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  1. Opinion

Why doesn’t Tallahassee care about justice? | Daniel Ruth

Gov. Ron DeSantis should not try to execute James Dailey without more evidence. But the state cares little about the rights of prison inmates.
Times Columnist Dan Ruth. [Times file]
Times Columnist Dan Ruth. [Times file]
Published Jan. 10

It promises to be a very busy time when the Florida Legislature convenes its 2020 session this week. So many bills to pass. So many pockets to be stuffed. So many backs to stab. So many happy hours to be, well, happy. And yet so little time.

Eventually, various pieces of legislation will make their way to the desk of Gov. Ron DeSantis to sign into law.

This might prove to be problematic. For if the governor goes ahead in his quest to execute Death Row inmate James Dailey, all of that blood on DeSantis’ hands could make those bill-signing ceremonies a bit messy.

Dailey, now 73, has been on Death Row following his conviction in the gruesome 1985 murder of 14-year-old Shelly Boggio, who lived in Kenneth City. DeSantis may soon sign another death warrant after a brief stay saved the Vietnam veteran from meeting his fate last month.

Dailey has been imprisoned for more than 30 years even though prosecutors could not produce a single piece of physical evidence. Jack Pearcy, a friend of Dailey’s, has admitted to killing the girl alone and is serving a life sentence. Dailey awaits his last meal.

What landed Dailey in this legal pickle? Dailey was convicted largely based on the courtroom testimony of a professional informant, Paul Skalnik, a career criminal with a long history of con games, embezzlement, fraud and misappropriating identities.

After other inmates locked up near Dailey could offer no incriminating evidence against him, Pinellas County law enforcement officials settled on Skalnik to bolster their case.

Skalnik testified Dailey had confessed to Boggio’s murder, and with that a jury quickly found him guilty.

But to believe Dailey murdered Boggio, for DeSantis to believe he is putting a guilty man to death, you have to also buy into a few inconvenient facts.

You have to believe a man who was unwavering in claiming his innocence decided to chat up Skalnik, with whom he had never had any prior interaction with in the jail, and confess to brutally stabbing a 14-year-old girl to death.

You have to believe Skalnik, who was being kept in a segregated section in the jail because of his well-known reputation as a professional snitch, somehow made it into the general jail population to cozy up to Dailey’s cell to receive his “confession.”

What part of this passes the smell test?

In lifting the stay of execution, U.S. District Judge William Jung noted: “A thorough review shows the state’s trial against James Dailey was not strong, but it was sufficient.”

Sufficient should not be enough for the state to take a man’s life, especially when the judge himself noted the case against Dailey was not especially strong.

DeSantis has at least three years left in his term. Dailey isn’t going anywhere. What the governor can do is order an exhaustive review of the case.

The governor might want to start with how it was that five days after he testified against Dailey, Skalnik walked out of the Pinellas County Jail, despite the fact Skalnik’s probation officer wrote the informant “… has been, is and always a danger to society,” according The New York Times Magazine.

It certainly is true Skalnik was a clear and present danger to James Dailey.

Tallahassee takes a dim view of inmates, even if they might be innocent. This is a Florida Legislature that has burned the midnight oil to scuttle the will of a majority of voters to automatically restore the voting rights of most felons. And this is a Florida Legislature that seems unmoved to deal with the plight of 935 inmates serving 15 to 25-year drug sentences when current law calls for shorter sentences.

Indeed, Florida voters in 2018 approved a measure to reduce the drug sentences of current inmates, which the Legislature has again ignored.

It is a simple proposition. If the state of Florida is going to exercise its ultimate criminal justice sanction – the taking of a life – shouldn’t the governor make sure he has done his full due diligence?

Too much to ask? Too much to expect? Or is Lady Justice about to be jilted by fatal indifference?

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