Dontae Morris’ death sentence in Tampa murder vacated by Florida Supreme Court

January 11, 2018

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday overturned the death sentence of Dontae Morris in the 2010 killing of Derek Anderson in Tampa.

The justices upheld Morris’ first-degree murder conviction, but in a 5-2 decision they ruled that Morris must be resentenced because of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Hurst vs. Florida that the state’s former death penalty sentencing system was unconstitutional because it limited the role of the jury in capital punishment cases.

In its decision Thursday, the court said: “Because the jury in this case recommended death by a vote of 10 to 2, we cannot determine that the jury unanimously found that the aggravators outweighed the mitigators … The error in Morris’ sentencing was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Morris is also on death row for the murders of two Tampa police officers, Jeffrey Kocab and David Curtis that occurred 42 days later. Last year, the court upheld the death sentences in that case, which had a unanimous jury.

Anderson, 21, was shot in the back outside his mother’s east Tampa apartment on May 18, 2010. He had just arrived home after doing laundry at a friend’s house, carrying a load of clean clothing in a backpack.

A friend of Morris testified that he called her a few days after the murder and confessed that he shot Anderson. The friend, Ashley Price, claimed Morris told her he and Anderson had argued earlier that day because Anderson was selling marijuana on what Morris considered to be his “turf.”

Police were unable to link Morris to the crime until June 29, 2010, when he murdered Curtis and Kocab during a traffic stop. Curtis, who pulled over a car driven by Morris’ then-girlfriend, discovered that Morris had a warrant for writing bad checks. When Curtis moved to arrest him, Morris drew a gun and shot each officer once.

A Florida Department of Law Enforcement analysis of the two bullets he fired revealed they came from the same gun used to murder Anderson.

On appeal, Morris’ defense argued that his conviction should be overturned. Among other issues, they cited the notoriety of the case and the judge’s decision to keep the trial in Hillsborough County. But the high court ruled that there was no evidence that the jury knew anything about Morris’s crimes before the trial.

The Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office will have to decide whether to seek a new death sentence for Morris in the Anderson case.

He remains on death row for the police killings.


Florida death row inmate who brutally stabbed a pregnant woman to death in 1993 is now charged in the death of her son, 23, who was born via c-section and died last year

December 22,2017

A Florida man convicted in the 1993 stabbing death of a pregnant woman will stand trial for the death of the victim’s son 23 years later.

Ronnie Keith Williams will be charged with murder in the death of 23-year-old Julius Dyke, the brain-damaged son of a woman he fatally stabbed in 1993

The Sun Sentinel reports the Broward County prosecutor’s office announced Thursday that Ronnie Keith Williams will be charged with first-degree murder in the death of 23-year-old Julius Dyke.

Julius Dyke was born via cesarean section two days after his 18-year-old mother, Lisa Dyke, was stabbed. Lisa died 18 days after he was born.

He had suffered extensive brain damage and his 2016 death was ruled a homicide linked to the attack.

Julius was not able to walk or talk and was only able to eat via a feeding tube.

Hearing of the impending charges, his grandmother and caretaker Margaret Dyke said: ‘Oh my Julius, my love.’

Now I truly miss my daughter because the only part of her has gone on with her.’

Lisa had been babysitting for a friend in Wilton Manors, near Fort Lauderdale, when Williams entered the home and attacked her in 1993. He had apparently been looking for his ex-girlfriend.


Florida Death Row Inmate Gets New Sentencing Hearing

December 21, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla.  — The Florida Supreme Court is ordering a new sentence for a man involved in the deadly kidnapping of a young couple from South Beach.

The court on Thursday upheld the conviction of Joel Lebron, but tossed out his death sentence. The 39-year-old man is getting a new hearing because a jury recommended the death penalty by a 9 to 3 vote.

Authorities say 17-year-old Nelson Portobanco and 18-year-old Ana Maria Angel were walking back to their car after a date in 2002 when they were forced into a pickup by Lebron and four other men.

Authorities say Lebron stabbed Portobanco and left him for dead, but the teen survived. Angel was repeatedly raped and taken to a retaining wall beside Interstate 95 where Lebron killed her with a single gunshot.

FLORIDA – Prison inmate who beat, killed his cellmate sentenced to death

A Santa Rosa Correctional Institution inmate who viciously beat and killed his cellmate in an apparent racial attack was sentenced to death Monday.

Shawn Rogers, 37, will be placed on death row for the murder and kidnapping of Ricky Dean Martin in 2012.

Rogers, who is a black man, and Martin, a white man, shared a cell in the prison. When word of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin’s death made it to the prison, Rogers carried out the racially motivated attack on Ricky Dean Martin that left him tied at the hands and feet, bruised, cut and in a coma that eventually killed him.

The court heard during Rogers’ trial that blood was smeared on the cell’s walls, and Rogers covered Martin’s body with a prayer rug before guards arrived. Martin’s face was covered with a pair of bloody boxer shorts.

A civil lawsuit filed by Martin’s family against the prison further claims Martin had filed grievances in the days before his death, saying he feared for his life and wanted to be moved from Rogers’ cell.

The same suit claims Rogers also raped Martin, though that claim was not presented by the state in Rogers’ criminal case.

Circuit Judge John Simon read a portion of Rogers’ sentencing document during court Monday, finding that the court agrees with the 12-person jury’s unanimous death recommendation.

“Mindful that a human life is at stake … the aggravating factors far outweigh the mitigating factors,” Simon said during sentencing, adding that not only did Rogers murder Martin, but he humiliated him in the process.

Rogers remained stoic as Simon read the document, not making any gestures or saying anything to his attorney, Kenneth Brooks. Rogers will join 349 other Florida prisoners on death row.

Neither Brooks nor prosecutor Jack Schlechter made any motions or arguments before Simon handed down the sentence. Both sides were allowed to present mitigating and aggravating factors in the case at a separate hearing in November, during which Simon heard about Rogers’ troubled past, with one doctor having called his upbringing a “perfect storm” for trouble.

At that same hearing, prosecutors pointed out Rogers had been functional to represent himself at trial, and was capable of premeditation because he voiced to others he would carry out an attack on a white person in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s death.

In addition to the death sentence for the murder charge, Simon sentenced Rogers to life in prison for the kidnapping to inflict terror charge.

Simon told Rogers he is entitled to an appeals process and per state law his death sentence will be automatically reviewed by the Supreme Court.

The civil lawsuit is still ongoing in Federal Court.

Man convicted 3rd time of killing neighbor sentenced to death

December 11, 2017

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – For the third time since a woman was brutally killed nine years, a Duval County judge has sentenced Randal Deviney to be put to death for the murder.

In August 2008, when Deviney was 18 years old, he slit the throat of Delores Futrell and beat her during an attempted burglary. He then moved her body and staged the scene to make it appear that she had been sexually assaulted.


In October, after two days of testimony from detectives, forensic scientists, family members and psychologists, a jury unanimously recommended he be given the death penalty. On Monday, Judge Mark Borello formally sentenced Deviney to be returned to death row.

On Monday, Judge Mark Borello said that the crime, cruelty of the crime and age of the victim were all factors that led him to give Deviney to the death penalty.

“We’re glad it’s finally over (and) he got the sentencing he deserved,” Futrell’s granddaughter Raqia Blades said after the October hearing. “I’m glad we don’t have to keep replaying the memories of what happened and keep asking the question, ‘Why?'”

It was the third jury that has been asked to sentence Deviney to death for the crime. The first conviction was overturned on appeal and his second sentence was thrown out when the Florida Supreme Court ruled that death penalties are only constitutional if there is a unanimous jury recommendation.

Futrell, a dialysis technician and mother of four, was described in court this week as loving life and having a thirst for knowledge.

“A person like my mom should have died a peaceful death,” said Jacquelynn Blades, Futrell’s oldest daughter.

During the sentencing hearing, the defense presented 37 mitigating factors to try and convince the jury to spare Deviney from the death penalty. It called Deviney’s father and a forensic psychologist to testify an abusive childhood.

Despite Deviney mental, sexual and physical abuse as a child, Borello said Deviney still had a loving family and that abusive history did not excuse Deviney’s actions.

The crime

According to court documents, an officer responding to a 911 call from Futrell’s townhome found her in a “sexual position.” Deviney later told a psychologist that he placed her that way to make it look like someone else killed her. Investigators found no physical evidence that Futrell had actually been raped, court records show.

READ: Details of murder from court documents (Warning: graphic content)

According to detectives investigating the murder scene, evidence showed that Deviney cut Futrell’s throat near a Koi pond in the backyard before dragging her inside the home and trying to cover up the murder by making it appear to have been a sexual assault.

The autopsy showed that Futrell had struggled with her attacker before her throat was cut and that the wound sliced her larynx, preventing her from breathing. She bled to death, according to court records. The Medical Examiner also found evidence that Futrell’s killer had tried to strangle her either after she was dead or while she was still dying from her neck wound.

DNA found under Futrell’s fingernails was matched to Deviney by analysts from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Deviney claimed he just snapped while talking with Futrell one day, but prosecutors argued that the murder was premeditated because Deviney wanted to steal from Futrell.

Court history

Deviney was first convicted of killing Futrell in 2010. The conviction and death sentence were overturned after it was found that detectives had coerced a confession out of Deviney without reading him his Miranda rights.

In July 2015, Deviney was found guilty again, and a jury recommended he be sent back to Death Row with an 8-4 vote.

The state Supreme Court upheld that second conviction, but later ruled the death penalty unconstitutional unless there is a unanimous jury recommendation.

Deviney’s case is one of seven Duval County death sentences overturned this year by the Florida Supreme Court.

Over the years, Deviney’s behavior behind bars came under scrutiny. Before the start of his second trial, Deviney publicly made claims that Donald Smith, the man charged with murdering 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle, had told him about another murder he committed years before. He even attempted to use that information as leverage for a shorter prison sentence. The State Attorney’s Office said Deviney’s claims were not credible.

Convicted killer Bessman Okafor to get new sentencing next year

December 6, 2017

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – A convicted killer sentenced to death row went before a judge Wednesday as he begins the process to get a new sentence

Bessman Okafor killed Alex Zaldivar, 19, and wounded two others in 2012.

He has to be re-sentenced because the state Supreme Court ordered all death sentence decisions must be unanimous.

Read: Florida Supreme Court overturns death sentence for Bessman Okafor

Rafael Zaldivar, the victim’s father, said reopening this case is painful.

“Everybody has to relive this all over again. It’s like we never moved on. It’s a never-ending story,” he said.

The judge scheduled Okafor’s new sentencing phase for November of next year.

The sentencing should take two weeks, with the first for jury selection and the other for witness testimony.

Photos: Orange County inmates on death row

Okafor will go before an Orange County judge to get an attorney and schedule a new sentencing phase.

“It’s opening up old wounds. It’s terrible for our family,” Rafael Zaldivar aid.

Okafor was sentenced to death in November 2015 for killing Alex Zaldivar and wounding two others during an Ocoee home invasion in 2012.

The three were set to testify against Okafor in a separate home invasion before the killing.

Rafael Zaldivar said he thinks about his son every day.

“He was a good and loving son. Unfortunately, he barely passed his 18th birthday,” he said.

State law has changed since the previous jury voted 11-1 to send Okafor to death row.

Jurors must now all agree on the death penalty.

Rafael Zaldivar believes that will happen.

“I’m very confident they’re going to do it again,” he said.

Months after the Supreme Court ruling, Orange and Osceola County State Attorney Aramis Ayala announced she would not seek the death penalty during her tenure.

Read: Florida Supreme Court rules against Ayala on Scott’s reassigning of death penalty cases

Gov. Rick Scott then gave Okafor’s case, along with dozens of others, to State Attorney Brad King in Ocala.

“Out of the blue, we had to deal with Aramis Ayala, about her not applying the death penalty to our son’s case. So, it’s been difficult for us and we did not need that with everything going on,” Rafael Zaldivar said. “Thank God Gov. Rick Scott executed that order.”

Miami mom is on trial a third time for the torture and murder of ‘Baby Lollipops’

December  4,2017

For the third time, a jury heard about Baby Lollipops’ short and tragic life — and the details remained just as ghastly now as they did in 1990, when his body was discovered in the bushes of a Miami Beach home.

The skeletal, malnourished 3-year-old weighed just 18 pounds. His soiled diaper was duct-taped onto his filthy body. His cheek bore a burn mark, likely from a cigarette.

Two teeth were knocked out, taking out a portion of his jaw. Blow after blow, inflicted month after month, eventually left his tiny body battered. He was unable to walk, his skull was fractured, his brain stem severed.

“His left arm was so badly injured that the muscle from the elbow to the shoulder had fused into the bone making it impossible for this young child to extend his arm,” Miami-Dade prosecutor Christine Hernandez told jurors on Monday.

Lazaro Figueroa died an unimaginably horrible death. And to blame, prosecutors allege, was his own mother, Ana Maria Cardona, who beat and abused her youngest child over months.

“This young baby was the subject of her hatred, this baby was the target of her rage,” Hernandez told jurors.

The start of the trial Monday marks the third time Cardona has faced a jury for the November 1990 murder of little Lazaro, whose corpse was discovered dumped outside a home in Miami Beach.

As detectives hunted for his killer and identity in a case that captivated South Florida, they dubbed him “Baby Lollipops” for the design on his shirt. Homicide detectives soon arrested Cardona, a cocaine addict who had lived in a Miami efficiency with her two other children and lover, Olivia Gonzalez.

Cardona’s defense team on Monday shifted the blame.

“We’re going to bring you testimony that while Olivia Gonzalez was serving time in prison, she bragged that she was the one who hit the child over the head with a baseball bat and killed him,” Miami-Dade Assistant Public Defender Manuel Alvarez said.

Jurors will not hear that twice before, Cardona was sent to Death Row after convictions for first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse.

Lazaro Figueroa died an unimaginably horrible death. And to blame, prosecutors allege, was his own mother, Ana Maria Cardona, who beat and abused her youngest child over months.

“This young baby was the subject of her hatred, this baby was the target of her rage,” Hernandez told jurors.

Law changes force dozens of old death penalty, juvenile cases back into courtrooms

November  29,  2017

A black teenager, just shy of his 16th birthday, was arrested for raping a white woman in 1967 in Escambia County.

Lester Simmons pleaded guilty through an agreement with the state that allowed him to avoid the death penalty.

But had the case been prosecuted today, it would have likely been handled differently.

After the passage of a new law, Simmons’ public defender, Kelly Richards, is now tasked with proving her client should be released from prison 50 years later, despite his life sentence.

Richards said the case is rife with racial and social undertones indicative of the time. A partial transcript from Simmons’ trial shows he stayed in the woman’s home for some time after the crime, during which the victim sparked a conversation with him about how difficult it was to be a black person in that era.

Now, his defense team will ask a judge to weigh how much those societal factors affected his sentence and try to prove Simmons, now 66, should be free.

Simmons is one of dozens of offenders in the First Judicial Circuit whose cases have been reopened this year after two unprecedented Supreme Court decisions. Both of these decisions have forced prosecutors and defense attorneys to invest hours of research and additional costs to re-examine the old cases.

The first decision brings back the case of every juvenile who has been sentenced to life in prison. With more research on brain development, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 2012 that juveniles should be entitled to special hearings before a judge to ascertain their crime was heinous enough to warrant a life sentence, despite certain factors such as their immaturity and family or peer pressure.

The second decision mandates new penalty phase hearings for all death row inmates who were sentenced by juries that did not unanimously recommend the death sentence.

In 2016, the Florida Supreme Court declared the previous law unconstitutional based in part on the local case of Timothy Hurst. In all of the cases that warrant a new penalty phase, a new jury will be selected to hear the facts of the case and determine the death penalty aspect. None of the inmates are at risk of being released, as the guilt factor of their offense still remains.

The Legislature didn’t allocate additional funding to absorb the costs, so the Public Defender’s Office and the State Attorney’s Office have instead authorized overtime, travel costs and shuffled senior attorneys to lower divisions to help with the additional workload.

In the First Judicial Circuit, which covers Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties, the state is dividing 31 juvenile resentencing cases and as many as 10 death penalty resentencing cases among its attorneys.

“It is a lot of work, and on the death penalty resentencings, we are requesting two weeks to try those cases because we expect most of the evidence from the original trial will have to be presented again in order for the jury to evaluate the aggravators, the mitigators and the death penalty sentence,” State Attorney Bill Eddins said.

Eddins said juvenile sentencing hearings are being scheduled for between two and five days.

If each of the cases — both the juvenile sentencing hearings and death penalty resentenchings — were heard at their maximum and in the same court consecutively, it would equate to nearly a year dealing with cases affected by the two new laws — and that doesn’t take into account new crimes or pending cases.

Public Defender Bruce Miller said for each of the death penalty resentencing cases and juvenile resentencings, his office curates a legal team of a lead attorney, second chair, mitigation specialist, legal assistant and fact investigator.

Mitigation specialist Lindsey Johnson is tasked with tracking down old records for the defendants, finding their families and friends, organizing psychologists and other experts to testify about brain development, and locating key witnesses to the original case. For some of the cases, those witnesses are as recent as five years ago, but others case are decades old and the witnesses have since died.

“With a lot of the older ones especially, one of the guys has no family, it’s hard to find people,” Johnson said. “They’ve been in prison so long that sometimes even if they do have family they kind of forget about them.”

While neither the state nor defense is required to present the same witnesses or use the same attorney as during the original trial, it’s helpful if they can, Eddins said. To keep up with the strain, his office has brought in supervisors who usually act as managers to handle cases.

John Molchan, for example, usually oversees felony cases as a supervisor and serves on the circuit’s death penalty assessment board. But he has taken on the majority of the death penalty resentencing cases as the lead prosecutor.

Miller and Eddins said the state hasn’t funneled any additional funding to either the Public Defender’s Office or the State Attorney’s Office to help with the resources and manpower needed to bring back these old cases.

Aside from salaries and overtime allowances, there’s travel to speak with inmates housed in prisons across the state and the cost of bringing in experts to assess the case and testify.

There hasn’t been a cost assessment on the financial impact of the two Supreme Court decisions on local courts, but a conservative estimate for expert defense witnesses in just one of juvenile resentencing case would be more than $20,000, Miller said.

“The hours that go into something like this are enormous,” Miller said.

He said his office has requested additional attorneys in next year’s budget to help with the workload, but he expects the office will need to work within its means to accommodate the law shifts.

In the case of Simmons, the black teenager serving a life sentence, the state and defense must delve into 50 years of law revisions and present an argument that accurately reflects the sometimes-foggy details they can find in old court records from 1967. Nowadays, the death penalty wouldn’t even be on the table for a juvenile offender, said Simmons’ attorney, Richards.

“These are so time consuming because we have to go back to 1967 to find out exactly what happened, what may have happened legally in between and different laws come into play depending on when the original crime occurred, so they’re all different, it’s not cookie cutter anything,” Richards said.

Several of these cases have already been heard, including the case of Britnee Miller, who pleaded guilty to killing an acquaintance with her mom and neighbor in 2010 when she was 16.

During Miller’s sentencing hearing in October, Circuit Judge Gary Bergosh heard of Miller’s abusive childhood, of her dependency on her mother and her mom’s approval, and of how Miller has matured in the seven years since the death of Audreanna Zimmerman. Bergosh took those factors into account, but ultimately maintained Miller’s life sentence.

Another case, that of then-17-year-old Clifford Barth, who helped a group of friends rob and kill an auto parts employee in 1991, had a different outcome. Barth served 25 years in prison, and the judge decided in September he should be released.

In that case, both the state and defense agreed Barth should be released, and there wasn’t much argument by either side. He had no prior record, was immediately remorseful for his actions and hadn’t received any disciplinary reports during his decades in prison.

The Public Defender’s Office isn’t dealing with as many of the reopened cases as the State Attorney’s Office because some defendants are represented by private attorneys or the Public Defender’s Office has a conflict of interest.

Still, Miller, the Public Defender, said Johnson’s recommended caseload for death penalty cases is between four and seven, and with the influx, she’s over that recommendation.

“The juvenile resentencing especially is just a seismic shift in the legal arena, so to speak, and it’s still evolving,” Richards said. “Cases are coming out, being appealed, different circuits are handling things different so you’ve got to stay on top of the case law.”

While some juvenile sentencing hearings have been held in the First Judicial Circuit since the law shift, the region has yet to see death penalty sentencing phases heard in local courtrooms.

Eddins said he expects a number of juries to be impaneled in those cases as soon as next year. Cases like that of Jonathan Lawrence, a mentally ill man who killed several people in Santa Rosa County, and Willie Hodges, who killed a Pensacola woman with a claw hammer, have penalty phase trial dates set for next year already to reassess their death row status.

The others are still being assessed and are going back and forth between state and defense filings as each tries to keep up with precedents, tracking down witnesses who thought their involvement in cases were done decades ago, and working with defendants who may get a second chance at a life outside of prison.

Florida man struggles to build life after death row exoneration

Seth Penalver dropped to the floor and wept into his chair when a Florida jury declared him not guilty in the shooting deaths of three people during a 1994 home invasion.
After 3 trials and 18 years in prison – including 13 on death row – a Broward County jury in 2012 found Penalver not guilty of capital murder in the 1994 slayings of Casmir Sucharski, 48, Marie Rogers, 25, and Sharon Anderson, 25.
Little did he know about the struggles that lay ahead. His release from prison marked a new chapter, one that’s been filled with ups and downs, given his prolonged absence from society. Despite his acquittal, he says he struggles to find work because of his background, which includes 2 prior nonviolent felonies.
“You Google my name and it lights up the screen. I’m 20 years minus a resume, so it’s hard,” he said.
Experts say Penalver’s struggles with reintegration are typical for death row exonerees or people found to be wrongly convicted. On paper, they’re no longer offenders, but they’re not quite free of the stigma or psychological impact of their incarceration. The duration of their incarceration can strain personal relationships, creating a void in support systems after their release. Additionally, they often lack access to the same career or counseling services available to parolees because technically, they’re not on parole.
“The media attention tends to focus on how people got wrongly convicted, what in the system led to these cases, and those are important stories worthy of attention,” said University of North Carolina at Greensboro professor Saundra Westervelt, author of “Life After Death Row: Exonerees’ Search for Community and Identity.”
“But the story doesn’t end there. There’s a slew of practical problems they have to figure out how to manage.”
The state could help improve prospects for exonerees by providing monetary compensation and reintegration services, said Westervelt, a board member of Witness to Innocence, which works to abolish the death penalty and provide support to former death row inmates.
Only 30 states have laws that provide monetary compensation to wrongly convicted people, which can include death row exonerees. And in many states, including Florida, they come with limits. In some states, access to monetary compensation is available only for people exonerated by DNA evidence, who receive an official gubernatorial pardon or who don’t have prior felonies.
A crime unfolds on video
Local media dubbed the triple slayings the “Casey’s Nickelodeon murders” because Sucharski was an owner of Casey’s Nickelodeon, a Miramar nightclub where he met aspiring models Rogers and Anderson. The 3 were shot dead in Sucharski’s home in Miramar, Florida, early in the morning of June 26, 1994.
Penalver and co-defendant Pablo Ibar were charged in the crime after witnesses identified them in grainy home surveillance video showing 2 men breaking into Sucharski’s home. Penalver surrendered to law enforcement in August 1994 after a warrant was issued for his arrest.
Penalver stood trial three times for the murders. His first trial with Ibar in 1997 ended in a mistrial after the jury deadlocked 10-2 in favor of guilt. The cases were severed, and Penalver was tried again in 1999 and sentenced to death on charges of murder, attempted robbery and burglary.
The Florida Supreme Court overturned Penalver’s verdict in 2006 based on a series of evidentiary and constitutional errors related to witness testimony and identification. Given the absence of physical evidence connecting Penalver to the crime and questions about the identification of the men in the surveillance video, “the witnesses’ statements presented at trial were of paramount importance,” the judges wrote in their ruling.
An expert witness who viewed the tape said that he couldn’t identify anyone from it, but that the person in the video had facial characteristics inconsistent with Penalver’s facial structure. Some people who knew Penalver said the video wasn’t him or they couldn’t tell. One said she couldn’t tell from the face, but the subject’s gait was like Penalver’s. Another told the police that it was Penalver, but then testified in court that she couldn’t say whether it was him or not.
With respect to this last witness, the prosecution argued that she changed her testimony after meeting with the defense, improperly suggesting — with no evidence to support it — that the defense had tampered with her, the court found. The court also found that the prosecution improperly admitted hearsay testimony that an alternate suspect was out of state, when there was no evidence that the suspect was out of state. The prosecution also presented evidence implying that Penalver had been suicidal and wrongly used that suggestion to imply consciousness of guilt, the court said.
“In light of the scant evidence connecting Penalver to this murder and the consequent importance of identifying the individual depicted on the videotape in sunglasses and hat, we conclude that the improperly admitted evidence and the State’s suggestion that the defense tampered with or suborned perjury by an identification witness meet the cumulative error requirements outlined above and require reversal,” the court said in its opinion.
The video magnified the uncertainty, making the strength of the remaining evidence all the more important, said Temple University law professor Jules Epstein, who specializes in forensics. Appellate courts assess error based on the magnitude of the mistakes and their cumulative impact.
“The weaker the rest of the evidence, the more significant the mistakes are. Conversely, the stronger the remaining evidence, the impact of mistake goes down,” Epstein said.
Stepping up for the wrongfully convicted
Penalver says he gets by on odd jobs and government assistance in the form of food stamps. He would like to attend school or learn a trade, but living hand to mouth makes it impossible to find time or money for education, he said.
Compensation from the state would help, but under the “clean hands” provision of Florida’s Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act, Penalver is ineligible because of his 2 prior nonviolent felonies, which are unrelated to the triple slayings he was accused of.
“Just because I had prior felonies in the past, that shouldn’t mean I can’t be compensated for what was done to me,” he said. “It’s hard getting back on your feet; anything would help.”
Source: Las Vegas Review-Journal, August 1, 2015

Florida: Executions Back on Track after High Court Ruling

The US Supreme Court has ruled that the drug midazolam is acceptable for use in lethal injections. 4 Oklahoma convicts had challenged the drugs use, and Florida courts stopped executions here pending the outcome. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the ruling is now likely to open the door to dozens of executions in Florida.
The High Court ruling is 127 pages long, but its essence can be found in the 1st sentence. “Because Capital punishment is constitutional, there must be a constitutional means of carrying it out” wrote the majority.
The ruling is a set back for anti death penalty advocates in Florida. Sheila Meenan represents Citizens Against the Death Penalty and while disappointed, remains hopeful.
“I do’t think there’s going to be an end to the death penalty anytime soon, but I do believe and am extremely hopeful, and it won’t be too long from now when the US Supreme Court is going to say that the death penalty is against the constitution” says Meehan.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote one of two blistering dissents.
“She really talked about how this drug, midazolam, could even be the equivalent of the chemical of burning at the stake. She used very strong language along those lines and as I say, 3 others concurred with her in that dissent” says Meehan.
Quadruple murderer Jerry Correll’s execution was stopped in February. It could soon be back on. Jerry Correll’s execution would set a record of 22 for one governor in modern times. A list prepared by the Florida Supreme court identified more than 100 inmates who have exhausted their appeals. Meehan says the decision opens the door to multiple warrants.
“Now that this decision is out, there is really nothing to stop Governor Scott from signing lots of death warrants. We’ve got lots of people, more than 400 people on Florida’s death row” says Meehan.
The Florida Department of Corrections did not respond to requests for an interview
This afternoon’s death row count was actually 396. And late this afternoon, Attorney General Pam Bondi asked the Florida Supreme Court to lift the Stay of Execution for Jerry Correll. Once lifted, the door is open for Governor Rick Scott to sign his and other death warrants.