Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Death penalty future rides on Schwab execution

Death penalty future rides on Schwab execution

Much will be at stake when the curtains part on Florida's death chamber at
Florida State Prison this evening. It will be one of the most important
days in the history of the state's ultimate punishment.

Pending an unlikely 11th-hour stay, Mark Dean Schwab will be strapped to a
gurney to face a 6 p.m. death by lethal injection. Schwab, 39, is
condemned for abducting, raping and killing an 11-year-old boy in Cocoa, a
small town on Florida's east coast.

If Schwab's death appears peaceful, executions in Florida could rev up for
the first time in 2 years. But if anything goes wrong, the state's death
penalty system will be in turmoil again.

Florida's death penalty has been at a standstill since the Dec. 13, 2006,
execution of Angel Diaz. Corrections officials mistakenly poked needles
through Diaz's veins and chemicals sprayed into his flesh. His death took
twice as long as normal and appeared painful to some observers.

Then-Gov. Jeb Bush halted all executions and convened a panel to study
procedures. Several changes were made, but executions were delayed again
when the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review a challenge to lethal
injection protocols in Kentucky.

The high court in April upheld Kentucky's procedures as constitutional.
Without a stay, Schwab's execution will be the 10th in the nation since
that decision.

Gov. Charlie Crist on Monday said he would like to see executions

"There's an old adage in law that justice delayed is justice denied, and I
believe that," Crist said. "I'm very sympathetic to the family members of
those who have had members of their family taken from us murdered."

Bush also had hoped to speed up executions. And though he oversaw more
executions than any Florida governor in modern death penalty history,
executions still couldn't outpace the number of people sentenced to death
row during his tenure.

Since 2005, for instance, only 5 inmates have been executed while 59
people have been sentenced to death row 31 alone since Diaz's botched

Florida, which has averaged only about 2 executions per year since 1979,
currently houses 388 people on death row. At that rate, a vast majority
will die in prison of old age.

"It's going to be very hard to catch up," said Charles Rose, a professor
at the Stetson University College of Law.

Though it appears it's clear sailing for the death penalty, the state has
had numerous problems with executions, including inmates burning or
bleeding in the electric chair. Florida adopted lethal injection to
assuage constitutional concerns about cruelty, but that method has had
problems, too.

Death penalty defense lawyers say a three-drug cocktail used to execute
inmates can cause pain and suffering banned by the Constitution. A
sedative provided to put the inmate to sleep can wear off too fast, they
say, causing inmates to feel an excruciating burning sensation when the
third chemical is injected.

In addition, they say, corrections staffers are not properly trained to do
lethal injections.

But corrections spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said medical professionals
are involved in the process. She said the execution team has been
practicing and has adopted changes recommended by the commission that
studied the protocols. This includes a provision that a warden ensure
Schwab is unconscious before a fatal chemical is injected.

"Our goal is a humane and dignified death," Plessinger said.

Mark Elliott, executive director of Floridians for Alternatives to the
Death Penalty, said he thinks opposition to executions has coalesced since
the Diaz debacle. He said vigils are planned in a dozen Florida cities
today, more than in past executions.

"There seems to be more interest and dissatisfaction with what's happened
in Florida," he said.

Rose, the Stetson professor, said death penalty advocates also will be
keeping a close eye on Florida today.

"They're going to watch this very closely to see if it's going to work,"
he said. If it does, "then I think it's back to business as usual until
there's another problem."

Schwab, 39, was released early from prison in 1991 after serving time for
raping a 13-year-old boy at knifepoint. Only about a month later, Schwab
saw a photo of Junny Rios-Martinez in a local newspaper. The 11-year-old
boy had won a kite-flying contest.

Schwab posed as a newspaper reporter interested in helping Junny become a
professional surfer. He met with the boy and his family, then called
Junny's school posing as his father and setting up a meeting with the boy
at a ball field.

Schwab abducted, raped and murdered Junny. He fled to Ohio but was caught
days later and led authorities to the body, which he had put in a
footlocker and hidden in a remote palmetto thicket.


388 Inmates currently on death row

5 Executions since 2005

59 People sentenced to Florida's death row since 2005

64 Executions since Florida's modern death penalty began in 1979

2.2 Average number of executions a year

14 Average length of stay in years of current death row inmates

34 Number of years that Gary Alvord, sentenced to die in 1974 for killing
3 women in Hillsborough County, has been on death row, the longest of
current inmates

>>fast facts

Last 5 executions

Angel Diaz, Dec. 13, 2006. Condemned for the 1979 shooting of a Miami
topless bar manager during a robbery.

Danny Rolling, Oct. 25, 2006. Condemned for killing five people in
Gainesville in 1990.

Arthur Rutherford, Oct. 18, 2006. Condemned for killing a North Florida
woman during a robbery in her home in 1985.

Clarence Hill, Sept. 20, 2006. Condemned for killing a Pensacola police
officer in 1982.

Glen Ocha, April 5, 2005. Condemned for murdering a 28-year-old woman he
met at a bar in Kissimmee.

Executions by governor

Jeb Bush: 21

Lawton Chiles: 18

Bob Graham: 16

Bob Martinez: 9

(source: TampaBay.com)

No comments: