By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
During Gov. Rick Scott’s administration, there have been more state executions in his first term than in any other modern day Florida governor’s first term.
Marc Caputo with The Miami Herald did the numbers and found that “when Juan Carlos Chavez was put to death at 8:17 p.m. Wednesday, his execution marked the 13th on Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s watch — a record among first-term Florida governors since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.”
In comparison, here is the number of executions during the first terms of other governors, via the Herald:
Charlie Crist (2007-2011) oversaw the fewest executions, 5, in his single term. (Crist, now a Democrat, is running against Scott).
Jeb Bush (1999-2007) was the prior first-term record holder with 11 executions in modern times. He still holds the all-time record: 21.
Lawton Chiles (1991-1998) executed eight people in his first term and 10 more in his second.
Bob Martinez (1987-1991) executed nine.
Bob Graham (1979-1987) executed two in his first term and 14 in his second.
In 1974, the Florida legislature re-enacted the death penalty for first degree murder. That statute didn’t get approval from the U.S. Supreme Court and the Florida Supreme Court until 1976. Since it was approved, the state of Florida has executed more than 80 people.
The most recent change to Florida’s death penalty laws, though, were passed just last year.
This past June, Scott signed into law a bill that will speed up the state’s time frame for executing an inmate who has gone through the appeals process. The change, which is called The Timely Justice Act, garnered a lot of national attention and sparked criticism from civil rights and anti-death penalty groups from around the country.
The measure, dubbed “the Timely Justice Act” by its proponents, requires governors to sign death warrants 30 days after the Florida Supreme Court certifies that an inmate has exhausted his legal appeals and his clemency review. Once a death warrant is signed, the new law requires the state to execute the defendant within six months.
…The bill, which passed the House 84-34 and was approved by the Senate 28-10, allows the governor to control the execution schedule slightly because it requires him to sign a death warrant after the required clemency review is completed and only the governor may order the clemency investigation. Scott’s office told lawmakers that because at least 13 of the 404 inmates on Death Row have exhausted their appeals, his office has already started the clock on the clemency review.
At the time the Herald/Times wrote that if “Scott were to sign death warrants for the 13 eligible inmates, and their executions were to continue as planned, he will be on schedule to put to death 21 murderers since he took office in January 2011.”
So far, executions are moving along pretty quickly.
Chavez, who was executed this past Wednesday, was the man who raped, killed and dismembered 9-year-old Jimmy Ryce in South Miami Dade in 1995.
The day after that execution, Scott signed a death warrant for Robert L. Henry. According to a memo from Scott’s office, “the execution date has been set for Thursday, March 20, 2014, at 6 p.m.”
Opponents of the state’s Timely Justice Act have argued that the pace at which death row inmates are killed is problematic mostly because of the state’s exoneration rate.
According to the ACLU of Florida, “Florida’s experience has been nearly one exoneree for every three people executed.” That means one out of every three people almost put to death by the state were later found innocent. Many times in the past, poor legal representations or evidence found late in the appeals process was to blame.
Florida currently leads the nation in the number of exonerees sitting on death row. In the past decade, 24 inmates awaiting execution were freed after courts found that they were wrongfully convicted.