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LETTER FROM TONI JENNINGS
The following letter was received by FADP. IF YOU have ideas for responses to any specific claim made in this letter, or if you would like to help draft FADP’s formal response, please send your thoughts to me at [email protected]. Thank you!
Thank you for your letter regarding the death penalty and for taking the time to voice your concerns.
Many people have sincere and devout beliefs that capital punishment should be abolished. However, neither Governor Bush nor myself believes that such a policy would promote justice or save innocent lives.
In just 30 months, from 1998 through June 2001, 2,236 people were murdered in Florida. Many of these victims suffered horribly, and their families’ pain continues for many years.
During this same 30-month time period, 10 convicted murderers were executed. Those executed were guilty of the most brutal and merciless killings. Many other prisoners are sentenced to life in prison for less-heinous first-degree murders, second-degree murders, and armed robbery.
Since the use of capital punishment increased in the United States, the murder rate has decreased. After 1963, when executions essentially ended, murder rates soared to unprecedented heights.
The murder rate in 1973 tied the highest rate to that date, broke the record in 1974, broke it again in 1980, and peaked a third time in 1990-92.
At about that time, the number of executions began to significantly increase. By 1999, murder rates have declined to about the 1966 levels.
This is overwhelming evidence that capital punishment saves innocent human lives.
Florida law provides strict limitations on the use of capital punishment. A person accused of a capital crime is provided free legal representation if he or she is unable to afford a lawyer. Unlike other states, Florida law requires the prosecutor to share evidence with the accused murderer’s lawyer. The accused is allowed access to DNA testing and other evidence that might demonstrate innocence.
Once a person is convicted of a capital murder, the death penalty may only be imposed if aggravating factors are proven to exist. Thus, only first-degree murders that involve unspeakable cruelty and suffering, multiple victims, a motivation for financial gain, a desire to eliminate a witness, and other exceptionally brutal facts qualify for capital punishment.
Florida law also provides numerous levels of appeals for the convicted individual before the sentence is moved. Once a person is convicted of an aggravated first-degree murder and sentenced to death in Florida, the state voluntarily provides free legal representation to the convicted murderer until the sentence is carried out or reduced on appeal.
Florida has provided more than $55 million in post-conviction legal representation to persons sentenced to death. No other state has invested the public resources in capital post conviction legal representation that Florida has been providing for well over a decade.
The death penalty administered under Florida law is reserved for only the most heinous cases. Governor Bush has said many times the signing of a death warrant is one of the most solemn responsibilities he must undertake, and he does so with humble deliberation
Again, thank you for taking the time to write about this very serious issue.
Lt. Governor Toni Jennings
Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty
2603 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Hwy
Gainesville, FL 32609