The fact that some Florida death sentences take decades to carry out is surely frustrating for families of murder victims.
In December, Florida executed Manuel Pardo for committing nine murders during a 1986 crime spree. He accepted blame for most of the killings and even asked for the death penalty.
So why take 26 years to carry out the sentence in a clear-cut case?
There are plenty of other examples of wrongful convictions that result in death sentences.
When the state executes the wrong person, there's no making up for the mistake.
That's why there is reason to be wary of state Rep. Matt Gaetz's call to speed up executions. Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican who chairs the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, has said that long delays in carrying out executions show that Florida has a broken death-penalty system.
He's right about the system being broken — but not only in the way that he suggests.
Last year, Florida ranked No. 1 in death sentences imposed. The state also has the dubious distinction of exonerating more death-sentenced inmates than any other state since 1973, reports the Death Penalty Information Center.
Georgia is the only state in the nation that requires death penalty defendants to prove they are mentally disabled beyond a reasonable doubt to avoid execution.
In theory, this legal standard prevents stone-cold killers from faking disabilities to escape justice under Georgia law. That sounds logical.
But in practice, it can put the courts and mental health professionals in unenviable positions that a King Solomon couldn’t properly adjudicate.
That’s why state lawmakers should take a look at this law — and the ongoing case of Warren Lee Hill — and consider changing it.
Hill, 52, literally got a last-minute stay of execution Feb. 19 by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He was being prepared for lethal injection when two of three federal judges said further review is needed of recent affidavits by doctors who changed their minds about Hill’s mental capacity.
The root of the problem is that psychiatric diagnoses are subject to a degree of uncertainty. Existing Georgia law refuses to recognize this reality.
Legally speaking, this law stands up to scrutiny. State and federal courts have upheld it. But practically speaking, it leaves no wiggle room for cases that seem borderline.
As I often point out, mental retardation is now generally referred to as a developmental or intellectual disability. Because it has a specific meaning with respect to capital cases, I continue to use the older term.