1. Archive

Death-row inmates fight agency

Florida's death-row inmates have turned against the state official charged with keeping them out of the electric chair.

In an unusual legal motion, death-row inmates at Union Correctional Institution have asked the Florida Supreme Court to freeze all action on cases handled by the Office of the Capital Collateral Representative, headed by Larry Spalding, and halt all executions for past, present and future inmates represented by CCR.

"Mr. Spalding and his attorneys have established a pattern of lying to us; manipulating us (the degree & quality of representation depends on one's legal I.Q. and tenacity to stand up for one's rights) . . ." the motion states.

It concludes: "We have absolutely no confidence in CCR. We are also contemplating a Bar complaint against Mr. Spalding."

The motion was filed this week by three death-row inmates, including Amos King, who was convicted of raping and murdering an elderly woman in Tarpon Springs in 1977.

King, along with inmates James Card and Robert Heiney, say they would have the support of about 150 other inmates, including past and future CCR clients. They ask the state Supreme Court to certify them as a class and "investigate facts, briefs, documentation, individual allegations in individual cases."

The motion comes in the midst of an increasingly bizarre search for an executive to head CCR, the small state agency created in 1985 to represent death-row inmates. Spalding's appointment ends July 31.

He and Mark Olive, a former CCR attorney who works at Florida State University's College of Law, are the leading candidates for the job. Both men have been criticized and bombarded by allegations.

Earlier this month, Olive was accused of having had a serious drug abuse problem and a long history of sexual harassment. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating those accusations, which were made by a former CCR attorney.

This week's court motion by death-row inmates adds to the controversy.

It essentially accuses CCR, under the direction of Spalding, of not doing its job properly.

CCR attorneys are "wishy-washing away our legal issues," making decisions for all death-row inmates without notice, and describing death-row cases as "losers" in the press, the motion states.

Spalding said the motion represents a hit by both sides in death cases.

"We get attacked by the state attorneys and the attorney general for being overzealous, and now we get attacked by the other side (death-row inmates) for not being aggressive enough," Spalding said.

Spalding blames Paul Harvill, a former CCR investigator who was fired last year, for influencing death-row inmates to file the motion.

Harvill acknowledged Tuesday that he has written to some death-row inmates for the past several months, including James Card, because "they are friends and they really need to understand what is going on at CCR."

But Harvill said he can't be blamed for discontent on the part of inmates because they already had concerns about the representation they were receiving. "I confirmed what they already knew about CCR," Harvill said.

The governor's office will review the inmates' motion.

"It is highly unusual, and we are trying to determine what if any basis there is for the allegations," said Mark Schlakman, the assistant general counsel in the governor's office, who has been involved in the CCR selection process.

The governor's office hopes to announce the CCR appointment before the end of the month.