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Panel to study appeal system

The Florida Supreme Court, saying that the credibility of death row appeals process is in jeopardy, has decided to set up a committee to look for ways to improve the system. The court also stayed the executions of two death row inmates scheduled to go to the electric chair Nov. 28 because the Office of the Capital Collateral Representative (CCR), which handles appeals for condemned killers, said it didn't have the staff or money to take their cases.

"Quite frankly, I very much welcome this commission," Larry Spalding, head of the CCR, said Thursday.

A study commissioned by the American Bar Association about four years ago concluded Spalding's office was financed at about 45 percent of its need, he said.

"Last year for example . . . 27 people did the work of 70," Spalding said. "Of that number 10 lawyers did the work of 32 _ and we still can't keep up."

The problem is aggravated when attorneys are forced to set aside the appeals of death row inmates not scheduled for execution to handle the cases of people actually scheduled for death, he said, noting Gov. Bob Martinez signs about 45 warrants annually.

Spalding noted CCR attorneys go before five different courts: state circuit courts in 67 counties, the state Supreme Court, federal district courts in Florida, the federal appellate court in Atlanta and the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington.

But Peter Dunbar, general counsel to Martinez, said he didn't think the delays could be linked to an overworked staff.

"I think we're all concerned because of the unnecessary delays in the carrying out of the death penalty," he said.

In an administrative order dated Wednesday, the high court said, "It appears that the credibility of the entire process is being jeopardized by the untimely way in how these matters are being considered and resolved."

The court asked Spalding and Dunbar; Attorney General Bob Butterworth; Steven Goldstein, a law professor at Florida State University; James Fox Miller, president of the Florida Bar; and former Bar president James Rinaman to study the process and make recommendations by March 15.

The two men who were given reprieves until March were Jason Dirk Walton and Samuel Rivera.

Walton was condemned for the murders of three men during a home robbery in the High Point area of Pinellas County in 1982. Rivera was condemned for the killing of Hialeah police officer Emilio Miyares in 1986.