FEATURED POST

A Most American Terrorist: The Making of Dylann Roof

Image
“What are you?” a member of the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston asked at the trial of the white man who killed eight of her fellow black parishioners and their pastor. “What kind of subhuman miscreant could commit such evil?... What happened to you, Dylann?”
Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah spent months in South Carolina searching for an answer to those questions—speaking with Roof’s mother, father, friends, former teachers, and victims’ family members, all in an effort to unlock what went into creating one of the coldest killers of our time.
Sitting beside the church, drinking from a bottle of Smirnoff Ice, he thought he had to go in and shoot them.
They were a small prayer group—a rising-star preacher, an elderly minister, eight women, one young man, and a little girl. But to him, they were a problem. He believed that, as black Americans, they were raping “our women and are taking over our country.” So he took out his Glock handgun and calmly, while their eyes were closed in prayer, ope…

Florida experts offer fixes to flawed death penalty law

Florida's Death Chamber
Florida's Death Chamber
The Florida Legislature got direct but conflicting advice Wednesday on how to fix a death penalty sentencing system ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Senate Criminal Justice Committee heard testimony from prosecutors, public defenders, retired judges and death penalty experts. All suggested how the state should react to the high court's Jan. 12 decision in Hurst vs. Florida that said the advisory role juries play in death penalty cases is unconstitutional.

But most testimony focused on an issue that was not part of the court's decision: whether Florida juries should be unanimous in recommending death sentences. Every expert except state prosecutors urged unanimity, and some warned that without it, Florida's deeply wounded death penalty law will remain under sustained legal attack.

"This is your opportunity," said O.H. "Bill" Eaton Jr., a retired circuit judge and nationally recognized death penalty expert. "If you fix those problems, then you're going to have as good a death penalty as there is in the country."

Eaton predicted that dozens of Florida inmates sentenced to death in which appeals have not been decided by the Florida Supreme Court will have their sentences reduced to life in prison without parole.

Florida is 1 of 3 states that does not require that a jury be unanimous in recommending a punishment of death, and it is the only state that does not require that a jury be unanimous in finding at least one aggravating factor to warrant a death sentence over life in prison.

State Attorney Brad King of the Ocala-area circuit said prosecutors statewide remain opposed to requiring that all 12 jurors be unanimous in supporting a death sentence.

But in a significant policy shift, prosecutors now support changing state law so that at least nine jurors must be required to support a death sentence, and unanimous findings on aggravating factors.

King said a requirement for unanimous jury verdicts in death cases would give a single juror veto power over his 11 colleagues.

"You allow 1 juror with no contact with the system and with no education in the law ... absolute control over what that sentence is going to be," King testified. "They get to control that decision."

Public defenders, many of whom oppose the death penalty, support the requirement for unanimity.

Neal Dupree, a state-appointed attorney who represents death row inmates appealing their sentences, urged lawmakers to wait until the Florida Supreme Court takes up the case of his client, Michael Ray Lambrix, who's sentenced to die by lethal injection Feb. 11.

The state's high court denied Lambrix's motion to delay his execution based on the Hurst decision. But justices will hear oral arguments Feb. 2 that Dupree said could provide valuable insight on how lawmakers should proceed.

Florida's 2-stage death penalty system has a guilt phase and a sentencing phase. A defendant who is found guilty cannot be sentenced to death unless the jury finds at least 1 factor, known as an aggravator, to warrant the ultimate penalty.

Solicitor General Allen Winsor, a lawyer in Attorney General Pam Bondi's office who unsuccessfully argued the state's position in the Hurst case, had no recommendations Wednesday.

Legal experts also disagreed on whether the current 15 aggravating factors in Florida's death penalty law are too numerous and should be reduced. Aggravators include such factors as whether the defendant was on probation, whether the victim was under age 12 or whether the crime was especially vicious and cruel.

Public defenders support reducing the number of aggravating factors and prosecutors oppose changes.

More than a decade ago, the Florida Supreme Court urged the Legislature to require unanimous juries in death cases. But the state took no action, and 1 expert urged the Legislature to not make the same mistake twice.

"Had the Legislature heeded that warning, we would not be in this posture today," said Robert Dunham of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C. "You can respond narrowly, just to the words in Hurst, or you can respond more broadly to prevent future constitutional problems."

2/3 of the 389 people on Florida's death row were sentenced by juries that were not unanimous, Dunham said, citing a report in The Villages Daily Sun newspaper. "Those cases are in extreme constitutional jeopardy," Dunham said.

The 5-member Senate Criminal Justice Committee that will craft the 1st version of a new law is chaired by a strong supporter of the death penalty, Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, who promised a quick legislative response.

"It [the law] will definitely change in a way that we think will be more constitutional," Evers said.

The panel's other Republican members are Sens Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg and Rob Bradley of Fleming Island, and the Democrats are Sens. Jeff Clemens of Lake Worth and Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville.

Florida has 389 inmates on death row, but the pace of executions under Gov. Rick Scott has slowed considerably because of the pending Hurst decision. 2 inmates were executed last year - the fewest since 2011.

Source: miamiherald.com January 28, 2016


Judge: Florida has 'no death penalty'

A Pinellas County Judge made a ruling that could set a trend in cases where the death penalty could be considered. 

Judge Michael Andrews rejected prosecutors' notice they plan to seek the death penalty against defendant Steven Dykes, who is accused of killing his 3-month-old daughter.

The judge wrote, "this court concludes that there currently exists no death penalty in the state of Florida, in that there is no procedure in place."

He was referring to a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, saying the way Florida handles death penalty sentences is unconstitutional.

Attorney Anthony Rickman says until legislators change the law, other judges will face the same dilemma.

"I have a feeling that other judges will follow suit because its the right thing to do," Rickman said.

The way it works now, juries recommend life or death, but a judge makes the ultimate decision.

The nation's high court says the method is a violation of the Sixth Amendment. Only juries should be allowed to make the decision.

Rickman said, "it's not the prosecutor's fault. It's not the defense's fault. It's the law as it stands right now and the law is in flux. It's in limbo."

Source: Fox News, January 28, 2016

- Report an error, an omission: deathpenaltynews@gmail.com - Follow us on Facebook and Twitter

Most Viewed (Last 7 Days)

Marcellus Williams faces execution in Missouri despite doubts about conviction

Vietnam upholds death sentences against shipping execs in major corruption case

Georgia executes Emmanuel Hammond

As Sammantha Allen Heads for Death Row, Will Arizona Execute a Woman Again?

Damien Echols says he suffered brain injuries on death row, his wife calls for end to executions

Missouri governor stays execution of Marcellus Williams after attorneys say DNA evidence exonerates him

Florida set to conduct its first execution in a year and a half

Iran: Young Prisoner Hanged in Public

Most American Indian tribes opt out of federal death penalty

Johnson & Johnson unit speaks out at planned death row drug use