Florida Supreme Court Hears Death Penalty Appeal

Oct 5, 2016

Credit Nick Evans

The Florida Supreme Court is considering more cases thrown into doubt by a US Supreme Court ruling earlier this year.  Nick Evans reports.

The Hurst v. Florida ruling invalidating the state’s death penalty system continues to resonate in Florida’s judiciary.  Public defender Nada Carey says Zachary Wood’s conviction under the old procedure merits reconsideration—even more so in light of recent actions on an Alabama case. 

“On Monday the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the death sentence in a case called Russell,” Carey says.   “They granted cert, vacated the death sentence and remanded to the Alabama Supreme Court in light of Hurst.”

Hurst threw out the old Florida system where the jury issues an advisory sentence and the judge makes the final decision.  Wood was convicted under that scheme, and Alabama still uses a nearly identical system.  The high court’s intervention could signal a more aggressive stance on the death penalty.

But Carey also argues Wood’s statements to police make it clear another man, Dillon Rafsky, directed Wood throughout the murder.

“He told Mr. Wood to get a shirt, get something to tie his feet,” she says of Rafsky’s instructions to Wood.  “[Wood] says at that point he may have punched [the victim]—this is in his statement to police—so that Rafsky wouldn’t think he was going to snitch on him.” 

“So even in his statement to the police which was right after he got out of the hospital there were indications he was scared of this guy.”

Committing a crime under substantial domination from another is a mitigating circumstance for capital sentencing.  If mitigating factors outweigh aggravating factors the defendant should be sentenced to life in prison rather than death.