Thursday, September 11, 2008

State supreme court uphold execution


Staff Writer

TALLAHASSEE -- The appeal to stop the Sept. 23 execution of a man convicted of killing two Eustis girls was rejected Wednesday by the Florida Supreme Court.

Justices voted 6-0 to uphold the execution of 34-year-old death row inmate Richard Henyard, despite his argument that he was not the triggerman.

In its 24-page opinion, the justices stated that "... even if we accept Henyard's allegations as true, we find that the record affirmatively refutes Henyard's claim of reduced culpability..."

Henyard is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection.

Henyard had appealed to the Florida Supreme Court on Monday in the last-ditch effort. His lawyer contended Henyard should get a hearing to present evidence that it was his accomplice, Alphonsa Smalls, who pulled the trigger.

Mark Gruber, Henyard's attorney, argued that prosecutors withheld information from the defense about a sworn statement from Smalls' jail pod mate, Jason Nawara -- statements that Smalls boasted about being the "killa."

In their opinion, the justices stated that "At trial, the state did not rely on Henyard being the triggerman, but rather relied on his dominant role in the entire criminal episode and unrefuted evidence of his close proximity to the child victims at the time of their deaths."

The high court backed Lake Circuit Judge Mark Hill's decision last month to reject Henyard's claims without an evidentiary hearing.

The ruling also says, "The record affirmatively supports the state's position that regardless of whether Smalls or Henyard pulled the trigger, Henyard's substantial culpability as outlined by the trial court in great detail and as reflected in our opinion affirming his death sentence establishes the death penalty as a proportionate sentence for his actions."

According to his printed ruling, Hill found several problems with granting a new hearing. This includes the fact that even if Nawara's testimony were to be admissible, the court would have to find that Henyard's participation was "relatively minor."

"In no reasonable interpretation of the phrase could Mr. Henyard ever be considered a 'relatively minor participant' in these capital felonies," Hill stated in his ruling.

Henyard and Smalls were convicted of abducting sisters Jasmine Lewis, 3, and Jamilya Lewis, 7, and their mother from a Eustis grocery store in 1993.

They raped the mother on the trunk of her car as the girls sat in the back seat. They then shot the mother four times, including once in the head and left her for dead, but she survived.

The boys then shot and killed the girls in a separate location.

Smalls, was 14 at the time of the shooting, leaving him ineligible for the death penalty. He is serving life without parole.

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