Category Archives: Florida

Tonight’s Execution: Robert Hendrix

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Florida carried out its fifth lethal injection of 2014 with tonight’s scheduled execution of 47-year-old Robert Hendrix.

Hendrix was convicted of the 1990 death of his cousin, Elmer Scott, and Elmer’s wife, Susan Michelle Scott. Prosecutors say Hendrix killed Scott to prevent him from testifying against Hendrix in an upcoming burglary case. According to case documents, Hendrix told several friends about his plans, and discussed it with his live-in girlfriend at the time. The day before his court date, Hendrix shot, stabbed and beat Scott with the gun, as well as shooting and slashing the throat of Susan Michelle, prosecutors say.

Hendrix spent his final morning visiting with his parents and a Catholic spiritual adviser, according to Florida Department of Corrections spokeswoman Jessica Cary.

Hendrix’s time of death was 6:21 p.m. and according to Orlando Sentinel reporter Susan Jacobson he made no final statement. His execution is the 16th in Florida since Gov. Rick Scott took office.

According to the Associated Press, Hendrix sought a last-minute stay, “as his lawyer argues that two witnesses for the prosecution were unreliable and that no forensic evidence links him to the crimes.” From the AP:

Brody [Hendrix’s attorney] said the two main witnesses against Hendrix, Turbyville and Roger LaForce, who claimed Hendrix told him details about the murders while they shared a cell in the Lake County Jail, are unreliable. According to Brody, both had a self-interest in testifying for prosecutors.

His attorney also claimed the judge had a conflict of interest, that Hendrix being shackled during the trial gave jurors a biased impression of him and that during sentencing, Hendrix’s attorneys failed to call mitigating witnesses who could have testified to problems with drugs and abuse by his father.

However, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the appeal, allowing the execution to proceed as planned. The execution is the 85th in Florida since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

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Florida’s Execution of Marshall Lee Gore Stayed a Second Time

Florida death row inmate Marshall Lee Gore, scheduled to be executed tonight, has been given another last-minute stay, his second one in a little more than two weeks.

Gore, who received two death sentences for the 1988 killings of Susan Roark and Robyn Novick, was only an hour away from execution June 24, when his first reprieve came through. The lethal injection was temporarily stayed by the  U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in order to hear arguments from Gore’s attorneys that he is insane, and therefore ineligible for execution.

That appeal was denied a few days later on June 28, when judges ruled he had not met the necessary criteria for halting the execution. The stay was lifted and a new execution date was set for today.

But Gore got another reprieve Tuesday when a judge ordered more hearings. From David Ovalle for the Miami Herald:

On Tuesday, a Bradford County circuit judge agreed with Gore’s defense lawyers and found “reasonable grounds” that the Death Row inmate was too insane to be executed.

Circuit Judge Ysleta McDonald ordered that more hearings be held to determine Gore’s mental state and whether his execution may proceed without violating the Supreme Court’s ruling banning the execution of the mentally incompetent.

One of Gore’s attorneys, Todd Scher, told the Sun Sentinel“he has a long history of mental illness and delusional behavior and all of that needs to be brought to the court’s attention. The law is very clear that somebody who is not sane cannot be executed.”

The additional last-minute reprieve frustrated the victims’ family members, some of whom planned to attend the execution.

“I don’t know why we have to protect individuals like this when it was clearly shown that he was responsible for the death,” Novick’s cousin Phil Novick told the Sentinel in a telephone interview Tuesday. “When he finally does meet his end, I’ll just forget about him like last Wednesday’s trash. It’s like putting down a dog. Just a wasted life and an all-lose situation all the way around.”

Related Reading: 
Stay of Execution Lifted for Marshall Gore

Tonight’s Execution of Marshall Lee Gore in Florida Temporarily Stayed

Execution of Marshall Lee Gore Set To Move Forward As Planned

Florida Executions Speeding Up As Gov. Scott Signs Another Death Warrant

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Stay of Execution Lifted for Marshall Gore

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

UPDATE: A new execution date has been set for Marshall Gore. He is now set for execution on July 10, 2013 at 6 p.m. 

According to Miami Herald reporter David Ovalle, the stay of execution for Marshall Gore, whose execution was halted Monday night, has been lifted and a new date will soon be set. (Update: here’s a link to the Herald story that’s now published.)

Gore, who received two death sentences for the 1988 killings of Susan Roark and Robyn Novick, was only an hour away from execution when a federal appeals court temporarily stayed the lethal injection.

The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals stopped the execution in order to hear arguments from Gore’s attorneys that he is insane, and therefore ineligible for execution. However, the court wanted to move quickly so they could come to a decision before the death warrant, signed in May, could expire.

Oral arguments were held today and Gore’s appeal was subsequently denied. Because the warrant is still active, a new execution date will likely be set quite soon.

Related Reading: 

Federal Court Halts Execution of Miami Killer Marshall Lee Gore

Execution of Marshall Lee Gore Set to Move Forward As Planned

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Florida’s Timely Justice Act Challenged in State Supreme Court

Attorneys for a group of Florida’s death row inmates have filed a challenge to the newly passed Timely Justice Act, which would speed executions in Florida. (Yours truly has not yet been able to blog about the law at this point, but you can find a wealth of articles about it, like this one from Slate and this one from The Miami Herald.)

The Palm Beach Post has an article detailing the challenge which I’ve pasted below. You can also read the original here as well as an Associated Press story on the suit here.

By Dara Kam

Palm Beach Post Capital Bureau

TALLAHASSEE — Attorneys representing Death Row inmates have filed a challenge to a law aimed at speeding up executions, saying the “Timely Justice Act” is an unconstitutional power grab by the Legislature and violates convicts’ constitutional rights to due process and equal protection.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday with the Florida Supreme Court is led by two lawyers — Neal Dupree, capital collateral regional counsel south; and Bill Jennings, capital collateral regional counsel middle. They lead the state agencies that represent Death Row inmates in postconviction proceedings in their respective Florida districts.

Dozens of lawyers and more than 150 inmates awaiting execution joined the suit against Attorney General Pam Bondi and the state of Florida.

The suit was filed less than two weeks after Gov. Rick Scott signed the measure into law. “We will defend it,” Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said in an email.

Scott’s office has launched a public-relations campaign disputing reports that the new law abbreviates judicial rights, insisting instead that the law “makes technical amendments to current law and provides clarity and transparency to legal proceedings.”

Florida has 405 inmates on Death Row. The average length of time between conviction and execution is more than two decades.

The new law, which takes effect July 1, requires the Florida Supreme Court to certify to the governor when a Death Row inmate’s appeals have been exhausted. The governor will have 30 days to sign a death warrant once the capital clemency process is complete.

The law also creates time limits for production of public records in postconviction cases and imposes penalties on defense lawyers deemed ineffective.

Dupree and Jennings asked the Florida Supreme Court to issue an emergency injunction blocking the law, warning it will create a “flood of death warrants that will inundate the courts” and diminish the court’s review of capital cases. They also requested that the court hear oral arguments in the case.

If the law is not halted, “the process will have the unconstitutional and irreversible result of individuals being executed under a legislatively determined judicial procedure in which violations of their constitutional rights go unresolved,” the lawyers wrote in an 89-page filing. “Further, Florida history shows that diminished process can have tragic and irreversible consequences.”

The request for an injunction also includes a lengthy examination of efforts by the Supreme Court, the Legislature and previous governors to come up a more expedited yet fair death penalty procedure.

That process “cannot and should not be displaced by a lawmaking process based on political, rather than constitutional and equitable, concerns,” wrote Dupree and Jennings, joined by Martin McClain, who has represented numerous Death Row inmates, including some who have been exonerated.

The lawyers rely on many of the same arguments used by the Supreme Court when it struck down the 2000 Death Penalty Reform Act, the Legislature’s last attempt to speed up executions. The 200 law imposed time limits on appeals and created a two-tiered system for direct appeals and collateral proceedings.

In much the same way, the new law imposes time lines for appeals, thereby taking away the court’s power to establish its own rules, the lawyers argued.

Among the top concerns with the new law are limits on appeals that can be made once a warrant is signed. Only 19 of the 75 prisoners executed in Florida since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976 were put to death after their first warrant, the lawyers wrote.

According to Scott’s office, 13 Death Row inmates would fit the criteria under the new law to have a death warrant signed.

The lawsuit is a rehashing of the “same spurious arguments that have turned our death penalty into a mockery in Florida,” said state Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, the bill’s sponsor.

“Their stated role is to not have anyone executed on their watch. They oppose the death penalty in every case and use all legal filings necessary to delay the inevitable. And that’s exactly what this legislation was designed to put a stop to,” he said.

Negron said he is confident the court will uphold the law.

But lawyers for the condemned argued in the brief that the new process lacks an understanding of the complexities of the process and imposes restrictions on federal appeals.

The Legislature “has made profoundly critical decisions determining what judicial vehicles are available to capital defendants prior to the State taking the ultimate punitive act of terminating their lives, yet it seems the Legislature does not have an understanding of those vehicles and their names. Unless, that is, we must presume that the Legislature intended to cut off U.S. Supreme Court review of Florida death cases, which would present concerns of federalism, constitutionality and fairness beyond those addressed herein,” the lawyers wrote.

 

 

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The Last Words of William Van Poyck

Dear Sis, 
If you are reading this, I have gone the way of the earth, my atonement fulfilled.

William Van Poyck‘s sister has posted his final words, by way of two last letters he wrote her prior to his June 12 execution.

Here’s one from June 3rd, only a little more than a week away from his execution:

Dear Sis~

Ten days ’till departure time. You already know that they killed my neighbor, Elmer, 5 days ago. Then they moved me into his cell. After they execute someone they move the rest of us down one cell, working our way to cell#1, the launching pad to the gurney next door.  This is a bad luck cell; very few of us get out of here alive!  In two days I’ll go onto Phase II and they’ll move all  my property from my cell, and post a guard in front of my cell 24/7 to record everything I do.  These will be hectic days, freighted with emotion, all the final letters, all the final phone calls, final visits, final goodbyes.  Things have become even more regimented as “established procedures” increasingly take over.  More cell front visits from high ranking administration and DOC officials asking if everything is O.K., forms to fill out (cremation or burial?).  I declined the offer of a “last meal”.  I’m not interested in participating in that time-worn ritual, to feed some reporter’s breathless post-execution account.  Besides, material gratification will be the last thing on my mind as I prepare to cross over to the non-material planes.  Watching Elmer go through his final days really drove home how ritualized this whole process has become; the ritual aspect perhaps brings some numbing comfort – or sense of purpose – to those not really comfortable with this whole killing people scheme.  This is akin to participating in a play where the participants step to a rote cadence, acting out their parts in the script, with nobody pausing to question the underlying premise.  It’s like a Twilight Zone episode where you want to grab someone, shake them hard, and yell “Hey, wake up! Don’t you know what’s going on here?!!!”

My very accelerated appeal is before the Florida Supreme Court; my brief is due today, (Monday), the state’s brief tomorrow and oral arguments are scheduled for Thursday June 6th (D-Day Anniversary).  I expect an immediate ruling, or perhaps on Friday.  By the time you read this you’ll already know the result and since there’s no higher court to go to on this you’ll know if I live or die on June 12th.  I am not optimistic, Sis.  Although I have some substantial, compelling issues, as you know (e.g., my appointed direct appeal attorney who turned out to be a mentally ill, oft-hospitalized, crack head, convicted of cocaine possession and subsequently disbarred whose incompetence sabotaged my appeal) the law provides the courts with countless ways to deny a prisoner any appellate review of even the most meritorious claims.  I won’t turn this into a discourse on legal procedures; but many years of observation has taught me that once a death warrant is signed it’s near impossible to stop the  momentum of that train.  Issues that would normally offer you some relief, absent a warrant, suddenly become “meritless” under the tension of a looming execution date.  Nobody wants to be the one to stop an execution, it’s almost sacrilegious.

So many people are praying and fighting to save my life that I am loathe to express any pessimism, as if that’s a betrayal of those supporting me.  And, there is some hope, at least for a stay of execution.  But honestly my worst fear is a temporary stay of 20, 30 days.  Unless a stay results in my lawyers digging up some new, previously undiscovered substantial claim that will get me a new sentencing hearing, a stay simply postpones the inevitable.  What I don’t want is to be back here in the same position in 30 days, forcing you and all my loved ones to endure another heart-breaking cycle of final goodbyes.  I cannot ask that of them.  I’d rather just go on June 12th and get this over with.          This may be disappointing to those who are trying so hard to extend my life, even for a few days, but there it is.

Time – that surprisingly subjective, abstract concept – is becoming increasingly compressed for me.  I’m staying rooted in the here and now, not dwelling on the past or anxiously peering into the future, but inhabiting each unfolding moment as it arrives in my consciousness (F.Y.I., I highly recommend The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle, for anyone facing imminent execution!)  I’m still able to see the beauty of this world, and value the kindness of the many beautiful souls who work tirelessly to make this a better place.  I am calm and very much at peace, Sis, so don’t worry about my welfare down here on death watch.  I will endure this without fear, and with as much grace as I can summon.  Whatever happens, it’s all good, it’s just the way it’s supposed to be.
Much Love,
Bill

Bill’s final letter, written on the day of his execution, is much more brief:

Dear Sis,
If you are reading this, I have gone the way of the earth, my atonement fulfilled. When your tears have dried—as they will—and you look up at the sky, allow yourself to smile when you think of me, free at last. Though I have departed my physical vehicle, know that my soul—timeless, boundless and eternal—soars joyfully among the stars.

Despite my many flaws on earth, I was blessed to be loved by so many special souls who saw past my feet of clay and into my heart. Know that in my final hours, it was that love which sustained my spirit and brought me peace. Love, like our souls, is eternal and forever binds us, and in due time it will surely draw us all back together again. Until then, Godspeed to you and all who have loved me!
Light & Love,
Bill

 

Related Reading:

Dispatches From Death Row: William Van Poyck

“I Have 21 Days Left To Live”: Counting Down To An Execution

Florida Executes William Van Poyck

Gov. Scott Signs Death Warrant for Florida Inmate William Van Poyck

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Tonight’s Execution of Marshall Lee Gore in Florida Temporarily Stayed

This is a developing story. Check back for updates. 

What would have been the third execution in Florida in 6 weeks has been delayed, as a federal appeals court temporarily stayed the lethal injection of Marshall Lee Gore just an hour before it was to be carried out.

From David Ovalle for the Miami Herald

The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Atlanta, issued the stay to give Gore’s lawyers a chance to hash out a claim that he cannot be executed because he is insane.

But the court said it would move quickly to come to a decision before the death warrant signed by Gov. Rick Scott expires. Oral arguments will be held Thursday.

Gore received two death sentences for the 1988 killings of Susan Roark and Robyn Novick. Relatives of Novick had traveled to Starke to witness the execution and according to Ovalle’s report were unhappy with the stay.

“They’re upset. This has been going on for 25 years,” retired Columbia Sheriff’s Office Lt. Neal Nydam, told Ovalle. “They’re trying to find closure and it’s not going to happen today.”

Gore had already been served his last meal of steak, a Coke and a baked potato that he did not eat. He also met with the volunteer chaplain, who serves as spiritual adviser to some of the inmates. 

Related Reading: 

Federal Court Halts Execution of Miami Killer Marshall Lee Gore

Execution of Marshall Lee Gore Set to Move Forward As Planned

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Florida Executes William Van Poyck

This is a developing story. Check back for updates. 

William Van Poyck’s is one of two executions scheduled for tonight. There is another scheduled in Texas, which you can read about here.

Update: The U.S. Supreme Court has denied a stay of execution for Van Poyck, and at this time it appears the execution will proceed as planned.

Update: William Van Poyck has been executed.

The case of William Van Poyck has been a bizarre one lately, filled with criticism, concern and bizarre court rulings. However, it appears the execution, scheduled for 7 p.m. this evening, is moving forward as planned after much legal back and forth, the execution took place as planned at 7 p.m. this evening.

Van Poyck, 58, was convicted in the death of corrections officer Fred Griffis, who was fatally shot in a 1987 escape attempt. Van Poyck and another inmate, Frank Valdez, ambushed two guards in a prison van during transport of another prisoner, James O’Brien, who they were trying to free. Van Poyck has always maintained that Valdez, who was later stomped to death by prison guards, was the shooter. From the Palm Beach Post:

Van Poyck has insisted that Valdes, who he said was hopped up on cocaine and beer, parted from the script he devised and shot Griffis. In unsuccessful appeals, Van Poyck argued that another inmate heard Valdes confess to the killing before Valdes himself was killed by prison guards in 1999. In another appeal, Van Poyck claimed four jurors signed affidavits claiming they wouldn’t have voted to give him the death penalty had the prosecution not said he was the triggerman.

But in Florida you don’t have to be the killer to get the death penalty; just being present at a murder is enough, and the Florida Supreme Court ruled that he would have received the death penalty even if it was proven that he was not the triggerman.

While many of his appeals had asked for a stay based on his claims of not being the shooter, the main sticking point in the recent legal haranguing in the case centered on whether his attorneys were capable of defending him effectively and thoroughly.

When Van Poyck’s death warrant was signed in early May, he had two private attorneys who have been representing him pro bono for years. One was Gerald Bettman, who runs a two-man law office in Jacksonville and has represented Van Poyck since around 1995. The other was Milwaukee-based Jeff Davis, who is not a criminal defense attorney and was out of the country when the warrant was signed. Both men said they were unable to represent Van Poyck effectively, and Bettman filed a motion asking that they be taken off the case, saying he has never had to represent someone during the numerous, and critical, appeals that are filed after a warrant is signed.

“I’ve got to figure all this out and I don’t even know the routes,” he told the Palm Beach Post.

The two asked instead that the court appoint attorneys from the Capital Collateral Commission or a private death penalty attorney to represent Van Poyck.

“Even in the event that (I) desired to represent Van Poyck, the death warrant was issued at a time wherein (I am) unable to provide the necessary time and expense on his behalf without incurring extreme hardship,” Bettman wrote.

But Palm Beach County Judge Barry Cohen, who signed on behalf of Circuit Judge Charles Burton, ruled on May 7 that Bettman had waited too long to file the motion and passed the buck on to the higher court. From the Post:

“This is not an unanticipated event,” Burton said of Gerald Bettman’s claims that he represented Van Poyck as a favor and never imagined he would be forced to handle his appeals under the strict deadlines that are set after a death warrant is signed.

“Before you execute someone you have to appoint a lawyer who is competent,” Bettman replied.

But, Burton said, the matter is out of his hands. “Any beef you have is with the Florida Supreme Court, not me,” he said.

However the Florida Supreme Court also rejected Bettman’s motion to withdraw as counsel. The justices gave no reason, but the ruling was a surprise to some death penalty experts. From the Post:

Other attorneys who specialize in death penalty cases called Bettman’s predicament unprecedented. “It’s shocking to me that they’re going to force an attorney who is unqualified to handle the appeals,” said Martin McClain, one of the state’s top death penalty defense attorneys.

The high court, he said, is ignoring its own rulings. In 1990, it granted a stay of execution for Paul Scott, who is on Death Row for the 1978 bludgeoning death of Boca Raton florist James Alessi. It allowed Scott’s volunteer lawyer to withdraw from the case and agreed a new court-appointed lawyer needed more time to prepare Scott’s appeals.

And then things got even more bizarre.

In a surprising turn of events, the Florida Supreme Court reversed its decision, ruling that Bettman alone shouldn’t have to represent Van Poyck in the post-warrant appeals. Instead, they sent the case back to Judge Burton, and essentially ruled that all 14 lawyers who had ever filed appeals for Van Poyck were still his attorneys. They ordered Burton to review the qualifications of all 14 and decide who was the most qualified to be his counsel.

“I’m a little surprised by the turn of events,” McClain told the Post after learning he could be part of Van Poyck’s defense team. “On one hand, there seems to be a recognition that there’s a problem with the case, but I’m not sure casting a wide net will solve it.”

The article continues:

He [McClain] suspects some of the attorneys, like him, know little about the case. He said he was involved tangentially in a 2007 appeal that was handled primarily by out-of-state lawyers.

The high court’s wide-ranging order violates its own rulings, he said.

In similar cases, it allowed volunteer lawyers such as like Bettman to withdraw after a death warrant was signed. State-funded death penalty lawyers were then appointed to handle the appeals. Lawyers who represented Van Poyck, 58, for free have no obligation to remain on the case, he said.

“They are trying to create an obligation that should offend every defense lawyer in the state. It flies in the face of public policy to encourage pro bono work,” he said. What lawyer, he asked, would volunteer to help out the state by representing a Death Row inmate for free if they are faced with the prospect of handling the flurry of appeals after a death warrant is signed?

McClain has a point. The ruling seems to suggest any attorney who files any appeal for a death row inmate could possibly be pulled back in later to represent them during one of the most critical phases, regardless of experience or familiarity with the case.

But back to the ruling: Judge Burton was ordered to hold a hearing reviewing the 14 attorneys and at the end of the two-hour proceeding on May 13, he appointed not one, but three lawyers to counsel Van Poyck, despite all three of them protesting that they were unable to do so. Burton kept Van Poyck’s original attorneys, Bettman and Davis, on the case, and added the help of  Tallahassee attorney Mark Olive. The three men had a deadline of the following Friday, four days after the ruling, to file motions that could spare their client.

Olive, who is one of the state’s top death penalty attorneys, said he had the legal know-how to serve as counsel, but knew almost nothing about the case and wouldn’t be able to get up to speed in such a short time.

Currently, none of the attorneys’ subsequent appeals have succeeded, but there are still filings that are pending. On Wednesday, June 6, Mark Olive filed a renewed motion for a stay, citing the following issues:

1. A motion for a stay that was filed on May 24 has not been ruled upon

2. Newly discovered evidence of Frank Valdez confessing that Van Poyck’s attorneys need time to investigate

3. A ruling on May 23 in 11th Circuit Public Defender v. State of Florida on defense attorney ethics should prohibit his representing Van Poyck.

No opinions have been released so far on these motions But on Wednesday he U.S. Supreme Court denied a stay of execution and the execution moved forward at 7 p.m. local time at Florida State Prison in Starke. The execution was originally scheduled for 6 p.m. but was delayed to allow Governor Rick Scott enough time to return to Tallahassee from a funeral in Illinois.

According to the Sun Sentinel, Van Poyck was served a breakfast of oatmeal and eggs at 5 a.m., in what was his first warm breakfast in years. All inmates are allowed to request a last meal that’s served at 10 a.m. but Van Poyck declined one. He spent his last day visiting with his sister, four female friends and his spiritual adviser. More from the article:

Van Poyck also refused the normal course of chemicals, which begins with a sedative, Lisa Van Poyck said. She said he would only be given highly concentrated potassium chloride to stop his heart.

“He wants to be clear of mind,” she said. “He wants to be focused on one thing.”

In three hours visiting with friends and family, Van Poyck didn’t say what that one thing would be.

But if she had to guess, his sister said, it would probably be his parents, the idea of love and his favorite color, purple.

Van Poyck was declared dead at 7:24 p.m., 23 minutes after the procedure began.

He was the 77th person executed in Florida since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. According to the Palm Beach Post, “Van Poyck is the fourth inmate to be executed since December, the most that have been executed in such short order since 2006.”

Related Reading: 

Dispatches From Death Row: William Van Poyck

“I Have 21 Days Left To Live”: Counting Down To An Execution

Lawyers ordered to defend Van Poyck in death-sentence appeal say they lack time, resources

‘They’re going to kill him,’ attorney for condemned killer says as judge refuses to delay execution

Attorneys for death row inmate who killed local prison guard want off the case

Lawyer with little experience can’t withdraw at 11th hour from death-penalty defense, judge says

Attorney told by local judge, state supreme court he must represent death row inmate

High court reverses ruling on Palm Beach County Death Row case lawyers

Van Poyck: FL’s Bizarre Death Penalty Farce Continues

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Dispatches From Death Row: William Van Poyck

William Van Poyck
#034071

As part of this ongoing project, I’ve started writing letters to the inmates on Florida’s death row, asking them to answer a series of questions about themselves and their lives. I wrote to William Van Poyck, who goes by Bill, some time ago, after coming across his blog Death Row Diary. He was kind enough to respond and we exchanged a few letters. Here are Bill’s answers to my questions.

What did you want to be when you were a kid? Why?

Like most kids, what I wanted to be when I grew up changed from year to year, but the most consistent career dream was to be an architect. Later that morphed into a city planner, and as I got older I realized that what I really wanted to do was build things, and on a large scale. It was just something that appealed to something deep inside of me.

What time did you wake up this morning and what did you do?

I woke up around 6:30 a.m. this morning when the run-around plopped my breakfast tray down on my tray flap. This is the beginning of each of my mornings. I follow that with some yoga stretches and then begin my day.

What is your daily routine like? 

My daily routine does not change much. I’ll spend the morning either reading (I read a lot) or writing letters, or occasionally watching a little T.V. if there’s something particularly interested on (that’s usually PBS). I eat lunch, then repeat the routine. On yard (outdoor recreation) days I go out and work out. On non-yard days I work out in my cell in the afternoon. In the evenings I watch the news, then watch a few T.V. shows. I read more and write letters, (following mail call, answering the letters I received that night.) However, I do a lot of legal work, (I’ve been a certified paralegal for well over 30 years) so when I have legal deadlines that takes precedence over everything else.

How have you changed since you’ve been here?

I’m a completely different person now than I was when I was arrested for this crime 25 years ago. This is primarily due to a profound, life-changing spiritual experience which occurred in 1987, and which is beyond the scope of this survey.

What do you think happens after you die?

My personal belief is that our natural state is the soul, not the physical body, which is transitory, and that when the body dies, we return to a spiritual plane.

Do you think about your death? Why or why not? And if so, what do you think about, and are you afraid?

I very seldom think about my death, despite the fact that I will almost certainly be executed (I have nothing left in the courts). I’ve never been fearful of death, I’ve lived life recklessly and I’ve cheated death on numerous occasions. I’m not, by nature, a fearful person. Moreover, since I had that spiritual epiphany back in ’87, I’ve been completely at peace with death and dying.

What do you miss most about your life on the outside? Why?

I miss women, female companionship. I love women and I miss them terribly, not just the sex, but women in general. Over and above that I miss freedom,the freedom to choose, to go where I want and to do what I want, the freedom to amount to something, to do good things, to contribute and be constructive.

If you could go anywhere, where would you like to go and why?

India. I love to travel and experience new people and cultures. I’d love to travel through India because of its deep and diverse cultures and history. Also the nature preserves (tigers, elephants, rhinos, etc.)

What’s the worst thing about being here?

Having no control over my situation/circumstances, having no freedom in other words. Until you’ve utterly lost your freedom you have no concept of the depth of that loss.

What do you need to know to survive here and why?

A strong mind. Otherwise, decades locked in a 6’x9′ cell can (will) suck the life and spirit out of your marrow.

What were your first few weeks here like?

My first few weeks were not particularly remarkable because I’d already spent 15 years in prison, about 7 of those years right here at Florida State Prison, so I was already acclimated to prison life. However, because a prison guard was killed in my case I was singled out for very punitive measures. I spent my first three years locked in a special high-security cell on Q-wing, with almost no normal privileges (including no yard for three years).

What would you tell someone just arriving on death row? Why?

Keep your mind occupied doing positive and constructive things (not watching cartoons on T.V.!). Learn law. Learn a new language. Read the classics. Evolve, change and grow—that’s what life is all about and you can do that in a cell as well as you can out on the streets.

What do you dream about? 

I dream about freedom (and women!)

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Florida Death Row Exonerees to Attend Vigil At Tonight’s Execution

Tonight as Florida moves to execute William Van Poyck, two men who faced execution themselves will be protesting outside the prison walls.

Florida exonerees Seth Penalver, who was exonerated just six months ago, and Herman Lindsey, who was exonerated in 2009, will attend a vigil held outside Florida State Prison in Starke, to protest both the execution and the Timely Justice Act, which would increase the rate of executions in Florida.

In a press release about the vigil from Witness to Innocence, Lindsey says, “executing people and speeding up executions when 24 innocent people, so far, have been exonerated, is just plain wrong. How many more innocent people are still on Florida’s death row?”

The two men will join members of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty in standing across the street from the prison, where they usually hold signs, sing hymns and pray up until the time of execution.

Penalver, who is the most recent death row exoneree in the nation, said in the release, “It’s a sad day in Florida when we are executing people when other states are ending executions and abolishing the death penalty. The Governor refuses to give me five minutes to meet with him after the state of Florida spent 18 years punishing me and sentencing me to death for a crime I did not commit. I want to tell him my story and ask him to veto the Timely Justice Act, which will increase the risk of executing innocent people.”

Related Reading: 

Florida Set to Execute William Van Poyck Tonight

“I Have 21 Days Left To Live”: Counting Down To An Execution

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“I Have 21 Days Left To Live”: Counting Down To An Execution

“Dear Sis~
I’ve got 25 days left to live.  It isn’t normal to be able to write something like that, and that sense of surrealism permeates every hour down here.”

William Van Poyck, scheduled for execution tomorrow night, has maintained a blog for years now, writing letters to his sister which she then posts on his site. His letters cover everything from literature to politics to popular culture, as well as detailing the hidden happenings behind the secretive prison walls. Oftentimes Van Poyck has been the only source detailing inmate deaths and suicides on Florida’s death row, and he regularly provides an insider’s account of executions.

However, it is now the approach of his own execution that Van Poyck is detailing, after Gov. Scott signed his death warrant on May 3.

“Today Governor Scott signed my death warrant and my execution date has been scheduled for June 12th, at 6pm.  I wasn’t really surprised when they showed up at my cell door with the chains and shackles; for the last month or  so I’ve had a strong premonition that my warrant was about to be signed.”

Van Poyck, 58, was convicted in the death of corrections officer Fred Griffis, who was fatally shot in a 1987 escape attempt. Van Poyck and another inmate, Frank Valdez, ambushed two guards in a prison van during transport of another prisoner, James O’Brien. Van Poyck has always maintained that Valdez, who was later stomped to death by prison guards, was the shooter.

Van Poyck’s letters now have a much more personal tone and reveal a first-person look at what it is like to face execution, and the preparations and procedures that go along with it. Below are some samples from the thoughts of a man counting down his final days:

There are now three of us down here on death watch; all our executions are spaced 2 weeks apart.  The guy with senior status (Elmer) is set to die on May 29th, 2 weeks before me….He’s resigned to his fate and I hear him pacing the floor a lot, a pacing that is gradually morphing into a listless shuffling, as if all hope has deflated from his body, like air leaking from a punctured tire.

***

I understand there are usually about two dozen witnesses to these executions and I sometimes wonder about those who will be at mine, unknown, faceless men rooting for me to die, happy to see me breathe my last breath.

***

On Tuesday they came and measured me for my execution/burial suit.  Sometime soon I’ll be given the details on how “the body” will be disposed of following the legally required autopsy (will my cause of death really be a mystery?).  I understand the State will pay for a cremation should I choose this form of disposal (I do) and my ashes will be available at a Gainesville Funeral home; but don’t quote me on that yet.

***

I gotta tell you, Sis, there’s a big difference between contemplating your death in the abstract and seriously considering it when it’s an absolute, undeniable soon-to-occur fact…I got little sleep the first week, perhaps 2 hours a night and then I was up and wide awake at 2:00 a.m., mind racing, thoughts all a-jumble, despite my best breathing and meditation techniques….This still happens a dozen times a day, and more at night.

***

I’ve already thrown or given away 95% of my personal property, the stuff that for years seemed so important.  All those great books I’ll never get to read; reams and reams of legal work I’ve been dragging around, and studying, for 2 decades and which has suddenly lost its relevance.

My magazines and newspapers stack up unread; I have little appetite to waste valuable, irreplaceable hours reading up on current events.  Does it really matter to me now what’s happening in the Middle East, or on Wall Street, or how my Miami Dolphins are looking for the upcoming new season?  What’s the point?

***

The other day I caught myself reaching for my daily vitamin.  Really?, I wondered, as the absurdity hit me.

***

Today my neighbor, Elmer, went on Phase II of death watch, which begins 7 days prior to execution.  They remove all your property from your cell while an officer sits in front of your cell 24/7 recording everything you do.  Staff also performs a “dry run” or “mock execution”, basically duplicating the procedures that will occur 7 days later.

This is when you know you’re making the final turn off the back stretch, you know your death is imminent, easily within reach, you can count it by hours instead of by days.

***

Tomorrow Elmer will be executed and I’ll be next up to bat, with 15 days to live….This may be my last letter to reach you before you begin your journey down south to be by my side for my final days.

***

All is well with me here in the death house.  I’ve been blessed with a strong body and a stout mind and spirit, more than sufficient to see me through this final passage.  The deep love of others, freely given to me by those I’m honored to call my friends, helps ease the journey.

The one thing I am absolutely certain of after 58 years on this rock is that LOVE is the foundation of the cosmos, the very essence of what we call God.  This is the one lesson we all must learn, and will learn in due time, and which gives me my peace.

Related Reading:

Florida Set to Execute William Van Poyck Tonight

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