19 March 2017

Florida News – Sudden Death Edition

by Leigh Lundin

Florida postcard Death and Texas

Florida’s corporate prisons face a major problem. Our inmate population is so huge that even a death a day from guards and other inmates can’t cure the overload. We proudly possess the second largest death row in the nation and we can’t kill the convicted fast enough. Believe me, Florida tries and we compete fiercely.

Surmounting our rivalry with Texas came with bitter disappointment. Just as we pulled ahead of the Lone Star State, California came from behind to pass us both. That sound of gnashing teeth means we’re still Nº 2.

The Supreme Court keeps telling us our capital punishment statutes aren’t constitutional. Hey, as long as jurors had a ⅚ majority and it was fishing season, we were good to kill. We didn’t need no stinking 100% unanimosity. If a misguided jury decided the accused didn’t deserve death, our statutes allowed a hanging judge (who in Florida isn’t?) to override those wussy jurors and impose a death penalty anyway. How dare the Supreme Court tell us that’s not fair!

The Florida legislature raced forward and not only patched statutes making it easier to execute, they also enhanced the Shoot First / Stand Your Ground law, making it even easier for Floridians to kill each other and stray tourists caught in the crosshairs, not that anyone bothers aiming.

Originally, like Britain and most of North America, we relied upon the Castle Defense, a code aimed toward preserving life. If your land or your home was invaded, your first duty was to retreat, phone 911, and fire a warning shot if you were armed. You weren’t authorized to kill unless you were in imminent danger.

The Shoot First / Stand Your Ground law changed that. The NRA didn’t like the idea of strategically retreating and especially didn’t want good ammo going to waste. The SF/SYG law allowed you to shoot anyone who trespassed or stood in your way if you felt fearful. As has been noted, the legislation was written by white people for white people. Whereas a few hundred citizens have escaped prosecution or conviction, ask black folks how well that law worked for them.

Flush with the heaving, panting bosomy excitement of seeing the SF/SYG metastasize across the country, Florida decided it could do better. The new, enhanced law, making its way through the Florida legislature, adds new benefits for lucky gun owners.
  1. Just as SF/SYG removed the requirement of first attempting to retreat, the new and improved revision says you won’t even have to stand your ground. You could actively pursue your victim, er, fear-causing-person.
  2. In the original SF/SYG incarnation, you merely had to show you were afraid. The revision places the onus on police and prosecutors to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the use of deadly force was not justified. A perpetrator relying upon the new law, could without risk, ask for a hearing, claim self-defense, ask a judge for immunity from criminal and civil prosecution, and thus short-circuit a trial.
  3. If (2) seems in conflict with (1), don’t worry your pretty little non-Floridian head about facts and logic. (2) still applies.

Choice and Challenge

Along comes a bad guy named Markeith Loyd. He’s big, he’s scary, he’s black. He kills his pregnant girlfriend and goes on the lam, as golden-age crime novels say. While visiting a WalMart a few minutes from my house, he and a lady cop, Sgt. Debra Clayton, recognize each other. Before she can react, he shoots– kills her– and continues on the lam.

Markeith Loyd
Markeith Loyd © Orlando Sentinel
In mid-January, authorities captured the fugitive after he discarded his weapons and surrendered, then sustained “minor facial injuries as he resisted officers,” according to Orlando Police Chief John Mina. While I’m cynical about how he gave up and subsequently obtained facial injuries, I’m pleased to report police didn’t overreact.

Florida polished its latest in capital killing laws and salivated at the prospect of frying Loyd in the ‘new’ Old Sparky. If anyone deserved electric execution, Mr. Loyd did. As some might argue, he merited death writhing in ‘the chair’, his hair smoking, skin cooking, eyes bulging and face contorting so much executioners close the curtains to the sensitive in the viewing room.

And then…

Aramis Ayala
Aramis Ayala © Blue Lives Matter
Orange/Osceola County State Attorney Aramis Ayala, did the unthinkable. The first and only black State Attorney elected in Florida said enough, no more will I seek the death penalty. Quoting concerns about the latest version of Florida's death statute, she correctly added no evidence shows the death penalty improves public safety for citizens or law enforcement, it's costly and drags on for years for victims' families. Despite a spurious claim from the Governor's office, at no time did she say she wouldn't fight for justice– quite the opposite in fact.

Virtually everyone in the Sunshine State gasped in horror. All turned against her… women, men, black, white, Florida Republicans and Democrats (all four of them). Kinder blogs called her misguided. Some claimed she was blinded by BLM. The cruder, calloused, and clamorous referred to her as a traitor… and worse. One man is floating a petition demanding the Governor fire her.

Who couldn’t understand Police Chief Mina’s anger? Who could blame the families of the two women killed if they too were frustrated? No one could, not even Aramis Ayala.

One trait her multitude of opponents couldn’t accuse her of was a lack of bravery. She appears tiny but holds an outsized heart… in the senses of commitment, compassion and fortitude. People like her take the heat but eventually help turn the tide toward justice. Think of those who preceded her who just said no:
  • the suffragette who sought the right to vote.
  • the woman who wouldn’t sit in the back of the bus.
  • the little girl who attended school surrounded by the National Guard.
  • the teen who protested the Vietnam War.
  • the Son of Man alone in the Garden of Gethsemane.
She gave a comprehensive well-reasoned explanation for her decision without mentioning moral issues or her personal feelings on the topic. While fully cognizant of the desire for revenge and retribution, I admire what Aramis Ayala is trying to accomplish as she stands alone. That doesn’t negate the feelings of victims’ colleagues, family and friends, but her decision makes her a heroine… even if she’s wrong…but history says she isn’t.

The drama was far from over.

Our corrupt Governor Rick Scott (I use that term advisedly about a man who committed the largest fraud in Medicare/Medicaid in history and was fined $1.7-billion) read the polls and flew into a rage. He pulled Aramis Ayala from prosecution. Scott installed his own minion to erect the legal scaffolding around Markeith Loyd and grease the skids to the death chamber in that jewel of Florida, beautiful, exciting Raiford.
To reiterate, Gov. Scott removed a duly elected official from my county and substituted his own choice of prosecutor, subverting yet again our election process.
Could a defense attorney argue on appeal that Florida’s governor stacked the deck against the defendant? It would take someone with far more legal knowledge and imagination than I to construct such an argument, but clearly the governor is not above meddling in the legal system, a dangerous precedent. Ayala has received some support from state attorneys and at least one public defender who question Scott's subverting the election process and pressuring state lawyers to do his bidding.

Wait! We have good news! Florida is back on track for executions. With luck, the day may come when we no longer defensively chant, “We’re Number 2! We’re Number 2! We’re Number 2!”

Oh! If you feel like killing someone, come to Florida where your chance of prosecution is rapidly diminishing. We need the tourism dollars.


  1. Despite a number of well-known conservatives who have turned against capital punishment, many people tend to assume anyone opposed to execution must be ‘liberal’ in some pejorative sense. In my case, quite the opposite is true. One can’t be Quaker-raised without a thorough grounding in the Ten Commandments and civil libertarian (small L) values. If you’re wondering why a gun owner opposes the original or enhanced versions of the Shoot First / Stand Your Ground laws, I also believe in common sense, sadly lacking in this suppurating corner of the nation.

  2. Justified outrage!
    I do think if fees and taxes on guns and ammo were devoted to the victims of gun violence and if those fees rose or fell with the incidence of gun injuries, a bit more common sense might ensue

  3. Leigh, the other major exception to SYG, is of course, women. We just aren't supposed to kill our lords and masters. But if I were a homicidal white guy, Florida would be soooo the place for me. Seriously, it's crazy out there.
    (But I don't think you'll ever catch up to Texas.)
    Thanks for the post1

  4. Yee-hah, Bill! What would we do without the craziness?

    Janice, that's an interesting idea. Wound the nut-jobs where it really hurts, the wallet.

    Eve, I included a link to Marissa Alexander, a rotten miscarriage of justice mainly because she didn't kill her man, only scared him with a warning shot. The prosecutor won a 60-year sentence, which even her 'victim' thought grossly unfair. Protests helped get her out of prison for the moment.

  5. A Broad Abroad19 March, 2017 16:08

    All too distressing.
    I don't know what else to say.

  6. Provocative post, Leigh. Over the years, I've heard many excellent arguments in favor of the death penalty, so excellent I doubt I could refute them. But I've also often taught composition over the years, and George Orwell's "A Hanging" was often one of the essays we discussed. Every time I reread it, I was struck once again by the moral seriousness of deliberately taking a human life, and I didn't know what to think. I don't know if I could serve on a jury if the death sentence were a possibility. That's probably an admission of cowardice, as much as anything else.

  7. ABA, thank you for providing links included in the article. I appreciate it.

    Bonnie, although a Quaker background provides a footing, my discovery and convictions about the ills of capital punishment began in high school in preparation for a debate. What most citizens think they know isn’t true, not facts but opinions and not entirely unreasonable surmises.

    One of the easiest to debunk is that executions deter crime. It may seem counter-intuitive, but the opposite appears to be true. That’s why states that abolish the death penalty often see a drop in murders and an increase when (re)implementing capital crimes. There are a number of reasons. Some evidence suggests ‘state-sanctioned killing’ sends a message that homicide can be an approved way of solving issues. For others, ‘death by state’ is a variation of the well-known phenomenon of ‘death by cop’.

    More easily understood are situations where murder is intended to cover up another crime. This isn’t unusual in sex crimes. It’s not uncommon for an assailant to panic after assaulting a victim and culminate the crime with killing. The case of Gerald Mason’s worked out differently. He left his teenage victims bound and alive, but Mason subsequently killed two police officers who pulled the car over, later admitting he feared being executed for the sexual assault. If he faced the death penalty anyway, he reasoned, what did he risk killing two cops to avoid it?

    Another point proponents raise is that it’s cheaper to execute than keep an inmate alive in prison. Again, the opposite is true. As State Attorney Alaya pointed out, death penalty cases and subsequent procedures are terribly expensive. It’s far more cost effective to simply house a prisoner who might even become a ‘profit center’ if permitted to work.

    Of all the issues, the concept of closure is the trickiest. Some families don’t experience ‘closure’ at all and execution can make dealing with a loved one’s death more difficult. Worse yet comes the situation when DNA or other evidence belatedly proves the man who’d been the focus of anger and frustration is proved innocent. Some family members have even expressed anger and hostility toward investigators for not leaving well enough alone. The legal system has dealt with this in strange ways. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts has opposed post-conviction DNA testing on these very grounds.

    In the final analysis, the only salient and unassailable point is vengeance.

  8. Leigh, I totally agree with out about reasons against the death penalty. And private prisons... they're like for-profit schools: no accountability, and only designed to make money for the corporation. Not a good idea for anyone in them.


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