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  1. Opinion

We three were on death row, and we’re a lesson in the need to take care on capital punishment

Here’s what readers are saying in Sunday’s letters to the editor.
Clemente Aguirre, Herman Lindsey and Ralph Wright [Times files]
Clemente Aguirre, Herman Lindsey and Ralph Wright [Times files]
Published Feb. 1

We three were on death row

On death penalty, an outlier again | Editorial, Jan. 29

Florida has sentenced more innocent people to death than any other state. We are three of them — living proof that our court system makes mistakes. But we hope our nightmare can be a wake-up call for Floridians to demand greater safeguards in capital cases. One essential safeguard — requiring a jury be unanimous when recommending death — is now threatened by the Florida Supreme Court. We urge our legislative representatives to maintain the statutes requiring jury unanimity in capital sentencing.

We were each sentenced to death by non-unanimous juries. A 7-5 jury verdict sentenced Herman Lindsey to death. The Florida Supreme Court would later unanimously conclude that he should have never been convicted. In 2014, a Pinellas County jury delivered the 7-5 verdict recommending death for Ralph Wright. He was acquitted of all charges in 2017. Clemente Aguirre was exonerated after 12 years on Florida’s death row. Two non-unanimous juries, a 7-5 and a 9-3, had recommended a death sentence.

Use of the death penalty is steadily declining across the country. Public support for the death penalty is at an all-time low with 60 percent of Americans believing life without parole is better than the death penalty. The death penalty is the highest and most severe penalty. The individuals that make up a jury are ordinary people, susceptible to their own emotions and biases, and have limited knowledge of the legal process. Many jurors have changed their opinion on a case years later.

Florida has exonerated 29 people from death row. This shows that we have taken steps to recognize and correct wrongful convictions. Jury unanimity is a tool to prevent them in the first place. If it had been required in our trials, the three of us would have never set foot on death row or had to face the threat of execution.

Clemente Aguirre, Herman Lindsey and Ralph Wright

Aguirre was released from death row in 2018 when all charges were dropped and he now lives in Tampa. Wright was an Air Force sergeant and Orange County Deputy Sheriff before being wrongfully convicted. Lindsey spent three years on death row and is now the Board Secretary of Witness to Innocence, a national organization of death row exonerees.

A general’s thanks

Gasparilla

The Jose Gasparilla sails down the Seddon Channel among a flotilla of boats, on the way to the Tampa Convention Center for the Gasparilla Pirate Invasion. [MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times]

The exuberant roar of laughter and music, combined with both decades-long and new bonds of camaraderie, greeted my wife, Suzanne, and me as we joined Tampa’s famed Gasparilla last weekend. Watching the vibrant scene unfold, I reflected on two things. First, the city had done a great job in preparing for the world’s greatest “Pirate Fest.” Second, we — the military community at MacDill Air Force Base — are blessed to live in an area that fosters such a positive civil-military relationship.

While we’ve spent the past 35 years living around the world, this is the first time my family has had the opportunity to be stationed in Tampa. Both the professional and the fun-loving vibe of the Tampa Bay area have welcomed us to our new home. Among the many community events we’ve attended and new relationships we’ve made, Gasparilla was a memorable venue to close out our first year and kick off our second.

Seeing the beautiful vista of Bayshore Boulevard turned into a miles-long pirate-themed party was impressive. The city struck a superb balance between allowing folks to have fun while keeping safety foremost. This is a testament to the hard work of Tampa’s civic leaders, first responders and event volunteers. To Mayor Jane Castor and Tampa’s team of public safety and health professionals, thank you — and well done!

In addition to hospitality, we have seen true partnerships from Tampa Bay institutions that are eager to help us solve myriad challenges. Area sports teams and entertainment venues are generous in offering recreational opportunities for our force, and local colleges and businesses are enthusiastic about helping veterans transition into successful civilian careers. It’s hard to imagine better teamwork between the military and civilian spheres. I am looking forward to another year of great partnership in Tampa, and another year of mingling with friendly pirates along the bay.

Gen. Rich Clarke, Tampa

The writer is the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base. He has served in the U.S. Army since 1984.

People deserve answers

China research ties need a closer look | Editorial, Jan. 26

Tampa's Moffitt Cancer Center [Foto: Archivo CENTRO Tampa]

This editorial about researchers at the University of Florida and Moffitt Cancer Center raises serious questions of medical ethics, conflicts of interest, best professional practices and institutional accountability as well as Chinese theft of intellectual property and valuable research.

Both are prestigious institutions and remain so, though preliminary facts indicate a need to tighten internal reporting rules and reporting to ensure doctors and researchers are accountable for disclosing their compensation from and the nature of research projects conducted by professional employees.

It is difficult to excuse well-educated professionals if there is evidence of personal gain, concealing the same and ignoring possibilities of loss of American-owned valuable technology and research to a unfriendly nation such as China.

China has a history of stealing American intellectual property and research. Investigations must continue to determine what losses there are, and perhaps professional credentials must be reviewed.

Any news reader knows the federal government and other authorities have long reported Chinese thefts of intellectual and research property. Likewise, we all want the University of Florida and Moffitt to continue their excellent work and research.

James Gillespie, St. Petersburg

Her talents add up

Brandon elementary teacher honored | Jan. 24

Miranda Harwood, a 4th grade math teacher at Brooker Elementary School, is the Hillsborough County Teacher of the Year. [Hillsborough County Public Schools]

Kudos to Miranda Harwood for all she does for her students. As a former math teacher, I was thrilled to see all that the new Hillsborough County Teacher of the Year does to make math enjoyable for her students.

Her focus on excellence and attention to detail are admirable. I particularly noted her habit of standing at her door, speaking to students by name as they go by. Go, Miranda!

Kay Doughty, Brandon

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