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Bill To Speed Up Death Penalty Process Heads To Governor

A bill that would speed up the state’s death penalty process is on its way to the governor’s desk. Some say the bill ensures justice for victims and their families, while others worry it could block justice for the accused.

You might have heard the name William Michael Dillon. He was in the news quite a bit last year when the state approved his claims bill giving him $1.35 million for the time he spent wrongfully in prison for a crime he did not commit.

“The dollars and cents, they make sense for my life, but it doesn’t give back what was taken from me. But at the same time, its such a joy to be here, because my life was gone. I can’t do anything but look forward, and I’m blessed and happy to be here," Dillon said.

Dillon spent 27 years in jail for a murder he didn’t commit before being exonerated by DNA evidence.  And Senator Maria Sachs said Dillon isn’t the only person in Florida to have had that experience. That’s why she said the state shouldn’t move forward with a measure that would speed the death penalty process up.

“Once the execution is completed, it’s over. There’s no going back. We have such power to put a person’s life to death. So I think we really need to take a pause. There’s no greater power that we have as a government than to take life from a citizens,” Sachs said.

Sachs said the rules in Florida are already, in her words, “pretty swift.” And she said especially, as new DNA technology becomes available, it’s important to take the time to ensure the right person has been convicted.

“I represented someone who was convicted of a homicide. He did 20 years on a life sentence. On the 22nd year, we found witnesses who exonerated him and he walked out a free man after 21 years,” Sachs said.

And Republican Senator Joe Negron said it’s true, the state doesn’t want to execute the wrong person.

“Nobody wants to have an innocent person executed for a crime they didn’t commit for two reasons. Number one, you’ve executed an innocent person. Number two, the person who actually committed the crime has escaped justice,” Negron said.

But Negron said the bill won’t take away from a person’s ability to assert their innocence.  He said under the bill a person would have the right to present new evidence at any time. The measure would give the Department of Corrections, rather than just the governor the ability to sign a death warrant, and would make several other changes in an effort to make the death penalty process more “efficient.” Negron said right now the average time a death row  inmate in Florida spends in prison is 20 years and he said some have been there as long as 30.

“That is injustice, that’s a mockery of our court system. At some point the sentence that the jury and the judge imposed needs to be carried out," Negron said.

And others raised concerns about the pain such a long wait time must cause for the family members of victims. The measure passed out of the Senate 28-10. Next the measure heads to the governor for approval.

For more news updates, follow @regan_mccarthy on twitter!

Follow @Regan_McCarthy

Regan McCarthy is the Assistant News Director for WFSU Public Media. Before coming to Tallahassee, Regan graduated with honors from Indiana University’s Ernie Pyle School of Journalism. She worked for several years for NPR member station WFIU in Bloomington, Ind., where she covered local and state government and produced feature and community stories.

Phone: (850) 645-6090 | rmccarthy@fsu.edu

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