States Supreme Court on 06/19/00.  The petition was denied on 10/02/00.

Zack then filed a 3.850 Motion in the State Circuit Court on 05/10/02.  The motion was amended on 10/21/02 and denied on 07/15/03. 

Zack filed a 3.850 Appeal to the Florida Supreme Court on 08/08/03.  Zack raised six issues for review in the appeal.  He argued that the trial counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge the DNA testimony presented by the State; that counsel was ineffective since he failed to prepare him to testify at trial; that counsel was ineffective because he made prejudicial comments to the jury; that the trial court erred in denying claims raised in his motion for postconviction relief; that Florida’s sentencing scheme is unconstitutional under Ring; and that collateral counsel was ineffective.  The court denied all six claims. On 07/07/05, the Florida Supreme Court affirmed the denial of Zack’s 3.850 Motion. 

Zack filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus in the Florida Supreme Court on 02/12/04.  In his petition, Zack argued that appellate counsel was ineffective for neglecting to raise a claim about the State’s racially motivated peremptory challenge during jury selection and should have also argued that the prosecutor made impermissible arguments to the jury. 

He also argued that the State introduced nonstautory aggravating factors in court and that appellate counsel was ineffective for neglecting to raise a claim on appeal about admitting certain crime scene photos as evidence and for neglecting to raise a claim that the trial court erroneously admitted irrelevant and prejudicial evidence to the court such as evidence on other crimes Zack committed.  The court denied all six of Zack’s claims, denying his petition on 07/07/05. 

On 12/01/04, Zack filed a 3.851 Motion for mental retardation to the state circuit court.  On 01/18/05, the motion was dismissed with prejudice. 

On 03/04/05, Zack filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus to the Florida Supreme Court.  The FSC denied Zack’s petition on 10/06/05 based on Chandler v. Crosby.

Zack filed a 3.203 Appeal in the Florida Supreme Court on 03/18/05.  The appeal is currently pending.

On 09/28/05, Zack filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus in the United States District Court, North District.  The petition is currently pending.



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