FADP Meets with Governor Bush
December 19, 2003
The following is a TRANSCRIPTION of the meeting between Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (FADP) and Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Friday, December 19, 2003, in Mayo, Florida. See www.fadp.org/jebvisit2003.html for photos, press releases and background.
Please know that this transcription was made from an audio recording that was not top quality. Unfortunately, a reader cannot hear inflection or tone in the voice of a speaker. Both Hannah and SueZann were speaking in an anguished or crying voice – they were speaking from the heart, and that comes with emotion. It also means that some words were unclear. We have filled in minor gaps where it was obvious or not specifically vital detail. Where it was completely unclear what was said, that is indicated by the word [unintelligible]. There are moments when more than one person is talking making the conversation unclear – such moments are indicated by the word “crosstalk.” In a few cases where the speaker obviously misspoke, the correct word was used in place of the misspoken word. (e.g. Abe said “tiny majority” when he meant “tiny minority.” The correction was used in this text.) Minor grammatical corrections have been made as well.
A few things to note when reading this transcription.
- Jeb interrupts well – right when a person is about to make an important point and
- in such a way or with the type of comment to divert attention. Notice also the extensive use of the term “we”- when he is really referring to HIS responsibilities.
Jeb Bush – Governor of the State of Florida
Abe Bonowitz – Director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty ( www.FADP.org )
Hannah Floyd – Representing the Florida Death Row Advocacy Group ( www.FDRAG.org ), and joined by her daughters Stephanie (17) and Emily (10).
INTRODUCTION: After saying good morning to everyone assembled in the registration area, Jeb invited the first group to follow him through a phalanx of aides, other state officials, and security personnel. It was surprising that we were never searched or put through a metal detector, and no security personnel joined us when we arrived in a small office and sat around a rectangular table. After pleasantries, Abe pulled out a tape recorder already set to record, and began:
ABE: One other thing. Do you mind if we record our session?
JEB: No. No I don’t mind. I know that I’m used as a means to present your cause, and that’s reasonable.
ABE: We appreciate that. Thanks for doing this. It’s umm –
JEB: I haven’t seen – you have a hearing aid now.
ABE: I have two of them.
JEB: We didn’t see ’em last time, did we? Did you?
ABE: I’ve been wearing them since I was in high school..
JEB: Really? Oh, I’m sorry… I didn’t notice.
ABE: It’s all right. We actually wrote up a press release, with a headline saying that we were coming to express our appreciation – (see press release at www.fadp.org/pressrel100.html )
JEB: I heard – and then – the timing turned out that we signed a death warrant yesterday.
ABE: Yeah…. Well, I want to introduce to you Hannah Floyd and her children, and they’ve got a message to share….
ABE: SueZann and I will have some other things to add after that.
HANNAH: Well now that I’m here, I don’t really know what to say to you. What goes through your head when you sign these warrants? That man that you signed the warrant for yesterday, he has family, too.
JEB: Uh.. He committed an atrocious crime and the laws of our state are such that, uh, people that commit the most atrocious of crimes are, are uhh…. there’s capital punishment and they get the death penalty. And so, uhh….
HANNAH: I wish you would be real with me –
JEB: I’m being real with you, ma’am –
HANNAH: No, you’re not… It’s not the ones who do the most – whatever word you used – it’s the people who have no money that are in there. You know that’s not true….
JEB: You don’t think that the crime that was committed was –
HANNAH: I don’t know about Johnny Robinson’s – I mean I know that some of these crimes are horrible but I also know that –
JEB: Well then you and I have a respectful disagreement. I respect you for, I assume you are opposed to the death penalty?
HANNAH: Very much so.
JEB: OK, I respect you for that. You should be respectful of people who have a different point of view.
HANNAH: Yeah, except that you have the power to kill my husband.
JEB: I don’t know who your husband is. You are going to need to explain that to me.
HANNAH: He’s been there for 19 years for something he didn’t do.
JEB: Well if you have information about that, then we have a process that we can inquire about it. Do you have the information? Has he gone through the clemency process?
HANNAH: NO, no…. he’s not that far yet.
JEB: Well if he’s innocent, you’d be concerned. I am, too.
HANNAH: Yeah… but I mean you know that there’s men being released every year that’s innocent in there, right?
JEB: No, ma’am.
HANNAH: No? (surprise)
JEB: People can be released based on the judicial process not being, you know, after review….. the most recent person that I recall, the person was taken off of death row because it was remanded back to the local court and the state attorney couldn’t retry it because it had been gone for so long, they would no longer be able be get the evidence or to
get people to testify –
ABE: Actually, you are talking about Rudolph Holton and what happened was that the evidence that they used against him was discredited.
JEB: Well! If you any evidence that your husband is-
HANNAH: It’s not about that –
JEB: No, I… it IS about that. If you’re saying that your husband is innocent, I’d like to get the information because our whole system is geared to make sure that there – that we’re NOT executing innocent people. So if you have any information, that is part of my job.
HANNAH: But I’m not here because my husband is innocent. I’m here because –
STEPHANIE: Well, I am.
JEB: You should be. If you believe he is innocent then you need to give us information.
ABE: There are some broader issues that – these people are with us in part so that you can see what’s happening to families of the people on death row….
JEB: Um hmm
ABE: …and the guy you signed a death warrant for, yes, he committed a horrible crime, but now his family has an interesting Christmas present to deal with and that is the upcoming loss of their loved one to unnecessary violence, and you know, it’s not necessary, and especially when you talk about the sanctity of life and the respect for life, and yet act in such an inconsistent way – you talk about –
JEB: …well, we can have a debate and then I’ll be recorded and you win your political point, which I’m more than happy again to provide you the forum to do, but there is a difference to me of the sanctity and the protection of innocent life and the fulfilling of a sentence that we’re… there is… a crime that is so atrocious, that you know, the number of murders in our state, as you know, is 800, the number of people that get the death penalty is, uh, close to 30, 25.
ABE: That’s right. You can’t tell the difference in most cases between who gets the death penalty and who doesn’t. It has a lot to do with issues – Look, you should look at the story that was in the Lakeland Ledger ( www.fadp.org/news/ledger-20031215.htm ) just this past week about how counties are bearing the burden, and if it’s a rural county, they can’t even afford a death penalty trial and they have to sometimes raise taxes to be able to pay for a death penalty trial, and I understand that that’s set to move to the state in terms of funding.
JEB: All of it. It already has, it already has. All of the circuit courts are paid for by the state…
ABE: Well, we have to look at who is on death row –
JEB: All of the county court –
ABE: – the bottom line is that fewer than 1% of the people who could be executed are getting executed, and when you look at that and look at who is not executed and who is, then you have a question of fairness. I used to support the death penalty, and until I looked at how its being applied and how often we are not using it, and who gets chosen and who doesn’t – that’s a big concern, and I think that if people who are serious about justice explore that issue – the consistency and the fairness of the application – then you know, maybe we need to look at a different ultimate punishment. (Looking at Stephanie) Do you have anything you want to say?
STEPHANIE: I don’t know what to say.
SUEZANN: I didn’t get to speak yet. I just need to remind you of who I am. I am victim. I saw my father get stabbed to death. I got stabbed too, and left for dead. (See the full story at www.fadp.org/flm_bios.html#sue )
SUEZANN: I got stabbed also and left for dead. I was stabbed six times and my Dad got stabbed 24 times. Here and here (pointing to her head). And I want you to know what happened to me during the trials. I wish you would help us with this, hopefully, [unintelligible – crying] …I was told by the judge that I could not say what my opinion was. I know what your opinion is, and I respect that. But my opinion was not allowed to be heard.
JEB: Unintelligible – reassuring? [At this point SueZann handed Jeb a copy of the report, “Dignity Denied,” from Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation, which he proceeded to look through. See www.MVFR.org to look at the report, which details the mistreatment encountered by murder victim family members who oppose the execution of the person who murdered their loved one.]
SUEZANN: I went through 10 and 1/2 years of me trying to get the man off death row and for life&all those years I went through such pain and agony& my Dad’s life was taken and I didn’t want to live – it was not worth it to me. It’s almost like [unintelligible]. [You need to look into the] the victim advocacy [program] because that last trial was different from before. At the original trial they would hold my hand and get us coffee. And the system – the State Attorney would have one of his students fill one of our spaces so that we could get back into our seats. But then we told them that our family did not want the death penalty for the killer. And after that they treated me like they never knew me. We were treated horrible, and then I got on the stand and he [the judge] said, “SueZann, if you ever say anything about the death penalty, I will put you in prison for six months, and fine you $500.” I was treated like the criminal in that court room and we need something done about that.
JEB: Unintelligible (crosstalk)
SUEZANN: I don’t think its very fair. It needs to be fair for them [indicating Hannah/death row families] and for everybody.
HANNAH: Even my husband’s case-
SUEZANN: Fair for me because even though I’m against the death penalty, I believe my pain is just as important as anybody else’s.
JEB: I agree with that.
SUEZANN: I wish that you could help – that – they are victims too.
JEB: In the trial that you are referring to, this was the original trial, or was this the-
SUEZANN: This was the third, the third sentencing trial.
SUEZANN: But I beg of you. I beg of you to help. Because there are other people that are coming up all the time. There are other victims like me that feel that when you kill somebody on death row, you’re creating more victims and we have so many victims in the system – you know that.
SUEZANN: And you don’t want to create more.
HANNAH: Now there is something that I wanted to say to you. If you knew what it feels like to stand out at that prison and hold a woman in your arms when she knows that her husband or her son is being killed in there – the first time you do that, when you feel them collapse because they know that at just that time that “my husband is dead” or “my child is dead.” You should be out there just once – If you could feel that pain, you would never sign another death warrant, I promise you – because you – more people are-
JEB: Well, on the flip side I have met with a lot of victims who were seeking justice… and who disagree with your point of view. A whole lot of them. (Voice getting angry.)
ABE: Have you talked with any of them a couple of days or months later?
JEB: Yep. I
have. I’ve maintained communication with several that – because-
ABE: They’ve been able to heal?
JEB: Yeah (self-assured). They have.
ABE: I’d be interested in talking with them if they were interested….
JEB: You want-
ABE: What about the 99% of the victims families where there is no justice of an execution? Where the perpetrator gets life without parole? You know, what do you say to them?
JEB: What do you mean?
ABE: Well, when there is the death penalty – After there’s an execution, you say, “this is for the victims’ families” – the death penalty is for the victims’ families.
JEB: crosstalk…. it’s for carrying out the sentence that the state-
ABE: – but you are also quoted as saying, “this is for the victims’ families” and my question is-
JEB: – that is secondary to carrying out the sentence –
ABE: …alright. Well, according to your rhetoric, the death penalty is sold as a commodity for victims’ families and yet it is used in fewer than 1% of the cases…. then you know, what are we saying to the other 99%? As I see it, you are saying “your loved ones aren’t valuable enough.” The other piece…
JEB: No, I have concerns for the victims of all crimes…
ABE: Yes, well when we have a punishment that’s reserved for such a tiny minority of all the people for whom should be eligible – who are eligible for that punishment, and yet we are using it so infrequently, then there’s a problem. It’s not being equally and fairly applied.
JEB: So, you think we should do it more?
ABE: If we can’t do it across the board, we shouldn’t do it at all. And I do, I used to be a supporter of the death penalty – and that’s what I used to say when I learned about this unfairness. It’s gosh, if you could cross the county line and not face -.and not –
JEB: That happens with every crime and every sentence. There is-
ABE: But death is different –
JEB: You cannot have complete equality of sentencing for every circumstance – this is not possible – AND if it was possible the place to sort that out would be the Florida Supreme Court.
SUEZANN: What did you mean –
EVERYBODY TALKS. Jeb’s aides indicate that the time is up. Jeb stands.
ABE: Well, there are several things I would like to share with you real quick before we go. First, this is another stack of moratorium petitions. We’ve been calling for a “time-out” on executions. (See www.fadp.org/moratorium.html ) (Abe hands Jeb another 3,000+ signatures. Jeb neatly stacks the pile as he looks at it.)
ABE: This is a videotape where it gives an interview with Don Cabana who was a warden in Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman? He executed several people; he also participated in an execution in Florida. He talks in this videotape – it’s only 13 minutes long. I hope that you will take the time to look at this. (Copies of the video are available to the media by e-mailing name, agency, and address to [email protected]>.)
JEB: I will.
ABE: He talks about the brutalization of prison workers who participate in executions and what happens to them. Here’s a letter from John Blackwelder who wrote to me. ( www.fadp.org/killfordeath.html ) Now here’s a murderer who is bragging about how as a prisoner sentenced to life in prison he murdered in prison in order to get a death sentence because he wanted to have a state-assisted suicide. He actually wrote in here that YOU are going to help him get his state-assisted suicide. Have a look at that.
JEB: I don’t agree with you when you suggest what my motivations are, but I’ll read it.
ABE: I hope you will. This is the report of Xavier Amador regarding the mental illness of Linroy Bottoson ( www.fadp.org/bottoson.html ). I want to make sure you have a copy of that because it’s unclear to me if you actually had a chance to read that when you were executing Linroy Bottoson last year at this time during the holiday season. Finally, this might interest you. I understand that Hispanics are technically “white,” but when the DOC lists all of the people on death row – people of color on death row – they are not listing who is Hispanic, and I think that sends a skewed message about how many people of color are on death row. This is a copy of Juan Melendez’ prison ID, who was released in January 2002, and please have a look at that. ( www.fadp.org/hispanicdoc.html )
JEB: OK. [Speaking to Hannah] If you would, if you want to speak with Secretary Crosby about issues related to visitation and all that, he’s here.
HANNAH: Oh really? That would be wonderful.
JEB: THANKS AND NICE TO SEE YOU AGAIN. THANK YOU FOR COMING.
Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty
2603 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Hwy
Gainesville, FL 32609