Tuesday, December 12, 2017
News Roundup

Prosecutors defend death penalty practices in wake of Harvard report that singled out Hillsborough, Pinellas

The state attorneys in two Tampa Bay area counties disputed criticisms in a Harvard University study Wednesday that called both "outliers" in their use of the death penalty.

Hillsborough State Attorney Mark Ober issued a lengthy statement defending his record and seeking to discredit the Fair Punishment Project, the Harvard Law School group that produced the study.

"The group releasing this report opposes the death penalty, and its report is nothing more than a position paper to support its cause," Ober said. "It makes no attempt to be fair and balanced."

Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe called the study "intellectually dishonest."

"They use trigger words," McCabe said. "They use incendiary language."

The Fair Punishment Project placed Hillsborough and Pinellas among 16 counties in the nation that imposed five or more death sentences between 2010 and 2015, a finding it attributed to overzealous prosecutors, a lack of regard for mitigating factors like mental illness, and racial disparities.

The Tampa Bay Times received an advance copy of the report, embargoed until Wednesday morning's editions, but prosecutors did not — and therefore were at a loss to comment until after it was made public.

"The number of murder cases in those five years. One death penalty per year? You know, I just don't see where that rose to the level of blood lust or whatever they're trying to say," McCabe said. "What I saw looked more like a position paper than an academic study."

In a statement sent on campaign stationery, Ober said the report had simply declared the death penalty to be broken, based on "arbitrary criteria," rather than consider all relevant factors.

"In every death penalty case, my office carefully reviews the evidence and the facts surrounding the case," he said. "We carefully consider all the aggravating and mitigating factors in determining whether it is appropriate to have the jury and judge consider the death penalty as a sentencing option.

"We do not take lightly our responsibility to charge accurately in any case, especially a death penalty case. We seek justice one case at a time. We do not make decisions based on arbitrary standards that a special interest group opposing the death penalty establishes."

Ober went on to reference the case of Humberto Delgado, which was mentioned specifically in the report. Delgado, who was convicted of the 2009 shooting death of Tampa police Cpl. Mike Roberts, later had his death sentence overturned by the Florida Supreme Court due to his history of severe mental illness.

"After hearing all the evidence, a judge and a jury agreed that the death penalty was appropriate," Ober wrote of the Delgado case.

He also noted the cases of Dontae Morris, who was sentenced to death for murdering two Tampa police officers, and Edward Covington, sentenced to death for the brutal killings of his girlfriend and her two kids.

"I believe the people of Hillsborough County agree with my office's decision to seek the death penalty in these brutal and heinous cases," Ober wrote.

Bill Loughery, a retired Pinellas County prosecutor who sent killers Patrick Evans and Genghis Kocaker to death row, noted the jury heard all the evidence in both cases, including aggravating and mitigating circumstances.

"None of the evidence was hidden from the jury by the state," Loughery said. "They got to consider those things, and they recommended death. Maybe Harvard just disagrees with the jury."

Robert Smith, one of the report's researchers, reiterated Wednesday that the group itself has no official stance on the death penalty, but he personally believes it is unconstitutional.

"While we are not an advocacy organization," Smith said, "I believe that the results of our study are consistent with the view that the death penalty is administered in an unconstitutional manner."

Times staff writer Laura C. Morel contributed to this report. Contact Dan Sullivan at [email protected] or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.

 
Comments
Medical field accounts for 7 of 10 highest-paying jobs

Medical field accounts for 7 of 10 highest-paying jobs

The nation’s highest-paying jobs don’t quite track with the fastest-growing jobs in Florida. According to a new study released today by California-based CareerCast, the highest-paying jobs are largely in the medical field and require post-graduate de...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Lions-Buccaneers Turning Point, Week 14: A coach's future hangs in the balance

Lions-Buccaneers Turning Point, Week 14: A coach's future hangs in the balance

TAMPA — The season started in August with “Hard Knocks,” packed bleachers at training camp and cheers for coach Dirk Koetter.It ended Sunday with a 24-21 loss to the Lions, a lot of empty seats and chants of “We want Gruden ba...
Updated: 5 hours ago

High school scoreboard for Dec. 11

Monday’s scoreboardGirls soccerDixie Hollins 4, Boca Ciega 0Palm Harbor U. 2, Countryside 2Osceola 7, Northeast 0Largo 1, Seminole 0Boys soccerIndian Rocks Chr. 3, Northside Chr. 1Palm Harbor U. 4, Countryside 1...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Winter meetings journal: Rays closer Alex Colome drawing interest

Winter meetings journal: Rays closer Alex Colome drawing interest

LAKE BUENA VISTA — The Rays made a small deal Monday in acquiring INF Joey Wendle from Oakland while continuing to discuss bigger ones that seem likely to eventually lead to the trade of closer Alex Colome and then others.The Rockies and Mets joined ...
Updated: 6 hours ago

Lottery resultsNumbers drawn after 9 p.m. are no longer available by our deadlines. For results, go to tampabay.com/lottery.Pick 2, 3, 4, 5Mon., Dec. 11, midday:32 251 1266e_SRit91903Mon., Dec. 11, evening:52 400 7181e_SRit23090Fantasy 5Mon., Dec. 11...
Updated: 6 hours ago
HomeTeam Hot Shot winners: Emily Joseph and Devin Cosser

HomeTeam Hot Shot winners: Emily Joseph and Devin Cosser

HomeTeam Hot ShotsEmily Joseph, NortheastJoseph, a senior, has been a deadly shooter since her sophomore year. But this season she has added to her game. "She’s gotten physically stronger and has gained confidence," coach Will White said. "She used t...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Florida A&M names Willie Simmons football coach

Florida A&M names Willie Simmons football coach

TALLAHASSEE — Willie Simmons was named football coach at Florida A&M on Monday. The Tallahassee native will be introduced today. Simmons, 37, has been the coach at Prairie View A&M the past three seasons (21-11, including 6-5 this season). He played ...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Yankees’ acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton may hasten Rays’ dismantling

Yankees’ acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton may hasten Rays’ dismantling

LAKE BUENA VISTA — The latest obstacle keeping the Rays from contending in the American League East loomed even larger Monday afternoon in pinstripes.The Yankees’ formal introduction of Giancarlo Stanton also could be an accelerant to the departure o...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Residents wonder what’s next after fire destroys Tampa apartments (with video)

Residents wonder what’s next after fire destroys Tampa apartments (with video)

TAMPA — When her apartment complex caught fire Monday afternoon, Peaches McIntyre grabbed her four children and baby stroller and ran outside.Hours later, she looked at the smoldering building with her 5-year-old autistic son, Choice Underwood, huggi...
Updated: 7 hours ago
3 Trump accusers call for congressional inquiry; Pentagon to allow transgender people to enlist; 18 win anti-Trump climate grants; more in U.S., world news

3 Trump accusers call for congressional inquiry; Pentagon to allow transgender people to enlist; 18 win anti-Trump climate grants; more in U.S., world news

United States3 Trump accusers speak, hoping to be heard nowThree women who have previously accused President Donald Trump of sexual harassment shared their stories Monday on NBC’s Megyn Kelly Today. Jessica Leeds, Samantha Holvey and Rachel Crooks s...
Updated: 7 hours ago