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Editorial: In a civilized society, not even the most vicious crimes justify a death sentence

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It is soul-bruising to contemplate the torture that 10-year-old Anthony Avalos endured in his Lancaster home for more than a week before dying last year. Whippings with a looped cord and belt. Repeatedly held upside down then dropped on his head. Getting slammed into pieces of furniture and against the floor. Hot sauce poured on his face and mouth.
The road map of the abuse stretched from head to toe on his small malnourished body — bruises, abrasions, scabs and cuts visible on the outside. Traumatic brain injury and soft tissue damage on the inside. All allegedly perpetrated by his mother, Heather Barron, and her boyfriend, Kareem Leiva.
RELATED | California: Prosecutors seeking death penalty in Anthony Avalos torture case
If ever a set of circumstances called for the death penalty, this would be it. Few were surprised when Los Angeles County prosecutors said Wednesday that if the couple is convicted of the torture-murder, the jury will be asked to recommend a death sentence.
Such ca…

Florida executes Paul Howell

Paul Howell
STARKE, Fla. (AP) — A drug trafficker who placed a pipe bomb in a gift-wrapped microwave oven in a plot to kill two potential murder witnesses was executed Wednesday for the 1992 death of a Florida highway trooper who became the unintended victim.

Paul Augustus Howell, 48, was pronounced dead at 6:32 p.m. following a lethal injection at the Florida State Prison in Stark, the office of Gov. Rick Scott said in an email.

Howell was condemned for the killing of Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Jimmy Fulford on Feb. 1, 1992, when the package exploded during a traffic stop.

When the curtain opened revealing the witnesses Wednesday evening, Howell opened his eyes wide and lifted his head to stare at those gathered. He appeared to begin speaking before the microphone was turned on.

When asked if he had any words, he apologized to Fulford's family. He then gave a 2-minute statement detailing the events of the crime and placing blame on a friend for letting the bomb go off.

Howell built the bomb in his Fort Lauderdale home and placed it in the microwave oven, court documents stated. He then paid another man, Lester Watson, $200 to deliver the box across-state to a woman in Marianna who, along with a friend, could tie Howell to a drug-related murder, according to the records.

But Fulford pulled Watson over for speeding about an hour from his Florida Panhandle destination and the bomb never was delivered to the intended target. Instead, Watson was arrested after giving Fulford a false name and birthdate. Watson also gave Fulford permission to search the car rented in Howell's name.

Before Fulford opened the package, a police dispatcher called Howell to let him know what was going on. Instead of mentioning the bomb, Howell said he had given Watson permission to drive the car, but didn't think Watson was leaving the Fort Lauderdale area.

Howell said Wednesday that he had told Watson to make sure police didn't get the bomb if he got pulled over along the way.

"I'm sorry," Howell said. "When the cops called, I thought Lester wasn't going to let them go in there."

Two deputies took Watson and a passenger to a jail while Fulford took inventory of the car's contents. When the 35-year-old trooper opened the package and looked to see what was in the microwave oven, a powerful explosion took his life.

The blast — so strong that it left a depression in the roadway — occurred along Interstate 10 just east of Tallahassee.

Once the execution began at 6:19 p.m., the microphone was turned off, but Howell continued to talk rapidly for about a minute. His words then started to slow, and he lost consciousness.

No one from Fulford's family witnessed the execution, and the family gave no statement after it was finished.

Howell, a native of Jamaica, was sentenced to life on federal drug charges. He was then convicted on state charges of murder and making, possessing, placing and discharging a destructive and handed the death sentence.

His lawyers had filed an unsuccessful appeal Tuesday to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that a new drug Florida uses for executions wasn't tested for that purpose. This was the fifth execution in the state using the new drug, midazolam hydrochloride, as part of a three-drug mix.

Watson testified that while he saw Howell wrapping the box that contained the microwave oven, he never knew it was a bomb, thinking instead it held drugs. Watson was convicted of second-degree murder and is serving a 40-year sentence.

Howell's brother Patrick, who helped him build the bomb, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life.

Howell becomse the 3rd condemned inmate to be put to death this year in Florida and the 84th overall since the state resumed capital punishment in 1979. OnlyTexas (510), Oklahoma and Virginia (110) have put more inmates to death since the death penalty was re-legalized in the USA on July 2, 1976.

Howell becomes the 10th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1369th overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977.

Sources: The Associated Press, Rick Halperin, Feb. 26, 2014

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