There is no graver responsibility and act of state government than an execution.
In Florida this week, a campaign fundraiser takes precedence.
Attorney General Pam Bondi persuaded Gov. Rick Scott to postpone an execution scheduled for tonight because it conflicted with her re-election kick-off reception.
"What's going on down there? It's ridiculous," said Phyllis Novick, the Ohio mother of one of Marshall Lee Gore's victims, when told Monday about the reason for the delay.
Gore, 50, raped, strangled and stabbed 30-year-old Robyn Novick in 1988 before dumping her body into a Miami-Dade County trash heap. Gore was also sentenced to die for the slaying of 19-year-old Susan Roark, whose body was found a few months later in Columbia County.
Gore was initially scheduled for execution in June, but the date was twice delayed because of legal skirmishes over Gore's sanity.
After Scott last month rescheduled the execution for Sept. 10, the date of Bondi's "hometown campaign kickoff" at her South Tampa home, Bondi's office asked that it be postponed. The new date is Oct. 1.
Scott said Monday that he did not know the reason for the request, and he declined to answer when asked whether he considers a campaign fundraiser an appropriate reason to reschedule an execution.
"When another Cabinet officer asks for something, we try to work with them," Scott said.
On Monday, Bondi responded to questions with a statement saying she had made a mistake.
"As a prosecutor, there was nothing more important than seeing justice done, especially when it came to the unconscionable act of murder. I personally put two people on death row and, as Attorney General, have already participated in eight executions since I took office, a role I take very seriously," Bondi said.
"The planned execution of Marshall Lee Gore had already been stayed twice by the courts, and we absolutely should not have requested that the date of the execution be moved," said Bondi, who has long championed victims' rights.
Shortly before a scheduled execution, the Florida attorney general typically phones the governor to inform him there is no legal basis for delay. Since Bondi and Scott began their first terms in 2011, eight executions have been carried out.
Gore's attorney, Ted Scher, said he had asked the governor's office for more information about why the execution was postponed, but the governor's staff would say only that it was at the request of the attorney general. That it turned out to be because of a campaign event came as a surprise.
"It's very unusual," Scher said. "It's particularly unusual given the attorney general's position in these cases that all we (defense lawyers) do is delay these executions," Scher said.
Bondi is fighting legal challenges to the 2013 "Timely Justice Act" aimed at speeding up executions in Florida.
"Wherever one stands on the death penalty, there isn't anyone in America that believes an execution should be postponed for political fundraising," said David Donnelly, executive director of Public Campaign Action Fund. "That Pam Bondi requested a delay in this execution shows how the nonstop chase for campaign cash has hollowed out the morality of our political system. Her moral compass is broken."
The delay keeps Gore on death row an extra 21 days at a cost that the Department of Corrections estimates at about $1,000.
The Republican attorney general faces no serious challenger so far, and organizers expect her campaign kick-off event to attract 100 to 200 people. Among those hosting the event: Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, a Democrat; House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel; and state Sens. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, Bill Galvano, R- Bradenton, Tom Lee, R-Brandon, Wilton Simpson, R- Trilby, and Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg.
The governor won't be there because he made other plans once the execution dropped off his Tuesday schedule.
He will be at a reception in Broward County raising money for his re-election campaign.
Times/Herald staff writers Steve Bousquet and Mary Ellen Klas, Times researcher Caryn Baird and the News Service of Florida contributed to this report. Contact Adam C. Smith at [email protected]