25 years on Death Row
Palm Beach Post Editorial
Friday, December 6, 2002
With the election safely over, Gov. Bush could grant a condemned killer a stay of execution and not worry about potential political repercussions. No matter what happens to Amos King, his case argues again that there is a better way than the death penalty to deal with terrible crimes.
King has been on Death Row for a quarter-century, convicted of murdering a Tarpon Springs retiree, Natalie Brady, and setting her house on fire to cover the crime. King has proclaimed his innocence, but he was hardly an innocent in 1977. He had been serving time at a work-release facility near Ms. Brady's home, and his clothes were bloody when a guard stopped him trying to enter the morning after the murder. King nearly killed the man, stabbing him two dozen times.
This week, King was just an hour from lethal injection when the governor granted a 30-day stay. One of the lawyers arguing on King's behalf was Barry Scheck, who was part of the O.J. Simpson defense team. Mr. Scheck is co-founder of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with the Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in New York. The group takes only cases in which post-conviction DNA testing might offer clear proof of innocence.
In this case, Mr. Scheck wants to run tests on hair samples and scrapings from under Ms. Brady's fingernails. Similar tests in 2001 were inconclusive, but Mr. Scheck believes that newer technology can determine whether the scrapings, presumably from efforts to fight off an attacker, are from someone other than King. In that event, Mr. Scheck told The Miami Herald, there would be "strong evidence of innocence." Gov. Bush called the delay "wholly appropriate."
There's no way to calculate how much the state has spent over the past 25 years defending King's sentence. Almost certainly, the amount is far less than it would have cost just to keep him in prison. If DNA tests point to another possible killer, that meter will start running again. For the victim's relatives, there is the emotional toll of gearing up for an execution, then backing away.
For the state, there is the reality that in some instances, the reasonable-doubt standard for conviction isn't enough when it comes to capital punishment. If King is executed, there will be other cases with questions. Florida leads the nation in releases from Death Row. Rather than raise the credibility of capital punishment, time and technology are lowering it.
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