Florida making progress on latest fix to death penalty law

By Brendan Farrington, Associated Press | Posted - Mar. 9, 2017 at 3:40 p.m.



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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida took a big step to fix its death penalty law Thursday when the Senate passed a bill to require a unanimous jury decision before the death penalty is imposed.

The proposal — the second attempt in two years to address court decisions that found the state's capital punishment law unconstitutional — is expected to go to Gov. Rick Scott on Friday after the House votes on it.

It's a fix that people on both sides of the death penalty issue see as needed, but few on either side are entirely happy with. Many death penalty proponents were OK with a majority jury vote determining a death sentence and are frustrated the courts forced them to move to a unanimous decision. Opponents would prefer to abolish the practice altogether.

"I still think there is work to be done on the death penalty," said Democratic Sen. Randolph Bracy, the bill's sponsor. "One of them is that the death penalty has been unevenly applied. Depending on where you are in this state — (and) sometimes unfortunately, the color of your skin — it can determine whether you get the death penalty or not."

But he called the measure a good first step.

Coincidentally, the Senate vote came the same day the Florida Supreme Court said the execution of condemned murder Michael Lambrix can go forward. Lambrix was scheduled to be executed in February 2016 for a 1983 double murder in southwest Florida, but the state Supreme Court delayed the execution based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision that found the state's death penalty law unconstitutional.

The U.S. high court's January 2016 ruling was based on a case where a judge issued a death sentence after a 7-5 jury recommendation. The court said Florida gave too much power to judges to decide death cases. The Legislature responded by overhauling the law last year to allow the death penalty with at least a 10-2 jury vote.

In October, however, the state Supreme Court voted 5-2 to strike down the new law and require unanimous jury decisions for capital punishment.

While many Republicans disagree with the decision, they say their hands are tied by it.

"It's just having to accept the reality of the circumstances," said Republican Rep. Chris Sprowls, who is sponsoring the measure in the House. "Where we are today is we either have a death penalty, or we don't."

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Brendan Farrington

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