FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, July 8, 1999
MIAMI -- The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida today called on Gov. Jeb Bush to halt all executions until officials can ensure that they can be conducted humanely and until greater fairness and due process in the imposition of death sentences can be assured.
The ACLU's call for a moratorium comes after the bloody electric chair execution of inmate Allen Lee "Tiny" Davis at 7:10 a.m. this morning. Davis was executed for the brutal slayings of 37 year old Nancy Weiler and her two daughters in 1982.
According to news reports and eyewitness accounts, blood poured from his mouth and oozed from his chest as Davis was hit with 2,300 volts. Davis was the first prisoner to be executed in the electric chair that replaced an earlier version of "Old Sparky."
The replacement of the chair stemmed in part from reaction to a 1997 incident in which flames shot from the head of Pedro Molina as he was electrocuted.
The ACLU said it is calling for a moratorium to open public debate not only about the method of execution in Florida but also, in light of the arbitrariness of the imposition of death sentences, whether the people of Florida are well served and made any safer by the death penalty.
"Capital punishment is an intolerable denial of civil liberties and is inconsistent with the fundamental values of our democratic system,"said Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida. "Criminals no doubt deserve to be punished, and the severity of the punishment should be appropriate to their culpability. But Florida's record of executions, and the Legislature's obsession with electrocution as the method of execution, has been barbaric."
In February 1997, the American Bar Association passed a resolution calling for a nationwide capital punishment moratorium until the rights of fundamental due process can be guaranteed to prisoners facing the ultimate punishment. The resolution calls for ensuring competency of counsel, ending racial discrimination in sentencing, and preventing execution of mentally retarded persons and juvenile offenders.
"The severity of punishment has its limits imposed by both justice and our common human dignity," said Larry Spalding, ACLU of Florida Legislative Staff Counsel. "Governments that respect these limits do not use premeditated, violent homicide as an instrument of social policy."
"Mandatory life imprisonment protects the public from violent criminals, and without the injustices and arbitrariness of the death penalty," he added. "When given the option of imposing a sentence of life without possibility of release, a majority of the public is willing to forego the death penalty."
The death penalty has come under increasing challenges recently. In just a single week in May, Ronald Jones became the 12th death row inmate in Illinois (and the 79th nationwide) to be exonerated. The 78th wrongfully convicted death row inmate was recently exonerated in Oklahoma.
"Race, poverty and geographical location continue to tilt the scales of justice whenever death penalty verdicts are sought and handed down," the ACLU's Simon said.
In a special "Execution Watch" feature on its national web page, the ACLU is monitoring the number of executions nationally; 558 is the current total since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. The Execution Watch logo, which users can post on their own websites, is updated regularly. It can be accessed at /executionwatch.html.