Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Carlton: Is Hillsborough's new top prosecutor anti-death penalty? The answer might surprise you

Warren

Warren

The death penalty, and how we use it, is changing. Hey, it can happen, even in Florida.

Until recently, it was perfectly okay if only most people on a jury agreed that a killer should die. We have since come around to the idea that well, yes, perhaps unanimous is wiser given we're talking about taking a human life.

Meanwhile, a dramatic legal face-off is playing out between new Orlando-area state attorney Aramis Ayala — who refused to seek death for an accused cop killer, or anyone else for that matter — and Gov. Rick Scott, who promptly grabbed 23 death penalty cases away from her.

And here at home, newly elected Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren has made clear that he believes the death penalty should be used for only "the most egregious cases, the worst of the worst." And that he believes this has not always been so.

So is Warren — if not another Ayala — at least a kindred spirit?

He is a former federal prosecutor who surprised a lot of people by ousting longtime State Attorney Mark Ober. Now courthouse lawyers, judges and cops are watching to see what kind of state attorney he turns out to be. And in the current climate, death cases are of keen interest.

After Ayala's stand, Warren and the rest of Florida's top prosecutors affirmed they would continue to seek death when appropriate. But he has also talked about the importance of an elected prosecutor's discretion.

Also interesting: Warren dropped the death penalty in the murder case against Carlos Rivas, citing his history of mental illness. Last week, Rivas was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for beating a homeless man to death in 2012.

This week, Warren confirmed the office will no longer seek death for Lawrence Robert Bongiovanni III, accused of hiding in a 7-Eleven bathroom before ambushing and repeatedly stabbing clerk Kenneth Lee Redding to death in 2013.

Bongiovanni's history of mental illness — reportedly in and out of hospitals since age 6 — and that he was 20 at the time of the slaying were factors, Warren told me this week.

Also worth noting: He says his office will not be using the threat of capital punishment to get a defendant to plead to life, a person's life not being "a bargaining chip."

So again: Is Warren's philosophy akin to Ayala's, except with a subtler, more defensible, slow drip method for avoiding death sentences?

The short answer: No.

The longer one is more considered.

Warren says his office is reviewing "from scratch" about 20 death penalty cases he inherited to make a fresh decision in each one. He calls a death sentence "the most serious and sobering component of our criminal justice system. The most important thing to me is that, as a society, we get it right."

In fact, he has already decided that death is appropriate for Steven Lorenzo, implicated in the horrific slayings of two men used as sex slaves. His office will also seek death for Keith Earl Davis, charged with murder in the death of nurse William Leslie McGoff.

Warren is still the new guy in a courthouse where lawyers and judges grew up together and police hold sway. But he seems more comfortable in the chair every day.

Carlton: Is Hillsborough's new top prosecutor anti-death penalty? The answer might surprise you 04/29/17 [Last modified: Friday, April 28, 2017 8:13pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. All-eyes photo gallery: Florida State Seminoles loss to the N.C. State Wolfpack

    News

    View a gallery of images from the Florida State Seminoles 27-21 loss to the N.C. State Wolfpack Saturday in Tallahassee. The Seminoles will face Wake Forest on Saturday, Sept. 30 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

    Florida State Seminoles fans sing the fight song during the Florida State Seminoles game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack on September 23, 2017, at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Fla.  At the half, North Carolina State Wolfpack 17, Florida State Seminoles 10.
  2. Encounters: Trial by storm for a rookie principal

    K12

    DUNEDIN — When he nodded off to sleep, the hallway lights outside Michael Vasallo's office were on, so the sudden darkness woke him.

    The glow of his desk phone dimmed.

    Michael Vasallo, right, the first-year principal at Dunedin Highland Middle School, talks with the school's head plant operator Clint Case near the back-up generator on campus. The generator failed just as Hurricane Irma passed through Pinellas County, making for a stressful night. The experience made Vasallo long to return to his regular job, educating middle schoolers. [COLEEN WRIGHT   |   Times]


  3. Who is in charge during a hurricane? Hillsborough County and Tampa still can't agree

    Hurricanes

    TAMPA — Who has the authority to order an evacuation during a hurricane?

    Mayor Bob Buckhorn says he has evacuation authority.
  4. Gators rally past Kentucky, streak hits 31

    Blogs

    LEXINGTON, Ky. — For the second week in a row, Florida found itself storming the field in a game that came down to the last second. A 57-yard field-goal attempt by Kentucky kicker Austin MacGinnis came just a few feet short of making history and snapping a 30-year losing streak, as the No. 20 Gators escaped a …

    Florida wide receiver Brandon Powell (4) scores a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Kentucky, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, in Lexington, Ky.
  5. Pen makes it way too interesting as Rays hang on for 9-6 win

    Blogs

    A couple of home runs provided the news pegs of the night for the Rays, but it was more topical to talk about what nearly happened as they hung on for a 9-6 win over the Orioles.

    Lucas Duda's three-run homer in the third inning was the Rays' record-breaking 217th of the season, as well as his …

    Lucas Duda's three-run homer in the third inning was the Rays' record-breaking 217th of the season.