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 Latest From Florida’s Death Row

Florida Death Row Inmate Seeks Eau Claire HearingConvicted murderer Bill P. Marquardt believes his convictions in Eau Claire County played a role in his Florida death sentence. The 37-year-old Marquardt, an inmate in a Florida prison, is requesting an Eau Claire County judge appoint an attorney for him and hold an evidentiary hearing at which he can present more than a dozen issues related to his January 2003 conviction on animal cruelty, burglary and firearms charges.

“These Eau Claire convictions were Florida (aggravators),” Marquardt wrote in a 30-plus-page handwritten petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed in Eau Claire County Court.

Florida Supreme Court Chooses New Clerk:  A Tallahassee lawyer with experience defending death row prisoners and expertise in court technology will become clerk of the Florida Supreme Court next November. Chief Justice Ricky Polston announced the selection of John Tomasino to succeed Clerk Thomas D. Hall, who is retiring in October after 13 years in the post.

No Death Penalty for Woman in Stepdaughter’s Killing:  The prosecution announced it is not seeking the death penalty against Misty Stoddard, who is accused of killing her 11-year-old autistic stepdaughter in December. The revelation came Tuesday during a court hearing as Stoddard, 36, pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, the latest charge against her.

Changes Coming for Florida’s Death Penalty System:  Florida is moving to a new death penalty system designed to reduce delays.

State lawmakers passed the “Timely Justice Act” last spring to create specific timeframes for appeals and legal motions. Supporters of the bill argued it made no sense to allow inmates to remain on death row for 30 years or more. Gov. Scott signed the bill, saying it would improve the orderly administration of capital punishment in Florida.

But opponents say Florida is charging ahead with executions at a time when a more careful review of the system is warranted.

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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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Kimberly McCarthy’s Execution Tonight in Texas is State’s 500th

This is a developing story. Check back for updates. 

Texas marked a milestone tonight as the state carried out their 500th execution since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

The inmate executed, Kimberly L. McCarthy, was only the fifth woman to be put to death in the Lone Star State since 1854 and the 13th to be executed nationwide in the past 40 years. The last time a woman was executed was the lethal injection of Teresa Lewis in Virginia on Sept. 23, 2010. The last time a woman was executed in Texas was in 2005.

McCarthy, who was previously married to New Black Panther Party founder Aaron Michaels, was one of only 10 women on death row in Texas.

She was originally slated for lethal injection Jan. 29th, but received a stay in April, and then another postponement. Her attorneys tried to argue that McCarthy, who is black, received inadequate counsel and was convicted by an almost all white jury. However her appeals have all been denied and her attorneys have said there will be no stay tonight there were no stays this evening.

McCarthy was sentenced to death for the fatal stabbing and bludgeoning of her 71-year-old neighbor, Dorothy Booth. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas described the crime as follows:

“On July 21, 1997 McCarthy entered the home of her 71-year-old neighbor Dorothy Booth under the pretense of borrowing some sugar and then stabbed Mrs. Booth five times, hit her in the face with a candelabrum, cut off her left ring finger in order to take her diamond ring, and nearly severed her left little finger as well. McCarthy then took Mrs. Booth’s purse and its contents, along with her wedding ring and fled in her car. Later, McCarthy bought drugs with the stolen money, used the stolen credit cards, and pawned the stolen wedding ring.”

According to the state, the crime was fueled by drugs, as McCarthy had a crack cocaine problem and needed money to buy more. Prosecutors say McCarthy entered the home under the pretense of asking to borrow some sugar. On Nov. 17, 1998, a Dallas County jury found McCarthy guilty of capital murder and after a separate punishment hearing, she was sentenced to death.

While McCarthy’s case has not become particularly high-profile, her status as the 500th execution in the state with the most active execution chamber in the nation has drawn attention in the media both nationally and abroad. For comparison, Virginia, the state with the second largest number of executions, has executed 110 people.

Her attorney, Maurie Levin, told the LA Times, “she has become a symbol because she is the 500th execution. Perhaps that is fitting, perhaps that is extra shameful. It certainly should be a reminder to anybody that the system is profoundly problematic and is not one we should be comfortable with.”

McCarthy was pronounced dead at 6:37 p.m., 20 minutes after the drugs began to flow.

Yesterday’s Execution: Brian Darrell Davis, Oklahoma

From Reuters:

Oklahoma executed a man on Tuesday convicted of raping and stabbing his girlfriend’s mother to death during a late night fight in 2001, a state corrections department spokesman said.

Brian Darrell Davis, 38, was pronounced dead at 6:25 p.m. CDT after a lethal injection at a state prison in McAlester, said Jerry Massie, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.

He was the second Oklahoma inmate executed in two weeks and the third in 2013. Davis was also the 17th person to be executed in the United States this year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Asked if he would like to say any last words, Massie said that Davis replied, “Yes, I would. First I’d like to say that I give the glory to God.”

He then quoted several Bible verses and added, “I shall not die but live. His word is my will and I let his will be done. I give God the last word.”

Davis did not request a last meal, according to Massie.

Davis was convicted of stabbing Josephine “Jody” Sanford, 52, to death after raping her at the apartment he shared with her daughter, Stacey Sanford.

Davis said he returned home from a club early that morning and discovered his live-in girlfriend Stacey and their 3-year-old daughter were gone. Davis said he and Jody Sanford then had consensual sex, argued and fought, and he admitted to stabbing her.

Authorities said she had six stab wounds and a broken jaw.

Davis said Sanford had attacked him and he never intended to kill her. However, jurors found the killing to be especially heinous, atrocious or cruel and Davis was sentenced to death.

On June 13, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin denied Davis’ request for clemency, rejecting a parole board recommendation that his sentence be commuted to life without parole.

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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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The Latest From Florida’s Death Row

Florida Court Upholds Murder Conviction Against Man Who Killed a Jacksonville Store ClerkThe Florida Supreme Court is upholding a murder conviction against a man convicted of killing a Jacksonville convenience store clerk in 1990. The court ruled there was not enough evidence to throw out the conviction against death row inmate Anthony Mungin.

 

Florida Supreme Court Suspends Former Prosecutor Over Relationship With Judge: The Florida Supreme Court suspended the law license of a former Broward prosecutor for two years as punishment for the attorney’s too-cozy relationship with a judge during a 2007 murder trial.

The decision announced Thursday came as a blow to Howard Scheinberg, a 25-year member of the Florida Bar with no previous history of disciplinary action. The Florida Bar had agreed with a referee who recommended a one-year suspension. Scheinberg appealed that recommendation, but the court came down even harder.

Scheinberg was found guilty of professional misconduct stemming from his friendship with then-Broward Circuit Judge Ana Gardiner, a relationship documented in a series of 949 cellphone calls and 471 text messages that took place while Scheinberg was trying a murder case before Gardiner.

 

Jury Recommends Death for Florida Man Who Killed Teen: Jurors have recommended death on Thursday for a Florida Panhandle man convicted of killing a teenage Georgia girl on vacation with her family. A Walton County jury voted 12-0 that Steven Cozzie, 23, should die. Circuit Judge Kelvin Wells will make the final decision sometime in the future. Cozzie was convicted last week of first-degree murder, sexual battery, aggravated child abuse and kidnapping.

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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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