TALLAHASSEE — Four former Florida death row inmates, all wrongfully convicted and later set free, signed and personally delivered a letter Tuesday to the office of Gov. Ron DeSantis imploring him to stop the Nov. 7 execution of James Dailey.
The group reiterated concerns that Dailey might be innocent of the 1985 murder of 14-year-old Shelly Boggio in Pinellas County.
“As you know," they wrote, “each of us, and all of the other men who make up the 29 death row exonerees in Florida, are living proof that our court system does make mistakes. If innocent people can make it onto death row, what would prevent an innocent person from being executed?”
But hours before they arrived, DeSantis made it clear he wouldn’t budge.
Asked about the group’s impending visit in a news conference Tuesday morning, the governor mentioned the brutality of the crime and the three decades Dailey’s case has been working through the court system. The only injustice, the governor said, is that Dailey’s co-defendant, Jack Pearcy, got life in prison instead of the death penalty.
“This was one of the most gruesome crimes in the history of Pinellas County,” DeSantis said. "I think the record, to me, is satisfactory. You know, we’re willing to listen to things, but this has been litigated over and over and over, and so at some point you need to do justice.”
The four exonerees are part of a nationwide group known as “Witness to Innocence.” They have previously tried to gain an audience with the governor to discuss problems with capital punishment.
Their letter outlined much of what Dailey’s lawyers have argued is evidence of doubt about his guilt.
His conviction relied heavily on the testimony of three jailhouse informers who claimed they had heard Dailey make incriminating statements. But no physical evidence or eyewitness testimony linked him to the crime. He also lacked a motive, and had no serious criminal history, unlike Pearcy, his co-defendant.
Dailey’s lawyers have suggested Pearcy killed the girl after he tried to have sex with her and she ridiculed him. Her body was found in the Intracoastal Waterway near the Walsingham Road bridge in Indian Rocks Beach. She had been stabbed with a knife that belonged to Pearcy, and ultimately drowned.
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Dailey, 73, has maintained his innocence for the entirety of the case. But courts have rejected his efforts to get a new trial.
The Witness to Innocence group that delivered Tuesday’s letter was led by Herman Lindsey. He was sent to death row in 2006 after he was wrongfully convicted of the murder of a Fort Lauderdale pawn shop owner. In 2009, the Florida Supreme Court said there was not enough evidence to justify a conviction and Lindsey was set free.
“We know how it feels to be sitting there innocent,” Lindsey told the Tampa Bay Times. “I’m not saying (Dailey) is innocent. But if he is, and we execute him, what can the governor say?”
Other men who signed the letter include Ralph Wright Jr., who spent three years on death row before the Florida Supreme Court ordered him acquitted of the murders of his former girlfriend and their child in St. Petersburg.
There was also Joaquin Martinez, exonerated in 2001 after four years on death row, and Juan Melendez, exonerated in 2002 after 17 years on death row.
“Ultimately, James can only be executed with your approval,” they wrote. “It is within your power to make sure the errors that have occurred are not fatal errors. We urge you to thoroughly review the evidence in James’ case.”
The group arrived at the governor’s office about 2 p.m. A legislative aide accepted the letter on the governor’s behalf.
Afterward, other exonerees stood for a news conference. Among them was Derrick Jamison, who survived six death warrants in Ohio and once came within 90 minutes of execution. Also present was Clemente Aguirre-Jarquin, whose 2018 exoneration in a double-murder case in Seminole County attracted national attention.
Lindsey said he hopes DeSantis will stay the execution to allow more litigation in Dailey’s case.
If it goes forward, Dailey’s would be the 100th execution in Florida since the state resumed the practice of capital punishment in 1979.
Times Staff Writer Emily Mahoney contributed to this report.