The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday rejected appeals by Death Row inmate Donald David Dillbeck who is scheduled to be executed next week in the 1990 murder of a woman during a carjacking in a Tallahassee mall parking lot.
Justices also refused to issue a stay of Dillbeck’s execution, whose death warrant was signed last month by Gov. Ron DeSantis. The execution, scheduled for Feb. 23, would be the first time a prisoner has been put to death in Florida since 2019.
In asking the Supreme Court to block the execution, Dillbeck’s attorneys pointed, in part, to his diagnosis with a condition related to being exposed to alcohol before birth.
The attorneys argued that the condition, neurodevelopmental disorder associated with prenatal alcohol exposure, or ND-PAE, is “recognized by the medical community as an intellectual disability-equivalent condition.” The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that executing intellectually disabled people violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Results of testing “indicated widespread and profound neurological damage throughout Mr. Dillbeck’s brain, with particular abnormality in the portions of the brain most responsible for regulating planning, mood, judgment, behavior, impulse control and intentionality,” the attorneys wrote in a Feb. 10 brief at the Florida Supreme Court. “These results showed Mr. Dillbeck to be developmentally disabled and biologically predisposed to overreact to stress.”
But justices Thursday rejected the argument on a series of grounds, including that in 2020 the court denied a motion on the issue because it found Dillbeck and his attorneys “had failed to diligently pursue a diagnosis of ND-PAE.”
“Attempting to avoid the procedural bar of our 2020 decision and establish due diligence in bringing his exemption claim, Dillbeck argues that his exemption claim is not based on the same evidence from (the 2020) proceeding, but on a ‘sociolegal tipping point’ that ND-PAE is the equivalent of intellectual disability that is happening now, in 2023,” the 27-page decision said. “Even if our prior ruling did not procedurally bar him, Dillbeck’s claim still comes too late to be newly discovered evidence.”
The court unanimously rejected two appeals filed by Dillbeck’s attorneys and the request for a stay. Justice Jorge Labarga did not sign on to the opinion but supported its result.
Dillbeck, now 59, was initially sentenced to life in prison in the 1979 shooting death of Lee County sheriff’s Deputy Dwight Lynn Hall when Dillbeck was 15. But in 1990, he walked away from a catering function in Quincy where he and other inmates were working.
Dillbeck went to Tallahassee, got a knife and tried to carjack a vehicle, according to court documents. Faye Vann, who was sitting in the car, resisted and was fatally stabbed, with Dillbeck then arrested after crashing the car. He was convicted in 1991 of first-degree murder, armed robbery and armed burglary, Department of Corrections records show.
If the death sentence is carried out, Dillbeck would be the first Florida inmate executed since Gary Ray Bowles was put to death by lethal injection in August 2019. Bowles was executed for a 1994 murder in Jacksonville.
Death-penalty opponents have called on DeSantis to halt the execution.
In a Feb. 6 letter to the governor, Michael Sheedy, executive director of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Dillbeck’s “heinous and violent crimes have caused tremendous grief and suffering to the victims’ loved ones and communities.”
But the letter pointed to “mitigating” circumstances, such as neurological damage caused by Dillbeck exposure to alcohol before birth and physical and sexual abuse when Dillbeck was a child.
“We also ask that you choose life for Mr. Dillbeck because of the harms caused by implementing the death penalty in Florida,” Sheedy wrote. “Its use is a violation of the dignity of the person and an indictment on the low value placed on human life itself in society. We hold that the death penalty should be inadmissible due to modern systems of incarceration whereby society can be kept safe and prisoners punished.”
–Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida
He has no dignity!! says
What about the dignity for the victim? He was already serving life in prison for murdering a deputy. Then turned around and murdered an innocent women. He has no dignity in him so how can you take it way by giving him what he deserves!!
Land of no turn signals says says
I’m sure he has been tested before trail.Juice – em.
In my opinion, the death penalty should only be imposed when the standard of proof is beyond question. It must be higher than beyond even a reasonable doubt. In addition the crime must warrant the punishment, such as the murder of an innocent person. Another factor to be considered, is whether the convicted person is a continuing danger to society.
Dillbeck was sentenced to life in prison for murdering Deputy Dwight Lynn Hall. In 1990, he escaped from an inmate work detail. (Whether he walked, ran, or fled on a bike does not matter. He escaped.) Dillbeck then murdered Faye Vann with a knife.
By his actions, Dillbeck is a clear danger to society. Sentencing him to life in prison (AGAIN) does not eliminate the danger. The evidence against him is beyond question. Both Deputy Hall and Ms. Vann were innocent people. His repeated crimes warrant the death penalty.
What a great campaign poster this will make for DeSantis. A “Twofer”!
It’s astounding how many attorneys for death row inmates can find things like “neurodevelopmental disorder associated with prenatal alcohol exposure, or ND-PAE” disorders to prevent an execution possibly. Were any neurological issues brought up in court before the death sentence, and if not, why now? It’s an insult to the victim and the victim’s family to go through all the BS to have any closure.
Adios. What took so long? The court system with all the layers of appeals actually drives up the real cost of death penalty past the cost of keeping someone in prison for life.
Evil can not be redeemed.