Category Archives: quick read

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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News From Florida’s Death Row

Editorial: How Florida’s Death Penalty Is Killing Us: Now is the time that Florida must reform its criminal justice system by taking a closer look at what Florida’s death penalty says about us as a civilization, as well as the 401 people who are currently on Florida’s death row. Some argue and believe that having Florida’s death penalty somehow discourages murder. Yet, the statistics tell another story. For instance, in 2010 the average murder rate in states with death penalties was 4.6 per 100,000 while the average murder rate for states without the death penalty was only 2.9 per 100,000.

New Florida Death Sentence: Convicted Killer Gets Two Death Sentences in 2009 Titusville Double Murder:  Terence Tabius Oliver was given two death sentences in a Viera courtoom last week for a double murder from 2009. Oliver, 36, was found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder following a jury trial in March. Oliver allegedly shot and killed Andrea Richardson, 36, and Krystal Pinson, 25, at Richardson’s Titusville home on July 21, 2009.

Death Row Inmate’s Appeal Denied in 1976 Slaying of Teen:  Accused in the 1976 shooting death of a Bonita Springs teenager he once dated, Harold Gene Lucas has sat on Florida’s death row for more than 35 years. But his time there could be coming to an end.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta on Friday denied Lucas’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus, which would have allowed him to appear in court for the government to determine whether it has the right to keep him incarcerated. Although further appeals are likely, “his options are wearing thin,” said Samantha Syoen, a spokeswoman for the State Attorney’s Office.

Florida Jury Recommends Death for Timothy Fletcher: Convicted killer Timothy Wayne Fletcher should be executed for choking his step-grandmother after a jailbreak, a jury says. It took the jury an hour to reach the decision Tuesday afternoon, faster than the 98 minutes it took them to find Fletcher guilty of murder and other crimes during a 2009 spree. The jury voted 8-4 in favor of the death penalty.

Woman Could Face Death if Convicted of 2010 Beating and Burning Death: The trial of a Pensacola area woman facing the death penalty in a 2010 beating and killing is set to begin today. If convicted as charged, Brown would face one of two possible penalties: life in prison or the death penalty.

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New Witness Testimony to Go Before Supreme Court One Day Before Scheduled Execution

Attorneys for Robert Waterhouse, scheduled to be executed next week, are set to go before the Florida Supreme Court the day before his execution to argue for a reversal.

Waterhouse, 65, was convicted of the rape and murder of a woman in St. Petersburg in 1980 and is scheduled to die by lethal injection February 15.

His latest appeal cites testimony from a new witness, who says he saw Waterhouse leaving a bar with two men and not the victim on the night of the crime.

Read more:

New witness testimony could help Florida death row inmate

1980 St. Petersburg Rapist On Death Row Argues For Reversal


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New Name Added to Exonerated List

Gussie Vann of Tennessee has become the 139th former death row inmate exonerated since 1973, after all charges against him were dismissed. Van was convicted for the 1994 sexual assault and murder of his eight-year-old daughter, Necia Vann, in 1992. The death was originally reported as an accidental hanging.

Vann was awarded a new trial in 2008 after Judge Donald P. Harris ruled that defense attorneys for Vann failed to hire forensic experts to dispute the state’s claims of sexual abuse. Forensic experts would testify in later hearings that there were no signs of sexual abuse reported in the autopsy prepared by a former medical examiner.

Judge Harris wrote that the defense attorneys’s failure to dispute the state’s claims with expert testimony led to Vann being convicted on “inaccurate, exaggerated and speculative medical testimony.” Judge Harris described the failings of Vann’s original attorneys as “not only prejudicial, but disastrous.”

The state elected not to appeal this ruling, though it did try to find grounds for a conviction on a lesser offense. Ultimately all charges were dropped by the state on September 22, 2011. Vann is the first death row inmate exonerated in the country in 2011.

For more information about the exonerees, see the Death Penalty Information Center’s Innocence Database.


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FL Rep. Files Bill To Do Away With Lethal Injection

Florida State Representative Brad Drake filed a bill Tuesday that would do away with lethal injection as a method of execution. Before abolitionists rejoice though, there’s more. Inmates facing death in Florida would be allowed to choose between electrocution or death by firing squad.

Drake, R-Eucheeanna, said in a press release Tuesday night that the bill was inspired by the debate over the new drug being used in lethal injections. Leading up to the state’s execution of Manuel Valle last month, a group of doctors, legal experts and European drug makers were petitioning Gov. Rick Scott to enforce a stay, due to the use of pentobarbital in the three-drug cocktail used in injections.

According to this article in the NWF Daily News, Drake’s release said:

“So, I say let’s end the debate,” he said. “We still have Old Sparky. And if that doesn’t suit the criminal, then we will provide them a .45 caliber lead cocktail instead.”

“I am sick and tired of this sensitivity movement for criminals,” Drake said. “Every time there is a warranted execution that is about to take place, some man or woman is standing on a corner holding a sign, yelling and screaming for humane treatment.

“I have no desire to humanely respect those that are inhumane,” he said in the release.

Read more:

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Inmate Says He’s Ready to Die

In my last News From Death Row roundup, I posted a link to this story about Gary Haugen, an inmate in Orgeon. He was set to receive a hearing in which a judge would ask him a series of questions to determine if he was mentally competent to drop his appeals and be executed. In the Friday, Oct. 7 hearing, Marion County Circuit Judge Joseph Guimond found Haugen legally sane, and ruled him eligible to be put to death. Guimond will sign Haugen’s death warrant in the coming weeks, and prosecutors have asked for a tentative date of Dec. 6 for the execution, which would be the first in Oregon in 14 years.

Haugen had this to say to Judge Guimond:

“I can’t go on,” he said in a low, calm voice. “This is going to be one time where I just don’t do a lot of talking, because I’m ready, your honor. Because I’m ready.”

You can read more about the hearing and Haugen in this article. There’s an interesting part toward the end, in which the author says death penalty opponents are still looking at options to stop the execution, despite Haugen’s wishes to die “with dignity.”

“It’s really not about what Mr. Haugen wants,” said Tom O’Connor, a spokesman for Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. “It’s about what Oregon wants as a state and its own sense of humanity and identity … Are we a state that cheers when somebody is executed or are we a state that thinks this is not really what we stand for?”

I find it a bit strange that the activists in Oregon want to do the opposite of what this inmate is asking, and I’m not sure what the right answer is to the situation. After all, it’s Haugen, not the activists, who has to sit for decades on death row. Haugen has been in prison since he was 19 years old, and on death row since 2003.  Is O’Connor right that it’s not about what Mr. Haugen wants, but is more about the state’s humanity? Or is this trampling over the wishes of an inmate in order to advance the agenda of the cause?

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Florida Legislator Files Bill to Abolish Death Penalty

Today, less than a week before Florida is set to perform their 70th execution, a Democrat in the Florida House of Representatives has filed a bill to abolish the death penalty in Florida. According to the Florida Courier Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, filed measure HB4051, which would do away with the death penalty and instead sentence Florida’s worst offenders to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Vasilinda said the measure could save the state a lot of money by doing away with the lengthy appellate process required by death row cases, without endangering public safety.

“If the issue is public safety, we can save money and put more law enforcement on the streets,” Vasilinda said Thursday. “it just seems that the money could be better spent.”

According to the Florida Courier, Vasilinda filed an identical bill last year, which died without being heard.

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Prison Photography Project

In my research, I came across another interesting prison project on Kickstarter and I’ve just learned it was featured on the New York Times photo blog. The project is a 12-week journey across the U.S. to interview photographers who have focused on American prisons. The article features some of the photos from the project, and they are definitely worth a look. Really incredible images there.

Check it out here:

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A Must Read

It seems whenever you read about death row inmates, you only get one side of the story, depending on whether the article is pro or anti death penalty. You could hear about the horrible life of spending all day every day in solitary confinement in a 9×6 cell, watching your fellow inmates one by one disappear around you as they are put to death. Or you could hear the horrifying tale of a mother’s grief, a wife without a husband, a son growing up without a father.

But rarely do you hear both stories at once. There’s an excellent article from Seattle PI that does just that, and it is absolutely a must read.

Read it here:

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Florida Commentary

A few days ago, Mike Thomas of the Orlando Sentinel wrote a commentary piece about the arbitrary nature of Florida’s death penalty. In it, he brings up some valid points about the system, that go beyond pro or anti death penalty and simply examine the facts of the costs, the politics and so on. It’s excellent reading, and quite brief. Check it out here. Here’s a brief excerpt:

“There is no rhyme or reason here,” Thomas wrote. “A governor’s decision on whose death warrant to sign, as well as a judge’s decision on which appeal to accept, are about as arbitrary as a prosecutor’s decision to pursue the death penalty.  We spend an estimated $51 million annually on this nonsense, and for our investment we haven’t executed anyone going on a year and a half.”

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