Prosecutors can use defendant’s statement in Gardens death-penalty case

Nov 28, 2017
Herbert Gordon Savell sits at the defense table Monday, November 27, 2017 during a pretrial hearing in his first-degree murder case. Savell faces the possibility of the death penalty if convicted in the 2014 death of 35-year-old Margeaux Greenwald, a roommate who was beat to death before her body was buried in some woods in Palm Beach Gardens. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

Jurors will get to hear statements Herbert Savell made to investigators in his upcoming death penalty trial in the 2014 murder of a 35-year-old woman whose body was found in Palm Beach Gardens, but he will get to stand trial without the man that who told police he saw Savell beat the woman to death with a baseball bat.

These were two of several decisions that Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath made in two days of pretrial hearings for Savell, whose first-degree murder and kidnapping trial is set to begin Jan. 16 in the death of Margeaux Greenwald.

Savell, 29, of Semmes, Ala., told police that he and another man, later identified as Andrew Hoffman, tied Greenwald up and put her into the trunk of her own car after she passed out on June 7, 2014 from what he may have thought was a drug overdose in the Boynton Beach residence they were sharing at the time. Savell said they later realized Greenwald was still alive and bought a baseball bat to beat her with, but his arrest report was unclear about whether Hoffman or Savell is alleged to have actually beat Greenwald to death.

Hoffman, for whom police initially lacked sufficient evidence to arrest, said Savell was the one who delivered the fatal beating to Greenwald. Both Hoffman’s attorney and Savell’s attorney, Assistant Public defender Elizabeth Ramsey, filed requests with Colbath earlier this year for the two men to stand trial separately. On Monday, Colbath granted the request. Hoffman’s trial is currently set for Feb. 20.

Ramsey on Tuesday lost a battle to keep jurors from hearing Savell’s statements to police, which began while he was already at the Palm Beach County Jail after police picked him up during a traffic stop on an unrelated charge. According to arrest reports, Savell was driving Greenwald’s car at the time, and a blood-covered baseball bat and a rain poncho Greenwald had been wrapped in were both in the trunk.

But Ramsey and Assistant State Attorney Reid Scott mutually agreed to leave out parts of the statement, and Colbath made individual rulings keepign out other passages in the statements, including discussions of a ring taken from Greenwald’s body after she was dead and a reference to a Hispanic man who had accompanied them at some point either before or after Greenwald was killed.

At the time police apprehended her alleged killers, Greenwald’s relatives said she had struggled with drug addiction and was in and out of sober homes in her native New Jersey and South Florida. But her family said she had appeared to be winning the battle shortly before her death, and her father said that she had also counseled other recovering addicts during her own recovery.

If Savell’s trial happens as scheduled, he will be just the second defendant for which Palm Beach County prosecutors have sought the death penalty at trial since a nearly two-year-old U.S. Supreme Court deemed Florida’s previous death penalty system unconstitutional. Florida lawmakers have since revamped the system, but a jury in the first local case since then recommended a life sentence for Rodney Clark for the 1987 Lake Worth murder of Dana Fader.