Innocent William “Tommy” Zeigler has been on Florida’s death row for over 40 years because of public corruption. Although gravely misinformed, Tommy’s jury still didn’t vote for a death sentence. The judge – who had a history of butting heads with Tommy (and losing) – overrode the jury, and imposed the death penalty.
Other death row innocents – like Crosley Green and Kris Maharaj – have had their sentences commuted to life, rather than being set free. This limits their appeals, and lessens their chances of being freed. It shouldn’t: their convictions should be evaluated in the knowledge that a life sentence is a death sentence, just one that is easier to ignore, sans death warrant drama.
Tommy likely wouldn’t have been convicted if it weren’t for the local media, per former editor-in-chief of the Orlando Sentinel David Burgin, who openly apologized not only to Tommy but to fellow Floridians:
The Sentinel spent no time trying to cover the case with a hard eye on the defendant’s story. Tommy Zeigler’s “guilt” was assumed and he was treated as guilty in the local press, and therefore all or most all of local media. The Sentinel’s reporter on the case and top editors played footsy with Orange County prosecution officials and police, taking their every word as official. This letter would be long indeed if I were to cite every instance that Sentinel coverage of Mr. Zeigler’s nightmarish plight left the public thinking these horrible murders on Christmas Eve amounted to an open-and-shut case.
The rest of Mr. Burgin’s apology is here.
If Governor Rick Scott fails to reasonably respond to the Florida Supreme Court finding our methods of issuing death sentences unconsitutional, it is my fervent hope that come January – when corrupt 9th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Jeff Ashton steps down – that all heaven breaks loose for those falsely convicted in Florida’s Orange and Osceola counties, despite whatever the corrupt mainstream media does.
ACLU Responds to Florida Supreme Court Ruling State’s Death Sentencing Statute Unconstitutional
TALLAHASSEE, FL. – The Florida Supreme Court today ruled that the state’s system of issuing death sentences is unconstitutional. The Florida Legislature passed a law earlier this year requiring a jury vote of at least 10-2 for a person to be sentenced to death, revising a previous statute that required only a bare majority of jurors to agree. The Court today ruled that the statute was unconstitutional, and that a death sentence in Florida must result from a unanimous jury decision.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida and the ACLU Capital Punishment Project filed amicus briefs urging the court to find the statute unconstitutional.
Responding to today’s ruling, ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon stated:
“For years, we have warned the Florida legislature that unless they rewrote our state’s broken death penalty statute, the courts would take the issue out of their hands. We require a unanimous jury in all other situations except death sentencing. A person should not be sentenced to death by a less than unanimous jury.
“Just as we said they would, the Florida Supreme Court has inserted some much-needed fairness in our death penalty process by declaring that anything short of a fully unanimous jury on every necessary issue is unconstitutional.
“Florida, with its non-unanimous jury requirement, has seen more death sentences reversed than any other state. Racial disparities, over-zealous prosecutors and a lack of resources for defense counsel continue to plague death penalty cases.
“We are heartened by the court’s decision which should reduce both the number of death sentences, as well as the number of wrongful convictions that have plagued our state. But the unanimity issue was just one aspect of a crumbling death penalty system which is getting harder every day to justify.
“All defendants on Florida’s death row whose cases are pending on direct appeal must now receive new sentencing hearings unless the State can prove its heavy burden of showing beyond a reasonable doubt that the error in their cases would not have affected the jury verdicts in capital sentencing, a very difficult standard to overcome. The full impact of the decision remains to be seen as the Florida Supreme Court has yet to decide whether new rulings will apply retroactively to those defendants who cases were already decided on direct appeal. The question of retroactivity is pending in the Lambrix case, a case briefed but not yet decided by the Florida Supreme Court.
“The Florida legislature should not attempt any further small fixes of the unsalvageable death penalty. No one should have to die from the flaws in our judicial system—the racial bias, the extreme variation from county to county in the use of the death penalty, the definitions of intellectual disability that don’t match science and medicine, and so many more.
“We see other states wrestling with the same problems and coming to the same conclusion: capital punishment must end.”