The drug trafficker convicted of killing a state trooper is asking the Florida Supreme Court to block his scheduled Feb. 26 execution. Lawyers for Paul Augustus Howell asked the justices for a stay of execution and filed a post-conviction appeal on Wednesday. Circuit Judge Angela Dempsey previously denied Howell's appeal in Jefferson County. That's where Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Jimmy Fulford was killed by an exploding pipe bomb in February 1992.
Howell was sentence to die in 1995 or three years after his arrest. He is one of 405 inmates on death row in Florida. The average delay in execution in Florida is 14.3 years. Howell’s appeals have consumed over 18 years and he killed a cop.
While another delay is possible, Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee introduced a bill to eliminate the Florida death penalty for several reasons. An effort to abolish the death penalty in Florida finally got a hearing Thursday in a House committee after a three-year effort, but then quickly went down to defeat.
She told the committee that it was outdated, costly and the fear of executing an innocent person. More and more states are abandoning the death penalty, not because of moral reasons but because it costs too much. They have found out that it is cheaper to keep death row inmates in prison for life than to execute them. Tens of millions of dollars could be saved in a time when people are losing their jobs and the economy is slowing down.
Rehwinkel Vasilinda offered extensive praise for committee chairman Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, who said during the committee hearings:
"I like knowing today that in Florida everybody knows that if you kill a cop you will be executed," Gaetz said. "I want everybody in prison to know that if a corrections officer is killed by your hand, you will die."
Republican state Sen. Joe Negron, a civil attorney in Stuart, suggested that, based on what he's heard from the agency during budget talks, regional counsel attorneys use their office to advance an anti-death penalty agenda.
"You know, legislators believe in due process and a fair trial and so when we start asking about these cases going on for 10, 15 and 20 years, they've told us that their goal is that the death penalty in that particular case will never be carried out, and whatever means are necessary to achieve that goal, that's what they're going to do," said Negron, who is running for re-election. "Speaking as a lawyer, that goes way beyond the legal process. We shouldn't be using the appellate process to make a political statement."
After a defendant is convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death, an appeal is filed directly to the Florida Supreme Court, which takes about three years to complete. Records show another seven years is spent litigating post-conviction, or collateral appeals in state court, and a case can spend an average of 4 1/2 years in federal court. It costs approximately $1 million dollars per year per inmate on death row.
Determining how much post-conviction death row appeals cost taxpayers is nearly impossible, especially in cases spanning decades. Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers took an in-depth look at the available expenses in three cases and here’s what was found in one case:
Sentenced to death in 1982 for the murder of Frances Julia Slater in the same year in Stuart.
$711,750: Estimated cost of housing Cave on Florida’s death row for 30 years
$348,000: Verified costs of post conviction appeals, which in part includes
$163,025 in appellate attorneys fees; $27,904 in state attorney’s expenses; and
$61,758 in costs for experts, witnesses and investigators
Bottom line is that if you do the math, it costs more to keep inmates in prison on life sentences than if the death penalty was carried out in a more efficient manner. And if more judges would oversee all proper legal proceedings there would not be so many bad judgments that are overturned by higher courts.
As Rep. Gaetz said, Mr. Howell, the cop killer, deserves to die on 26 February 2013 for murdering a Florida Highway trooper without further delay. eighteen years is too long to wait for justice at the expense of the taxpayer and the Fulford family.