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Will Bill Making Changes To Florida's 10-20-Life Law Affect Previous Cases?

MGN Online

Florida lawmakers are hoping to continue moving a bill forward aimed at changing Florida’s minimum mandatory sentencing rules. It comes on the heels of a recent decision by the state’s Executive Board to reject a request to release a Florida man early from prison, who fired a warning shot and received a 20 year prison sentence.

 The Bill

Ever heard of a gun-related bill that could bring together the NRA, state attorneys, public defenders, police chiefs, the sheriffs association, among other stake holders?

Well, there is such a bill by Sen. Aaron Bean (R-Jacksonville) that recently passed its first Senate committee.

“All of these groups lined up and said, ‘this is going to bring common sense,” said Bean. “This is a great way to do it, and hopefully, we won’t hear of these tragic stories of people who have never been in trouble with the law before, sentenced to 10 years in prison.’ So, hopefully, we’ll fix that and address that and go forward. We passed our first committee. So, we’re pretty jacked up.”

He’s talking about a bill that now eliminates 10-20-Life as a penalty for aggravated assault cases. Originally, it gave judges discretion in all cases associated with the minimum mandatory sentence.

Rep. Neil Combee’s (R-Polk City) bill has not had a first hearing in the House, but he says he can’t wait to make that change to his bill.

“Wonderful news that we’re going to be able to remove aggravated assault from 10-20-Life statute, which is what I tried to do back in 2013, and I just couldn’t get enough folks comfortable or interested. But, now it seems like a lot of folks are interested in doing that,” said Combee.

He says he’s inspired to file the bill because of the disparity of some cases. For example, Combee says he’s known cases where a person can serve two years of a three-year prison term for aggravated robbery with a firearm. Then, there’s other cases, like Orville Lee Wollard’s, charged with aggravated assault.

“You look at a case like Lee Wollard, who is sitting in prison today,” added Combee. “He fired a gun in his home, which he says was self-defense. He wouldn’t accept a plea deal, and consequently, the judge had no choice but to impose the mandatory 20-year sentence on him.”

Both Sides Tell Their Story

Wollard’s case was recently before Florida Executive Clemency Board led by Governor Rick Scott. Wollard’s daughter Sarah is among those who spoke on his behalf.

Credit Florida Channel
Florida Channel
The daughter of Orville Lee Wollard speaks on his behalf during a recent Executive Clemency Board hearing.

She says she wasn’t always a model daughter, doing drugs, having amber alerts called on her because her parents didn’t know where she was—which she attributes to the negative influence of her boyfriend at the time.

“The day that my dad shot the hole into the wall, me and my boyfriend were having an argument in my room,” said Sarah. “He had caught me hanging out with one of my ex-boyfriends, and got mad, and called me a whore. And, in return, he punched me on the side of my face, hard enough to knock me into the wall, causing my vision to go blurry for a couple days afterwards, causing a really loud thud afterwards.”

After hearing the thud, she says her mother and sister then got her dad to see if he could intervene.

“And, my dad told him that he needed to leave several times and he wasn’t going to let him hurt me anymore,” she added. “And, my boyfriend just kind of didn’t take it seriously, and started to walk towards him. And, my dad said again, ‘you have to have. You have five seconds to leave.’ My boyfriend just kind of looked at him and smirked and thought it all was a big joke. So, my dad pointed the gun at the wall, and shot into it, which was a few feet away from my boyfriend.”

She says she and her boyfriend later got the ball rolling on trying to get emancipated from her parents, by talking to police about the incident about a week later.

“Since 2008, I’ve lived with the guilt every day that because of my selfishness, for wanting to be emancipated and just wanting to be independent, that my dad has now spent seven years in prison, which is a life that he’s never going to be able to get back. And, I know that I was a horrible daughter back then, and that I can’t change anything, but what I can do is now take responsibility and tell the truth in the hope that he won’t have to spend the next 13 years there,” Sarah continued.

Credit Florida Channel
Florida Channel
Polk County State Attorney Jerry Hill speaking during the recent Executive Clemency Board hearing.

But, Polk County State Attorney Jerry Hill says the family’s version of the events is far from the truth. After showing pictures of the hole in the wall, he also showed pictures of a bag strap that appears like a bullet hole went through the strap.

Hill says it’s the bag Sarah’s boyfriend grabbed, right before he was about to leave, before Wollard fired the shot.

“I simply would suggest to you that this defendant is not the poster child,” said Wollard. “He wasn’t defending himself. He wasn’t defending family. This victim was gone. It was unnecessary, and I suggest it’s not a murder charge, by probably three or four inches.”

And, the Governor denied clemency for Wollard.

Will The Bill Be Retroactive?

Still, Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island) says regardless of the bill’s inspiration, the merits of the bill itself are sound. He’s the one who got all the parties to agree on narrowing the bill.

“What they’re saying is that it’s appropriate in certain cases for a judge to take a guilty verdict, and when it comes time to sentence the individual, not be hamstrung by a law that says 20 years is the only appropriate sentence for this individual, if the individual has no prior record, if no one was hurt, these are all mitigating factors that it’s appropriate, I think, for a judge to consider when determining what is a just sentence. That doesn’t mean the individual is innocent. That doesn’t mean the individual doesn’t deserved to be punished. That just means that 20 years may not be an appropriate proportional sentence for the crime that was committed.”

The bill if it became law would take effect immediately. But, what about those who have already been sentenced under the statute, like Wollard? Bradley says while he’s not working on legislation on behalf of any one individual, he says it’s worth a discussion to look into cases that previously happened.

“Well, I’m happy to have that discussion about whether it would be retroactive,. But, this a dialogue that we need to have with our friends in the House,said Bradley. “This is a dialogue we need to have with the Governor to see where our partners are comfortable.This is not meant to be a commentary on any particular cases that have happened recently. This is something that we’ve talked about, at least, since my three years in the Senate.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.