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For Gov. Rick Scott, enforcing the death penalty is a tough part of the job

When Rick Scott was running for governor last year, he never fully contemplated one of the gravest responsibilities he would face if elected.

Signing a death warrant.

Florida ranks second only to California in the number of inmates on death row, with 398. One of them is Manuel Valle, 61, who has spent nearly half his life wearing the bright orange shirts that clearly distinguished the condemned men from all others at Florida State Prison in Starke.

On the Department of Corrections' website, Valle's eyes stare into the camera, a slight frown on his face. He was convicted of the cold-blooded 1978 killing of Coral Gables police Officer Louis Pena after he was stopped while driving a stolen car.

The faded, typewritten court order sentencing Valle to death states that the killer told his accomplice, "Felix, he's checking the license tag on the car. I have to shoot them."

Scott spoke at length this week about his decision to sign his first death warrant, setting Valle's execution at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 2. Scott will be in his office in the Capitol when Valle is injected with a lethal dose of chemicals.

"For me, it's very rough. I've never done anything like that," Scott said. "It's not what I ran on, and I only learned about it during the race."

Scott and general counsel Charles Trippe discussed at length how to proceed, and after reviewing a number of cases, they settled on Valle, whose appeals have been exhausted.

"We had a variety of meetings so I could get more information on people," Scott said. "It's not something I take lightly. I said quite a few prayers about it."

Scott was raised a Methodist, and the United Methodist Church is strongly opposed to capital punishment.

On its website, the church says it "cannot accept retribution or social vengeance as a reason for taking human life. It violated our deepest belief in God as the Creator and Redeemer of humankind."

Asked about that, Scott said: "While I don't like this part of the job, it's part of the job of governor. I agreed to uphold the law of the land. It's not something that I like doing, but it's the law of the land."

Scott is a member of the nondenominational Naples Community Church. The Rev. Kirt Anderson could not be reached for comment, but the church's website emphasizes the values of "compassion, mercy and justice."

The Florida Catholic Conference is "deeply disappointed" in Scott's decision to order Valle's execution, said Sheila Hopkins, one of the group's lobbyists. Earlier this year, a delegation of bishops met with Scott and voiced the church's opposition to the death penalty, she said, and urged the governor to consider life imprisonment without parole for the worst crimes.

"Sadly, some people think this is justice," Hopkins said. "But there's also mercy."

A different reaction came from Pena's first wife, Inez Afanador. "Are they going to fry him? Yippee," she told the Miami Herald.

Since Florida reinstated the death penalty in 1976, there have been 69 executions in the death chamber at Starke. The most recent was in February 2010, when Martin Grossman was executed for the killing of a state wildlife officer in Pinellas County in 1984. That's an execution rate of once every six months or so.

Scott was asked how capital punishment in Florida can serve as a deterrent when it is exercised so infrequently.

"I don't know. I'm not a criminologist," Scott said. "I've not thought about that. I've thought about what my obligation is as governor."

For Gov. Rick Scott, enforcing the death penalty is a tough part of the job 07/15/11 [Last modified: Friday, July 15, 2011 10:29pm]
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