Florida Gov. Rick Scott Signs Bill Speeding Up Capital Punishment

The governor signed into law on Friday a measure that speeds up capital punishment for inmates on death row.

By Gary Fineout and Tamara Lush
|  Saturday, Jun 15, 2013  |  Updated 11:58 AM EDT
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Florida is speeding up how quickly it carries out the death penalty.

Gov. Rick Scott on Friday signed into law a measure designed to overhaul the state's capital punishment process. That process has been criticized for allowing some condemned inmates to remain for decades on death row.

The "Timely Justice Act of 2013" creates tighter timeframes for appeals and post-conviction motions and imposes reporting requirements on case progress.

It also re-establishes a separate agency for north Florida to provide appellate-level legal representation to inmates sentenced to death, and requires them to "pursue all possible remedies in state court."

Scott said in his signing statement that the state's current death row inmates who have exhausted their judicial appeals have been awaiting execution for an average of 22 years.

"An inmate who has been on death row for 22 years has had a fair opportunity to discover all of the evidence needed to challenge his conviction, especially when the inmate has received the multiple levels of review and the extraordinary due process afforded death-sentenced offenders," Scott wrote.

He said such lengthy delays are "a crushing burden of uncertainty to the victims' families."

But even before the new law Scott has picked up the pace of executions. Two men — Elmer Leon Carroll and William Van Poyck — have been executed by lethal injection in the last month. A third man — Marshall Lee Gore — is scheduled to be executed on June 24. Scott, a Republican, has signed 11 death warrants since taking office in 2011 and seven executions have been carried out.

Florida has 405 inmates on its death row, more than any other state except California.

Two former death row inmates who were exonerated say they fear the changes could lead to the execution of people who are innocent.

Seth Penalver was exonerated after 18 years in prison, while Herman Lindsey was freed after three years in prison.

On Wednesday, the two traveled to Starke to protest the execution of Van Poyck.

Although they said that the Timely Justice Act would not have affected Van Poyck's execution — he had exhausted all of his appeals — they used the day to highlight their opposition to the bill.

Penlaver said he was a "living, breathing example" of why the Timely Justice Act should not be passed.

He hired a private investigator and found new evidence, which he said prosecutors had hid from him, that pointed to other suspects. He was freed in December 2012, after "crying like a baby" and dropping to his knees in prayer in the courtroom as jurors exonerated him on three first-degree murder convictions, armed robbery and armed burglary.

Twenty-four men have been exonerated from Florida's death row since 1973, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Scott in his signing message disputed the idea that the new law would increase the risk of the execution of those who were innocent. He also contended the changes called for in the measure would increase some of the legal protections for inmates.

Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach was the bill's lead sponsor. Republican Sen. Joe Negron shepherded the bill through the Senate.
 

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