The Commission on Capital Cases updates this information regularly. This information; however, is subject to change and may not reflect the latest status of an inmate’s case and should not be relied upon for statistical or legal purposes.
TENNIS, Gabby (W/M)
Seventeenth Judicial Circuit, Broward County Case # 03-11459
Sentencing Judge: The Honorable Susan Lebow
Attorney, Trial: Patrick Rastatter – Private
Attorney, Direct Appeal: Carey Haughwout and Jeffrey L. Anderson – Public Defender’s Office
Date of Offense: 05/31/03
Date of Sentence: 03/03/06
Circumstances of Offense:
On 09/19/05, Gabby Tennis was convicted of the robbery-related murder of 91-one-year old Hollywood Beach resident, Albert Vassella. His codefendant and girlfriend, Sophia Adams pled guilty to second-degree murder and testified against him at trial.
Vassella was known to the defendants through Adams’ mother, Liza Boltos, whom Vassella employed to clean his home. Boltos, an ethnic gypsy, testified at trial that within her and Adams’ culture it is customary for gypsy families to allow their daughters to elope with gypsy men for an arranged dowry. When Tennis and Adams became more serious in their relationship, Boltos demanded payment for a dowry. Tennis and Boltos began regularly demanding money from Tennis’ father, Lawrence Tennis, who was opposed to the transaction. Boltos testified that a few days before the murder, she needed to borrow some money, so she asked Tennis to drive her to Vassella’s home. Along the way, she explained to Tennis that Vassella was an old man who would occasionally give her money. On that visit, Vassella lent Boltos between 10 and 15 dollars.
Vassella was last seen alive on 05/31/03 by his friend, Maria Sklar. The two had been to lunch and had plans for another lunch date the following day. When Vassella failed to answer his telephone or front door for two days, it was Sklar who found his body in his living room on 06/02/08. The house had been ransacked and his telephone no longer functioned.
On the morning of the murder, 05/31/08, Adams and Tennis had argued and decided to go for a walk. The walk eventually led to Vassella’s front door, where the two were welcomed inside when Tennis asked to use Vassella’s phone book. At some point during the visit, Tennis rose from the chair where he had been sitting, punched Vassella in the forehead, and demanded whatever money and valuables he possessed. Tennis picked Vassella up from the floor and threw him against a bookshelf in the living room. As Tennis continued to demand his valuables, he began to stomp Vassella’s face with the heel of his sneakers. Adams testified that she witnessed Tennis strike Vassella with his sneakers seven or eight times. Vassella died as a result of blunt force trauma to the head and neck.
After the attack, Tennis and Adams returned to Boltos’ home and then to a friend’s home where they traded Tennis’ Ford F-150 for a white Plymouth Acclaim. After spending the night with the friend, the pair left the Hollywood Beach area and made their way to the Columbus, Ohio home of Tennis’ biological mother. From there they traveled to Chicago, where Tennis altered his appearance by shaving his head. An FBI-task force arrested them in their hotel room two days later.
Codefendant Information: Sophia Adams L53686
Sophia Adams was convicted of home invasion/robbery and second-degree murder. She received 15 years for each conviction.
A psychologist testified that Tennis is borderline mentally retarded with a mental capacity of a 12-year-old.
Prior Incarceration History in the State of Florida:
08/06/03 Indicted as follows:
Count I: First-degree Murder (Albert Vassella)
Count II: Aggravated Battery on a Person 65 yrs/older
Count III: Home Invasion/Robbery
09/19/05 Jury returned guilty verdicts on all counts of the indictment.
01/12/06 Jury recommended death by a vote of 8-4.
04/06/06 Sentenced as follows:
Count I: First-Degree Murder (Albert Vassella) – Death
Count II: Aggravated Battery – 15 Years
Count III: Home Invasion/Robbery – 15 Years
01/07/09 The Florida Supreme Court granted a new penalty phase
04/27/09 Sentenced reduced to life imprisonment
Florida Supreme Court – Direct Appeal
997 So.2d 375
04/16/07 Appeal filed
10/07/08 Oral Arguments held
12/11/08 Conviction reversed, sentence vacated; Remanded to circuit court for new trial
01/05/09 Mandate entered
Factors Contributing to the Delay in Imposition of Sentence:
Not applicable at this time.
On 04/17/06, Tennis filed a Direct Appeal in the Florida Supreme Court. In his Initial Brief (filed 08/20/07), Tennis raised the following issues on appeal: 1) the trial court erred in allowing witness Hill to improperly testify as an expert and to be used as a conduit for hearsay testimony, 2) the trial court erred in allowing the introduction of Sophia Adams guilty plea without a limiting instruction and in prohibiting the appellant from introducing the factual basis of Sophia Adams’ guilty plea to the murder of Albert Vassella, 3) the trial court erred in failing to respond to the appellant’s requests to represent himself and in not allowing the appellant to represent himself, 4) the trial court erred in failing to hold a competency hearing, 5) the trial court erred in failing to instruct on the lesser included offense of murder in the third degree with grand theft as the underlying felony, 6) the appellant was denied due process and a fair trial where the jury’s general verdict may have been based on a legally invalid theory, 7) the appellant was denied due process and a fair trial where his counsel refused to represent the appellant when he took the witness stand, 8) the trial court erred in failing to conduct an adequate Nelson inquiry, 9) the appellant was denied due process and a fair trial by the prosecution taking inconsistent positions to obtain the appellant’s conviction and sentence, 10) the appellant was denied due process, a fair trial, and a fair penalty phase due to the undue injection of ethnicity, 11) the death penalty is disproportionate in this case, 12) by submitting the aggravating circumstance that the victim was vulnerable due to advanced age or disability, double jeopardy was violated as the appellant had been acquitted of felony murder of an elderly or disabled person, 13) the trial court erred in giving great weight to the jury’s death recommendation, 14) the trial court erred in rejecting age as a mitigating factor, 15) Florida’s death penalty, by not requiring unanimous jury finding for death, unanimous jury finding of aggravating circumstances, nor the jury finding beyond a reasonable doubt that aggravating circumstances outweigh mitigating circumstances violates the Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth amendments to the United States Constitution, 16) the appellant was unable to exercise his right to plead guilty, 17) Florida Statute 921.141(d), the felony murder aggravator, is unconstitutional on its face and as applied in this case, and 18) the trial court judge erred by not finding, in writing, sufficient aggravating circumstances to support a death sentence. On 12/11/08, the Florida Supreme Court reversed the conviction for first-degree felony murder and vacated his sentence of death and remanded for a new trial on the grounds of the third issue on appeal. On 01/05/09, the Florida Supreme Court entered a mandate in this case.
Tennis was resentenced by the Circuit Court to life imprisonment on 04/27/09.
This information is unavailable at this time.
Report Date: 12/12/08 AEH
Approved: 12/16/08 RM
Updated: 09/09/09 EMJ