Saturday, August 22, 2009

Paul Flemming: Death, politics mix with execution

Paul Flemming: Death, politics mix with execution

Paul Flemming

Capital Ideas

The state of Florida, on behalf of me and you, executed John Richard Marek on Wednesday for the 1983 murder of Adela Marie Simmons.

He was the fourth condemned man executed under a death warrant signed by Gov. Charlie Crist, and it was the 68th execution in Florida since 1979.

There are 389 men and one woman on Florida's Death Row, waiting for the state to mete out its court-sanctioned, publicly supported justice. If current averages hold, each will spend more than 12 years on Death Row before the sentence is carried out.

Marek was executed 26 years after his crime.

I've witnessed two executions. Neither disturbed me as specific events — I was taken only by the extreme efforts to make the executions palatable to observers; the antiseptic protocol followed to deliver a series of drugs, only a third of which actually kill. The other two-thirds mask what's going on to diminish unsightly death throes and unwanted utterances.

I oppose the death penalty for my own personal reasons, but also as a matter of unsound policy.
Whatever arguments may be made about delivering justice are diminished to the vanishing point by the decades it takes to carry out the sentence. The executions I attended were for crimes committed more than a quarter-century previous. That very delay eliminates deterrence as a convincing argument for capital punishment.

Further, they both had been previously stayed at the final moment — the two condemned men had the needles in their arms, were strapped onto gurneys and minutes away from death when courts stepped in to delay the executions for a couple weeks.

That's torture. And I don't mean exclusively for the condemned.

But it's not about policy. It's about politics.

On Wednesday, Crist allowed an Associated Press reporter to sit in his office with him as the execution was carried out. I'm glad to have the insight provided by that report.

When I interviewed Crist in 2008 on the day of the first execution carried out by the stroke of his pen, he spoke simply, solemnly and sincerely of justice and duty. He'd been a witness at an execution as a state senator to give him insight as a lawmaker, and later as attorney general.
Crist's first death warrant as governor — for the execution of Mark Dean Schwab, a child rapist and murderer from Brevard County — was notable in part because it was the first after nearly two years of a moratorium to address legal challenges to the state's methods.

I requested to watch Crist and his team at work during the execution. That didn't fly, for what struck me as reasonable points. It was a sober moment and there were important legal matters to attend to. I'd be in the way, I was told.

I should have saved my request until Crist was running for U.S. Senate.

No foreclosure respite

Florida's courts, underfunded and overwhelmed in good times, are awash in foreclosures.
It's going to get worse before it gets better.

A report delivered Aug. 17 by the Florida Supreme Court's task force on the crisis is frightening reading.

The lack of resources is evident even in the report's own making: "First, there was no budget or ability to travel." Well, then.

An interim report was filed back in May. "The situation has grown increasingly grim since that filing."

The judges, lawyers, bankers, academics and government officials are not engaging in hyperbole when they write, "The latest news for Florida is horrifying."

Florida had 988,480 foreclosures begun in the first quarter of this year.

"The flow of foreclosure cases and homes in the Florida pipeline to foreclosure filing shows only signs of increasing," is one nasty, accurate conclusion.

Mediation and improved case management to speed the flow of cases — already more efficient than in the past by necessity, but not keeping up with the floodwaters — are the recommendations of the task force.

Financial justice, too, will be delayed in Florida for some time to come.

Paul Flemming is the state editor for Gannett's Florida newspapers and Contact him at or 850-671-6550.

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