Note: the following release is from Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, a coalition of individuals and organizations united to abolish the death penalty in Florida. The ACLU of Florida is a member organization of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Mark Elliott, 727-215-9646, firstname.lastname@example.org
Seth Penalver, 954-639-1886, email@example.com
Judi Caruso, Attorney for Juan Melendez, 505-362-1784, firstname.lastname@example.org
“TIMELY JUSTICE ACT” WOULD HAVE EXECUTED INNOCENT FLORIDIANS
Evidence of Innocence Withheld Many Years
Tallahassee, FL - April 29, 2013 - Legislation (HB7083 “Timely Justice Act”) that is aimed at speeding up and increasing executions by “streamlining” the process passed the Florida House of Representatives last week and passed the Florida Senate earlier this afternoon.
Since Florida resumed executions in the 1970’s, twenty-four wrongfully convicted Death Row prisoners have been exonerated (the largest number of wrongfully convicted and exonerated death-sentenced prisoners of any state in the country) while seventy-five prisoners have been executed. “That’s one exoneration for every three executions,” said Mark Elliott, Director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.
“Legislation that speeds executions by limiting appeals will almost certainly lead to the execution of innocent men and women,” Elliot added.
The Death Penalty Information Center lists Florida Death Row inmates who were under a sentence of death for more than 10 years before being exonerated by new evidence of their innocence:
James Richardson (21 years), Juan Melendez (18), Rudolph Holton (16), Frank Lee Smith (14), Freddie Pitts (12), Wilbur Lee (12), Joseph Brown (13), and Seth Penalver (13).
According to the Innocence Project of Florida, in January, 2000, some 14 years after his death sentence, Frank Lee Smith died of cancer on Florida’s Death Row. After his death, DNA testing not only confirmed his innocence, but identified the real perpetrator.
Just four months ago, Seth Penalver became Florida’s 24th exonerated Death Row prisoner. Penalver was released after 18 years in prison and on Death Row. “If executions are sped up, then we will be killing innocent people like me.” said Penalver. “Evidence of my innocence was withheld and hidden for almost eighteen years after my conviction.” Seth Penalver is one of eight Floridians who were exonerated more than ten years after being sentenced to death. “Executing innocent people is murder by all, not justice for all,” said Penalver.
Juan Melendez was on Florida’s Death Row for almost 18 years for a crime he did not commit. A "lost" confession by the real perpetrator was presented some 16 years after his conviction. Melendez was exonerated and freed.
“Under the Timely Justice Act, these innocent men would have been executed.” Said Elliott. “No one knows how many more innocent people are now awaiting execution on Florida’s Death Row – and will be executed, if the Legislature places limits on their appeals.”
“It is both tragic and ironic that the state that sends the highest number of wrongfully convicted people to Death Row is attempting to speed up executions.” said Elliott. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, the average time spent on Florida’s Death Row by the wrongfully convicted is close to 8 years. Some were on Florida’s Death Row for 18 to 20 years before being exonerated and released. “Speeding up executions and limiting appeals risks making murderers out of all of us.” Speeding up and increasing the number of executions virtually guarantees that innocent people will be executed.” said Mark Elliott.
Florida has the nation’s second largest Death Row with 405 people, according to the Death Penalty Information Center’s latest report, The Death Penalty in 2012: Year End Report. Florida also sentences far more people to death than any other state. Last year, Florida had 22 new death sentences out of 78 nationally---that’s more than one quarter of ALL new death sentences in the U.S.
“It is obvious why Florida has such a large Death Row.” Said Elliott, “With one out of every four of the nation’s new death sentences along with one exoneration for every three executions, the focus should be on how Florida sentences so many people to death, especially so many innocent people, not on executing more people faster.” said Elliott. “For those who support executions, it has to be more important to get it right than get it done.”
“This legislation is not only dangerous, it is unwarranted and unnecessary,” said Elliott. “Some legislators are exploiting the fact that some inmates have spent years on Death Row, but the facts show that time spent on Death Row in Florida prior to execution is almost 2 years less than the national average.” The Florida Department of Corrections, Death Row Roster lists average length of stay on Florida’s Death Row prior to execution as 13.22 years. The U.S. Bureau of Justice report, Capital Punishment , 2010 lists the average time nationally between sentencing and conviction as 14.83 years.
“Florida's system of state executions is like a rickety old public bus that costs millions of dollars to operate. The brakes are shot and the steering is out and it is constantly crashing into innocent people. The answer shouldn’t be to pack in more passengers, hit the gas and go faster?” asked Elliott.
“We need answers, not more executions,” said Elliott. “Florida’s government program for the Death Penalty is broken, not because it is too slow, but because it is a hugely expensive, wasteful, government program that, with all its wrongful convictions, risks making murderers out of us all. Speeding it up will guarantee that. Whether legislators support or oppose the death penalty, everyone should be concerned about a system that has led to more people being released from Death Row because of evidence of their innocence and wrongful conviction than any other state, some after 18 – 20 years The last thing the legislature should do is to speed up the process and ensure that that the State will execute innocent people.”
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