Florida Death Penalty: Death Penalty Ruling

Published: January 13, 2016

Florida Death Penalty: Death Penalty Ruling, The vote was 8-1 by the nation’s top justices as they dealt Florida’s death penalty a sharp blow, saying it gives too little power to juries and too much power to judges to decide life or death. Florida is the only state requiring a simple majority from a jury, and one of just three states in which a jury vote for death does not have to be unanimous.

“It’s long overdue,” said Deborah Shearer, who opposes the death penalty.

Shearer, with the Orlando Catholic Diocese, said the ruling is about fairness.

“We should be using unanimous juries and judges should not be making decisions in capital cases,” Shearer said.

Bessman Okafor will almost certainly appeal his death sentence from last November. He was convicted of murdering Alex Zaldivar in Orange County in 2012. The judge agreed with an 11-1 jury vote for death.

“I am a little bit concerned,” said Rafael Zaldivar, Alex Zaldivar’s father.

Zaldivar told WESH 2 News that Okafor should get no break from the high court’s decision.

“That would be a miscarriage of justice and a waste of taxpayer money. For what he did to our son,” Zaldivar said.

WESH 2 legal expert Richard Hornsby said anyone sentenced by non-unanimous juries since a similar court ruling in 2002 should have their sentences commuted to life or at least reviewed.

“In a death penalty case, you would think it would be obvious that a jury make a unanimous decision one way or the other, regarding a person’s life or death,” Hornsby said.

Wondering how the Supreme Court’s decision will affect them, are Michael Lambrix and Mark Asay, the next two convicted killers scheduled to die.

Attorneys for Lambrix have four weeks to file motions in light of Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling to win a stay of execution for him while lawmakers figure out what to do next.

There is a bill pending that would demand unanimous jury decisions in death penalty cases.

“His penalty is now invalid under the U.S. Constitution,” said Dennis Tracey, who is the attorney for Tommy Zeigler, one of the oldest inmates on death row.

Zeigler was convicted of murdering his wife, in-laws and a customer of his Winter Garden store in 1975, but the jury recommended life in prison for him in a vote of 7-5. Instead, the judge sent him to death row.


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