Dukes pleads guilty in attempt to avoid death penalty

- Prosecutors say murder defendant Keith Dukes hunted down his estranged wife, after slitting her throat, in front of their three children.

It was one year ago this month, Michelle Dukes, with her throat slit from ear-to-ear, made a run for her life. Her kids were not far behind. 

Detectives say a neighbor saw Michelle running from Keith and tried to help, but he became Keith's next target. Keith Dukes fired his gun at the neighbor, but the gun misfired.

Michelle continued to run, finding temporary shelter in another neighbor's home, but detectives say Dukes eventually broke in, punched a hole through the wall and got to Michelle, shooting her three times.

The crime was so heinous and depraved, prosecutors said, that they will seek the death penalty. 

Dukes, meanwhile, wants to plead guilty to avoid the death penalty and get a life sentence instead. 

The state's death penalty was in limbo after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled procedures for sentencing someone to death were unconstitutional. Lawmakers rushed to fix the law and, in March, Governor Scott signed new guidelines for the death penalty. 

Hillsborough assistant state attorney Scott Harmon is using that to fight Dukes legal strategy.

"The new death penalty law applies to pending prosecutions," said Harmon.

Dukes follows other murder defendants, like Charles Foster and Carlos Rivas, who have tried the same strategy. An appeals court has put the brakes on everything and is still weighing what to do in those cases. Their decision could impact what happens in Keith Dukes' case.

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