Sometimes courageous and prescient individuals are ahead of their time and can even change history. In 1986 Florida Gov. Leroy Collins said, “Citizens of Florida, I say the death penalty is Florida’s gutter of shame. We have more people in jails and prisons than all but a few states. These are signs of failure.”
In 1994 U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun said “the death penalty experiment has failed” and that it was time for the Court to abandon the “delusion” that capital punishment could be consistent with the Constitution.
In 2001 Martha Barnett, then outgoing president of the American Bar Association, declared the system of capital punishment “absolutely unacceptable” and urged political leaders to heed the group’s call for a national moratorium on its use.
In 2013 Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte wrote, “I greatly fear that, when history looks back on our system in the years hence, people will ask, ‘Why was it that the United States – unlike all other nations in Western Civilization – maintained capital punishment even when there was such clear evidence of its arbitrary application?’”
And Florida legislators return to Tallahassee year after year to tinker away, trying to fix the broken death machine.
This year the Legislature passed a bill that will require unanimous jury verdicts in the penalty phase of murder trials. Gov. Scott quickly signed it, with his spokeswoman saying that his foremost concern is always for the victims.
But State Rep. Joseph Geller voted against the unanimous jury bill.
“I don’t think it’s a deterrent,” Geller said. “I don’t think it stops people. But most importantly, I don’t believe in it because I think it is morally and ethically wrong for the State to take lives.”
The governor and the Legislature assert that killing people for their crimes will bring closure to the victims’ families. The opposite is true. When the perpetrator of the crime is sentenced to life in prison without parole, the families get closure. It’s over and done.
But a death sentence provides the perpetrator with lawyers and investigators paid for by you, the taxpayer. Appeals go on year after year, bringing anything but closure to these families.
The American Bar Association has reported that a Florida death sentence case costs approximately $2.5 million more than a life sentence. End the death penalty and you end the appeals paid for by your tax dollars.
And now comes Aramis Ayala, the first African-American elected state attorney in the state of Florida. She announced her office in Orange and Osceola Counties will not pursue the death penalty. She says it is not in the best interest of the community or in the best interest of justice.
“While the South, including Florida, accounts for around 80 percent of executions, we also have the highest murder rate,” she said. “This does not describe deterrence.”
Gov. Scott immediately removed her from a high profile case and there have been calls for her dismissal. We support Ayala’s stand against the death penalty and believe she is on the right side of history.
This article originally appeared in the Tallahassee Democrat, April 8, 2017