The Norman Transcript

Columns

January 14, 2014

Death penalty malfunctioning

(Continued)

NORMAN —

For obvious reasons, defense lawyers in death cases strategize to stall, stall, and then stall some more. Their job is to keep their clients alive as long as possible.

Florida fought 10 years to execute the notorious Ted Bundy, at a cost to taxpayers of about $5 million. There’s no calculation as to how much was spent litigating the case of Thomas Knight, who received his first death sentence in 1976, but you can be certain it was a fortune. Set aside for a moment the moral and religious objections to capital punishment, and the questions about its disproportionate application to minorities. Consider the statute strictly as an expensive, endless drain of legal resources.

Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, Florida has averaged slightly more than two executions a year while adding about 12 new residents annually to Death Row. You can do the dismal math in your head.

Today 396 men and five women live on Florida’s Death Row, and most (if not all) have attorneys working on appeals. The pace could never be described as swift.

Knight was no anomaly; many capital cases have been slogging along since the mid-1970s.

One of the most infamous is that of James Rose, a house painter convicted of snatching his ex-girlfriend’s 8-year-old daughter from a Hollywood bowling alley, then killing the girl and dumping her nude body in a canal.

The shocking crime happened in October 1976, when Rose was 30 years old. Last month he turned 68, and he continues to file appeals.

Multiply his paperwork by 400 and that’s what faces the state. On both sides of each marathon case, taxpayers usually get stuck with the legal bills. That won’t change, either, unless somebody rips up the Constitution.

However richly a killer like Thomas Knight deserved to die for his crimes, the exorbitant cost of executing him is impossible to justify at a time when the courts are understaffed, underfunded and swamped.

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