Saturday, May 22, 2010

CAZ: Let's appeal for some common sense

2010-05-21 17:15:41

If you are like me, and you never want to hear cop-killer Robert Bailey’s name in the news again until he is dead — from natural causes or at the hands of the state — the judicial system ensures you are out of luck.

If the history of those on Florida’s death row for committing the most egregious of human acts — the intentional taking of a human life — is an indication, Bailey is a mere baby in the process with only three death row years under his belt since he murdered Panama City Beach Police Sgt. Kevin Kight on March 26, 2005.

Eleven out of 12 jurors recommended death, the judge concurred and on April 11, 2007, Bailey was ordered put to death by lethal injection. He was shipped to Florida’s Death Row to await his fate.

He does not wait alone. As of Friday, there were 393 inmates, mostly men, awaiting the same fate, and most of them have put in a lot more time than Bailey.

One of them, Charles Foster, is another 14th Judicial Circuit offender, and he has held out for 35 years on Death Row, making him one its elders. He was sentenced to death in 1975 for killing Julian Lanier, a 65-year-old Ohio tourist he met in a bar. Foster cut Lanier’s throat, dragged him into the woods to die and then cut and severed his spine when Lanier didn’t die fast enough.

His appeals continue.

This all comes up because Bailey was in the news Friday, appealing for post-conviction relief with the usual litany of claims, including the ever popular: He had ineffective counsel and the jury pool was tainted against him due to pre-trial publicity.

To steal from Ross Perot, that giant sucking sound you hear is actually a combination of our system at work and our tax dollars going down the drain.

There is not a weightier argument than who deserves to die, or whether to take a human being’s life, although each of the 393 people on Death Row made that choice.

And the frustration upon reading the story about Bailey isn’t based on a personal desire to see him die. It’s not even a pro-death penalty argument, though I’ll confess there are cases for which I personally think it is the right penalty.

The frustration comes in watching the system move like molasses with a seeming inability to carry out the law.

The angst is in seeing an agreed-upon penalty that not only is not carried out, but which slowly bleeds the taxpayers.

The sadness is in the words of the victim’s survivors, who have to relive the tragedy time after time after time as various appeals work their way through.

One question becomes how a system can be expected to effectively operate when there is not only an absence of common sense, but one where common sense is not even allowed to be a consideration?

The 14th Judicial Circuit has eight people on death row at the moment, but no one from this circuit has been executed since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

It is estimated that handling a Death Row inmate’s case costs many millions, while incarcerating someone for life costs around $20,000 a year — a 20-year-old imprisoned for life and surviving to 80 would be $1.2 million.

There are cases that deserve scrutiny, and there are cases that have been rightfully overturned. But does every convicted killer deserve that same level of scrutiny, a level that the Palm Beach Post, 10 years ago, estimated was costing Florida $51 million a year?

Bailey’s case is not a question of guilt; he did it. He did it in cold blood after telling a friend he was not going back to jail. If we are going to have a death penalty, it would appear this is the kind of case for which it ought to be applied, and if it isn’t, why do we even bother trying?

How can we support a system that added 16 people to the list in 2009 while only executing two? So far this year, there are four new death row inmates, and only one execution carried out.

If you had to choose between an expedited death penalty or abolishing it all together, which would it be?

Mike Cazalas is editor of The News Herald. He can be contacted at or 850-747-5094.

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