Florida Papers Jump On the Death Penalty Bandwagon

I realize that the headline for this post sounds a bit cynical. But journalism will do that to you. Papers have to sell to stay afloat and make money, and people often forget that newspapers are a business just like any other. And as such, local papers generally run stories that reflect the wants and values of the population they serve.

So color me skeptical when three Florida papers have all run recent editorials criticizing the state’s death penalty (links to each are below). Not that they don’t raise some valid points. But it’s hard to buy The Miami Herald‘s editorial with the headline “OUR OPINION: Fix the death penalty” when a little more than a month ago they ran the following headline: “Before execution, unrepentant cop killer Manuel Valle penned letter to Archbishop Wenski.” Unless the writers at the Herald have picked up the ability to read minds, they are simply not able to label Valle as unrepentant. If I had written a headline like that in my freshman level Journalism 101 class, I’d have been given an F and a stern talking to. Not to mention the article details how at a 1988 hearing, Valle  “brought a courtroom to tears in a 15-minute speech begging for his life. He said he wasn’t sure why he killed Pena.

“But I accept full responsibility,” Valle said. He tried to apologize to the officer’s family but couldn’t find the words. He cried and sat down.”

Sounds pretty repentant to me.

At any rate, it’s great that the local media is talking about the issue I’ve spent several months now examining. However, my fear is that they are only doing so because the death penalty is a “hot issue” at the moment and that as soon as it’s not, the issue will once again be buried, despite the problems that remain.

Excerpts from three editorials, with links to full text:

From Fix the death penalty in The Miami Herald:

“In 2005, the Florida Supreme Court took the unusual step of begging the Legislature to clean up Florida’ s death-penalty statute. In an opinion by then-Justice Raoul Cantero, appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush and hardly a bleeding heart, pointed out that Florida stands alone in not requiring that a jury recommendation of the death penalty be unanimous and in not requiring that a jury spell out the reasons for recommendation.

The following year, the American Bar Association chimed in with similar although broader recommendations for change.

The Legislature’s reaction: A big yawn. And — worse — it even took steps backward by trimming the availability of skilled lawyers to handle appeals by Death Row inmates.”

From United jury needed in death penalty cases in the Orlando Sentinel:

“If Florida intends to administer the death penalty, changes are needed. Florida is the only state that juries by simple majority both decide whether aggravating conditions exist and recommend the death penalty. Getting in sync with the other states that require unanimous juries is a rational first step. It’s a step that state Sen. Thad Altman again is smartly championing. Last session, the Viera Republican’s bill failed even to earn a hearing.”

From Jurors should be unanimous in recommending death sentence in the St. Petersburg Times:

“Even the most ardent opponents of capital punishment were hard-pressed to feel much sympathy for Oba Chandler, one of Florida’s most notorious murderers. On Tuesday, the state finally executed him, as a unanimous jury had recommended 17 years ago for his brutal 1989 killings of an Ohio woman and her two daughters. If Florida is going to continue to use the death penalty despite its cost and potential for killing people for crimes they did not commit, it should let no lesser standard apply. It’s time for the state to join other death penalty states in requiring a unanimous recommendation from the jury before a death sentence.”

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