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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Three former Florida Supreme Court chief justices urge court to overturn hundreds of death sentences

Three former chief justices of the Florida Supreme Court and a group of legal scholars and death penalty opponents want the state's highest court to overturn hundreds of death sentences in Florida.

Former chief justices Harry Lee Anstead, Rosemary Barkett and Gerald Kogan issued a friend-of-the-court brief in the pending case of Timothy Lee Hurst, a death row inmate from Pensacola whose precedent-setting case resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court declaring Florida's death row sentencing system unconstitutional because it gave too little power to the jury in death cases. The seven justices will hear oral arguments Thursday on Hurst's petition to have his death sentence reduced to life without parole for first-degree murder.

The three former chief justices write that "a straightforward application" of Florida's death penalty law should now be interpreted to mean that "persons previously sentenced to death for a capital felony prior to the decision in Hurst v. Florida are entitled to have their death sentences replaced by sentences replaced by sentences of life without parole." If the court agrees with that argument, all 390 inmates currently awaiting death for capital crimes would spend the rest of their lives in state prison.

Anstead, Barkett and Kogan were all appointed by Democratic governors. In their brief, the justices were joined by Sandy D'Alemberte, a former American Bar Association president, FSU president and state legislator; Martha Barnett, a retired senior partner of the Holland & Knight law firm; Henry (Hank) Coxe, a Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer and former president of the Florida Bar; the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers; Florida Capital Resource Center; and Florida Center for Capital Representation at the FIU College of Law in Miami.

Attorney General Pam Bondi, on behalf of Florida's 20 million residents, has taken the position that executions in Florida should continue.

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 3, 2016 10:00am]


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