Yesterday Governor Rick Scott set a new date for the execution of Manuel Valle, which will be the first execution in Florida since February of 2010. Valle will be executed at Florida State Prison in Raiford on Wednesday, September 28 at 4 p.m.
Valle, a 61-year-old Cuban national, was charged with first-degree murder for the 1978 killing of Coral Gables police officer Louis Pena, attempted first-degree murder of police officer Gary Spell, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and automobile theft. According to Spell, who was at the scene, Valle, who was 27 at the time, had been pulled over by Pena for a traffic violation, when he pulled a gun on Pena and fatally shot him. Pena was survived by a wife, a son and three daughters.
Since his conviction, Valle has been sentenced to death and resentenced three times, in a legal battle that eventually made it to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court overturned his sentence, but later reaffirmed it. Valle’s execution had been stayed twice so far this summer, first by the Florida Supreme Court and then by federal judges in Atlanta. According to an update from Floridians Against the Death Penalty, Valle still has an appeal pending in federal court in Jacksonville and the U.S. Supreme Court, but those aren’t expected to hold up, and Sept. 28th should be considered as the final date.
If my research is accurate (and it might not be, these numbers are at times hard to find), Valle has served the 3rd longest consecutive amount of time on death row in the U.S., at 33 years and during his time there has seen more than 60 executions. Another Florida inmate, Gary Alvord, has served the longest consecutive amount of time at 37 years, and a Georgia inmate named Jack Alderman served 34 years before being put to death. This is part of a growing trend in the U.S. of extended stays on death row, leading to extensive debates about declines in mental health among older inmates, the dual punishments of both a death sentence and years of solitary confinement, and so on.
I’ll be attending Valle’s execution, where I hope to talk to protestors on both sides of the debate about their thoughts on Valle, Florida, the death penalty and so on. I won’t be witnessing the actual execution, but even so, I’ve been feeling very somber and apprehensive about the whole thing since receiving word of the new date yesterday. I keep thinking about the anger and sadness and pain inherent in every aspect of the event: from the protestors who will be there, to the corrections officers whose job it is to carry out this execution, to the unimaginable pain of Officer Pena’s family members, who have waited 33 long years for some kind of closure. According to this report by the blog Death Penalty News, a week before Governor Scott signed Manuel Valle’s death warrant in June, he was “criticized in the media for not having signed such a warrant during his first six months in office. In those months he had been contacted in writing by the murder victim’s daughter in this case asking why Manuel Valle’s death warrant had yet not been signed.”
I’ll be keeping both Valle and the Pena family in my thoughts as Sept. 28 approaches.