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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to expand the death penalty: Just say no

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By Laura Finley

Republican leaders have a death penalty problem. During a time when researchers called 2022 the “year of the botched execution” and when several states have had to place a moratorium on executions amidst failed protocols, several Republic leaders are seeking to expand capital punishment.

It is no surprise that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is pro-death penalty. DeSantis has put himself on the national map by echoing if not extending many of Donald Trump’s most repressive measures.

Just days ago, DeSantis signed his fourth death warrant as Governor and first since the pandemic. It set an execution date for James Dailey, a veteran of four tours in Vietnam and Korea, who has persistently declared his innocence. There is some compelling evidence that he just might be.

His co-defendant, Jack Pearcy, had admitted at least four times that he and he alone committed the murder of Shelly Bogio in 1985. Pearcy received a life sentence and his testimony was the most significant evidence against Dailey. There is also new evidence that confirms that Dailey was not even present at the time of the murder. There is no physical or forensic evidence indicating Dailey’s involvement.

Why would the Governor issue a death warrant in a case with so many potential concerns?

DeSantis has also said he supports the death penalty in cases of child rape. The Supreme Court declared such sentences to be unconstitutional in 2008. Again, this is a regression and is particularly difficult to swallow when public support for the death penalty is among its lowest ever.

DeSantis has repeatedly criticized the jury who failed to send Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz to death. Because Florida currently requires a unanimous jury decision in capital sentencing hearings, Cruz’s life was spared by three jurors who believed his mental issues and lifelong trauma meant he should not be executed.

DeSantis has spoken about moving Florida back to having a non-unanimous jury making capital sentencing decisions, something the state did until 2017 when the Florida Supreme Court required the change. To go back to that implies a stinging rebuke of the Court’s authority.

Further, in the state that has the largest number of people exonerated from death row, any move that makes sentencing someone to die at the hands of the state is risking that more will be exonerated. Or, worse, wrongly executed.

Other remarks DeSantis has made indicate that, if he wins the 2024 presidency, he would carry on Trump’s binge of federal executions. President Biden has pledged to end the federal death penalty, although that has not happened to date.

DeSantis is not alone. At the same time that Tennessee officials admitted that its executioners lied about testing lethal injection chemicals for bacterial contamination, Republicans are sponsoring legislation to expand the state’s death penalty statute to include fentanyl dealers whose product resulted in someone’s death.

Investigations about execution protocols are also underway in Alabama and Ohio. Arizona’s former Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a staunch death penalty supporter, and Governor Ducey tried to speed up executions and ordered lethal injection drugs that were not appropriate, despite the fact that the state’s last three executions were all fraught with problems.

Florida’s death penalty is a mess, as are all other systems of execution in the US. Yet it is obvious that DeSantis and most of his Republic cronies do not care. As more and more data show that the death penalty in the US is deeply broken and irreparable, it is absurd that Republicans like DeSantis are seeking to expand its use, rather than eliminate it entirely.

Laura Finley, Ph.D., syndicated by PeaceVoice, teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is the author of several academic texts in her discipline.