Sunday, 14 October 2007

Florida High Court: Why rush execution?

Justices want decisions made in logical order

TALLAHASSEE — Florida Supreme Court justices Thursday asked why there's a rush to execute Mark Schwab on Nov. 15.Though Schwab has been on death row more than 15 years, a separate state case and a federal review are pending that could affect his execution.Schwab kidnapped, raped, tortured and murdered 11-year-old Junny Rios-Martinez of Cocoa on April 18, 1991. He was convicted and sentenced to death on July 1, 1992.

His is the first death warrant signed by Gov. Charlie Crist and the first in the state since a moratorium on executions was lifted following an inquiry into the botched December 2006 lethal injection of Angel Diaz.The state's highest court last year chose the appeal of Ian Deco Lightbourne to consider the constitutionality of Florida's revised lethal injection methods in the wake of Diaz's execution.

Lightbourne's case has produced a record of more than 7,000 pages as a circuit court held hearings on the legality of Florida's three-drug mix and changes made by the Department of Corrections since Diaz. The trial judge concluded the new procedures are constitutional.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Lightbourne case immediately before it heard Schwab's appeals."Lightbourne has to be decided first, wouldn't you agree with that?" asked Justice Barbara Pariente. "It would look pretty bad for the administration of justice in this state if Schwab is executed and two weeks later we decide lethal injection as administered in Florida is cruel and unusual."

Lightbourne is not under a death warrant and justices asked why they shouldn't stay Schwab's execution while they decide that case.

Crist, a former attorney general, was asked Thursday if he would consider a moratorium on executions while the courts deliberate cases on the constitutionality of lethal injection.."There are a lot of people waiting for justice to done," Crist said. "They have suffered the loss of a loved one. My heart bleeds for them."

There is also a pending U.S. Supreme Court review of a Kentucky case that seeks to set the standard of constitutionality for lethal injections."Why in the world would we move forward to approve an execution when there is some possibility that the U.S. Supreme Court will give specific guidance on this very issue in terms of lethal injection?" asked Justice Harry Lee Anstead. "What is the emergency of having an execution put forward while we're waiting for what will be the absolutely controlling law in this area?"

Earlier, assistant attorney general Kenneth Nunnelley said the state's methods would stand up to whatever the U.S. Supreme Court decides in the Kentucky case. "Florida's procedures will meet any standard they may possibly choose to apply," Nunnelley said.

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