ACLU Calls for Execution Moratorium After Release of 23rd Innocent From Florida's Death Row

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
January 24, 2003 12:00 am

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MIAMI–Saying that the release of death row inmate Rudolph Holton is a wake-up call to elected officials in Florida, the American Civil Liberties Union today urged Governor Jeb Bush and state lawmakers to support a statewide moratorium on all executions while the problems plaguing Florida’s death penalty system are examined.

“Governor Jeb Bush needs to pull his head out of the sand and at the very least put together a blue ribbon commission, like the one convened in Illinois, to examine what can be done to reduce the number of innocent people who are sentenced to death,” said Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida. “We lead the nation in the number of exonerations and Holton’s release proves once again that the Florida system is clearly broken.”

Holton, who spent more than 16 years on Florida’s death row, was convicted and sentenced to death based on the false testimony of a jailhouse snitch. In early November 2001, a circuit court judge overturned Holton’s conviction because prosecutors withheld police reports and other evidence favorable to Holton’s defense.

Holton’s release comes several days after Governor Bush proposed eliminating the Capital Collateral Regional Counsel — the state agency that represents inmates sentenced to death — in an effort to save money and speed up the process between sentencing and execution.

“It is ironic that Governor Bush now wants to wipe out the very entity that is responsible for saving this man from the gross injustice of being executed for a crime he did not commit,” said Diann Rust-Tierney, Director of the national ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project. “Not only should the governor rescind that proposal, he should now urge legislation and support measures to address the underlying problems with the death penalty such as lack of adequate counsel, prosecutorial misconduct and untrustworthy jailhouse snitches.”

With 23 inmates exonerated since 1973, Florida tops the list of states whose death row inmates were released due to evidence of their innocence, according to the Death Penalty Information Center based in Washington D.C.

Holton joins 102 others who have been wrongfully sentence to death nationally, including Juan Roberto Melendez, who was released in January 2002 after having spent more than 17 years on Florida’s death row. Frank Lee Smith, who spent more than 14 years on Florida’s death row, was exonerated posthumously through DNA testing. He died of cancer in January 2000.

“Unlike other states that have begun to examine this issue seriously, Florida is going in the wrong direction by failing to address the underlying problems that affect the reliability of the death penalty,” said Rust-Tierney.

Rudolph Holton was represented by Linda McDermott and Martin both of the Capital Collateral Regional Counsel-North. Juan Melendez and Frank Lee Smith were each represented by the Office of the Capital Collateral Regional Counsels.

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