Five states have repealed the death penalty in the last five years, with Connecticut being the latest to do so in 2012. But as other states have become disenchanted with the ultimate punishment in light of so many wrongful convictions, Florida has moved in the opposite direction. Last year was the second straight that this state ranked first in the nation in new death sentences. There is no political will to follow the enlightened path of abolition, but Florida should analyze why it's such an outlier. One likely reason is that the state doesn't require a unanimous jury recommendation for a death sentence, and that should be corrected.
Florida sentenced 22 people to death last year. Compare that to the more populous states of California, which sentenced 14 inmates, and Texas, the state with the highest number of executions, which put only nine new inmates on death row last year, according to a report by the Death Penalty Information Center. The count raises Florida's death row to 408 inmates. But even as the state adds to death row, it is finding problems with the legal process that led to those convictions and sentences. Florida also leads the nation in the number of inmates who have had their death sentences reversed. Out of 142 such cases, Florida accounts for 24 exonerations, acquittals or charges subsequently dropped, according to the center. Some of these were people shown to be innocent of the crime. Frank Lee Smith, for instance, was exonerated posthumously. The real perpetrator was identified after Smith died from cancer after he spent the last 14 years of his life on death row.
For years, Raoul Cantero has been urging the state Legislature to require a unanimous jury recommendation for death sentences. Cantero, a former Florida Supreme Court justice who was appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush, saw how haphazardly the death penalty is applied and how that can lead to potentially fatal errors.
Today's Hernando Today publishes the column, "Florida needs to debate the death penalty," written by Rhonda Swan.
It defies logic that taking life honors life.
For the second year in a row, Florida has sent more convicted killers to death row than any other state.
And acting Palm Beach County State Attorney Peter Antonacci would like to send more. His office is now seeking the death penalty for all first-degree murder cases.
There were 22 new death penalty cases this year in Palm Beach County.
"You have a dead human being," Antonacci told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. He said that by not seeking the death penalty, "we have cheapened the value of human life."
There are many ways we cheapen the value of human life. Sexism, racism, ageism, discrimination against gays, the disabled, atheists and others with different or no religious views are but a few examples.
A political and economic system that allows millions to go without food, shelter and health care is another.
"Legislator wants to abolish capital punishment," is by Bill Cotterell for 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.
WFOR-TV posts, "Florida Democrat Files Bill To Kill State’s Death Penalty."
It’s illegal in 17 states, and a new bill by a House Democrat would make it illegal in Florida.
A measure (HB 4005) to end the death penalty in Florida was filed Friday by Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, the News Service of Florida reports.
Rehwinkel Vasilinda said in a statement that the death penalty is not cost-effective and doesn’t deter crime.
“When you analyze the numbers, state-sponsored execution is not the correct answer,” said Rehwinkel Vasilinda, who said the state spends more than $50 million a year on death penalty cases.
Rep. Vasilinda's news release announcing the legislation is available in Adobe .pdf format.
Florda's Capitol News Service posts, "Unanimous Death Sentences."
Tampa cop killer Humberto Delgado arrived on death row last year after his jury recommended he be put to death by an 8 to 4 vote. In December, William Davis’ jury split 7-5 even though he had asked them for death. Neither man would have received death in any of the other 32 states that have the death penalty.
That’s because thirty-one other states require all members of the jury to vote for death. The 32nd, Alabama, requires at least 10 of the 12 jurors to say someone should die. Sheila Hopkins of the Florida Catholic Conference, says it is time for Florida to join the rest of the nation. “You know I think people should be very concerned and disturbed that potentially people who can be innocent would be given a death sentence”, says Hopkins.
Earlier coverage from Florida begins at the link.