Supreme Court upholds death penalty in 1988 murder of West Palm cop

6:31 p.m Monday, Feb. 5, 2018 Local
Norberto Pietri in court in West Palm Beach in 2002. A tattoo of a spider can be seen on his neck by his collar. Pietri is on Death Row because he killed West Palm Beach police officer Brian Chappell years ago in 1988. (Taylor Jones/Palm Beach Post)

The Florida Supreme Court on Friday upheld a sentence of death for an escaped convict who fatally shot West Palm Beach police officer Brian Chappell three decades ago.

In one of dozens of death penalty cases the high court has decided in recent weeks, justices ruled that Norberto “Spiderman” Pietri isn’t entitled to a new sentencing hearing even though Florida’s former capital punishment system was struck down as unconstitutional, in part, because it didn’t require unanimous jury decisions.

While only eight of 12 jurors voted that Pietri should be put to death, his conviction became final in 1995. The Florida Supreme Court has previously ruled that only those sentenced to death after after June 24, 2002 could seek new sentencing hearings if the jury decision wasn’t unanimous.

The date marks the release of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in an Arizona case that turned on similar issues. The decision put Florida officials on notice that its death penalty system was flawed, the state high court ruled.

Scores of police officers turned out at a hearing last year to persuade Palm Beach County Circuit Judge John Kastrenakes to keep Pietri on death row.

Noting that Pietri escaped prison, killed Chappell — who “didn’t even get his gun out” — and continued to commit violent crimes until he was recaptured, Kastrenakes called Pietri’s death sentence “absolutely appropriate.”

With six years on the police force, 31-year-old Chappell was shot after he stopped Pietri’s truck on Malverne Road just off Dixie Highway in August 1988. As Chappell walked to the driver side window, Pietri, then 25 and nicknamed “Spiderman” for the 3-inch spider tattoo on his neck, fired once with a 9mm semiautomatic pistol.

The bullet tore through Chappell’s chest. He staggered back, grabbed his portable radio and spoke his last four words: “Officer shot. Officer shot.”

Chappell is the last West Palm Beach officer slain in the line of duty.