News Coverage of The Florida Moratorium Walk
for a Time-Out on Executions!
Gainesville Sun: 1/21/02: Trek to protest death penalty
Palm Beach Post Editorial (Mentions Walk): 1/21/02
Jacksonville Times-Union: 1/22/02: Death penalty doubters start Tallahassee trek
Lake City Reporter: 1/24/02: Foes of death penalty walk across state with petitions
Suwannee Democrat: 1/30/02: Group marches to gain a time out on executions
Florida Times-Union: 2/1/02: Death penalty marchers arrive at the Capital
Tallahassee Democrat: 2/1/02: A Long Road For Death Penalty Opponents
Florida Times-Union Editorial: 2/5/02
The National Catholic Reporter: 02/15/02: Marchers spotlight growing scrutiny of Florida death penalty
Monday, January 21, 2002
Trek to protest death penalty
By ASHLEY ROWLAND Sun staff writer
A Gainesville resident is among a group planning to walk 130 miles to ask for a halt to Florida’s use of the death penalty.
Amy Jo Smith, 62, is one of 10 members of a state anti-death-penalty group who will begin walking this afternoon from Union Correctional Institute at Raiford to the governor’s office in Tallahassee. They will ask Gov. Jeb Bush to impose a timeout on executions.
The group, members of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, plans to arrive at Bush’s office on Jan. 31.
FADP director Abe Bonowitz said as many as 100 demonstrators will join the 10 marchers during the first few miles of the walk, and others will participate in segments of the trip.
More death penalty opponents and as many as eight former Death Row inmates are expected to join the 10 marchers in Tallahassee.
Bonowitz said the 500-member FADP has collected 20,000 signatures on a petition calling for a temporary ban on executions.
Supporters of the ban say the death penalty needs to be examined because some inmates have been found innocent after being sentenced to Death Row.
Smith, a retired occupational therapist, said there is widespread support in Gainesville for the moratorium, and members of at least three local churches plan to walk the first two miles with the group.
Smith, who has demonstrated against the death penalty since 1991 and now coordinates an anti-death-penalty organization in Gainesville, said the march has had an impact in the state.
“I think it already has (made a difference), in a sense, because of the people who have signed the petition and the people who are now beginning to think about this issue,” she said.
A support vehicle and trailer will follow the marchers. Most will carry signs and banners, and some plan to wear black and white-striped referee shirts to symbolize their “timeout” message.
Ashley Rowland can be reached at 374-5095 or [email protected].
PALM BEACH POST
Editorial: Halt Florida executions over sentencing issue
The Palm Beach Post Monday, January 21, 2002
If Florida will not listen to reason on the death penalty, the state at least should pause long enough to listen to the Supreme Court. Ten days ago, the justices agreed to hear an Arizona case on how that state decides between execution and life without parole. The argument is over the fact that Arizona, like Florida, allows only the judge to give death sentences, which, as in Florida, are based on a list of “aggravating” factors — the crime was “especially heinous” — and “mitigating” factors — such as the killer’s mental capacity.
Florida and eight other states give the judges full power. In the federal courts and the 29 other states that allow capital punishment, juries decide. The justices could rule that Florida’s system is unconstitutional on the grounds that juries should determine the severity of a crime. There’s no telling how many of the 372 inmates on Florida’s Death Row such a ruling could affect. With three executions pending, Gov. Bush should delay them and impose a moratorium until the high court decides.
Florida’s system is especially inconsistent. Though a 12-person jury must rule unanimously for conviction, recommending the death penalty requires just a 7-5 simple majority. Even Palm Beach County State Attorney Barry Krischer, who strongly supports capital punishment, believes 12-0 should be the standard to recommend execution. The jurors don’t have to specify which of the 11 aggravating and seven mitigating factors they relied on for their decision. Though judges make the final decision, it is extremely rare for them to disregard the jury’s sentiment.
Despite efforts by Gov. Bush to speed up executions, momentum is running the other way. Illinois Gov. George Ryan imposed a moratorium in February 2000 after several publicized exonerations. With 22, Florida leads the nation in the number of Death Row inmates set free. Just this month, Juan Melendez went free after nearly 18 years on Death Row.
And as University of Florida Professor Michael Radelet noted in an interview with The St. Petersburg Times, Florida courts have been handing down fewer and fewer death sentences. Last year, there were only 14, the lowest since 1976, when the Supreme Court allowed states to resume capital punishment. One reason is that since 1994, juries in Florida have been able to give killers life without parole. Between July 1996 and Jun
e 2001, Palm Beach County prosecutors sought capital punishment 16 times and got three death sentences.
Several cities in Florida have approved resolutions in support of a moratorium. Tallahassee became the latest this month. Today, a march in support of a moratorium will begin from Union Correctional Institution, which with neighboring Florida State Prison houses Death Row. The marchers — among whom will be four men freed from Death Row — will travel 143 miles, from the prison north of Gainesville to the Governor’s Mansion, arriving in Tallahassee on Jan. 31. Organizers want the governor to accept what they hope will be 20,000 petitions. He has not responded.
In January 2000, before Gov. Bush and the Legislature’s clumsy, unsuccessful attempt to shorten death-penalty appeals, The Post calculated that Florida spends $51 million a year to keep capital punishment. The cost was based on time spent by prosecutors, public defenders and judges. It includes the salaries of lawyers for the state who handle only Death Row appeals. Legislators disputed the calculation but could not refute it.
The case for a moratorium was clear before the high court intervened. Now, it’s closed.
January 22, 2002
Death penalty doubters start Tallahassee trek Group carries petitions for moratorium
By Jessie-Lynne Kerr Times-Union staff writer
RAIFORD — They joined hands and sang several verses of We Shall Overcome in a muddy parking lot across Florida 16 from the Union Correctional Institution as rain sprinkled intermittently.
Then the group of about 70 people from different parts of the state crossed the road and began walking yesterday to Tallahassee — 143 miles away. They expect to reach the state capital by Jan. 31, when they will present signed petitions to Gov. Jeb Bush.
“We are calling for a timeout on executions,” said Abe Bonowitz, who was dressed in a black and white-striped referee’s shirt .
Bonowitz, head of an organization called Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, based in Jupiter, said a poll shows most Floridians favor a moratorium on executions because they say there are serious flaws in the system.
PHOTO: Janice Figuero of DeLand holds her sign up moments before about 70
marchers left the Union Correctional Institution parking lot bound for Tallahassee.
— John Pemberton/Staff
PHOTO: Marchers walk in a light rain in front of Union Correctional Institution
yesterday as they embark on a 143-mile trek to Tallahassee to deliver petitions
calling for a moratorium on all executions in Florida. — John Pemberton/Staff ————————————————–
“This does not mean we want to abolish the death penalty, although many of us do,” Bonowitz said. “We just want to make sure it is done with fairness and accuracy.” He said Florida leads the nation in the number of people released from Death Row.
Since Florida reinstated the death penalty in 1976, 23 people have been released after evidence of their innocence was discovered. Another inmate, Frank Lee Smith, died of cancer in January 2000 in prison but DNA testing later cleared him in the 1985 rape and murder of an 8-year-old girl.
The moratorium asks the governor to halt executions of the 350 people now under death sentence until a fair and impartial, independently appointed commission can examine and review all of their cases.
PHOTO: Jean Gottlieb carries a so-called ”spirit stick” as a group opposed to the
death penalty sets out for Tallahassee to deliver petitions. — John Pemberton/Staff
[ABE’S NOTE: Actually that’s “Sam’s Stick”]
“There should be a panel of experts that will study the system, find the flaws and fix them,” Bonowitz said.
John Linnehan, who heads Jacksonville Citizens for a Moratorium, said that of those who showed up for the walk’s launch yesterday, perhaps 10 to 15 will walk the entire 143 miles.
“So far we have 6,000 signatures from Jacksonville,” Linnehan said, adding that the walkers hope to give Bush 20,000 signatures from throughout the state by Jan. 31. Backers hope to have 100,000 signatures from people statewide by the end of the year.
No one from the Bush administration was available to comment on the petition drive yesterday.
A good number of the walkers who identified their groups said they were from Catholic organizations. Bishop Victor Galeone of the Catholic Diocese of St. Augustine asked Catholics through Northeast Florida two months ago to sign petitions seeking the moratorium. Several other groups said they were from Unitarian Universalist churches.
Bonowitz said a number of former Death Row inmates since exonerated have been invited to join the group when it reaches Tallahassee to help hand the petitions to the governor. He was not sure how many will show up. [ABE’S NOTE: Actually, I said three were confirmed, and another 5 are still considering.]
The group planned to cover 9 miles the first day, spending the night at the Florida Coalition for Peace and Justice’s Peace Farm. A portable toilet on a small trailer and a passenger van are accompanying the walkers, who will be driven to motels in various towns along the way.
Florida is one of 38 states with a death penalty, although Florida now bans executions of the mentally retarded.
An ABC News poll in April found that 51 percent of those asked said they favored a nationwide moratorium on executions while their fairness is studied. A Gallup Poll last spring said that 65 percent of Americans support capital punishment, a drop from the 80 percent who favored it in 1994.
Staff writer Jessie-Lynne Kerr can be reached at (904)
359-4374 or via e-mail at [email protected].
This story can be found on Jacksonville.com at http://www.jacksonville.com/tu-online/stories/012202/met_8403434.html.
Foes of death penalty walk across state with petitions
By BRYAN NOONAN
Lake City Reporter
January 24, 2002
Early Wednesday afternoon, John Linnehan joined his companions, including two Buddhist monks, under a thick overhang of trees along Duval Street for a cup of soup and some fruit.
The group sat together for a quiet picnic and reflected on their march against what they consider the cruelest and most inhuman of all punishments.
“We’re going to see Governor Jeb Bush and present him with at least 20,000 signatures calling for a moratorium on executions to have no more executions, a time-out, until they can be certain that there are no innocent people on death row,” Linnehan, 74, said. “Because the history in Florida is not good on that point.”
Linnehan and his crew are representatives from Jacksonville’s Citizens for a Moratorium on Executions and Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. They spent Wednesday afternoon spreading the word along Duval Street, wearing signs and carrying the message that innocent lives were being endangered and resources wasted.
The march began at Union County Correctional Institu-tion in Raiford, a place that earlier this month released an innocent Juan Melendez after 17 years on death row. With 80 people assembled for the first hours of the walk, Linnehan and his companions passed through Lake Butler and Lulu before the march through Lake City. The group is seeking people who want to sign their petition for a moratorium. With 20,000 signatures already, Linnehan said he thinks Gov. Bush should at least consider their argument when they arrive at his office on Thursday, Jan. 31.
“The least he can do is examine what we think is a defective criminal justice system, to look at the defense some of these people did not get and to be certain that they have adequate legal representation,” he said.
But to a society that often embraces the notion of slaughtering evil-doers to deter crime, halting the death penalty is a unnerving option. Linnehan said this line of thinking is the paradox in the argument over capital punishment.
“We’re in a culture of violence in this country,” he said. “Violence is swamping us. And the death penalty even though it’s legal killing is adding to the whole idea of violence.”
Linnehan believes America’s military capabilities create a dangerous undercurrent of violent thinking among its people. This toughens and stirs empathy in people’s tolerance toward violence.
“Our whole approach to the military we have a very aggressive military stance worldwide,” Linnehan said. “We have possession of a huge stockpile of nuclear weapons. That’s violence of the highest order, because if those things go off, the whole program is over. That seeps into the mind-set of the citizens.”
To Linnehan, not only is the death penalty savage, it is inefficient as well. He said the average cost of putting a human to death is $2-4 million. He balances that with the $400,000-800,000 cost of a life in prison without parole, and said Florida would save $51 million if capital punishment were abolished. With these reasons to guide us, Linnehan said he can’t understand how the United States exists as the only western, civilized country in the world that still chooses capital punishment.
“The death penalty is unnecessary,” he said. “We don’t need to execute people in order to protect society. When the state starts killing people to teach others not to kill, it’s a contradiction and it’s just piling up dead bodies for no good reason.”
Linnehan says any terrorists convicted of the Sept. 11 attacks should be spared death. He said they need to be punished, but says bringing more death to the tragedy would further loosen our collective grip on the sanctity of life.
“If we are ever going to become the humans that we are capable of becoming, we have to control that violence,” he said. “Otherwise we just continue to kill each other. The earth now is the term, a global village. We can’t be blowing people’s heads off all over the world and expect to have a civil society and a peaceful world.”
Sister Denise Laffan, one of the Buddhists, agrees death is not a proper fate for the terrorists. She feels the very notion of terrorism can only exist in a world that condones violent governments and military stockpiles. She joined the march to tell people that violence can be contained and eventually eliminated if we start in our homes and communities.
“I think it’s absolutely necessary for us to overcome our deep distrust and antagonism toward each other which exists within our neighborhoods, within our nation, within our world,” Laffan said. “Because I think it keeps magnifying like a pebble dropped in a pond and waves keep going out so that ultimately we have things like terrorism that we have to be fearful of. We need to convert ourselves to recognizing the sacredness in all of life.”
PHOTO CAPTION: Amy Jo Smith leads a troop of protesters looking for signatures to support a moratorium on the death penalty. The group, representatives from Jacksonville’s Citizens for a Moratorium on Executions and Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, walked through towns en route to Tallahassee and a visit with Gov. Jeb Bush to discuss capital punishment in Florida.
Group marches to gain a time out on executions
Violet McDonald, Democrat Copy Editor
The simplicity of walking is what one group hopes will help them gain momentum in their push to eliminate executions in the state of Florida.
“Walking is one of the most natural things people do,” Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (FADP) member John Linnehan told reporters as the group passed through Suwannee County Thursday and Friday. “It speaks in itself of non-violence and of concern for the earth.”
Eighty FADP members began the 143-mile trek on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day from death row at Union Correctional in Raiford. That number dwindled after the initial start because members have responsibilities, but Linnehan said a larger group of between 200 and 300 will gather on the final day to present a list of signatures requesting a moratorium on executions.
The trek took the group through numerous communities on the way to their destination at the office of the governor on Jan. 31. At least four death row survivors will lead the walk in the final stretch. Linnehan said walking is an extra effort to get Gov. Jeb Bush to take the group seriously, and it allows communities along the way to see the group’s message and perhaps join in the cause.
Linnehan added the great leaders throughout history, like Ghandi and Dr. King, walked, and FADP walks in that same spirit. Linnehan said walking also eliminates aggression because of the simple approach.
“The main thing we’re trying to do is show the governor and the Legislature there is a grassroots movement in Florida that wants them to stop the executions right now,” Linnehan said.
Since 1976, 24 individuals have come off death row, with the most recent release being Juan Melendez, versus 51 who have been executed. The group’s plan is to present Gov. Bush with about 25,000 signatures supporting a moratorium. Linnehan said Thursday the group had 20,000 signatures. But the network was still gathering names, and he expects FADP to turn over about 25,000 signatures total.
The FADP has an on-going campaign, and if the walk is not successful in gaining the state’s approval of a moratorium, Linnehan said the fight will continue.
“We’re going to continue around Florida and continue to work on getting an initiative,” Linnehan said. “It’s an ongoing campaign. It’s not going away.”
Linnehan said right now an amendment is scheduled to be on the ballot in November to include the death penalty in the Florida Constitution. If the amendment passes, it will make it more difficult for the state to move away from the death penalty.
Because of this FADP is pushing harder than ever to get a moratorium in place and educate Floridians on the issue so such an amendment will not push the movement further back.
Linnehan said the release of 24 death row inmates shows clearly the fallacies within the system, and if that many were found to be innocent, how many others are there.
“There’s no way to remedy the situation (once someone is executed),” Linnehan said.
His own personal reasons for supporting the FADP movement involve his experience as a chaplain with a young man at the Florida State Prison. Linnehan said years ago he met a 22-year-old man who paid for a mistake with his life. According to Linnehan, the young man killed his high school sweetheart after a graduation party during which he had too much to drink. Linnehan said he spoke with the young man and discovered his usefulness and realized that his usefulness would never be realized by society.
“He had repented of it,” Linnehan said. “That young man would have made a good citizen.”
Linnehan added the death penalty is an unnecessary use of the state’s power.
“You don’t have to kill people to assure protection for the people,” Linnehan said.
Bernie Welch, FADP member for 10 years, offered a different insight into the movement. Welch said there are two basic issues to consider – fear of innocence and fairness. Fear of innocence, Welch said, is a simple issue to grasp. When one considers that almost half of the total number of people executed in Florida have been released because they have been found to be innocent, that should raise some eyebrows.
But, the issue of fairness is a little subtler. According to Welch, 40 percent of death sentences come from North Florida where only 20 percent of the population lives.
Welch became a member of the group after spending six years working with the Department of Corrections, where, Welch said, he came to realize the humanity of the most despicable characters.
Director of FADP Abe Bonowitz said it is time for the governor and the Legislature to open their eyes to the truth.
“Gov. Bush should remember that you can’t fool all of the people all of the time, and the latest polls show that at least 66 percent of Floridians agree that Florida needs a moratorium – a “time out’ – on executions because they recognize that there are serious flaws in the system,” Bonowitz said.
For more information on FADP, visit www.FADP.org.
Death penalty marchers arrive at the Capital
By Tia Mitchell
Friday, February 1, 2002
TALLAHASSEE — They marched 143 miles to hand-deliver 20,000 signatures of Floridians who want to see a halt to executions.
Joined by three former Death Row inmates, about 50 supporters of an execution moratorium assembled for a rally yesterday before walking across the street to the Capitol. Gov. Jeb Bush’s office was the destination of the journey that began on Jan. 21 at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford, the site of Florida’s Death Row.
According to Walter Moore, leader of the Tallahassee Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, the marchers were not all opponents of the death penalty.
“We also include people who support the death penalty in principle, but not in its present administration,” he said.
Delbert Tibbs, who was convicted of rape and later released after a judge ruled his case had been severely tainted, now lives in Chicago. Tibbs skipped a celebration of the second anniversary of the Illinois death penalty moratorium to join the march.
“Someplace not too far from here — wherever the Florida Supreme Court meets — when they were debating my case, there were Floridians in the street marching [and] saying, ‘free Delbert Tibbs, give Delbert Tibbs a fair trial,'” he said. “And so I feel like I owed a little something to Florida.”
Bush was out of the office yesterday. During a telephone interview, a spokeswoman for Bush said his stance on the death penalty has not wavered. “The governor has commented on this topic on numerous occasions, and his position hasn’t changed .. there has been no evidence that anybody in the state has been
wrongfully put to death,” said Lisa Gates, deputy press secretary.
On Jan. 3, Juan Melendez became the 24th person to be released from Death Row in Florida after capital charges were dropped. Florida is one of 38 states that allow capital punishment.
Tallahassee Democrat: 2/1/02: A Long Road For Death Penalty Opponents
By Bill Cotterell
DEMOCRAT SENIOR WRITER
A long road for death penalty opponents
Amy Jo Smith found a breezy spot to sit in the shadow of the state Capitol on Thursday, wearily confident that her 143-mile march from Florida State Prison will make a difference for condemned killers on Death Row.
“But our walk does not end here,” Smith said. “It will continue until our goal is reached – a moratorium on executions in the state of Florida.”
A solemn procession of 53 marchers walked the final 2.5 miles from United Church in Tallahassee to Kleman Plaza behind a broad banner that said 24 men have been freed because of new evidence, confessions by others or state decisions not to retry them when appeals courts overturned death sentences. Rally organizers said more than 60 additional inmates have had sentences reduced to life or lesser prison terms since the state resumed executions in 1977.
Three former Death Row inmates were near the front of the line as the group traveled Mahan Drive. Delbert Tibbs and Brad Scott, who each spent three years on Death Row before their convictions were overturned, and David Keaton, who was freed after 13 months when another man was convicted of murder, were among those who wore basketball referee shirts and carried bright orange signs calling for a “time out” on executions.
In the lobby of Gov. Jeb Bush’s office, the former prisoners presented three bundles of petitions, bound in green ribbon, bearing names of more than 20,000 moratorium supporters. Bush, a strong supporter of capital punishment, was out of town, but assistant general counsel Simone Marstiller accepted the petitions.
“I was impressed with the smoothness of it,” Tibbs said afterward. “We got a chance to tell them our feelings. I wish the governor would have been there, but I wasn’t surprised by that. He probably didn’t get to be governor by being a dummy.”
The Tallahassee City Commission last month adopted a resolution urging a moratorium on death warrants until the fairness of the system can be reviewed.
Smith, who will be 63 next week, was among 80 rain-splattered protesters who gathered outside Death Row near Starke on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday to begin the trek along U.S. Highway 90. Only about 15 marchers walked all the way; one of them, Abe Bonowitz of Tequesta, said hundreds of Floridians joined ranks as the group passed through various towns.
“Yesterday, we encountered some very angry people who someday may walk with us,” Bonowitz said. “I used to be one of those angry people ready to pull the switch myself. But don’t take our word for it – look at the evidence for yourself and decide if what you believe is true.”
Bonowitz said he changed his mind because of the high cost of prosecution and years of appeals in death cases.
“We are not a lunatic fringe of crazies,” said Walter Moore, chairman of the Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and a member of the Tallahassee Moratorium Committee. “We come from the left, the center and the right and we include people who support the death penalty in principle – but not how it is administered.
“We are not soft on crime, we are firm on fairness.”
Wearing a “Grandmothers for Peace” T-shirt with a large red heart on it, Peggy McIntire of St. Augustine said she walked a little each day but rode between cities and rally points on the 10-day route. McIntire, 91, said a moratorium on executions would lead to abolition of capital punishment because there is no fair way to do it.
“I think we’re eventually going to get a moratorium and then abolition,” she said. “America is in great disrespect because of this.”
Contact reporter Bill Cotterell at (850) 599-2243 or [email protected].
Killers will kill
Florida Times Union editorial
Tuesday, February 5, 2002
The death penalty rally last week in Tallahassee was an exercise in futility. A few protesters, saying they hoped to stop innocent people from being put to death, called for a moratorium on executions until an independent commission can review the cases of all 350 inmates on Florida’s Death Row.
But appellate courts already review those cases. Most killers are on Death Row at least a decade, some longer. Surely, that is adequate time to study their cases.
Protesters say the system is broken because the capital convictions of two dozen inmates have been reversed. But, those figures at best show that those convicted improperly eventually are set free, particularly since there is no proof that any innocent person has ever been put to death since capital punishment was reinstated 26 years ago. In some cases, it may be only that key witnesses have died or key evidence has been lost, making it impossible to gain a conviction in a new trial.
Critics say lifetime sentences are as effective as executions in protecting society.
Two Texas men kidnapped a 16-year-old cheerleader in 1996 and, fearing she would turn them in for rape, shot her nine times and dumped the body in a creek. They were convicted of murder and sentenced to life.
Last week, they overpowered a guard with a makeshift knife and escaped. On the day of the Tallahassee rally, police in Texas were desperately trying to track them down.
There is only one way to make certain a killer doesn’t get out and take more lives. That is to carry out the death penalty, in a timely fashion.
The National Catholic Reporter
Marchers spotlight growing scrutiny of Florida death penalty
By JUDY GROSS
After a 10-day walk,
slogging through downpours, past quiet farmland, under vast North Florida skies, foot-weary marchers arrived Jan. 31 in Tallahassee, carrying 20,000 signatures from across the state asking the governor to call a Time Out on Executions.
With three stays on Florida executions issued a week after the march — in effect creating a moratorium on executions — and the Jan. 3 release of a wrongly convicted man, opposition to Floridas death penalty system is gaining momentum.
Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty brought together opponents and supporters of capital punishment for the march to the capitol to ask Gov. Jeb Bush to stop signing death warrants until Floridas system is put under scrutiny.
However, the governor has refused to call an official moratorium. In response to the march, Bush released a statement saying, There has been no evidence that anyone in Florida has been wrongfully put to death.
Bush was out of his office campaigning in Central Florida when three former death row prisoners delivered the signatures to the governors office. David Keaton, Brad Scott and Delbert Tibbs all had their sentences overturned.
Florida leads the nation in the number of death row prisoners — 24 — freed since 1972, all after evidence of their innocence was uncovered. Meanwhile, 51 people have been executed since 1979.
Abe Bonowitz, director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, asked, Would you buy a car from someone with that kind of record?
About 80 marchers and supporters joined the final rally in Tallahassee Jan. 31. Before leading the demonstrators to the State Capitol, the veterans of Floridas death row addressed the group. Scott said, I supported the death penalty, too — until I ended up on death row. His conviction was overturned in 1990.
Keaton said, If the state of Florida had had its way, I wouldnt be here today. I believed in the court system until I was convicted of something I didnt do. Keaton was proved not guilty of a rape charge and released in 1973.
Tibbs, a writer and human rights activist working at Northwestern University Law Schools Center on Wrongful Convictions in Chicago, said, As you can imagine, Im not overly anxious to be back in Florida, as lovely as it is. I am here to bear witness to the fact the state makes mistakes, as they are made in all human endeavors. A moratorium is an intelligent beginning. Tibbs sentence was overturned in 1977.
Almost 100 gathered Jan. 21 at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford, home of Floridas death row, to begin the trek across the state.
Grandmothers for Peace member Peg McIntyre, 92, took a day off from her job at a candle shop in St. Augustine to join the march. Sister of Mercy Dorothea Murphy charged up the battery in her motorized wheelchair and added her voice to the cause. Steve Rochow of Fort Lauderdale took the less-than-glamorous job of driving a truck pulling the portable toilet that trailed the marchers across the state.
Leaning on a pair of crutches, Delena Stephens, mother of a death row inmate and director of the St. Augustine dioceses Office of Peace and Justice, hobbled along. Although she acknowledged her sons rightful conviction, there are alternatives, she said. As a mother, I could be at peace with a life sentence.
The St. Augustine diocese, the Florida Catholic Conference and Pax Christi Florida were among more than 35 organizations cosponsoring the march.
Tallahassee Committee for a Moratorium on the Death Penalty organizer Walter Moore told the crowd, We are not a lunatic fringe of crazies. We include abolitionists and those who support the death penalty in principle, but not in its administration.
We are not soft on crime. We are firm on fairness, he said.
Lending support to the moratorium effort is former Florida Supreme Court Justice Gerald Kogan, who reversed his position on the death penalty after leaving the bench and is now part of the Washington, D.C., Constitution Project initiative working to reduce the danger of wrongful death sentences.
Floridas capital punishment system has been in the spotlight in recent months. Three death row prison guards are currently on trial, accused of beating to death prisoner
Frank Valdes. Marcher Bernard Welch of St. Augustine pointed out the terrible contradiction of officers who are hired to kill people on trial for killing an inmate.
Meanwhile, on Jan. 3 Juan Melendez became the 24th person to be released from death row in the state. Melendez spent 17 years on death row for a 1983 murder to which another man had repeatedly confessed — evidence prosecutors withheld.
Then on Feb. 5, Bush decided to postpone the scheduled execution of Robert Trease after the U.S. Supreme Court issued stays for two other death row inmates while it reviews an Arizona case that could have implications for Floridas criminal justice system. Florida and Arizona are among nine states that allow a judge to impose the death penalty even when a jury has recommended a life sentence.
Trease was scheduled to be executed Feb. 7 for killing a man during a 1995 robbery in Sarasota. He had ceased his appeals and volunteered for lethal injection.
Bonowitz called Bushs decision historic. It is possible that there will never be another legal execution in our state. With the stays pending the Supreme Courts decision in Ring v. Arizona, none of the 372 people on Floridas death row is scheduled for execution. This amounts to a de facto moratorium on all executions. Bonowitz said.
Judy Gross writes from Tallahassee, Fla.
Related Web sites
Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty
2603 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Hwy
Gainesville, FL 32609