Today's New York Times reports, "Lawyers Seek Final Appeal for Man Due to Be Executed." It's written by Lizette Alvarez.
Lawyers for a man scheduled to be executed in Florida on Feb. 26 for killing a state trooper filed a motion in federal court on Wednesday arguing that the prisoner had been wrongly denied his final appeal because of a missed filing deadline.
If Paul Augustus Howell, 47, is executed next week, he would become the first Florida inmate to die by lethal injection without receiving his final federal appeal, called a habeas petition, since 2008. That year, the United States Supreme Court stated that a lawyer’s misconduct or “gross negligence” may be enough to override the one-year filing deadline for final federal appeal under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.
Mr. Howell’s lawyers say that his original trial lawyer had a “substantial conflict of interest,” that began with a reported death threat. An additional 30 Florida inmates on death row have also missed federal habeas petition filing deadlines and could face similar situations when their execution dates arrive.
On Tuesday, the Florida Supreme Court rejected Mr. Howell’s appeal and his request for a stay of execution. The justices said they could not address claims that Mr. Howell may raise in federal court.
Michael Ufferman, one of Mr. Howell’s new appellate lawyers, said executing someone before Mr. Howell, or any other offender, received a habeas review was not a precedent that Rick Scott, the Florida governor, should set.
“He has never had the opportunity to have this issue reviewed in federal court,” Mr. Ufferman said. “We are pushing that issue with the governor’s office.”
The Florida Supreme Court ruling in Howell v. Florida is available in Adobe .pdf format.
"Paul Augustus Howell update: Appeal unanimously denied for Florida state trooper killer," is the AP report filed by Bill Kaczor. It's via WPTV-TV.
The Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously denied a post-conviction appeal and stay sought by a drug trafficker who is facing execution on Feb. 26 for killing a state trooper with a pipe bomb.
An attorney for Paul Augustus Howell, 47, said additional appeals, though, will be filed in state and federal courts.
"The key issue in this case was a substantial conflict of interest by his trial attorney," said Michael Ufferman, one of Howell's appellate lawyers.
Ufferman said Frank Sheffield, now a state circuit judge in Tallahassee, had a conflict that came because of a telephoned death threat Sheffield said his wife, then also his secretary, had received.
It came after Sheffield had told Howell the evidence against him was overwhelming in a separate drug trafficking case then pending in federal court. Sheffield said the anonymous caller asked to leave a message saying that "if Paul Howell goes down, Mr. Sheffield is going down also."
The federal judge let Sheffield withdraw from the drug case. Howell subsequently was convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to life in prison.
Sheffield, though, declined to withdraw from the murder trial that followed although prosecutors and Howell asked for him to be removed. The state judge allowed him to remain. The state prosecutors also said their investigation indicated the threatening phone call never happened.
Ufferman said the new appeals will be filed in federal court in Tallahassee and in state court in neighboring Jefferson County.
The trial lawyer conflict issue has never before been heard in federal court because Howell's initial appellate lawyer, Danielle Jorden, missed a filing deadline, Ufferman said.