Florida had a long-standing practice of allowing imposition of the death penalty without the unanimous support of a jury. Before the 2016 ruling in Hurst v. Florida, courts here only required a recommendation of a simple majority of jurors (7-5), though the decision was ultimately up to the judge. Not Ok, ruled the U.S. Supreme Court, finding it a violation of the Sixth Amendment. The state legislature revised the rules, deciding at least 10 out of 12 jurors needed to agree in order to impose the death penalty. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that still wasn’t good enough, as it violated the Eighth Amendment’s provision against cruel and unusual punishment. Juror input and consensus is mandatory in capital cases.
Last year, the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling in Hurst v. State struck down the prior capital sentencing statute allowing judges to impose the death penalty if a majority of jurors recommended death or to override a jury’s recommendation for a life sentence. Meanwhile, a separate decision in Perry v. State tossed an amended version of the statue, which gave judges the authority to impose the death penalty if 10 or more jurors recommended it. The state supreme court noted that it must be jurors who make that final decision and that determination must be unanimous, per the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2002 ruling in Ring v. Arizona. Non-unanimous cases accounted for 20 percent of all Florida death sentences, and were disproportionately represented in exonerations of death row inmates. Also last year, the state legislature passed S.B. 280 which eliminated non-unanimous jury recommendations for the death penalty. That was signed and approved by the governor last month.
This brings us to the conflict regarding Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala, who has outright stated a refusal to seek the death penalty. The issue arose initially in a high-profile case in which Ayala asserted she did not plan to seek the death penalty for a man accused of killing a police officer. She further stated she did not plan to seek the death penalty for anyone else either. Scott subsequently removed her from the police killing case – and then also from 21 other first-degree murder cases. Continue reading
The 30-year-old suspect was likely going to be facing drug trafficking charges. He didn’t want to confront that possibility. Instead, he fled from police in an attempt to escape. But he lost control of the car. The vehicle overturned and careened into a nearby canal and started to sink. Defendant swam out through a window, but police caught him within minutes.
What the suspect didn’t inform police of until it was too late was that there were two other people still trapped in that submerged car. It wasn’t until officers asked that he offered up the information.
Now the Sunrise man is facing two second-degree murder charges in those deaths. He is being held without bond, and faces up to life in prison if convicted. Continue reading
The Florida Supreme Court – for the second time in as many months – ruled the state’s death penalty law is unconstitutional and can’t be applied to prosecutions that are pending. Effectively, that means death penalty murder trials are on hold for now. The ruling was handed down in a one-paragraph order. Some judges, including chief judge John Galluzzo for Brevard and Seminole counties, have held that the guilt phase of these trials may proceed, so long as the sentencing phase is postponed until after state lawmakers have time to rewrite the statute.
These judges have defended the decisions saying that while the rulings that have been handed down from the Florida Supreme Court may seem confusing, it’s believed capital murder trials could continue, so long as certain defense rights are defended. Specifically, that means that all 12 members of the jury must unanimously agree to recommend the death penalty, rather than simply a majority or having the judge decide, as has been the case in the past with this state.
However, the most recent order handed down by the state supreme court says that Florida’s death penalty law has been invalidated “as a whole.” The court was very clear in saying it cannot be applied to prosecutions that are pending. Meanwhile, the high court’s ruling last month indicated that the state’s death penalty law was so fundamentally erroneous – and had been that way for so long – that more than half the people on death row are likely entitled to new sentencing hearings. That covers more than 200 inmates who are waiting to die on Florida’s death row. Continue reading
Joseph Zieler, 54, was arrested in August for allegedly shooting his adult son with an rifle. His was not seriously hurt, but Zeiler was facing a felony charge nonetheless. Because this was a violent felony charge, Zieler’s DNA was entered into CODIS (Combined DNA Index System). Lab workers reported a “hit” – on a double homicide/ sexual assault that occurred in Cape Coral way back in 1990.
According to The News-Press, police believe Zeiler, who was 25 and lived in the area at the time, killed 11-year-old Robin Cornell and 32-year-old Lisa Story, at their home in Cape Coral. Story was the roommate and friend of Robin’s mother, Jan Cornell. Continue reading
Florida has one of the strongest “Castle Doctrine” laws on the books, which allow homeowners to use lethal force against those who unlawfully enter their homes. The law does require that in order to threaten or use deadly force, the resident/ homeowner has to believe such force is necessary to either prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to herself or someone else or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony.
In this case, the 54-year-old homeowner wasn’t at the time of the burglar’s initial entry, but rather was alerted to the break-in by a home security camera. She reportedly returned home and searched the property room-to-room, until she spotted the teen climbing out a window. She told investigators there was a confrontation and she shot him. Further, police were reportedly on their way. Continue reading
Recently, the Florida Supreme Court nixed the state’s practice of having a judge – rather than a jury – decide a person’s fate in a death penalty case. Then there was the judge in Miami who struck down Florida’s death penalty law as unconstitutional because the state allows a majority – rather than a unanimous – jury decision to determine whether someone should die for their crimes.
Now, there is yet another hurdle for the state: The only three federally-approved sources that provide the lethal mix of injectable drugs used in Florida executions have withdrawn their use for this purpose.
Pfizer, a huge pharmaceutical manufacturer, has stated it wants its medications to be associated with saving lives, rather than ending them. It argues there is no legitimate medical purpose to execute someone. Continue reading
The case is packed with so many odd twists and turns, it sounds like some kind of made-for-television movie. And strangely, that’s what the defendant says she was trying to do: Act the part of the villain so she could score a reality television show. The alleged victim was even in on it, she said.
But the Boynton Beach police who arrested her for allegedly paying a hit man to kill her now-ex husband say the plan was real. Meanwhile, the police were filming a “COPS” episode of the whole investigation, and even staged a fake murder scene as part of the case.
Dalia Dippolito was charged and later convicted of solicitation to commit first-degree murder with a firearm and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Then the conviction was overturned two years ago based on improper jury selection. Now, Dippolito’s defense lawyers are arguing the charges should be dropped, presenting testimony from her one-time friend-turned-police-informant Mohamed Shihadeh says he was pressured by police to set up Dippolito. Continue reading
A single shove outside a Florida tire shop ended one man’s life and forever altered another.
Casey Fletcher, 28, is facing a charge of manslaughter, following an altercation outside the store on Prospect Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale. The fact pattern in this case has been described as “unique” for the fact defendant did not intend to cause harm to the alleged victim. Rather, he was coming to the aid of his girlfriend, and he didn’t try to use or even have possession of a weapon.
However, that single push resulted in the 66-year-old falling on the concrete, striking his head hard on the ground. His brain injuries were serious. His brother recently spoke with a reporter about the decision to take him off life support. He described his “shock” and called the whole incident “a shame.”
For the death of his 5-month-old son as a result of violent shaking, a Lake Worth man will serve five years in prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter.
Initially, defendant had been charged with first-degree murder and faced up to 30 years in prison. Defendant’s wife, the child’s mother, supported defendant and the two even went on to have another child, a daughter, after the death of their son.
This may have prompted prosecutors to agree to a plea deal with much lesser prison time than what he could have served. As part of the deal, prosecutors dropped the first-degree murder charge and child abuse charge in exchange for a guilty plea to manslaughter. Even that charge carries a possible prison sentence of up to 15 years. That he had no prior criminal record, authorities say, also factored into the agreement for him to serve less time.