It is possible to question the morality and deterrent value of the death penalty and still appreciate the way Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren has approached the issue of capital punishment during his first 13 months in office. Warren recently announced he would seek the death penalty for Howell Emanuel Donaldson III, who has been accused of killing four people seemingly at random in the Seminole Heights neighborhood in 2017.
Unlike Aramis Ayala, his counterpart in Orange and Osceola counties who has refused to pursue the death penalty under any circumstances, Warren did not hide his beliefs on capital punishment before his election in November 2016. He has readily acknowledged the problems with lengthy delays that contribute to huge financial costs, the racial disparity in death penalty sentences and the rare, but real, possibility of executing someone who was wrongly convicted.
Yet as a candidate, Warren said he believed a state attorney should invoke the death penalty "fairly and consistently and rarely.’’ Thus far, he has upheld that standard. Warren has taken the death penalty off the table in a handful of cases he inherited, and his office has specifically cited mental illness as a mitigating factor that will be considered.
But Warren has also pursued the ultimate punishment in what he determines are the most egregious cases, and the four killings of innocent people walking the streets of their neighborhood qualifies. The worthiness of the death penalty remains open for debate, but Warren has deftly juggled his reservations about its use while still fulfilling the duties of his office.