With convicted murderer Louis Gaskin scheduled to be put to death April 12, his attorneys have asked the Florida Supreme Court to stay the execution and reconsider his death sentence.
Among other arguments, Gaskin’s lawyers cite a March 15 FlaglerLive article in which Janet Valentine, one of the 12 jurors at Gaskin’s 1990 trial, said she regrets being part of the 8-4 vote recommending his death. Valentine would go on to be Flagler County’s school superintendent between 2010 and 2014. She has since retired in North Carolina. She was interviewed in mid-March for the article.
Gaskin would be the first person with a capital conviction from Flagler County to be killed by the state since Florida re-instituted the death penalty in 1973. Three other former death row inmates convicted of murders in Flagler County saw their death sentences commuted to life in prison in the last several years.
The attorneys Monday evening filed a motion for a stay and other documents, arguing in part that a jury was not given evidence of Gaskin’s mental illness before recommending that he be sentenced to death in the December 1989 murders of 56-year-old Robert Sturmfels and 55-year-old Georgette Sturmfels in Palm Coast’s R-Section.
The motion follows a frantic series of hearings in Circuit Court in Flagler County between March 16 and March 21 when Gaskin’s lawyer, Tracy Henry, sought numerous public records and argued for an evidentiary hearing on what she considers to have been serious gaps in the evidence presented to the jury in 1990. Circuit Judge Terence Perkins denied the motions for public records and an evidentiary hearing.
A 57-page brief said the jury did not receive “profound and important mitigating evidence” about Gaskin’s mental illness and an abusive childhood. It said such evidence would have outweighed what are known as “aggravating” factors and spared Gaskin from the death penalty. The jury voted 8-4 to recommend the death penalty to then Circuit Judge Kim Hammond.
“Although the jury heard none of the compelling mitigation that was available at the time of trial, four jurors still understood the practically nonexistent mitigation case presented at trial well enough to recommend a life sentence,” the motion states. “This is far from a constitutionally valid death verdict. With a full presentation of mitigation by competent counsel, it is highly unlikely that the State would have obtained a majority recommendation from the jury, let alone a 12-0 decision from a properly instructed jury. In fact, one of the jurors who voted for death at Mr. Gaskin’s trial, has come forward saying that she regrets her decision. On March 15, after learning of the death warrant, she told a reporter that she would not make the same decision today.”
The motion then quotes Valentine: “I would never make that decision again.”
“Four jurors voted for life despite the fact that Mr. Gaskin’s trial counsel failed him at every turn, especially in the penalty (sentencing) phase where only two lay witnesses and no expert witnesses were presented,” the brief said. “Those four jurors knew next to nothing about Mr. Gaskin. They knew nothing about the abuse and abandonment he suffered as a child; nothing about him being raised in squalor by his illiterate great-grandparents who forced him to eat off the floor and beat him mercilessly; nothing about his teenage mother who disappeared from his life for years at a time; nothing about the father he never knew. The jurors heard nothing about Mr. Gaskin being bullied in school, that he continued to suck his thumb well into his teen years, or that he would go off by himself and rock back and forth.”
The state is expected to file response briefs this week. The responses are expected to echo arguments made before Perkins. Lawyers for the state last week argued that opening the case to further evidence could be a bad deal for Gaskin, since he also confessed to a third murder (of Charles Martin in 1986), not introduced at trial, and had other issues with deviancy.
DeSantis on March 13 signed a death warrant for Gaskin. Gaskin, now 56, also received a life sentence after being convicted of attempted murder for shooting a man during a burglary at another home the same night, according to court documents.
In addition to seeking a stay, Gaskin’s attorneys requested that the Supreme Court order an evidentiary hearing or vacate the death sentence. They also filed what is known as a petition for writ of habeas corpus based on an allegation that an aggravating factor in the case was unconstitutional.
Gaskin would be the second Florida inmate executed in less than two months. The state on Feb. 23 put to death Donald David Dillbeck, who murdered a woman in 1990 during a carjacking in a Tallahassee mall parking lot. Dillbeck, 59, was the 100th inmate executed in Florida since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.
Before Dillbeck’s execution, the state had not carried out a death sentence since Gary Ray Bowles was put to death by lethal injection in August 2019 for a 1994 murder in Jacksonville.
–FlaglerLive and The News Service of Florida
Brief – Initial-Merit-gaskin
Lance Carroll says
Our judicial system has been broken for a long time. I am not, in any way, condoning turning a blind eye. At the same time, we can’t blame childhood on our adult actions. Justice is a fallacy and so is a perfect world. Prisons are a business…..just as the court system (judicial branch of government). It is well known, amongst us, that folks with money are able to buy their way to less punishment, in the court of law, than those that are not monetarily wealthy. It is well known that many people have been sentenced to death that did not commit the crime they’d been sentenced, to death, for. Mr. Gaskin’s case is pretty cut and dry. He is a confessed murderer that should never be released back into society. And….the judicial branch has a job that many make a good living participating in. It’s all a money game when one stands in the court room…..judges, lawyers, plaintiffs, and defendants…..and some witnesses too. Justice is something that the courts sell and sometimes there is a lack of truth in advertisement. Judge and not be judged is a missed bus at the wrong stop. Who am I to say? Although, I don’t murder people…I just stop at the red lights like everybody is supposed to. I just send emails, truthfully.
I think that we have the wrong idea about what “justice” really is. We try too often to right a wrong by engaging in more wrongs to somehow balance the wrongs against each other. But that is vindictiveness. I think that we need to keep in mind the goal we’re pursuing: we want to pacify the society to the degree to which the society can live harmoniously with itself. A society has a moral right to that protection; a society does not have a moral right to get even. Protection is warranted where the wrongminded is neutralized to the point where s/he cannot inflict further disharmonies on the society. I assume that my will is free to make choices because that assumption maximizes my sense of responsibility; I assume that the will of others–including Mr. Gaskin’s–is determined and caused by previous experiences, pains, and ill education because that assumption maximizes my sense of compassion. That is by no means a stance of moral laissez faire. To my way of thinking, such a stance gets closer to the Aristotelian mean of “mildness,” avoiding the extremes of anger or indifference.
Corn and Taters says
The culture in the 80s was much different. This woman is saying in her brief, he was bullied in school. I went to school with Louis. He was well liked and I enjoyed him. If getting smacked with a kickball in red rover is being bullied, then he was bullied…and knowing how things are defined these days, it’s probably considered bullying now. In the culture of the times, Louis was not bullied. I do know he had a rough home life and I do know he faced some learning disabilities. None of those were the culprit in changing Louis from the enjoyable young man I knew to Flagler County’s first serial killer. Sadly, it was crack cocaine, which was very new to our sleepy rural community back then. So, save all the woke stuff, Louis fell prey to drugs for a myriad of reasons and sadly, people lost their lives. Louis has been penned up for most of his life, I am not sure I agree with them executing him but he wasn’t bullied in school. He had mental health issues that went unaddressed and that led to his addiction and eventually to his prolific killing spree. I hope that the families of the victim’s have had some healing over the years. I also hope Louis has some how found a way to reconcile his behaviors and make peace with the monster within….and should the State impose the same penalty on Louis that he did on his victims, I pray that God has mercy on his soul.