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Bill Speeding Up Executions in Florida Passes Despite Disturbing Rate of Exonerations

| April 30, 2013

Supporters of Florida's death penalty demonstrated at the execution of Larry Eugene Mann outside Starke state prison earlier this month. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

Supporters of Florida’s death penalty demonstrated at the execution of Larry Eugene Mann outside Starke state prison earlier this month. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

State lawmakers Monday gave final approval to a proposal aimed at reducing delays in carrying out the death penalty, with supporters saying they want justice for victims’ families — but critics warning about executing innocent people.

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Since Florida re-instituted the death penalty in 1976, 24 people have been exonerated from death row, the largest number of any state in the Union. The latest, Seth Penalver, was exonerated in December after spending 18 years on death row, and going through three trials.

Sen. Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican who sponsored the measure, said some inmates have been on Death Row for more than 30 years.

“That isn’t justice,” Negron said. “That’s a mockery of the court system.”

But other lawmakers pointed to scientific advances, such as DNA evidence, that have helped clear some inmates who have been imprisoned for long periods.

“I just think this swiftness does not necessarily equate to fairness,” said Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa.

“Legislation that speeds executions by limiting appeals will almost certainly lead to the execution of innocent men and women,” Mark Elliot, who heads Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said.

The bill also raises the number of death row inmates a state-appointed attorney may represent at any one time, from five currently to 10 once the bill becomes law, even though ineffective representation is one of the many reasons inmates are exonerated.

Senators voted 28-10 on Monday to approve the bill (HB 7083), which passed the House last week. It now goes to Gov. Rick Scott.

The bill focuses, at least in part, on ending delays in what is known as the “post-conviction” legal process, which starts after the Florida Supreme Court upholds death sentences in initial appeals. The post-conviction process can involve appeals about issues such as whether defendants have received ineffective legal representation. Biut the bill would take steps to prevent attorneys from representing Death Row inmates if the attorneys have had problems in earlier capital cases. The bill would bar lawyers from working on death-penalty cases for five years if courts have found that they provided deficient representation twice. Additionally, the bill seeks to ensure that attorneys have “actual” conflicts of interest before being replaced in death-penalty cases. Replacing attorneys can cause delays.

The bill also repeals the provisions of the Death Penalty Reform Act that were held unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court.

As of early March, Florida had 404 inmates on Death Row, with 155 in custody for more than 20 years, according to a House staff analysis. Ten had been on Death Row for more than 35 years.

This month, Florida executed Larry Eugene Mann, who was convicted in 1981 in the abduction and murder of a 10-year girl in Pinellas County. On April 18, Scott Signed the 6th death warrant of his tenure, for Elmer Carroll, who murdered a 10-Year-Old Girl in 1990. Carroll will be executed on Tuesday, May 6, at 6 p.m., at the state prison at Starke, 75 miles northwest of Palm Coast.

Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said the bill would not prevent inmates from pursuing legitimate claims of innocence. But he echoed Negron’s argument that some people sitting on Death Row for decades makes a “mockery” of the justice system.

“This bill is about closure for victims’ families,” said Bradley, a former prosecutor.

That would be at the expense of some inmates’ innocence, argues Penalver, exonerated in December. “If executions are sped up, then we will be killing innocent people like me,” Penalver said. “Evidence of my innocence was withheld and hidden for almost eighteen years after my conviction.”

Penalver is one of eight Floridians who were exonerated more than ten years after being sentenced to death. “Executing innocent people is murder by all, not justice for all,” he said.

“Legislation that speeds executions by limiting appeals will almost certainly lead to the execution of innocent men and women,” said Mark Elliott, the group’s director.

–Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida, and FlaglerLive

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7 Responses for “Bill Speeding Up Executions in Florida Passes Despite Disturbing Rate of Exonerations”

  1. Anonymous says:

    So you file your appeal, get DNA evidence (if available) to exonerate you and overturn your conviction, and prove your innocence!

    In China, they have a simple way of carrying out the death penalty. You have a trial. If convicted, you are sentenced immediately….no waiting weeks or months for sentencing! If the sentence is death, you are escorted outside the building where you face a firing squad. Following your execution, your family is sent a bill for the bullet used to kill you! If they do not pay, they can face the same penalty as you! THERE ARE NO APPEALS!

    Be glad you get at least an appeal here in the United States! I believe that you should have a time limit as to when you must file appeals, say maybe a 5 year time period with 2 appeals…..not wait 20-35 years on the tax payers dime!

    • notasenior says:

      Maybe the government should get it right in the first place and waste the “tax payers dime.” The death penalty is permanent that no apology can correct

  2. J. U. Stice says:

    Prison systems OVER CROWDED. Inmates being released by the 10’s of thousands in California. Prison inmate running criminal enterprise behind bars, impregnates 4 female guards. Warden of prison assassinated and uncontrolled gangs running our inner cities. And the government wants to take away our 2nd amendment rights ! If the day ever comes that our electric grid goes down for what ever reason, who’s going to keep all the prison inmates from MASS escapes and turning 4 million criminals loose on America ? …..EXECUTE the MURDERS NOW !!!!

    • Nancy N. says:

      Where on earth are you getting 4 million? There are AT MOST 2.25 million people locked up in this country (2010 statistics), and the number is decreasing every year.

  3. Alfred E. Newman says:

    So we watch for the Medicare crook to sign off on the bill.
    A bill to speed up state-sanctioned MURDER.
    It would all be so funny if not so damned pathetic.

  4. r&r says:

    This is a great effort to reduce the time these convicted scum bags get to enjoy life on the tax payers.. The sentence should be carried out six to twelve months after conviction.. Why continue to put the victims of the family through the years of waiting before closure..

  5. Deep South says:

    If I as a murder victim, knew I only had 32 1/2 years to live before I was murdered, I believe I would live my life differently. Give them 4 years max. for appeals then put them to death. period.

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