Sunday, April 27, 2008

Teens Suspected in Florida Beating Could Face Life in Prison

By Lis Wiehl

The Sunshine State — home to retired grandparents, girls gone wild on Spring Break… and violent teenagers? In a story that broke just recently, six girls and two boys were arrested after being caught on video camera for allegedly beating up another teen for over 35 minutes! (And I thought Girls Gone Wild was unladylike!) The horrific incident has sparked controversy concerning networking Web sites and what they're actually being used for. This disturbing story has also brought the long-term repercussions of teenage violence to the forefront of media debates.

On Web sites like MySpace, Facebook and YouTube, teenagers are posting a variety of information about themselves — ranging from names and e-mails, to pictures and home videos. Most teenagers are actively involved in at least one of these sites which allow users to control the web-based content. Once kids post something, it becomes part of the public domain for everyone to see. This has quick consequences — the Internet is the bathroom wall of my day, and information is spread like wildfire. And what's been happening among many teens is that rumor spreading and gossip blogs are being fueled through Web sites that hasten the process. This is exactly how the teenage Florida beating debacle began:

The victim, 16-year-old Victoria Lindsay, apparently “talked trash” about one of the victims on her personal MySpace page, and because the MySpace page was visible for everyone to see, it seriously embarrassed the alleged attackers in their real life social scenes leading to their desire for revenge. It is not clear how many of the attackers were actually targeted in the alleged post, but six teenage girls, aged 14 to 17, decided to get even, only this time they wanted to attack with their fists and not their keyboards.

The six teenage girls allegedly lured the victim to one of their houses, and had two guy friends allegedly act as lookouts, as they pummeled and pulverized the victim's face until it was unrecognizable even to the victim's mother. The alleged beating took place over a period of 35 minutes, and the entire ordeal was videotaped. The girls allegedly planned to post the video on YouTube to embarrass the victim. The eight teens were arrested, however, and the video was seized before they had the opportunity to post it online. While the arrestees planned on doing a little LOL-ing (laughing-out-loud) it seems as if they're going to be C.O.L-ing (crying out loud) instead.

The Florida State Attorney's office declared last week that all the teenagers, who allegedly took part in this beating debacle, would be tried as adults. But what does this really mean? It means that this isn't going to just be a slap on the wrist for these teens. Each suspect is being charged with felonious battery, false imprisonment, kidnapping and even tampering with a witness. These are not soft-ball charges in any court, especially since the teens are being tried as adults.

Let's attack the less serious offenses first and then hit to the felonies. The charge of false imprisonment involves three elements: A willful detention, lack of consent and lack of legal authority. The victim in the Florida beating was allegedly lured into the attacker's house and forcibly held down without being allowed to leave. The prosecution basically has a home-run with this charge for all the allegedly teenagers involved. And a standard false imprisonment claim can force a defendant to serve up to five years in jail. However, when dealing with the false imprisonment of minors, the prison term can stretch as far as eight years.

The next charge, kidnapping, is closely associated with false imprisonment. The main difference between the two is the duration of the confinement. For example, when a victim is held for a few hours against their will, it is usually characterized as false imprisonment. However, when a victim is held for days against their will, the charge of kidnapping usually comes into play. Kidnapping statutes vary from state to state, but Florida imposes a minimum sentence of 15 years to a maximum sentence of life in prison. When violence is involved in kidnapping, however — such as in this case — life in prison becomes a much more viable option. The prosecution, however, will likely find kidnapping to be a difficult charge to prove considering the incident only lasted about 35 minutes.

The final charge of felonious battery can carry up to 20 years in prison in most jurisdictions. Since the alleged attack, the video of the beating has surfaced online. Armed with this proof the prosecution should have no problem making their case thanks to the Scorsese-like efforts to document the event. Basically it comes down to how lenient the judge is feeling and how remorseful the alleged attackers are perceived. It's likely though that these teenagers may be facing some serious jail time.

Repercussions of teenage violence can be very serious, especially for these Florida teenagers. This situation should show teens, as well as parents, that Web sites like MySpace, Facebook and YouTube are not always fun and games; someone can get hurt — and not just in cyberspace. Written words on Web sites can hurt as much as those in real life. Educate your children about privacy (or lack thereof) on these Web sites. Let them know the dangers that are out there.

High court ruling doesn’t ease pain of murder victim’s family

By Bob Mayes

As of Thursday, 386 men and one woman sat on Death Row in Florida.

Inmate 061360, Floyd William Damren, who will be 57 years old in May, is at Union Correctional Institute in Raiford. He was sentenced to death on June 4, 1995, for the beating death of Donald Miller of East Palatka 13 months earlier.

Two hundred and twenty-three people have been on Florida’s Death Row longer. Since 1976, when the United States Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty, Florida has executed a grand total of 64.


Is it any wonder then that Terri Miller Williams was so taken aback when the Supreme Court declared an unofficial moratorium on the death penalty seven months ago while it grappled with the issue of whether lethal injection constitutes cruel and unusual punishment?

Terri, like her dad a motorcycling enthusiast, is the daughter of Sparky Miller, a hard-working, fun-loving family man whose life was snuffed out while interrupting a robbery at age 46.

“I’m almost afraid that this was going to open the door for more appeals,” Williams said Wednesday, eight days after the high court, in a decision involving a Kentucky case, gave the green light for executions to resume.

“It’s just so unfair. I don’t see how they feel lethal injection is cruel and unusual. If he was going to kill my dad, I wish he would have given him a lethal injection.

“It would have been a heck of a lot better than what he got.”

Testimony in Circuit Judge Robert Foster’s courtroom in Green Cove Springs in 1995 showed that Donald Miller had been beaten to death with a 5-pound metal pipe even as he begged for his life.

Her husband, Keith, at her side, Terri recounted some of the highlights of the trial, the most horrible week of their lives.

“He was very cold, showed no emotion,” she said. “I’ve never heard him say a word. He wouldn’t look at me when I testified at the trial.

“I stared him down and he still wouldn’t look at me.”

Sparky had been called in to work at RGC Mineral Sands that night and he was supposed to go on vacation the next day. As he opened the door to a shed to retrieve his tools, Damren approached Miller from behind.

He never saw Damren until he was on the ground. Exhibits introduced into court proved Miller had been conscious during the attack because of the defense wounds on his arms and torso.

An accomplice fled to Putnam County from the scene and described what had happened to a few women friends —- just hours before Damren hatcheted him to death because he was a witness.

“They testified that (the accomplice told them) my dad had begged for his life,” Terri said. “He told him, ‘Please don’t hurt me; I’m taking my grandson fishing tomorrow.’”

Miller’s pleas fell on deaf ears and the bludgeoning continued.

“The crime is especially heinous, atrocious and cruel,” the judge said when sentencing Damren to death in the electric chair.

Thirteen years later, the family has moved on.

But the pain still gnaws, the bile still flows inside and hatred is still there.

“I hate him more than I can describe,” Terri Williams said softly. “It’s an awful feeling to be so full of hate. I get so angry sometimes and I don’t understand why. Then it will hit me.

“It gets so bad that I shake and I have to throw something. It’s not as bad as it used to be and it doesn’t happen as often, but I still do.

“I have nightmares sometime and I cry. Usually, I cry in the shower so the water can wash away my tears.”

Keith Williams met his future father-in-law when both lived in Mobley, Mo. He had a friend who had a shed where they worked on motorcycles, and Miller often hung out there.

Although Miller was about 15 years older, they became fast friends because of how much they had in common, especially their affinity for riding motorcycles.

Two years later, Miller introduced Williams to his daughter, who was visiting from Indiana.

“Keith was handpicked,” Terri said with a laugh. “He didn’t like my choices when it came to boys, so he picked one out for me. He did good.”

Williams’ pain runs equally deep. He —- along with several other of Miller’s friends —- got a tattoo of a flying wheel, that reads, “In Memory of Sparky,” on his chest.

“It was a great loss,” Keith said. “He was a great friend, a mentor, just a good person all the way around. There isn’t anything he wouldn’t do for you. That’s the way he was with his family and all of his friends.”

Family and friends thought it was appropriate Damren had been sentenced to die in the electric chair n “its nickname was Old Sparky, he was an electrician, and his nickname was Sparky” —- and were disappointed when the method was changed.

“I asked the governor’s office if I could throw the switch,” Terri said bitterly. “After they did away with the electric chair, I asked the attorney general’s office if I could inject him.

“They said I couldn’t, but I’d do it in a second if they’d let me.”

Keith takes a more pragmatic view.

“It’s a hard question,” he said. “Do you really hate him, or hate that he took away somebody’s life who deserved to live?”

Terri said her mother has remarried to a very understanding man, and still lives in Putnam County. She said she and her mother try to stay strong for each other, but there are times when they still break down and cry together.

Her father’s Harley FLH 76 now belongs to Nicholas, the grandson he was going to take fishing, and it is his pride and joy. Along with Nicholas, the Williamses have another child, a daughter, and Terri’s younger brother recently became a father for the first time.

“He lived to become a grandfather,” Keith said, “but he really didn’t get to see them blossom. That’s a real shame, because he really loved his grandchildren, and they loved him.”

As the years have passed, there has been one excruciating appeal after another, too many for the family to count. The last appeal was heard in Jacksonville in February because of a technicality, and it could be another four months before a decision is handed down.

Next, Damren would be able to appeal to a federal court in Atlanta. Terri said it could take up to two years just to have a hearing date set, then another six months after that before a decision is made in that case.

“They’ve told us that it would be another 18 months to two years after that before he would be executed,” she said. “Looking at a best-case scenario, we’re probably talking about 4 1/2 to 5 years.”

But the statistics seem overwhelmingly against it.

Two hundred and twenty-three on death row longer than Damren. Only 64 executed since 1976. Since last week, the attorney general’s office has activated death warrants for three inmates —- none of them Damren.

She dares to think the unthinkable.

“I sometimes don’t think it will ever happen,” Terri said, “but I don’t give up the faith. I continue to press the issues … but he will probably die in prison before he is executed.”

But if it ever does happen?

“I think I’m going to feel he got what was coming to him,” she said. “I am still going to feel angry and still feel sad.

“It won’t take those feelings away. I don’t think anything ever will.”

Bob Mayes is the news editor of the Palatka Daily News.

Opponents Challenge Death Penalty in Florida

All Things Considered, April 25, 2008

Florida officials are eager to resume carrying out death penalties following this month's Supreme Court decision, which found that Kentucky's use of lethal injection does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment. State officials say Florida's lethal injection protocols follow what the Supreme Court approved in Kentucky. But attorneys for death row inmates say Kentucky is different from Florida.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Florida still risks botched executions

Florida is about to rev up its death chamber again. The U.S. Supreme Court has given the go-ahead to states like Florida to continue using a three-drug cocktail for lethal injections, and the state's attorney general and governor have wasted no time in calling for the resumption of executions. But just because Florida's procedure has been deemed constitutional doesn't mean it is sufficiently humane. The potential for error and an excruciating death remains.

Florida's executions have been on hold while the Supreme Court decided a Kentucky case challenging the use of a three-drug lethal cocktail used by at least 30 death penalty states. The danger of these drugs became clear after Florida's execution of Angel Diaz in December 2006. Due to mishandled injections, Diaz had chemicals injected into his soft tissue rather than into his veins. His execution took 34 minutes, twice as long as usual, and it is quite possible that he suffered severely.

Florida uses a lethal injection protocol that state veterinarians have rejected for euthanizing pets, since the risk of severe pain is considered too high. In the protocol, a strong barbiturate sedative, sodium pentathol, is administered first to render the inmate unconscious and pain-free. The second and third drugs then cause paralysis and cardiac arrest. If the sedation drug is not administered properly, these latter drugs can manifest serious levels of pain on the order of feeling that one's flesh is on fire and slow asphyxiation. But the inmate will be unable to communicate his suffering due to the paralytic effects of the pancuronium bromide, the second drug.

It is possible to induce death without the pancuronium bromide, but the Department of Corrections has stubbornly stuck with its old drug protocols. The department has refused to budge even after being urged by a study commission appointed by then-Gov. Jeb Bush to consider other "more recently developed" chemicals for use in executions and to reconsider the use of any paralytic drug in order to make executions "less problematic."

A botched execution might be too remote to rise to the level of a constitutional concern for our current Supreme Court, but it happened here and could happen again.

Since the Diaz execution, the Department of Corrections has largely implemented the suggestions of the governor's commission and revamped its execution protocols to build in more safeguards. The execution team warden, for example, must determine that the inmate is fully unconscious before the pain-causing drugs are administered. And more training and experience is required of those carrying out the execution, although a medical doctor's direct participation is still not required.

Even so, the continued use of the paralyzing agent means that the state is not doing everything it can to ensure that the death penalty is carried out as humanely as possible. It wouldn't take much to eliminate this drug from the mix, and it remains puzzling why the state refuses to take this modest step.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Florida Legislature set to award $18.2 million to former Palm Beach County girl in abuse case

By Josh Hafenbrack

Tallahassee Bureau

11:45 PM EDT, April 24, 2008


To those who know her, Marissa is a sweet, loving girl with a broad smile and a playful side.

But Marissa Amora, also known as Moesha, is forever marked by the cruelty she suffered as a 2-year-old living in Lake Worth. She had catastrophic brain injuries because of physical abuse at the hands of her mother and her mother's live-in boyfriend — abuse state child-welfare investigators suspected but didn't stop.

Today, the Legislature is scheduled to approve an $18.2 million settlement for Marissa, acknowledging the Department of Children & Families' culpability in her case. It's the largest claims bill approved by the Legislature in at least a decade.

Now 9, Marissa needs constant care, cannot walk on her own and eats through a feeding tube. She lives with her adoptive parents, Dawn and Ric Amora, in the Panhandle town of Marianna.

"I think I'm getting to the point where I can't breathe — it's been such a long journey we've taken trying to ensure Marissa received justice," said Dawn Amora, who until 2004 ran a children's home in Loxahatchee.

The House unanimously passed Marissa's claims bill Thursday, 114-0. Marissa and Amora are traveling to Tallahassee today for the Senate vote.

The state would give Marissa and her family $1.2 million this year and then $1.7 million installments the next 10 years, under the bill. A Palm Beach County jury in 2005 awarded Marissa $35 million for her injuries and suffering and found the state and DCF responsible for 75 percent of the damages.

But the Legislature is required to approve any civil judgments against government agencies of more than $100,000. To get court-ordered settlements, claims bills like the one for Marissa must be filed.

"When you think of the life she could have had, and the life that she now has, it seems so hard to believe," said House sponsor Marti Coley, R-Marianna. "There was so much negligence."

In November 2000, Marissa was admitted to the emergency room of Bethesda Memorial Hospital in Boynton Beach with an unexplained mass on her spine. Her condition quickly improved, but nurses noticed a disturbing trend: Marissa's mother seldom visited and, when she did, struck the child as she lay in her hospital bed, according to a special master's report.

At Marissa's scheduled release from the hospital a month later, her mother didn't show, instead helping her boyfriend get out of jail, according to the report.

That prompted a Palm Beach County state DCF investigator to visit the Lake Worth apartment where Marissa and her mother lived. There were no toys, clothes or crib. Yet two days after this investigation, Marissa was discharged from the hospital, "to the dismay of hospital employees, who begged DCF to reconsider, with several employees offering to adopt Marissa," the report said.

Less than one month after Marissa's release from the hospital, she suffered brain injuries as a result of abuse from her mother's boyfriend, who reportedly swung the child by her arms and legs into the wall and floor.

No one has been charged with a crime in connection with Marissa's abuse, but her birth mother lost her parental rights.

Seven years later, Marissa's ordeal continues. She's been dropped from Medicaid at least six times, with no reason, and federal authorities delayed so long in approving a wheelchair that she now has a surgery scheduled in a few weeks to fuse her spine in three places.

"After all this child endured, the broken bones and the beatings, she wakes up every morning and says, 'Hi, Mom,'" said Dawn Amora, who has taken out second mortgages to pay for Marissa's care.

"The needs are immediate and great," added Lance Block, the lawyer for Marissa and her family. "This is just one of those cases that screams for justice."

Staff Writer Mark Hollis contributed to this report.

Josh Hafenbrack can be reached at or 850-224-6214.

Pines man faces murder charges in death of wife

The Associated Press

6:53 PM EDT, April 25, 2008


A woman whose charred remains were found inside a burning apartment on Monday was stabbed to death by her husband, who then injured himself as he tried to escape the blaze, police said at a press conference earlier today.

Jose Perez, 43, faces second degree murder charges in the death of his wife Norma Merlina, 45.

The two were involved in a domestic dispute Monday morning, said Pembroke Pines police spokesman Sgt. Bryan Davis. Merlina was in the master bedroom of an apartment on the 10000 block of Northwest First Street when her husband attacked her, Davis said.

Authorities think Perez repeatedly stabbed Merlina with an awl, which is a slender, metal spike used in woodcarving.

A fire then broke out in the master bedroom, setting the mattress ablaze. The State Fire Marshall's office is still investigating the cause of the fire.

Police and fire-rescue officers arriving at the scene found an injured Perez sprawled in the breezeway outside the apartment.

Authorities believe Perez received the wounds as he fled the apartment.

He was taken to Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood and is now under custody of the Broward Sheriff's Office.

Man gets death sentence in murder

By Richard Prior,
St. Augustine Record

ST. AUGUSTINE - Renee Boling Howard's mother couldn't hold in a long sobbing gasp Thursday morning as she heard the death sentence given to the man who murdered her daughter.

There was little reaction from James Daniel Turner, 36, as Circuit Judge Wendy Berger sentenced him for bursting into the St. Augustine Comfort Inn on Sept. 30, 2005, and stabbing Howard 15 times.

Berger also sentenced Turner to 30 years in prison for an attack on Stacia Raybon, who was stabbed twice before she locked herself in the bathroom.

Two 10-month-old babies and a 2-year-old also were in the room at the time but were unharmed.

In addition, the judge gave Turner life in prison for home invasion robbery with a deadly weapon, five years for the grand theft of Howard's Ford F-150 pickup truck and 15 years for aggravated assault on a police officer.

Deputy Graham Harris testified that he chased Turner south on Florida 207 at speeds between 90 and 100 mph. He said Turner put the pickup truck in reverse and rammed his patrol car before jumping off the Deep Creek bridge.

Raybon attended the sentencing but declined to talk to media.

Turner was completing a prison term at a Newberry, S.C., jail when he hot-wired a police car and drove to St. Augustine, where he ran out of gas. Turner made his way to the Comfort Inn looking for a car and money to steal.

Raybon identified Turner shortly after the attack as the man who had burst into the motel room.

Turner's jury deliberated about 90 minutes on Dec. 5 before voting 10-2 for the death penalty.

Berger was not bound by the recommendation.

The prosecution had shown the crime was "heinous, atrocious and cruel," she said. The attack also was "cold, calculated and premeditated" and was committed for financial gain.

No one from Turner's family attended Thursday's sentencing.

Florida lawmakers spare juvenile centers

Agency officials must figure out how to trim $392,000 from next year's budget.
Sarah Lundy

Sentinel Staff Writer

April 24, 2008

The one-stop shops that serve Florida's troubled juveniles are saved.

Legislators on Wednesday agreed not to slash $7 million from the state's 17 Juvenile Assessment Centers, according to the Department of Juvenile Justice. Instead, lawmakers will cut $392,000 from the centers' budget next year.

"There's a huge sigh of relief on our part," said DJJ Assistant Secretary Darryl Olson. "At this point, we have the opportunity to keep all the JACs operational."

The agency plans to spread the $392,000 cut across all of the assessment centers, including those in Orange, Seminole, Polk and Brevard counties.

It's unclear how that will affect the individual centers, Olson said. Some might have a tougher time absorbing the cost than others.

Steve Dalsemer, Orange County JAC director, said he was thrilled to hear the centers will be around another year. Now, he said, he and his staff can shift from worrying about the immediate future to what they can do to make the center better.

"We're all just really happy," he said.

The Orange County center -- a windowless building on Central Boulevard near downtown Orlando ---- offers a slew of services. It's a place where police can drop off juveniles after they have been arrested. Last year, the center served 9,100 kids.

At the JAC, counselors hired by the Department of Children and Families assess the teenagers for drug-abuse and mental-health issues. Families also are referred to services in the community.

Students picked up for skipping school are taken to the truancy part of the center, where they wait until parents pick them up. Those with severe substance-abuse problems can stay in the detox area, which consists of a 20-bed coed residential program.

The battle to save some of the centers will begin again next year. Legislators agreed to fund the smaller centers, which include the ones in Seminole, Brevard and Polk, with money for this year only. The larger ones -- including those in Orlando, Miami and Tampa -- are expected to be funded again.

"We've bought some time, at least," Olson said.

Sarah Lundy can be reached at or 407-420-6218.

Justice at stake in cuts to state courts


The Florida Legislature has proposed a 2008-09 budget of about $65 billion. A joint legislative conference committee is currently ironing out its differences and, if approved by both houses, will send a final budget bill to the governor for his signature. This proposed budget essentially reduces the state courts system's budget to a level equivalent of what it was three years ago.

So let's put this into perspective. In 2005, the population of the 7th Judicial Circuit (Flagler, Putnam, St. Johns and Volusia counties) was 791,371. The 2005-06 state budget was $63 billion, of which, the judicial branch was appropriated $405 million (slightly more than 6/10 of one percent). In 2007, the population of our circuit had grown to 846,833 and the 2007-08 state budget was $71 billion, of which, the judicial branch was appropriated $491 million (7/10 of one percent).

Statewide, felony criminal filings have increased 26 percent in the last five years. Mortgage foreclosures have gone up almost 100 percent in just the last two years. With this year's economic crisis, the justice system is nearing its breaking point. Proposed budget cuts to the court system are likely to result in the loss of many highly trained personnel. If this occurs, judges will have no alternative but to ration justice.

That's right. Judges will have to determine whether certain types of cases should be pushed aside so that more pressing cases can be disposed of. Priority must be given to criminal and juvenile delinquency cases where the liberty interests of defendants are at stake. Priority also must be given to the involuntary commitment of mentally ill persons and persons with substance abuse issues. Cases involving abused, abandoned and neglected children must also be given priority to safeguard children's welfare.

Civil cases involving mortgage foreclosures, landlord-tenant disputes, personal injury suits, contract disputes and business cases of all types will have to be delayed or pushed aside indefinitely. Family cases not involving immediate risk of harm will have to be deferred.

In November 2003, the American Bar Association (ABA) created a Commission on State Court Funding. The commission examined problems arising from chronic under-funding of state judicial systems. According to the report, "If we deny basic funding for the courts, we endanger public safety and fail to provide a neutral forum for people to resolve disputes. All branches of government have faced budget cuts during fiscal crises, but as a society we have crossed the line when a lack of money means courthouse doors are closed and the administration of justice stops in our criminal and civil courts."

The citizens of this great state have enjoyed the services of one of the most respected and efficient systems of justice in the United States. Florida's judicial branch of government has maintained that system with much fewer dollars than many other large states. We cannot afford to destroy such a fine system of justice. With the cuts in the Legislature's proposed budget, it is unlikely that our justice system will recover for many, many years. It will be the citizens who suffer. And that would be a shame.

Walsh is the chief judge of the 7th Judicial Circuit Court

Ruling for justice

Crist right in vow to sign death orders

Once the U.S. Supreme Court upheld lethal injection, Gov. Charlie Crist wasted no time coming out with a pledge to begin signing death warrants for some of Florida's 388 inmates sitting on death row.

As he stated when he made the vow just hours after the high court's ruling, justice delayed is justice denied. We agree. And we urge the governor to quickly follow through on his commitment.

The victims' families deserve justice, denied for the past 16 months as Florida put all executions on hold while awaiting a decision in a Kentucky case.

The Supreme Court's 7-2 ruling affirmed Kentucky's method of execution by lethal injection, with justices rejecting the argument that human error and poor procedures during the administration of three drugs produced "unnecessary risk of pain and suffering" and thus violated the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Finally, Americans heard an opinion on the lethal injection death penalty that upholds common sense. In the court's ruling opinion, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote: "Simply because an execution method may result in pain, either by accident or as an inescapable consequence of death, does not establish the sort of 'objectively intolerable risk of harm' that qualifies as cruel and unusual."

Roberts rightfully set the bar high, saying that challenges to the law must demonstrate that a state's lethal injection method "creates a demonstrated risk of severe pain."

Justice Clarence Thomas, joining the majority opinion, determined that "a method of execution violates the Eighth Amendment only if it is deliberately designed to inflict pain," adding that "this is an easy case" because Kentucky's protocol was not.

The case revolved around the sequence of drugs used by Kentucky, Florida and 33 other states.

The procedure calls for rendering the condemned inmate unconscious with a general anesthetic. Then a paralyzing agent known as pancuronium bromide is injected, followed by a heart-stopping drug called potassium chloride. The potential problem occurs when an insufficient amount of anesthetic is injected, and the paralyzed inmate cannot express pain he feels from the other drugs.

Florida's botched execution of Angel Diaz in 2006, which took 34 minutes after needles went through his veins, brought about changes in the state's protocol for lethal injection. The new procedure requires a pause of a few minutes after the anesthetic injection in order to determine if the inmate is unconscious and unable to feel pain before moving ahead with the next drug.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in a dissenting opinion, cited Florida and several other states as models for requiring extra steps in the protocol, noting that Kentucky should be compelled to do a better job.

But it remains clear that the Kentucky case will not end appeals over lethal injection issues, with even Justice John Paul Stevens conceding that all the conflicting opinions by the seven justices leave the door open to more challenges.

And society's debate over capital punishment, despite allowances in the Constitution and rulings by the Supreme Court affirming its validity, will not diminish.

But it's the law of the land. And the law - and the condemned murderers - should be executed.

We support Gov. Charlie Crist's strong stand on the issue. For justice.

Talk back

Should Florida begin executing condemned killers as soon as possible? Share your views at

Appeal to the EU Over the Death Penalty

(25 Apr 08 - RV) The European Union today appealed to the governor of the U.S. state of Kentucky to commute the execution of a man convicted of killing a police officer.

The EU protested a decision last week by the U.S. Supreme Court to allow the continued use of lethal injection as a means for carrying out the death penalty. The EU also restated its opposition to capital punishment.Dale S. Recinella is a chaplain for the state of Florida’s death row. He is currently in Italy on a speaking tour to talk about the fight against capital punishment.He says the Supreme Court decision was a disappointment for opponents of the death penalty in the United States...

Lionel Tate's attorney running for Fort L commish

Jim Lewis, an attorney who lives in Fort Lauderdale's Harbour Inlet neighborhood, filed his paperwork to run for City Commission District IV, the south part of the city. Commissioner Cindi Hutchinson represents that district right now, but she is in her third term and can't run for the seat. She is running for mayor.

(Mayor Jim Naugle is also term limited; we're not sure what he's doing next. Will someone please ask him to start taking my calls again?!)

Lewis wants "a cleaner, greener, and leaner Fort Lauderdale,'' and is vowing to take no campaign contributions from developers or lobbyists.

Lewis represented Lionel Tate in his murder trial. Tate was tried as an adult for the murder of a 6-year-old playmate. He was the youngest American sentenced to life in prison. Later he was set free, but is back in prison for his involvement in the 2005 robbery of a pizza delivery man.

"Can I please be known for something else?,'' Lewis asked when the subject of Tate was brought up.

Lewis has run unsuccessfully for judge and state Legislature. He also ran for mayor against Naugle in 1994, and lost.

Keep reading to find out more about his candidacy. I'm posting the press release he sent us.

Press release from Lewis campaign:

Fort Lauderdale attorney, Jim Lewis, age 50, has filed to run for the Fort Lauderdale City Commission, District 4. The seat is being vacated by Cindi Hutchinson and the election is set for February, 2009.

Jim is a 20 year resident of Fort Lauderdale and a 10 year resident of the Harbour Inlet neighborhood. He has a B.A. Degree in public administration from the University of Central Florida (1978) and a law degree from Stetson University (1980).
Jim’s work experience includes being a local prosecutor, a special prosecutor for former Governor Bob Graham and as an Assistant Statewide Prosecutor for the Florida Attorney’s General Office. Jim has also been an Adjunct Professor of Law at Nova Southeastern University since 1990.

Jim Lewis stated “I’m running for the city commission because I want a cleaner, greener, and leaner Fort Lauderdale, I’m going to spread my message of controlled growth, cleaner waterways and fiscal responsibility. In the spirit of being environmentally responsible I’ve bought myself a scooter, and I plan on scootering through the neighborhoods of District 4 to run a grass roots campaign. I am pledging not to spend over $10,000.00 on this campaign and I will not accept any campaign contributions from developers or lobbyists”.

“I’m also committed to resolving the ugly labor dispute between the city and its police. I want our police to be well staffed, equipped, trained and paid but I do not approve of the current tactics of the Fraternal Order of Police, (negative billboards and threatening work slowdowns).”

“I want former Fort Lauderdale residents who have left for the Western suburbs of Broward County to come back and live and invest in Fort Lauderdale. We don’t need more, we need better. Let’s tear up a few unused city parking lots and turn them into nature friendly playgrounds. Let’s do something about our beaches having to be closed because of bacteria and waterways that continue to be polluted.”
“We don’t need more high density developments, we need neighborhood improvement supported by better schools, green space, water-saving landscapes, and recreational opportunities”.

“These lean economic times also dictate that we cut government waste. City departments need to be streamlined to offer more efficient government services.”

Jim Lewis is divorced with 4 children and a South Side Little League baseball coach.
The campaign office is located at:

200 Southeast 6th Street, Suite 102, Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33301
Telephone 954.523-4081
Cell phone 954.907.2788

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Killer defends self, gets his life spared

By Molly Moorhead, Times Staff Writer

Published Tuesday, April 22, 2008 9:08 PM


DADE CITY — A jailhouse lawyer won the biggest case of his life Tuesday, employing an impressive knowledge of capital law and the testimony of a neo-Nazi character witness to persuade a judge to spare him the death penalty.

Circuit Judge Lynn Tepper also had serious problems with prosecutors' argument in favor of the ultimate punishment, which she said "shocks the conscience of this court."

The case involved Lawrence Joey Smith, who was convicted of taking the orders to shoot and kill two teenagers over a botched drug deal in 1999.

One of them, Stephen Tuttle, survived. He was in court Tuesday and was unhappy with the life sentence Tepper imposed.

"I really believe he should have gotten the death penalty," Tuttle said. "But you know, I can go on with my life and he can't really."

Prosecutors said Smith and a drug dealer named Faunce Pearce were seeking vengeance against Tuttle, then 16, and his friend Robert Crawford, 17, after the teens lost $1,200 of Pearce's drug money.

Tuttle was shot in the head but survived when the bullet hit his fingers before lodging in his brain.

Crawford was shot next as he begged for his life.

Smith went to trial, was convicted of first-degree murder and first-degree attempted murder and sentenced to death in 2001. But his sentence was thrown out because the trial judge erred.

His second sentencing phase was in March. He was eligible for either life in prison or death.

Tepper had to weigh the aggravators — factors in the case that favor the death penalty — against mitigators that argue against it.

The jury voted 7-5 in favor of death; judges must give such recommendations "great weight" in sentencing.

Smith, 30, who educated himself in the law while in prison and represented himself in his appeal, pushed a long list of mitigators.

During the hearing in March, he put John Allen Ditullio on the stand to testify for him.

Ditullio belonged to a New Port Richey neo-Nazi sect when he was charged in a 2006 fatal stabbing. He met Smith in jail.

"Mr. Smith has made me re-evaluate my life and reconstruct my life in a positive way," Ditullio testified.

Tepper credited Smith with having a positive effect on other inmates, calling Ditullio "vastly transformed."

She also said that Smith has a good potential for rehabilitation, noting that in prison he has learned to "use his pen instead of his mouth."

The state presented three aggravating factors, including that Smith was also convicted of another violent felony: the attempted murder of Tuttle.

Tepper accepted that argument but rejected the others.

She said Smith had not been proved guilty of kidnapping Tuttle and Crawford. That was the work of Pearce. Prosecutors said Pearce masterminded the killings and Smith pulled the trigger.

But Tepper said the state had not proved who the shooter was. There were two other men with guns packed into the Trans-Am that September night in 1999, when they drove out to a dark stretch of State Road 54 in Land O'Lakes.

Those two testified that Smith shot Tuttle and Crawford, but the judge said they were not credible witnesses.

Assistant State Attorney Manny Garcia said after court Tuesday that the men's testimony about how Smith shot Crawford jibed with what a medical examiner said about Crawford's wounds.

Tepper also questioned why the other two were never charged with a crime, raising the issue of proportionality of punishments.

"Between Lawrence Joey Smith and the two uncharged gunmen, it is not possible to have proportionality if one defendant is put to death and two walk free without prosecution or sentence."

But Garcia told the Times: "If everybody had been charged, who's going to testify against them?"

The state has no avenue for appeal.

Pearce's conviction and death sentence were overturned in 2006 because of lawyer error. He awaits retrial on charges of first-degree murder and attempted murder. He will again face the death penalty.

Smith also holds out the possibility of future appeals, said Keith Hammond, the attorney appointed to assist him.

Smith himself found procedural errors in his original trial that he may still raise to challenge his conviction.

"He is phenomenal. He's not the same person he was," Hammond said. "He understands capital law as well as any capital attorney. He could teach it."

Molly Moorhead can be reached at or (727) 869-6245.

Crittenden guilty plea anticipated; three life sentences would follow

By Ron Bartlett

A man accused of killing three men after a night-long poker game is expected to plead guilty to murder charges today in a Palatka courtroom, an assistant state attorney said.

Duane Demaris Crittenden, 28, is charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the execution-style deaths of Richard Smith, Jerome Henry and Robert Ford. Their bodies were found after an apparent robbery early Feb. 16, which followed an overnight card game at the former Paradise Inn on Carver Street in Palatka.

According to reports, an agreement has been reached between Crittenden and prosecutors in which Crittenden will plead guilty to three counts of firstndegree murder.

A sentencing will follow in which Crittenden receives three consecutive life sentences — the only sentence allowed for each charge — thus avoiding the death penalty. Between the plea and sentencing, the families of Smith, Henry and Ford are expected to speak.

Assistant State Attorney Chris French, one of the lead attorneys working the case for the state, said the plea agreement should benefit everyone.

“Closure is certainly something you want to try to achieve for the victims,” he said. “The case against him is incredibly strong. You really just weigh whether you want to go through two years of litigation for the death penalty or you look for that closure.

“Generally ending the case at this point is what (the victims’ families) wanted.”

Prosecutors would have sought the death penalty if the case had gone to trial, French said, but added that would give more wiggle room for future appeals.

“This is more than just a bird in the hand,” he said. “This is huge because it limits the future appeals of the defendant.”

French said, in all death penalty cases, there is an automatic review by the Florida Supreme Court and every aspect of the trial is reviewed.

“In a plea, the only thing he can appeal is that his plea was entered without his consent or that he was misled about something,” he said. “The claims are very limited.”

The plea and sentencing will occur at 1:30 p.m. in the courtroom of Circuit Judge Ed Hedstrom

Crittenden was indicted by a grand jury on three counts of first-degree murder and one count of armed robbery March 3.

According to a report from the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office, Crittenden was a participant in the card game with the three victims and others during the night of Feb. 15.

The report said, after losing a large sum of money, Crittenden returned between 8:45 and 9 a.m. the next day to rob and kill the men. Their bodies were discovered about 10:30 a.m.

All three men had been shot, while Ford had also been stabbed.

Crittenden was found a day later, Feb. 17, after a tip to authorities led officers to the Town Plaza Motel in Ocala. He was located walking a short distance away and arrested.

A knife and gun believed to be the weapons used in the slayings were later found in an Ocala pharmacy’s trash bin.

Smith Spared Execution For Pasco County Murder

By Tribune Staff The Tampa Tribune

Published: April 22, 2008

DADE CITY Lawrence Joey Smith was spared a death sentence this afternoon for killing a 17-year-old Land O' Lakes High School student.

Circuit Judge Lynn Tepper sentenced Smith, 30, to life in prison for killing Robert Crawford in 1999, breaking with a split jury's recommendation that Smith be sentenced to death.

In a hearing that lasted about 45 minutes, Tepper read a lengthy order outlining her decision. In part, she concluded Smith did not deserve to die after determing the so-called "aggravators" in the case were outweighed by the "mitigators."

According to Florida law, the decision of whether someone is sentenced to life in prison or death is made after weighing aggravating and mitigating factors, which are defined by statute. After going through that process last month, a jury voted 7-5 to recommend a death sentence for Smith.

Judges, ultimately, impose death sentences in Florida after giving "great weight" to jury recommendations. Judges typically follow jury recommendations, so Tepper's ruling was somewhat surprising.

Smith and co-defendant Faunce Pearce were charged with killing Crawford and shooting his friend, Stephen Tuttle. The two boys were shot alongside State Road 54, near Land O' Lakes, and left for dead. Tuttle, then 16, survived and flagged down help. His testimony helped convict Smith of first-degree murder.

The shootings were drug-related.

Smith, who has always maintained he did not shoot the boys, initially was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death in 2001. The Florida Supreme Court overturned his death sentence in 2004 and ordered a new sentencing hearing.

A staff report

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

300,000 Florida Children with Serious Mental Health Issues

300,000 children in Florida suffer from "serious emotional issues" says officials at Florida's Department of Children and Families.

And the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice says New nearly two thirds of the young people in Florida's juvenile justice system suffer from mental illness or substance abuse.

And experts say too often children aren't getting the care they need.
Two factors often stand in the way of them getting help. Sometimes the problems are not diagnosed. And other times the resources to treat those problems, just aren't there.

"And children either get into trouble at school. But then wind up in a detention center or in front of a judge or with the police," says Dr. Shairi Turner, the Chief Medical Director at DJJ.

John Sjostrom is a Circuit Judge and has years of experience practicing law. He says too often children wind up in court, when proper treatment could have prevented certain situations from ever happening.

"And we lose that first best opportunity to prevent people from ever entering the criminal justice system in the first place," says Sjostrom.

Behavioral issues are usually associated with boys, but that trend is changing. "As a nation we're seeing more and more girls who are getting into the juvenile justice setting because of what's felt to be more violent behavior," adds Dr. Turner.

Experts say much of that is caused by violence in the home. They say that can cause a type of post traumatic stress syndrome that causes kids to act out.

Mental health experts say other factors that contribute to behavioral problems in children is pressure to succeed, poor nutrition, television and video games.

If juvenile centers close, cops become baby sitters

Sarah Lundy

Sentinel Staff Writer

April 22, 2008

The handcuffed boy stood facing a wall, waiting to be patted down.

An Orlando police officer had just brought the 13-year-old offender to Orange County's Juvenile Assessment Center, a windowless beige building on Central Boulevard near downtown Orlando.

Ten minutes later, the officer was out the door and back to work. Center workers took it from there, photographing the boy for his mug shot, evaluating him for drug and mental issues, and calling his parents.

That simple, seamless process could end if lawmakers in Tallahassee cut the state's share of the center's $4.3 million budget. Without that $335,000 -- money that pays for support staff, operational expenses and supplies -- the center will be forced to close.

Police, judges and counselors worry about losing their one-stop shop for services to troubled juveniles.

"We've got a juvenile-justice system that is broken. But there's one working portion, and they are looking at destroying that now," said Orange County sheriff's Capt. Mike Fewless.

Instead of dropping off juveniles at the center -- which served 9,100 kids last year -- police officers and deputies could spend hours chauffeuring and tending to teens every time they make an arrest.

The routine might start with fingerprints and photographs at the Orange County Jail on 33rd Street. Youngsters who cannot be released must be transported to the juvenile-detention center on Bumby Avenue near Michigan Street. If a juvenile does not need to be held, someone has to contact a parent or guardian and then watch over the offender until adults arrive to take custody.

Before the assessment center opened in 1994, such details frequently tied up law-enforcement officers for almost six hours per case.

"If I had to sit around and baby-sit a kid for three or four hours, I can't do my job," said Orange County sheriff's Sgt. Al Giardiello. "I've turned into a day-care worker with a gun."

This is a dilemma facing officials in 17 counties -- including Seminole, Brevard, Volusia and Polk -- throughout the state. Florida's Department of Juvenile Justice spends about $7 million a year to fund the centers, which also get money from the counties and the Department of Children and Families.

More than just a drop-off point for officers, the centers offer counselors hired by DCF to assess all the teenagers who come through the door for drug-abuse or mental-health issues. The center also can refer families to services in the community.

Those with severe substance-abuse problems can stay in the secure 24-hour detox area at the center. The Addictions Receiving Facility is a 20-bed coed residential program for kids ages 12 to 17 from Orange, Seminole, Brevard and Osceola counties. If the center goes away, the detox operation could close, director Larry Goldberg said.

Parents and police might need to turn to hospital emergency rooms for immediate help -- if hospitals even will accept such juveniles.

"I don't know where [the kids] are going to go," Goldberg said.

The truancy center -- the place for kids picked up while skipping school -- also is housed at the JAC.

Everyone is waiting to see what happens.

Legislators will begin hashing out the center's fate this week.

"We're going to try to keep them as much as possible," said Frank Penela, spokesman for the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice. If the cuts happen, local officials know they will need to have plans.

Circuit Judge Tony Johnson, who handles juvenile cases in court, has scheduled a May 12 meeting for everyone affected by the JAC. By that time, the Legislature will have decided the budget.

Orange County Public Safety Director Mike McCoy plans to gather the area's top cops to talk about other ways of processing juveniles. New procedures at the adult jail will need to be created, he said.

"Those of us who have been around long enough know there was life before the JAC, and there will be life after the JAC," he said.

Sarah Lundy can be reached at or 407-420-6218.

Florida murder suspect jailed in B.C.

Trace Christenson
The Enquirer

A former Battle Creek man, suspected in a Florida murder, is jailed here while detectives investigate the death of his roommate.

Jason Bass, 33, was arraigned Monday in Calhoun County District Court on charges of fleeing from police and resisting police after his arrest Saturday night following a pursuit from Battle Creek into Barry County.

Meanwhile, two detectives from the Fort Myers (Fla.) Police Department are continuing their investigation after spending Sunday and Monday in Battle Creek, before returning to Florida Monday night.

"Our investigation is continuing and we are still collecting information," Sherry Flynn, a spokeswoman for the Fort Myers police, said. "We expect to be meeting with the state's attorney office."

Bass is a suspect in the murder of his roommate, Walter Barr, 40, who was found dead Friday in the home the two men shared at Windsor East Apartments in Fort Myers.

Barr had been bludgeoned to death several days before he was found. He was found by a maintenance man after Barr's family and friends asked the apartment be checked.

Police in Fort Myers began looking for Bass and notified police in Michigan and North Carolina he might be driving a yellow Volkswagen.

Saturday night, Battle Creek police spotted the car and Bass was arrested after leading city officers and Calhoun County Sheriff Department deputies north from Battle Creek into Barry County, where he was stopped.

Police said Bass cut his arm in a suicide attempt before he was pulled from the vehicle. He was treated at Battle Creek Health System and taken to the county jail.

At his arraignment before Magistrate Roger Graves, Bass said at first he didn't need an attorney but then agreed when Graves said one would be appointed.

Assistant Prosecutor Brandon Hultink asked for a cash bond because of the pending case in Florida and because Bass has convictions for larceny from a motor vehicle in North Carolina and resisting police in Ohio.

If convicted of the two charges here, he faces up to five years in prison.

Hultink also said Bass could be dangerous if released.

Graves ordered him held on $50,000 cash bond and scheduled a preliminary examination for May 5.

Police, who believe Bass might have been in the Battle Creek area for a few days before he was arrested, are asking anyone with information to call Detective Brad Wise at the Battle Creek Police Department at 269-966-3322 or Detective Steven M. Tharaldsen at the Fort Myers Police Department at 239-338-2171.

Bass' sister and the mother of his son attended the arraignment but declined comment.

A friend from Fort Myers, Amber Fowlks, 23, called Bass "an absolutely stand-up guy. He is great with kids and always kind and considerate. There is no way I can see him doing whatever they are accusing him of."

Fowlks said Bass and Barr had been living together for three weeks but "were very close, good friends. They were always super cool with each other. I have no idea what happened."

Fowlks would not speculate on the homicide but said when Bass disappeared "we all knew something was wrong. He used to talk with everyone every day."

Trace Christenson can be reached at 966-0685 or


New Haven Native Arrested In Florida Slaying

native of New Haven has been arrested after he allegedly killed his landlord in Florida, tried to burn his body in his back yard and then drove to Michigan in the victim's car, according to police.

Jason Tiszai is accused of killing Michael Chastain on April 2 and then driving Chastain's 2005 Nissan to his hometown in New Haven.

Police said Tiszai resisted when they tried to arrest him at Sneakers Lounge in New Haven and told officers to shoot him rather than send him to prison for the rest of his life, court documents say.

He also allegedly struggled with officers and kicked open a holding cell at the New Haven Police Department.

Tiszai was charged in Macomb County with malicious destruction of police property, receiving and concealing stolen property and three counts of resisting and obstructing arrest.

Tiszai faces a first-degree murder charge in Florida. Bond was set at $1 million.

Convictions of ex-guards upheld


A federal appeals court has upheld the convictions of two former guards in a sex-for-contraband scheme at a federal prison for women in Florida, where there was a fatal shootout when agents tried to arrest another guard.
Gregory Dixon and Alan Moore were sentenced to a year in prison in January 2007 after being convicted of conspiring to accept illegal gratuities and other crimes.

Dixon and Moore were among six guards at the Tallahassee Federal Correctional Institution. Prosecutors said the guards were part of a conspiracy to trade cigars, cigarettes, chewing gum, jewelry and cosmetics to inmates for sex.

One guard, Ralph Hill, pulled a gun and began firing at federal agents who went to the prison to arrest the suspects June 21, 2006. Hill and Justice Department Special Agent William "Buddy" Sentner were killed, and a prison officer aiding in the arrests was wounded.

Three other guards pleaded guilty.

Dixon and Moore appealed their convictions on several grounds, including that the favors bestowed on inmates did not rise to the level of performing an "official act" in exchange for a bribe. They also argued that the government failed to prove a single conspiracy, as alleged in the indictment.

A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected their arguments in an opinion filed Tuesday.

Tiffany Cole -- Only Woman On Florida's Death Row

As the last of four people convicted in the kidnapping and murder of Carol and Reggie Sumner, Tiffany Cole is currently the only woman on Florida's Death Row.

Like her co-defendants, Michael Jackson and Alan Wade, she was handed down two death sentences for the double murder. The fourth accomplice, Bruce Nixon, testified for the state against the others, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and got a 45-year prison sentence.

During her trial, prosecutors said Cole had been a familiar face to the Sumners. She was a neighbor when the couple lived in South Carolina. Prosecutors called her the linchpin in the murderous scheme because they said she befriended the Sumners and then set them up.

In South Carolina, Cole's father lived four or five houses from the Sumners. Carol Sumner would go to Cole's father's house to help him because he was suffering from cancer. She had no way of knowing that the girl she met at that home would eventually lead her and her husband into a deadly trap.

Cole's father helped her buy a car from the Sumners just as the couple was moving to Jacksonville. That was about the same time that Cole became involved with Michael Jackson.

Jackson traveled to Jacksonville with Cole in the summer of 2005, when she completed paperwork on the car. That's when police believe the plan to rob and kill the Sumners was hatched.

In an interview with Channel 4, Jackson said he and Cole stayed at the Sumners' home in St. Nicholas in the summer of 2005. He said the older couple was nice and welcomed them into their home, but said things got "pretty much nuts after that."

Just weeks after Cole and Jackson stayed at the couple's home, the Sumners were found buried in a shallow grave in Georgia.

During Cole's trial, jurors were shown pictures of the woman along with two her co-defendants celebrating in a limousine with handfuls of cash and a glass of champagne. The jurors also heard an incriminating audio recording of a call Cole and Jackson made to Jacksonville officers claiming to be Carol and Reggie Sumner.

Two of the jurors with whom Channel 4 spoke said what they saw and heard during Cole's trial would in some ways haunt them for the rest of their lives.

"It was really scary. That's all I could think about was why was I picked?" said Jessica Reynolds

She and Mathew Ray were among the 12 people who decided Cole's fate. After only a few hours of deliberations, the jury found her guilty of murdering the Sumners.

"She brought it on herself. I mean, she didn't have to go with these people. She wasn't held against her will," Reynolds said.

"Everybody thought she was guilty beyond the shadow of a doubt," Ray said.

Five months after the jury convicted Cole of double murder and voted 9-to-3 that she should receive the death penalty, a judge sentenced her to death for the murders and life in prison on the kidnapping charge.

Although Cole is currently the only woman sentenced to death in Florida, she is not alone on Death Row. Also there, but no longer facing execution, is Virginia Larzelere, a convicted and sentenced to death in 1993 for the murder of her husband. In 2005, a Volusia County judge overturned the sentence and ordered a new penalty phase.

The last woman put to death in Florida was Aileen Wuornos. As one of the country's few female serial killers, she murdered seven men in Central Florida starting in late 1989 and continuing through 1990. She was executed in 2002.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Gov. Crist 'grateful' for Supreme Court's lethal injection decision

Sun Tallahassee Bureau

Gov. Charlie Crist is ready to begin signing death warrants after Wednesday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision clearing the use of lethal injection in a Kentucky case.

The wait for the decision had acted as a de facto hold on executions in Florida and other states.

Crist said he was “grateful that the Supreme Court rendered the decision that they did. This is a serious subject.” The governor added that courts are still considering the death row appeal of Mark Dean Schwab, a child killer, so no decision will be made on that paused process.

“In the meantime, because of the ruling … we may consider signing additional death warrants,” Crist said. He has asked Rob Wheeler of his legal staff to produce a “short list” of death row prisoners who could now receive lethal injections.

Crist said the main criteria would be how “heinous the crime” committed by the prisoners and how long they have been on death row.

“Justice delayed is justice denied and an awful lot of families of the victims have been waiting for justice to be done,” Crist said.

Court rejects appeals by 11 death row inmates

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Supreme Court on Monday followed up on its ruling last week upholding the commonly used lethal injection method of execution and rejected appeals by 11 death row inmates in seven states.

The ruling cleared the way for a resumption of executions that had been halted for nearly seven months while the justices considered a constitutional challenge to the three-drug cocktail used in the executions.

The ruling means more than a dozen death row inmates likely will get early execution dates. Officials in the leading death penalty states, like Texas, Virginia and Florida, said they planned to schedule executions that previously had been on hold.

With last week's 7-2 vote, the high court ruled against two Kentucky death row inmates who argued the lethal injection method violated the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment by inflicting needless pain and suffering.

The appeals by the 11 death row inmates raised the same issue, and the cases apparently had been held by the high court pending the ruling in the Kentucky case. The rejection of the appeals was expected.

The cases involved appeals by three death row inmates in both Georgia and Ohio and one each from Alabama, Arizona, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas.

In last week's ruling, Justice John Paul Stevens said for the first time that he believed the death penalty itself was unconstitutional.

Stevens in two of the cases said he agreed with the court's decision to reject the appeals, but emphasized that in turning down the appeals the court expresses no opinion on the merits of the underlying claim.

(Reporting by James Vicini, Editing by David Storey)

Editorial: Use death penalty, but use it carefully

Convicted child rapist and killer Mark Dean Schwab will finally face his punishment, now that the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed this month that lethal injection is fair and just.

Schwab was convicted of raping and killing 11-year-old Junny Rios-Martinez Jr. in 1991 in Brevard County.

Harold Lucas was sentenced to die in 1977 for the murder of Jill Piper in Bonita Springs. He is the longest serving death row inmate from Southwest Florida.

There are 338 death row inmates in the state of Florida - 16 from Southwest Florida, and we agree with Gov. Charlie Crist's assertion that "justice delayed is justice denied."

Crist last year ended a death penalty moratorium, imposed by his predecessor Jeb Bush, based on concerns that the method used to kill inmates was cruel and unusual.

Florida held no executions in 2007. The Supreme Court decision opened the door to resume the practice.

We have argued that we would like to see Florida move from a three-drug cocktail to the use of one lethal drug, sodium pentothal, because of concerns by critics that the cocktail does not kill fast enough and may cause pain.

Our editorial board supports capital punishment, but we also want to ensure that those on death row are in fact guilty of the crimes of which the state accuses them.

Death row inmate exonerations based on later evidence, in states such as Illinois, require us to be especially cautious.

That said, when inmates - who are proven again and again guilty of their heinous crimes - languish for decades, the state and our society lose financially and the families and friends of the victims suffer unnecessarily.


Sunday, April 20, 2008

Drug treatment a sensible approach

April 20, 2008

By Mark Fontaine

As legislators wrestle with strategies to solve Florida's budget crisis, it is prudent that the state's limited resources be spent wisely. One of the smart investments the state has supported is community-based drug treatment for offenders on the verge of prison admission and drug treatment in prison for inmates on their way back into the community.

According to the Department of Corrections, 65 percent of the 100,000 inmates in prison and 59.7 percent of the 153,000 offenders on probation have a substance abuse problem and need treatment. The state has contracted with community substance abuse providers for 14 years with positive results, the data showing that prisoners who received institutional treatment returned to prison at a lower rate than those who didn't receive treatment. The success rate is even greater for probationers who received community-based treatment outside of prison.

Drug treatment is not a soft-on-crime approach, but rather a smart-on-crime approach. There is significant research showing that offender drug treatment works, and is one of a variety of strategies that have been used across the nation to flatten the intake of new inmates. Data from the Florida Department of Corrections validates that drug treatment is a cost-effective intervention for offenders as it reduces prison admissions and recidivism.

Another smart approach is the cost-savings benefit of substance abuse treatment. Already, this potential savings was compromised when, in November, 309 community substance abuse offender beds and 525 institutional drug treatment slots were eliminated. For $9,400, a probationer with a substance abuse problem was provided drug treatment, random urinalysis, job placement and supervision. By cutting the beds, the same offender who now goes to prison will cost taxpayers $45,000.

These numbers demonstrate that substance abuse treatment, either community-based or within an institution, is a smart, long-term investment for the state of Florida.

Next year alone, the state of Florida has committed $715 million dollars for the construction of new prisons and to open beds that are already constructed. Within the next five years, it is anticipated that there will be a 30 percent increase of new prisoners entering the state corrections system. The cost to build the 17 new prisons needed to house those inmates will total $1.7 billion. Considering the enormous fiscal impact over the next five years, shouldn't we be seeking cost-savings methods now?

In the next two weeks, legislators will decide whether to eliminate or continue these treatment programs, which amounts to only 1.4 percent of the total Department of Corrections budget. Lawmakers have the duty to spend state resources wisely. As funds diminish, strategic business thinking demands new and innovative approaches to investing.

Drug treatment for offenders is one approach to long-term savings in the midst of a year in budget crisis. Not only will it save money, it also has the additional benefit of saving lives.

Mark P. Fontaine is executive director of the Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association.

Florida's death row inmates await fate

By David Angier

Charles Foster has a pending appeal that might keep him off the governor’s death list.

Foster, 61, has been on death row longer than any other prisoner from Bay County. Nine men await death sentences imposed by Bay County judges and juries.

According to the Department of Corrections, Gov. Charlie Crist’s staff is putting together a list of “five or so” death row inmates who might be eligible for execution now that the U.S. Supreme Court last week found lethal injection to be a humane form of execution.

A corrections spokeswoman said Thursday she did not know if Foster’s appeal would keep him off the list, even though it appears he is one of the five defendants who have been on death row the longest.

Thomas Philpot, a deputy press secretary for Crist, said by e-mail that Crist has “encouraged the staff to look at factors including the length of time spent on death row and the heinous nature of the crime committed.”

He did not say if appeals would keep defendants off the list, but said each case would be evaluated individually.

Philpot said Crist will wait for a ruling in convicted child killer Mark Schwab’s death case, which is on appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court, before taking any action, but “he may consider signing additional death warrants” because of the high court’s ruling this week that Kentucky can continue to use lethal injection.

Foster was convicted in 1975 of first-degree murder in the death of Julian Lanier, a 65-year-old tourist from Ohio visiting family in Panama City. Lanier and Foster met in a bar, picked up two women and drove to a secluded area in Callaway in Lanier’s Winnebago.

Lanier and one of the girls were preparing to have sex when Foster became enraged. He cut Lanier’s throat and dragged him from the vehicle. Foster covered Lanier with pine branches then cut his spine at the base of his neck when he saw Lanier was breathing.

Foster and the women divided the money in Lanier’s wallet and went their separate ways. One of the women reported the murder.

According to the Commission on Capital Cases in Tallahassee, the Florida Supreme Court affirmed Foster’s conviction and sentence in 1979, and the United States Supreme Court denied his petition for appeal that year. Foster then filed motions for ineffective assistance of counsel and writs asking the federal government to take control of his case. Both were denied.

He was granted new sentencing hearings in 1990 and 1993, again was given the death penalty and a new round of appeals began.

“The delay in the execution of the sentence appears to be due to Foster’s death sentence being vacated multiple times at multiple levels of the court system,” according to the commission’s Web site, “and the resulting legal and judicial procedures necessary to entertain legal challenges and re-impose the death sentence.”

Then-Gov. Bob Graham signed death warrants for Foster twice, in 1981 and 1984, but both were stayed.

Foster filed a writ of habeas corpus to the U.S. Court of Appeals in February 2005, which has yet to be acted upon. His last appeal was to the U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 27, 2006, which was denied last year.

Death Row
No one has been put to death for a crime committed in Bay County in recent memory. These inmates are now on death row after being convicted here:
• Kayle Bates, 49, sentenced to death the first time in 1983 for killing Janet Renee White on June 14, 1982. He was a day away from being executed in 1989 when he was given a stay. Two later juries also recommended the death penalty.
• Darryl Barwick, 41, stabbed to death Rebecca Ray Wendt on March 31, 1986. He was sentenced to die in 1987 and 1992.
• Charles Foster, 61, killed and robbed Julian Lanier in 1975. He was sentenced to death that year and twice more in 1990 and 1993.
• James A. Card, 61, killed Janis Franklin on June 3, 1981. He was sentenced to death the first time in 1982 and twice more later.
• Mark Geralds, 40, was convicted in 1990 of beating and stabbing to death Tressa Pettibone in 1989. Two juries sentenced him to death, the last one unanimously in 1992.
• Olen Gorby, 58, beat to death W. Jay Raborn on May 5, 1990. He was sentenced to death on Aug. 30, 1991.
• Roderick Orme, 46, beat, raped and strangled Lisa Redd on March 3, 1992. He was sentenced to die in 1993 and again in July 2007.
• Paul Everett, 28, beat to death Kelli Bailey on Nov. 2, 2001. He was sentenced to die Jan. 9, 2003.
• Robert Bailey, 25, shot to death Panama City Beach Police Sgt. Kevin Kight on March 27, 2007. He was sentenced to death April 11, 2007.

Christopher Offord was sentenced to death Aug. 3, 2005, for beating to death Dana Noser on July 31, 2004. The Florida Supreme Court later overturned his sentence. He is serving life in jail.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Man Off Death Row Wants DNA Test

A man taken off death row for a new trial wants a DNA test of a palm print that prosecutors said belongs to him.

Roy Lee McDuffie was convicted of murdering Janice Schneider and Danwnielle Beauregard at the Dollar General store in Deltona in 2002.

The Florida Supreme Court overturned that conviction and now he's preparing for a new trial.

At a hearing in DeLand on Friday, McDuffie's defense team asked the judge to allow DNA testing of evidence found at the crime scene including a palm print on some duct tape that was a key piece of evidence in his first trial.

The judge denied that request out of concern it might destroy evidence.

Freed up by court, states prepare to continue executions

By KELLEY SHANNON – 2 days ago

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding lethal injection sent a shudder through death row Wednesday, and prosecutors and governors around the country said they would move forward with carrying out death sentences as quickly as the courts can set execution dates.

"It's just terrible," said Paris Powell, a convicted killer at the Oklahoma State Prison in McAlester. He added: "It's like the air has just been let out of a balloon. There's disbelief that the ruling came so quickly, but it goes further than just right now. It's now official that the death penalty is here to stay forever, really."

The ruling came after what amounted to a seven-month moratorium on executions in the U.S., as states awaited a ruling from the high court. In the case from Kentucky, death penalty foes argued unsuccessfully that the widely used three-drug cocktail can cause excruciating pain in violation of the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

In Texas, easily the No. 1 death penalty state, 40 condemned convicts who had all but exhausted their appeals had been awaiting the outcome of the case, said University of Houston law professor David Dow, who represents death row inmates. Texas has 357 inmates on death row.

In Texas, judges set execution dates. By law, execution dates must be set at least a month in advance, so no execution could take place before mid-May at the earliest.

The chief prosecutor in Houston, Kenneth Magidson, whose surrounding Harris County sends more inmates to death row than any other, said he would seek execution dates for the six inmates awaiting execution "in due course."

In Oklahoma, where 84 people are on death row, Attorney General Drew Edmondson said he will request an execution date for two condemned inmates who have run out of appeals. The executions could be held as early as June, allowing 60 days for each inmate to receive a final clemency hearing.

Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine promptly lifted a moratorium on capital punishment that he imposed April 1 when he stayed the execution of a man who killed a police officer.

In Florida, where a botched execution in 2006 may have caused an inmate extreme pain, Gov. Charlie Crist said he asked one of his lawyers to put together "a very short list" of death warrants to consider signing. Florida has 388 inmates on death row.

"Justice delayed is justice denied, and an awful lot of families of the victims have been waiting for justice to be done, and so that's certainly an important factor," he said.

The nation's last execution was Sept. 25, when a Texas inmate was put to death by injection for raping and shooting to death a mother of seven. The presiding judge of the state's highest criminal court refused to keep the court open past 5 p.m. that day so that the condemned man's lawyers could file a late appeal that would have spared his life at least until the Supreme Court decided the Kentucky case.

Since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976, Texas has executed 405 inmates, more than any other state. Virginia is second with 99.

It was in Oklahoma that the three-drug lethal cocktail was invented 31 years ago. Death row inmates in the bunker-like H-unit at the 100-year-old Oklahoma State Prison talk about the possibility of a painfully botched execution, Powell told The Associated Press.

"Everybody has heard horror stories. I've heard them myself, but how can you confirm them?" he asked. "I've never seen anybody walk through that door upstairs ever come back."


Associated Press writers Sean Murphy in McAlester, Okla.; Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee, Fla.; Brett Barrouquere in Louisville, Ky.; Larry O'Dell in Richmond, Va.; Don Thompson in Sacramento, Calif.; and Ben Nuckols in Baltimore contributed to this report.

(This version CORRECTS the number of Florida death row inmates to 388, instead of 338.)

The death penalty question

Justices skirt injustice of capital punishment

Is it time to kill the death penalty?

This question, buried in a 97-page U.S. Supreme Court opinion that examines, in gruesome detail, the practice of lethal injection, doesn't get much attention from state legislatures or federal lawmakers.

Support for the death penalty has become so knee-jerk that it's rare to find a candidate for any public office in Florida willing to voice opposition to capital punishment. As Justice John Paul Stevens noted, actions to retain the death penalty seem to have become "the product of habit and inattention rather than an acceptable deliberative process that weighs the costs and risks of administering that penalty against its identifiable benefits and rest in part on a faulty assumption about the retributive force of the death penalty."

Where is that debate? Where is the proof that the death penalty actually provides real deterrence to crimes of violence, or that it is fairly administered? Where is the justification for continuing a practice so outdated that the rest of the industrialized world has already turned away from it?

When jurisdictions actually ask these tough questions, they sometimes reach surprising conclusions. New Jersey officials set out to study the specific practice of lethal injection in 2005. The evidence they uncovered so disturbed them that state officials convened an exhaustive look at the death penalty in 2006. That commission found gross inequities in the way the penalty was applied and seriously undermined arguments that it helped lower the murder rate. In 2007, New Jersey abolished capital punishment.

But as the Supreme Court made clear Wednesday, it wasn't being asked to adjudicate the fairness or rationality of the death penalty. Instead, the court was ruling on a narrowly constructed challenge to Kentucky's method of execution: the same three-drug cocktail used in more than 30 other states, including Florida.

Lawyers for two condemned men argued that, as applied, the three-drug protocol had a high potential for error, causing a slow, agonizing death rather than the intended quick and painless demise. Their contention is supported by ample evidence of lethal injection gone wrong, including one horrific Florida case where intravenous needles were pushed through an executed man's veins, sending chemicals flooding into the tissue of his arms and creating foot-long burns.

Kentucky officials were able to convince seven members of the court that their protocol -- which includes an anesthetic to cause unconsciousness, a paralytic to keep the prisoner from convulsing and a drug that stops the heart -- had sufficient safeguards to prevent a nightmare scenario.

But that majority isn't as overwhelming as it seems. The majority opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, was supported by just two other justices. Four others -- including Stevens -- expressed their concurrences with separate opinions, in which they agreed to uphold Kentucky's law. And at least two of those concurring justices -- Stevens and Stephen Breyer -- expressed serious reservations about the practice of capital punishment in the United States. (Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and David Souter dissented.)

With the nation's highest court so divided, state leaders should take another look at the practice of court-ordered killings. Not just the mechanics of capital punishment -- but its effectiveness and morality. The methods may be modern, but the evidence hasn't changed -- and that evidence speaks eloquently in favor of abolition.

Local death row convictions

There are 387 men and one woman on Florida's death row; 15 of those condemned inmates were convicted in Volusia County and two in Flagler:

Inmate; county; sentenced

Paul Brown; Volusia; April 2000

Roger Cherry; Volusia; Sept. 1987

Richard England; Volusia; July 2004

Anthony Farina; Volusia; Dec. 1992

Kosta Fotopoulos; Volusia; Nov. 1990

Louis Gaskin; Flagler; June 1990

James Guzman; Volusia; Dec. 2006

Ted Herring; Volusia; March 1982

James Hunter; Volusia; Aug. 1993

Jerone Hunter; Volusia; Sept. 2006

Ray Jackson; Volusia; June 2007

Kenneth Quince; Volusia; Oct. 1980

Bobby Raleigh; Volusia; Feb. 1996

David Snelgrove; Flagler; June 2002

Roy Swafford; Volusia; Nov. 1985

Peter Ventura; Volusia; Jan. 1988

Troy Victorino; Volusia; Sept. 2006

Florida Department of Corrections

McCollum seeks go-ahead on Schwab execution

McCollum sees opening in Schwab case

Brendan Farrington

The Associated Press

April 17, 2008


Attorney General Bill McCollum asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday to allow Florida to proceed with the execution of child killer Mark Dean Schwab, shortly after the high court ruled that lethal injection is not cruel and unusual punishment.

Meanwhile, Gov. Charlie Crist asked for a "very short list" of the worst death-row inmates so he can sign his next death warrant.

In a 7-2 vote, the Supreme Court upheld Kentucky's use of lethal injection to execute condemned killers, and McCollum said that should clear the way for executions in Florida because the states have nearly identical procedures. The court had stopped the Schwab execution, and McCollum's office filed paperwork Wednesday afternoon seeking to get the order lifted.

"In the most heinous of cases, the death penalty should be carried out," McCollum said. "Schwab is a very heinous case."

Schwab, 40, a Merritt Island High School dropout and convicted sex offender, was slated to be executed last November for raping and murdering 11-year-old Junny Rios-Martinez of Cocoa in 1991. He was sentenced to death in July 1992.

But the Supreme Court stayed his execution on Nov. 15 -- four hours before he was scheduled to die -- so the court could hear related arguments in the Kentucky case.

McCollum said he was gratified that the victim's family would see justice and that his belief that Florida's executions "are constitutionally sound has been upheld by the highest legal authority in the nation."

Crist had said he would wait until the high court's decision before moving ahead with other executions. He said he is considering the length of time on death row and the crime committed in choosing who should be executed after Schwab.

"Justice delayed is justice denied, and an awful lot of families of the victims have been waiting for justice to be done," Crist said. "But in addition, the heinous nature of the crime itself is important to consider."

There are 388 offenders on death row in the state, according to the Florida Department of Corrections. Schwab's is among three signed death warrants that are pending.

The ruling "removes the roadblock that brought the Schwab case to a halt," said Wayne Holmes, chief of operations for the Seminole-Brevard County State Attorney's Office and first prosecutor of Schwab. If the U.S. Supreme Court dismisses the current stay, Schwab could be executed as early as this summer, Holmes said.

Holmes said it appears Schwab's attorneys might have exhausted all appeals that could stop the execution. "It's hard for me to imagine anything of merit that they could file," he said.

Holmes did not speak to the Rios-Martinez family Wednesday, but a victim advocate from the State Attorney's Office did. "They are being cautiously optimistic," Holmes said.

Peter Cannon, an attorney representing Schwab, was not immediately available, his office in Tampa said. Calls to Vicki Rios-Martinez, the victim's mother, were unanswered.

Crist signed a death warrant for Schwab in July, lifting a moratorium on executions that his predecessor, Jeb Bush, had ordered after it took twice as long as usual -- 34 minutes -- for convicted killer Angel Diaz, 55, to die in December 2006.

An investigation found the needles had been pushed through Diaz's veins into his flesh, reducing the drugs' effectiveness.

Corrections officials responded by ordering more training and monitoring of its execution team. The new procedures also include a delay after the first chemical, the anesthetic sodium pentothal, is injected to make sure an inmate is unconscious before the other drugs are administered. The second chemical causes paralysis and the third stops the heart from beating, which can result in severe pain if a person is conscious.

Critics of the three-drug system say the paralyzing drug is unnecessary and prevents an inmate from showing pain. Some have advocated using only sodium pentothal because it also is lethal in large doses.

Orange-Osceola Public Defender Robert Wesley, who has handled numerous death-penalty cases, said the high court ruled the chemical drug-execution system does not violate the Eighth Amendment's cruel-and-unusual-punishment standard if it's done perfectly. But he said the court did not address problems and potential room to improve the process.

"When judges and lawyers try to be scientists, we don't always get scientifically logical results," Wesley said.

Jim Leusner, Sarah Lundy and John Kennedy of the Sentinel staff contributed to this report.