Friday, 31 August 2007

Child Killer Appeals, Cop Killer's Conviction Upheld

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Child killer and rapist Mark Dean Schwab on Thursday asked the Florida Supreme Court to block his November execution, the first set in Florida since a botched lethal injection more than eight months ago.

Schwab kidnapped, raped and murdered 11-year-old Junny Rios-Martinez in Cocoa on Florida's Space Coast in 1991.

Gov. Charlie Crist ended a moratorium on executions in July when he signed a death warrant for Schwab, 36. His execution date is Nov. 15.

The Supreme Court also Thursday unanimously sustained death sentences for two other convicted killers, but neither is facing imminent execution. One is Billy Leon Kearse, 34, who fatally shot Fort Pierce police officer Danny Parrish during a traffic stop in 1991.

The justices also upheld the death sentence of prison poet Stephen Todd Booker, who will turn 54 Saturday. Booker, whose work has appeared in several respected literary publications, raped and fatally stabbed 94-year-old Lorine Demoss Harmon in her Gainesville Apartment in 1977.

Florida had stopped executing prisoners after it took 34 minutes -- twice as long as normal -- for Angel Diaz, 55, to die on Dec. 13. An investigation showed needles had been pushed through Diaz's veins into the flesh of his arms, reducing the effectiveness of three chemicals used in the lethal injection process.

The Department of Corrections has modified it's procedures including improved staffing and training, but death penalty opponents argue they remain insufficient to prevent inmates from suffering painful deaths.

Schwab's lawyers plan to raise that issue in his appeal of an Aug. 17 decision by Circuit Judge Charles Holcomb, who denied a motion to stay or vacate his death warrant. Defense lawyers also argued that new evidence shows Schwab suffered from brain impairment that made the death sentence unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court has tentatively set oral argument for Oct. 11 in Schwab's appeal and another lethal injection challenge from death row inmate Ian Deco Lightbourne, who was convicted of killing Nancy O'Farrell in 1981 after breaking into her Marion County home.

Lightbourne's case, based on what happened to Diaz, is awaiting a decision by a circuit judge in Ocala.

The Supreme Court rejected Kearse's post-conviction appeal, which previously had been denied by a trial judge. It's the third time the high court has ruled in his case. The justices in 1995 vacated his initial death sentence. After he was resentenced, they voted 4-3 to sustain it in 2000.

Kearse also challenged the lethal injection procedure. The justices rejected those claims but noted they did not consider new issues that may be raised in Lightbourne's case or any subsequent challenge by Kearse.

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