Friday, April 26, 2013

Innocent on Florida's Death Row: "We Need Answers, Not More Executions"

Tallahassee, FL - April 25, 2013 - Legislation (HB7083 “Timely Justice Act”) to speed up and increase executions by “streamlining” the process has passed the Florida House of Representatives.

Since Florida resumed executions in the 1970’s, twenty-four wrongfully convicted Death Row prisoners have been exonerated while seventy-five prisoners have been executed. “That’s one exoneration for every three executions,” said Mark Elliott, Director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, ”It is astonishing that the focus is on hurrying-up executions and not investigating how so many innocent people could be sent to Death Row and how many more are there now. ”

Just four months ago, Seth Penalver became Florida’s 24th exonerated Death Row prisoner. Florida holds the national record for sentencing the most people to death who were later, sometimes many years later, exonerated and freed due to new evidence of wrongful conviction. The Death Penalty Information Center recognizes Seth Penalver as the 142nd death sentenced prisoner to be exonerated and freed since 1973 and the 24th from Florida. Penalver was released after 18 years. “If executions are sped up, then we will be killing innocent people like me.” said Penalver, “Evidence of my innocence was withheld and hidden for almost eighteen years after my conviction.” Seth Penalver is one of eight Floridians who were exonerated more than ten years after being sentenced to death. “Executing innocent people is murder by all, not justice for all,” said Penalver.

According to the Innocence Project of Florida, in January, 2000, some 14 years after his death sentence, Frank Lee Smith died of cancer on Florida’s Death Row. After his death, DNA testing not only confirmed his innocence, but identified the real perpetrator.

“It is both tragic and ironic that the state that sends the highest number of wrongfully convicted people to Death Row is speeding up executions.” said Elliott. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, the average time spent on Florida’s Death Row by the wrongfully convicted is close to 8 years. Some were on Florida’s Death Row for 18 to 20 years before being exonerated and released. “Speeding up and increasing the number of executions virtually guarantees that innocent people will be executed.” said Mark Elliott.

Florida has the nation’s second largest Death Row with 405 people. According to the Death Penalty Information Center’s latest report, The Death Penalty in 2012: Year End Report, Florida also sentences far more people to death than any other state. Last year, Florida had 22 new death sentences out of 78 nationally---that’s more than one quarter of ALL new death sentences in the U.S. “With one out of every four of the nation’s new death sentences along with one exoneration for every three executions, the focus should be on how Florida sentences so many people to death, especially so many innocent people, not on executing more people faster.” said Elliott.

“Florida's government program for the death penalty is like a rickety old public bus that costs millions of dollars to operate. The brakes are shot and the steering is out and it is constantly crashing into innocent people. So the answer is to pack in more passengers, hit the gas and go faster?” asked Elliott.

“We need answers, not more executions,” said Elliott. “Florida’s government program for the Death Penalty is broken, not because it is too slow, but because it is a hugely expensive, wasteful, government program that, with all its wrongful convictions, risks making murderers out of us all. Speeding it up will guarantee that.”

Source: FADP, April 25, 2013. Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty is a coalition of individuals and organizations united to abolish the death penalty in Florida.