Saturday, July 21, 2007

High court to hear Lightbourne case in fall


Death row inmate Ian Lightbourne talks to his lawyer Bret Strand in this file photo.
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OCALA - The Florida Supreme Court will hear arguments in October about whether the death penalty is unconstitutional - one month before convicted murderer Mark Dean Schwab is scheduled to be executed, the justices ruled Wednesday.

On that day, when the justices hear oral arguments in the Schwab case, attorneys representing Marion County death row inmate Ian Lightbourne will argue the death penalty is cruel and unusual. They will talk about the problems in the Angel Diaz execution on Dec. 13.

It took 34 minutes - twice as long as normal - for Diaz, 55, to die after an unusual second injection of the three chemicals used in the procedure. Then-Gov. Jeb Bush suspended all Florida executions in December after a medical examiner said that prison officials botched the insertion of the needles.

The death warrant signed by Crist scheduled Schwab's execution for Nov. 15. Schwab, 38, was sentenced to death in 1992. He kidnapped, raped and killed 11-year-old Junny Rios-Martinez of Cocoa by smothering or choking the boy.

Lightbourne, 47, was sentenced to death in 1981 for the murder of Marion County horse breeder Nancy O'Farrell, the daughter of a prominent horse farming family.

Lightbourne's attorneys have been arguing in hearings since June that the circumstances surrounding the Diaz execution show why the death penalty violates the constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

On Thursday, Lightbourne's lawyers were cross-examining expert witnesses in Ocala.

Crist said he was confident changes in lethal injection procedures adopted since the Diaz execution - including additional training - will ensure compliance with constitutional bans against cruel or unusual punishment.

Death penalty opponents disagree and are hoping Lightbourne's challenge, filed the day after the Diaz execution, will show the state's modifications are insufficient.

Assistant State Attorney Rock Hooker said Thursday that people think the Supreme Court halted executions after Diaz.

"There has been no court to halt executions. The Governor's Office did," Hooker said.

Instead, the high court handpicked a flagship case to argue the issue. A day after the Diaz execution, the Capital Collateral Regional Counsel's office, which represents dozens of death row inmates, filed petitions on behalf of all their clients claiming the penalty was cruel and unusual. The same day, on Dec. 14, the Supreme Court directed Circuit Judge Carven Angel, of Ocala, to hear the Lightbourne petition.

Angel filed an order on July 17, letting the justices know his ruling would be given by Sept. 10. That gives the court a little over a month to read transcripts of Lightbourne's hearings, Angel's order and the attorneys' written closing arguments.

Schwab's lawyer, Mark Gruber, said he expected to file a post-conviction appeal in Brevard County.

The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered that such an appeal should be completed at the trial court level by Aug. 31 so the justices would have sufficient time to consider it before Schwab's Nov. 15 execution date.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Mabel Perez can be reached at or 867-4106.

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