I am honored and delighted to have officially started on June 1st as the Executive Director for FADP, and I want to take some time to introduce myself to you.
Over the past 16 years I’ve represented more than 35 men on Florida’s death row. Their traumatic lives and tragic crimes profoundly impacted me, as did what I learned about the deep flaws in Florida’s death penalty system. These experiences are fresh in my mind as I prepare to lead this organization and to work alongside you and so many other committed advocates to end the death penalty in Florida.
I am a native of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. After law school, having had enough of harsh winters, I moved to Miami, where I took a job as an Assistant State Attorney in the Dade County State Attorney’s Office.
I loved being a prosecutor. I tried my best to seek justice and prosecute with integrity. I sat with victims and witnessed their pain and what they had lost. Far too often I observed their frustration that our justice system fell short of providing them with what they needed.
After 3 years as a prosecutor, I moved to Tampa and became a capital defense attorney. My days were filled with reading about broken people, most of whom had suffered unimaginable horrors and most of whom had also committed horrific crimes.
I have always believed deep in my soul that people are not defined by the worst thing they have ever done. My clients deserved a voice and an advocate. As I worked on their cases, I got to know them – their life stories, fears, regrets, and hopes. They wanted to know about me, they remembered my birthdays and anniversaries. We shared ups and downs and tears and laughter. I knew it was exactly the job I was meant to do.
In 2009, I was assigned to represent Clemente Aguirre, who was on death row for a crime he did not commit. It took nearly a decade of investigation, DNA testing, multiple appeals, a trip to Honduras, and an unbelievable amount of perseverance and teamwork to secure Clemente’s freedom in 2018. The day Clemente was released, as we drove away from the prison, I kept repeating over and over, “I can’t believe you are in my car!”
Clemente’s case serves as an tragic reminder that Florida gets it wrong more than any other state in the country, and it solidified my personal desire to help bring about an end to the death penalty in Florida.
There’s a story that has always inspired me of a young woman who, after a storm, began throwing starfish that had washed up on the shore back into the sea. She didn’t want them to die. An old man questioned her decision, saying “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.” The woman bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”
I spent 16 years focusing on each individual starfish, trying to make a difference in their cases and their lives. But now, the next phase is to get the ocean to stop pitching those starfish on the beach.
It’s time for Florida to join the 23 other states that have ended the death penalty. With your support and working together, we will get there.