Saturday, March 21, 2009

Death-row inmate from Lake loses execution appeal

By Stephen Hudak

Sentinel Staff Writer

March 21, 2009

The state Supreme Court has rejected an appeal aimed at overturning the death sentence of an inmate convicted of murder at a Lake County prison.

The justices unanimously labeled as "meritless" the post-conviction arguments offered by lawyers for death-row inmate Allen W. Cox, 46, who also has an appeal pending in federal court that challenges the constitutionality of Florida's lethal-injection protocol.

Cox, who received his death sentence while serving life terms for sodomizing a convenience-store clerk and beating a burglary victim with a three-hole punch, was convicted of first-degree murder in the 1998 slaying of Thomas "Venezuela" Baker Jr., 25.

Baker was stabbed in the prison yard of Lake Correctional Institution. With his dying breaths, Baker identified the assailant as "Big Al, Echo dorm, quad 3," a description that appeared to name Cox and his living quarters.

The latest appeal by Cox renewed his attacks on trial procedures, the competence of his defense lawyers, and the failure of the sentencing judge to adequately assess the roles that Cox's mental health and family history played.

The appeal also argued that Cox's state-funded lawyers — the Capital Collateral Regional Counsel — should be allowed to represent him and other death-row inmates in petitions that challenge the state's method of execution.

The high court rejected that argument, 4-2.

Cox contends Florida's lethal-injection protocol is unconstitutional because the rules shield the identities of the state's executioners, which prevent a condemned prisoner from determining the executioner's qualifications and training.

Cox claims that an unqualified executioner increases the chances that death will be painful and unconstitutionally cruel.

The Florida Supreme Court has consistently rejected that argument, though it has been raised recently by lawyers for other condemned prisoners, including Richard Henyard, 34, who was executed last year for the 1993 murders of two Lake County girls, Jamilya and Jasmine Lewis.

Investigators said Cox killed Baker because he thought Baker had stolen $500 in contraband cash from his cell.

Cox previously had argued that he was wrongfully convicted of Baker's killing, saying many of the state's witnesses were untrustworthy and unreliable. Some were inmates on psychotropic drugs because the prison has a 180-bed mental-health section.

Cox had demonstrated his anger about the theft the day before the stabbing when he stood on a second-floor railing of his prison dorm and announced he would pay a $50 reward to anyone who could give him the thief's name. He vowed to kill the thief.

Court records say an inmate known as Dancing Willie gave Baker's name to Cox.

Stephen Hudak can be reached


or 352-742-5930.

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