Category Archives: Florida headlines

The Latest From Florida’s Death Row

Florida Passes Bill to Compensate Exonerated Death Row Inmate

Justice was a long time coming, and a day late.

But it did arrive, with the eleventh-hour passage of a bill Friday that will let Florida pay James Richardson for wrongly convicting him of murder and imprisoning him for 21 years. After years of failed efforts, Richardson’s supporters persuaded the Florida Legislature to change a law that had left him in a legal limbo since 1989.

The Senate took the final step, passing the bill unanimously at 9:15 p.m., in the closing minutes of the lawmakers’ 60-day session.

New Death Sentence: Judge Gives Death Sentence to Quentin Truehill

A death sentence given for the man who kidnapped and killed an FSU grad student and dumped his body in St. Augustine.

A St. Johns County jury recommended the death sentence for Quentin Truehill in March. He was convicted in February of first degree murder and kidnapping.

Custody Still in Flux for Flagler Killer’s Daughter:

Kyla was 1 year old on Aug. 21, 2007, when her father, William Gregory, sneaked into a Flagler Beach house and killed Kyla’s 17-year-old mother, Skyler Meekins, and her 22-year-old boyfriend, Daniel Dyer. Gregory was convicted of first-degree murder in April 2011 and now sits on death row.

Kyla is now 7 and where she will spend the rest of her childhood remains unclear.

Nelson Serrano’s Lawyers Seek New Trial

Condemned mass murderer Nelson Serrano, who’s on Florida’s death row for gunning down four people at a Bartow factory in 1997, should get a new trial because recently discovered evidence has put the jury’s 2006 guilty verdict in doubt, his lawyers said Tuesday.

Florida Death Row Inmate Seeks Clemency in Last Chance Before Execution Date is Set

The case of Charles Finney, a 60-year-old man on death row in Florida, is now before the clemency authorities. He maintains that he did not commit the murder for which he was sentenced to death. In Florida, an execution date is set if and when clemency is denied.

The Florida Supreme Court unanimously upheld the conviction and death penalty sentence of a Pensacola woman convicted of beating a 19-year-old with a crowbar, shocking her with a stun gun and then setting her on fire, according to the State Attorney’s Office.

In 2012, Tina Lasonya Brown, 43, was found guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Audreanna Zimmerman.

Editorial: Don’t Miss This Opportunity to Reform the Florida Death Penalty

The death penalty is likely to be with us until the U.S. Supreme Court or the Florida Legislature undergoes serious change. But whether one is an opponent of the death penalty (as the ACLU surely is) or a proponent of state executions, we should all insist that the possibility of horrible and irreversible error in Florida’s implementation of the death penalty is minimized.


That is the point of legislation pending in both Florida’s House and Senate — SB 334 by Sen. Thad Altman R-Melbourne, and HB 467 Rep. Jose Javier Rodriquez, D-Miami, both entitled “Sentencing in Capital Felonies.” Sadly, it does not appear that either chamber is willing to take up this issue.

Florida Judge Who Imposed Death Penalty Reflects on the Practice

It was Ulmer who presided over the murder trial of John Henry, whose death warrant was recently signed by Gov. Rick Scott and who is scheduled to be executed June 18 if doctors determine he is sane.

In Ulmer’s court, Henry was convicted of repeatedly stabbing his wife, Suzanne, in the neck while her 5-year-old son was in another room in their Zephyrhills home. Henry covered her with a rug, smoked a cigarette and then drove his stepson to a wooded area in Hillsborough County, where he stabbed the boy to death.

When it came time for sentencing, Ulmer appeared more shaken than Henry. His voice quavered as he read the declaration the state required with any death sentence.

Guest Column: Florida’s Death Penalty is Archaic

It is irrefutable folks; we kill a lot of innocent people. If that wasn’t bad enough, because of our lengthy appeals process, killing people is very expensive. It is time to bring a little more sanity to our punitive approach.


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The Latest From Florida’s Death Row

Jury Recommends Death Penalty for Brandon Bradley in Brevard Deputy Murder: 

The jury which convicted Brandon Bradley of murder recommended he receive the death sentence for the murder of Brevard County Deputy Barbara Pill during a traffic stop in 2012.

A judge will now decide whether to accept the recommendation, or hand down a life sentence.

The vote was 10-2, and revealed to the court after three hours of deliberations.

Read more on the case here.

Florida Supreme Court Upholds Death Sentence for Toney Davis: 

The Court ruled against Davis’s appeal of his conviction for the 1995 rape and murder of Caleasha Cunningham in Duval County. The case summary from the Florida Commission on Capital Cases is as follows:

Toney Davis lived with Gwen Cunningham from September 1992 until 12/09/92.  On 12/09/92, Gwen Cunningham left her two-year-old daughter, Caleasha, in the care of Davis while she ran an errand.  An acquaintance of Davis, Thomas Moore, arrived at the apartment around 12:45 p.m.  Davis answered the door with Caleasha draped over his arm.  Davis told Moore that Caleasha had choked on a French fry, and while Moore called 911, Davis gave Caleasha mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.  Prior to the 911 call, neighbors reported hearing thumping noises and Davis’ raised voice coming from the apartment.

Caleasha was wet, unconscious, and had blood in her mouth when she was examined at the apartment.  She was naked from the waist down, although she was fully clothed when Gwen Cunningham left the apartment.  Caleasha was revived, but later died on 12/10/92.

The emergency room doctor who examined Caleasha noticed bruising, swelling of the brain, and pools of blood in the skull, as well as injuries that suggested vaginal penetration by a penis, finger, or other object.  The cause of death was cerebral hemorrhage, caused by four blows to the head.

Caleasha’s hair bow was found in the bed and her blood was found on the sheet, pillowcase, in the bathroom, and on the crotch of Davis’ shorts and underwear.

Florida Supreme Court Upholds Death Sentence for Robert Hendrix: 

Robert Hendrix, 47, was convicted in the August 1990 murders of his cousin Elmer Scott and Scott’s wife, Michelle, in Lake County. According to the Orlando Sentinel,  Scott was killed to keep him from testifying in an upcoming armed robbery case that could have resulted in Hendrix serving life in prison. Scott’s wife was then killed because she could identify Hendrix.

Hendrix is slated for execution on April 23. His attorneys argued that he had ineffective counsel, that the trial judge was biased, and that the prosecutors committed a Brady violation by withholding evidence about an informer. However, the Court ruled that his claims were without merit, and at this time his execution is set to proceed.


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The Latest Headlines From Florida’s Death Row

Lots of headlines coming out of Florida’s death row lately. Here’s a round-up of what I’ve seen over the past few weeks but haven’t posted about.

As State Hastens Executions, Doubt Cast on Guilt of Death Row Inmate: A collection of new evidence in a little-known double-murder case may exonerate a man on Florida’s death row. The development comes at a time when Florida is moving to accelerate the pace of executions.

Catholic Bishops Ask Scott to Commute Three Death Sentences:  The pace of executions may be picking up in Florida. Governor Rick Scott has signed five death warrants so far this year, including three in the last month. That prompted the state’s Catholic bishops to write Scott, urging him to commute the three men’s sentences.

“Prudence calls for us to be careful about how we are going to carry out these death sentences”, Florida Catholic Conference Director Michael McCarron said. “I think that anytime you begin to escalate this process, you run that risk, so it needs to be done very carefully.”

Michael Putney: Death Penalty Politics in Florida: Keeping convicted murderers on Florida’s death row for an average of 13 years is much too long. But if it is the price we must pay for justice, then pay we must. The governor needs to veto the Timely Justice Act.

Riverview Man Who Killed Seminole Couple Wins Death Row Reprieve: A Riverview man won a reprieve from death row when the Florida Supreme Court ruled he had received poor legal representation during his 1998 sentencing for killing a Seminole couple during a warehouse robbery.

The court’s decision means Michael J. Griffin will have to be resentenced for the execution-style murders of Thomas and Patricia McCallops on Oct. 6, 1995. He will be able to argue that several circumstances – including a childhood brain injury, cocaine addiction, his own history of depression and his family’s history of mental illness and substance abuse – affected him enough that he should be sentenced to life in prison instead of death.

Jacksonville Killer Avoids Death Sentence For 2009 Murder: DeShawn Leon Green has avoided Death Row for a second time. But prosecutors will have one more chance to execute him. Circuit Judge James Daniel sentenced Green, 28, to life without the possibility of parole for the murder of 24-year-old Robert Kearney. The jury that convicted Green recommended he get the death penalty by a 7-5 vote, but Daniel rejected that recommendation.

Delmer Smith is Sentenced to DeathNearly four years after brutally murdering Kathleen Briles inside her Terra Ceia home, Delmer Smith learned that he will die as punishment for the crime. Judge Peter Dubensky sentenced Smith to death by lethal injection after saying that his crime of murder was among the worst of the worst. It was a sentence Kathleen Briles’ family has been waiting nearly four years to hear.

Despite facing the rest of his life on death row, Smith spoke out for the first time, still maintaining his innocence.

U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Florida Death Penalty Challenge:  The U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up a case that tested the constitutionality of part of Florida’s system for imposing the death penalty. The 1991 case, Evans v. Crews, stemmed from a customary practice in Florida of judges holding hearings and making factual findings on aggravating and mitigating factors to help determine whether to impose death sentences.

A 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision, known as Ring v. Arizona, held that juries, not judges, must determine the existence of aggravating factors in death-penalty cases. As a result, a U.S. District judge in 2011 found that Florida’s death-penalty sentencing process was unconstitutional. But that ruling was overturned by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, prompting an appeal to the Supreme Court.

Florida Justices Uphold Death Sentence For Theodore Rodgers:  Florida Supreme Court justices denied an appeal from attorneys for Theodore Rodgers Jr., who was sentenced to death in 2004 for fatally shooting Florence Teresa Henderson in front of three children at Henderson’s day care on Savoy Drive.

Fla. Supreme Court To Hear Xbox Murders Appeal:  Nearly nine years after the grisly discovery of six bodies in a central Florida home, an attorney for one of the convicted murderers argued Thursday that a mistrial should have been sought in the case and that his client had been wrongly portrayed as the ringleader.

Christopher Anderson, an appellate attorney for Death Row inmate Troy Victorino, told the Florida Supreme Court that another defendant in what became known as the “Xbox murders” refused to be cross-examined while testifying during the trial. Anderson contended that Victorino’s trial attorneys improperly failed to seek a mistrial when that refusal took place.

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The Latest From Florida’s Death Row

Editor’s note: Some of these stories are a bit less recent, since I’ve been traveling. But in case you missed them, I’m sharing them here. 

New Death Sentence: Man Sentenced to Death for Vicious Murder of Elderly Little Havana Woman: For viciously stabbing an elderly Little Havana woman to death, Victor Guzman must be executed, a Miami-Dade judge ruled last month.

By a 7-5 vote, jurors in the murder case recommended a death sentence. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Dennis Murphy followed suit Thursday, but not before allowing Guzman one last chance to plea for mercy.


Kathleen Briles’ Murderer Trying to Avoid Death Row

Convicted killer Delmer Smith will be back in a Manatee County courtroom Friday trying to evade a death sentence for murdering Kathleen Briles in 2009. His defense is expected to present medical evidence at the 8:30 a.m. hearing of damage to the frontal lobe of the brain, which they hope persuade Judge Peter Dubensky to reduce his sentence to life in prison.

An attorney for Jason Wheeler asked the Florida Supreme Court this week to overturn his death sentence, arguing that the trial attorneys failed to raise two key points in his defense. Mark Gruber, an attorney for the death-row inmate, focused on claims that trial attorneys could have proven Wheeler was acting on the influence of drugs during the February 2005 shooting and that the use of 54 photos of the victim, Lake Deputy Wayne Koester, during the last phase of the trial was excessive.

Will Gary Hilton Return to Florida’s Death Row?  Serial killer Gary Hilton could soon be brought back to Florida to face the death penalty. Hilton has been convicted of killing four people in three states including kidnapping and beheading Crawfordville Sunday school teacher Cheryl Dunlap.

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The Latest From Florida’s Death Row

Editor’s note: I apologize for the lack of updates lately. I’ve been juggling several projects recently and the blog has suffered. Updates will likely continue to be sporadic for the next month or so, as I’ll be traveling. Updates are a bit more regular via my Twitter feed, at

Here’s the latest headlines involving Florida’s death row:

I’ve previously posted an article about the proposed legislation from  Rep. Matt Gaetz and Sen. Joe Negron that would “streamline” Florida’s death penalty process, by requiring judges at the Circuit Court and Supreme Court levels to speed up appeals. The legislation prompted a flurry of editorials and criticism from Florida papers, with many calling for a review of the flaws rather than a speeding up of executions. I’ve listed and linked to these editorials below, for your perusal:

Florida Paper Examines Unique Florida Law on State’s Death Sentencing Requirements: Two different articles in the Tampa Bay Times recently examined the state’s rules on jury sentencing in capital cases. Florida is unique in that while defendants must be found guilty by unanimous vote, when it comes to the sentencing hearing, where the choice is made whether the defendant will live or die, a simple majority is all that is required. The two articles are listed below:

Jury Recommends Death Penalty for John Lee in Sarasota Double Killing: Jurors have recommended the death penalty for a 49-year-old man after convicting him in the death of his girlfriend and a neighbor in southwest Florida.

Florida Officer Linked to Two Wrongful Convictions: According to the Sun Sentinel, former Broward County Sheriff’s Major, Tony Fantigrassi, who has been linked to the wrongful conviction of Jerry Frank Townsend, is now being sued for allegedly coercing a confession in the Anthony Caravella case.

Lawmakers Looking To  Florida’s Death Penalty Process: Florida is one of the top states in the nation with the most number of people facing the death penalty—Close to half of which have been on death row for at least 20 years. And, a group of lawmakers is now trying to streamline the death penalty process through a couple of measures, but it’s facing much opposition.

Convicted Killer Loses Appeal to Overturn Death Penalty Conviction:  For the fifth time, a convicted killer’s appeal to bar his execution has been denied by the Florida Supreme Court. Attorneys for 61-year-old Roger Cherry have tried for years to have his death sentence overturned, claiming Cherry is mentally disabled.

State to Seek Death Penalty For Barry Davis:  Assistant State Attorney Bobby Elmore announced Tuesday that the state will seek the death penalty for Barry Davis if he is convicted of killing Santa Rosa Beach resident John Hughes and his girlfriend, Heidi Rhodes of Panama City.

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Florida Papers Begin Calling For Closer Look at State’s Death Penalty

When I started this blog back in September 2011, little was being said about Florida’s death row or the death penalty in general across the nation. But not long after, a series of events, including the execution of Troy Davis and Rick Perry’s presidential campaign, catapulted the death penalty debate back into the national spotlight.

The debate is far more pro than anti in Florida, where the most people were sentenced to death in 2012 , but a few voices, like Rep. Rehwinkel Vasilinda, have been questioning the system, and now a spate of editorials in Florida papers are calling for closer scrutiny of the state’s death penalty. From The Miami Herald to The Tampa Bay Times, suddenly papers are taking notice of the fact that the Sunshine State is the state with the most death row exonerations, the second-largest death row in the U.S. and the state that generated more than a fourth of new death sentences last year.

Here’s a roundup of the editorials, all of which came out within a little more than a week of each other:

Tallahassee Democrat editorial: Our Opinion: Death penalty
“One contributor to the high number of people on Death Row is Florida’s unusual requirement that a jury needs only a majority vote to recommend a death sentence. Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero has pushed for years for a change; the current policy not only increases the risk that the death penalty is applied improperly but also burdens the courts with appeals of those sentences….Nobody wants to see an innocent person executed. In the interest of justice, the Florida Bar and the Legislature should do all they can to ensure that the death penalty administered in our names is being handled in as fair a way as possible.”

Tampa Bay Times editorial: First, Review Flawed Death Row System 
“Only mischief will result from moving death penalty rule-making from the judicial branch….To zero in on the problems with Florida’s death penalty system, a comprehensive review by all three branches of government is needed, as the Florida Bar’s Board of Governors said in its resolution Friday. The state hasn’t undertaken an official review, besides a look into a botched execution under Bush, in over a decade. In 2006, a two-year study of Florida’s system by the American Bar Association pointed up issues that the state has yet to address. Without understanding what those problems are, there is no basis for a discussion on reform.”

Miami Herald editorial: Justice Denied
“Florida’s death penalty system is terribly flawed. Lawmakers have known that since at least 2006, when the American Bar Association released an exhaustive report calling the system “fraught with problems,” including racial disparities….ow, a glimmer of hope: Last week, the Florida Bar adopted a position supporting a comprehensive review of Florida’s entire death penalty process by all branches of government. That’s leadership in the right direction. Is anyone in Tallahassee listening?”

Palm Beach Post editorial: Limiting Death Row Appeals Would Mean Executing the Innocent
“Limiting appeals only will increase the flaws. In 2000, Mr. Bush and the Legislature wanted no more than 10 years to pass between conviction and execution. Under that rule, Florida would have executed seven innocent people. Just weeks before the Florida Supreme Court tossed that 2000 overreach, an Alachua County man was acquitted after being wrongfully convicted for murder….After the court ruling 13 years ago, John Thrasher — then House speaker and now a state senator — fumed, “How much longer can we continue to tip the scales of justice in favor of convicted murderers…?” In fact, fixing the system would tip the scale of justice in favor of justice.”

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Florida Judge Throws Out Death Sentence in 1974 Miami-Dade Murders

This article originally ran in The Miami Herald. I’m reposting it for easy access, but you can view the original here

By David Ovalle, for The Miami Herald

As agents closed in on him in the woods of Southwest Miami-Dade, kidnapper Thomas Knight shot his two hostages execution-style, then buried himself in the mud atop $50,000 in stolen cash.

The savage 1974 murders of Bay Harbor Islands businessman Sydney Gans and his wife Lillian landed Knight on Death Row — but the legal case is still churning after nearly four decades.

The latest chapter: a Miami federal judge late last year tossed out Knight’s death sentence for the Gans murders. Prosecutors are now appealing the ruling.

Thomas Knight's original booking photo

Thomas Knight’s original booking photo

Knight, 61, nevertheless remains on Death Row for a third murder: the fatal 1980 stabbing of corrections officer Richard Burke.

“It’s gotten to the point where it’s a slap in face,” said Judd Shapiro, 48, the Ganses’ grandson.

Said the Ganses’ daughter, Harriet Shapiro, now 72: “Even though I have no hatred in my heart and I don’t live with anger, I would be very happy to see him dead and stand there when they kill him.”

Only two prisoners have been on Florida’s Death Row longer than Knight. His murder of the Ganses, while unfamiliar to newer generations of South Floridians, was a major story in July 1974.

Sydney Gans, 64, owned a successful paper bag company and a minor league baseball team, the Miami Beach Flamingos. He taught his grandson to play baseball and served as a leader at his synagogue.

Gans also employed parolees looking for a second chance. Knight was one of them. He had worked for the paper company for 10 days when he kidnapped Sydney Gans at rifle point.

Knight forced him to drive to the Gans’ home, where he kidnapped Lillian Gans. The three drove to downtown Miami, where Knight forced Sydney Gans to enter a bank and withdraw $50,000.

Knight — armed with a semi-automatic .30-caliber carbine — held Lillian Gans in the back of the businessman’s car. Inside, Gans alerted the bank manager, who called authorities.

Gans, fearing for his wife’s safety, returned to the car. A slew of agents and cops covertly tailed the car as Knight ordered Gans to drive to West Miami-Dade.

In a blunder that still riles the Gans relatives today, agents lost track of the car. In a secluded wooded area at Southwest 132nd Street and 117th Avenue, Knight shot each of the Gans with a bullet to the neck. He disappeared as heavily armed officers swarmed the woods.

For hours, authorities scoured the woods. Teargas was deployed. A deputy found Knight buried in the mud, the money and the rifle underneath his body.

Not long after his arrest, Knight and a group of inmates escaped the Dade County Jail. He remained a fugitive for 101 days until agents burst in on him holed up in a New Smyrna Beach shack.

Judd Shapiro — 9 when his grandparents were killed — remembers that while Knight was on the lam, a teacher was assigned to guard him while at school.

“Every child at some point comes to the realization that the world is not necessarily a safe place, and for me it came at a young age and in an extreme fashion,” said Judd, now an English teacher.

A jury convicted Knight in 1975. A judge sent him to Death Row.

While there in October 1980, Knight thrust a sharpened spoon into the chest of corrections officer Burke, 48. The reason: the prison would not let Knight see his mother, who was making her first visit.

Then-Gov. Bob Graham signed his death warrant. Scheduled execution date: March 3, 1981.

The prison system’s superintendent later remembered Knight’s reaction to the news: “How can you execute me when I haven’t even had my trial yet about killing the guard?”

A federal judge later stayed the execution. Knight indeed went to trial for Burke’s murder, and was sentenced to die in January 1983.

By 1987, a federal appeals court threw out the Gans death sentence, ruling Knight should have been allowed to present character and background witnesses during a penalty hearing.

Knight’s 1996 resentencing was held under heavy security.

By then, he had grown a beard and changed his named to Askari Abdullah Muhammad. He proved too disruptive to keep in the courtroom, cursing daily at the judge and lawyers, hollering “ Allahu Akbar!” — “God is great” in Arabic.

The jury, in a 9-3 vote, recommended the death penalty, once again, for the Gans murders. Circuit Judge Rodolfo Sorondo Jr. agreed with the recommendation.

But it was a legal error in that 1996 re-sentencing that paved the way for Knight’s latest successful appeal, U.S. District Judge Adalberto Jordan ruled in November.

At the resentencing hearing , a Miami-Dade homicide detective recounted the words of a police helicopter pilot who never testified in previous court hearings. That, Jordan ruled, violated Knight’s right to confront and cross-examine witnesses.

Why was that testimony so important? The judge pointed out that defense lawyers claimed that Knight never planned to kill the husband and wife. Knight only shot the couple after he heard a police helicopter and suffered a schizophrenic “break,” defense attorneys claimed.

But prosecutors insisted to jurors that Knight never knew cops were covertly tailing him. As proof, they pointed to the detective’s testimony that the helicopter pilot did not arrive on the scene until well after the Ganses were dead.

“There is no question that the evidence about the helicopter was key,” Jordan wrote in a 56-page order.

Jordan also said prosecutors did not show all efforts were made to bring in the case’s original detective as a witness. Greg Smith, the now-retired Miami-Dade detective whose testimony was at the heart of Jordan’s decision, bristles at the ruling. The Florida Supreme Court, he pointed out, had already upheld the 1996 death sentence.

“I find laughable the thought that Thomas Knight killed the Ganses because of the police presence,” Smith said last week. “He wasn’t traveling to South Dade to take them on a picnic. He was going to kill them because they could identify him as their kidnapper.”

Jordan ruled that prosecutors must hold a new penalty phase for Knight, or agree to a life prison term.

Knight’s defense attorneys did not return calls for comment.

Prosecutors are asking a federal appeals court in Atlanta to overturn the judge’s decision. Jordan has since been named to that court, although he would not join any panel deciding on the case.

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Florida Legislator Tries Again to End State’s Death Penalty

From The Florida Current:

An attorney-law professor who opposes capital punishment for pragmatic fiscal reasons, as well as legal and moral grounds,  reintroduced her bill Friday to abolish the death penalty in Florida.

Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, said she’s not just making a symbolic gesture.

“The more people we can get educated about the death penalty, I think they will realize that opposition is mostly political posturing, rather than good policy,” she told The Florida Current. “I actually believe we can show people that it’s not a good way to spend public money.”

Rehwinkel Vasilinda, a Tallahassee Community College law instructor starting her third legislative term, introduces the bill every year without so much as a committee hearing. Just how tough a tactical battle she’s facing was illustrated in 2011, she said, when she offered her bill on the House floor as an amendment to another criminal-justice proposal.

House rules forbid floor amendments that are the substance of other bills not passed by committees, and Rehwinkel Vasilinda said she intended to talk about capital punishment and then withdraw her amendment. But the GOP House leadership decided to let it go to a floor vote and her amendment was crushed.

“I thought that was a great starting point,” she said cheerfully.

For the past two years, Florida led the nation in new death sentences imposed—22 last year—while five states have repealed their death penalties in the past five years. Rehwinkel Vasilinda said she has had very favorable reaction from her constituents and other residents across  the state during past legislative sessions, and that those who strongly support the death penalty have been “civil” in discussing it with her.

Rehwinkel Vasilinda said that besides moral objections to killing and the years of costly court appeals each death sentence entails, capital punishment is not a deterrent. She cited the murders at Sandy Hook, Conn., and the ambush a few days  later at Webster, N.Y., where a gunman set fires and shot four fire fighters—killing two—before killing himself last month.

“The death penalty was not any kind of deterrent to either Sandy Hook or the Webster massacres,” she said. “I believe we could use our money better to put more law enforcement officers on the ground.”

She cited a 2000 newspaper report estimating the state spent $51 million a year enforcing the death penalty. She said the state could train and equip 450 police officers for that much money, as well as upgrading crime laboratory facilities.

Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, said removing possibility of execution would mean criminals already under life sentences “would have nothing to lose” if they kill again.

“I’d like to hear what the Department of Corrections and law enforcement officers think of this,” said Baxley. “It would pretty much be a license to kill inmates and correctional officers, for a man who’s already locked up for life—what more could they do to him.”

Still, Baxley said he welcomed the discussion.

“I’ve always said the best way for a legislator to start a discussion is to file a bill,” he said.

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Ann Howard said Florida has 402 men and five women under death sentences.

Rehwinkel Vasilinda said the intention of her bill (HB 4005) is to substitute life sentences without parole for the death penalty. The state already has that penalty when a jury spares a killer lethal injection in a first-degree murder case.

“Even if some Floridians and legislative colleagues believe that justice is vengeance, and vengeance is the proper role of government, we simply do not have the resources to afford that ‘luxury,’ ” she said. “We must be about the business of effective, smart crime fighting, preventing horrendous tragedies like that of Sandy Hook and Webster, not political posturing or simple vengeance.”


Related Reading:

Jan. 4, 2013 press release “Representative Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda Files Death Penalty Repealer Bill”

From My Interview With Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda

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The Latest From Florida’s Death Row

Bodies of ‘In Cold Blood’ Killers Exhumed in Effort to Solve 1959 Florida Slayings: Kansas officials have exhumed the bodies of two men executed for the 1959 slayings of a Kansas family made infamous in Truman Capote’s nonfiction novel, “In Cold Blood.”
The Kansas Bureau of Investigation said the bodies of Richard Hickock and Perry Smith were exhumed today at the Mount Muncie Cemetery in Lansing at the request of Florida officials.

The Sarasota County, Fla., sheriff’s office asked for the exhumation to collect DNA that could help solve the 1959 murders of Cliff and Christine Walker and their two children in Osprey, Fla.

Editorial: Florida Needs to Debate the Death Penalty:  Rhonda Swan, an editorial writer for The Palm Beach Post, writes “not only does Florida lead the nation with 21 individuals sentenced to death this year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, it’s also No. 1 for the number of death row inmates exonerated.” Swan calls for the state’s death penalty to be halted, saying “Florida can lead the way in another direction.” And on a similar note…

Editorial: Florida’s Death Penalty Needs Fresh Look: The Tampa Bay Times editorial board calls for closer scrutiny of the state’s death penalty system, writing “Florida is long overdue for a comprehensive look at its death penalty system — an endeavor that any branch of government could launch. It is time to better understand why the state imposes the penalty disproportionately and ends up exonerating so many. Basic justice demands it.”

New Florida Capital Case:  The man accused of killing a firefighter’s wife could be put to death if convicted. State prosecutors announced they would seek the death penalty against Lance Kirkpatrick. He is suspected in the murder of Kim Dorsey. Investigators believe he killed her in the Southside home where he also served as a handyman.

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New Florida Death Sentence: Marvin Cannon

A Gadsden County judge followed a jury’s 9-3 recommendation and sentenced 31-year-old Marvin Cannon to death this morning in Quincy. The sentence is believed to be the first death sentence in Quincy since 1994.

Cannon was convicted of the fatal stabbing of Zachariah Morgan on Christmas Eve in 2010.

According to local news site, Morgan and another man, Sean Neel, picked up Cannon and Anton McMillan and drove to a rural area where Morgan and Neel thought they were buying corn from Cannon and McMillan.

Instead, McMillan and Cannon robbed and stabbed the two men. Neel recovered from his injuries.

Both Cannon and McMillan were arrested for the crimes, but McMillan has not been tried because questions have been raised about his mental capacity.

A jury recommended a death sentence over life without parole on October 10, after deliberating for about an hour.

Cannon’s attorneys argued that he should be spared because he suffers from anxiety disorder, depressive disorder and that his  has been a result of his troubled childhood.

Every single one of his sibling role models, whatever you want to call them, had been in trouble,” defense attorney Clyde Taylor told WCTV. “Thus, it would be logic that he didn’t have a choice, if you will. I’m not making it a choice as something you consciously decide, but, that’s what your environment is.”


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