Tomorrow’s scheduled execution of Paul Howell is raising a few eyebrows and some questions in the media.
Last week in a piece for the Huffington Post titled “Florida To Execute Death Row Prisoner Paul Howell Without Giving Him Final Federal Appeal,” Hunter Stuart wrote “Michael Ufferman, one of the lawyers representing Paul Howell, a 47-year-old man on death row for killing a state trooper in 1992, told The Huffington Post that Howell was wrongfully denied an appearance in federal court because his previous attorney missed a filing deadline for the appeal.
“Ufferman says there is mitigating evidence that needs to be considered. For example, he says Howell suffers from mental health issues and was abused as a child.”
He goes on to point out that “Gov. Rick Scott, who got rid of a state committee that monitored capital punishment in order to save $400,000 a year, has the power to withdraw the death warrant for Howell, Ufferman said. But so far, Scott has not done so.”
And today in a Miami Herald report, “Execution of Murderer Raises New Questions About the Death Penalty in Florida,” Mary Ellen Klas reports that “if he dies by lethal injection as scheduled, his attorneys say, he will be the first Florida inmate to die without his case having been reviewed in federal court under a habeas corpus appeal.”
Klas’s report is well worth a read, but I’ve also pasted the most interesting bits below:
They say the court never heard about the conflict of interest involving his trial attorney, the failure to tell the court of Howell’s brain damage, his paranoia, child abuse or his lost court files. And the court never heard about Howell’s inadequate representation from the appellate lawyer who missed a crucial deadline for his federal review.
“Lawyers who never met the client in the 13 years they represented him lost his records in a flood and haven’t asked for new ones,” said Sonya Rudenstine of Gainesville, a new attorney hired by the inmate’s family. “If it weren’t so tragic, it would be a comedy of errors.”
Howell lost his chance to make this argument earlier when, in 1999, a new lawyer who had never handled a federal case missed the federal court deadline. She dropped off the case, Rudenstine said, but his subsequent attorneys never raised a claim that Howell had been given ineffective representation.
“He’s been on death row for 22 years and still hasn’t had one-third of his appeals,” Rudenstine said. “If you speed up the conviction process, you are not going to give people better justice.”
After the Oklahoma City bombing in 1996, Congress imposed a one-year filing deadline for the habeas corpus review, but the U.S. Supreme Court has since ruled that there may be exceptions, including cases of inadequate representation.
The dilemma facing the state in Howell’s case exposes the shortcomings of Gaetz’s proposal, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center.
“It would be faster to do these cases right the first time — a good lawyer at trial and a good lawyer at the state appeals process and again when you get to he federal court,” he said. “But when the harm’s been done, should you speed up the process to execute somebody who lacks a federal constitutional review?”
A provision in the federal law already allows Florida to speed up its death row case load, Dieter said. The federal deadline could be moved from one year to 180 days, but the state would have to show the federal court that it provided inmates with adequate legal counsel throughout the process. Neither Florida, nor any other state, has ever put the resources in place to take advantage of that exception, Dieter said.
The Florida Supreme Court unanimously denied Howell’s appeal for a stay of execution last Tuesday, and his attorneys are now appealing to the federal courts.
Howell was convicted of the 1992 death of Florida state trooper Jimmy Fulford. Fulford was performing a routine traffic stop on Interstate 10 when he opened a package that contained a pipe bomb.
He is scheduled to be executed at 6 p.m. ET by lethal injection at Florida State Prison in Starke.