The Daily Oklahoman from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on August 26, 1979 · Page 17
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The Daily Oklahoman from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma · Page 17

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Issue Date:
Sunday, August 26, 1979
Page 17
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Florida Wields Death Law THE SUNDAY OKLAHOMAN Section A August 26. 1979 17 — —- • • Sunshine State Uncollars 'Old Sparky' To Punish Guilty;Mete Out Vengeance EDITOR’S NOTE — Florida: land ,of sunshine, Miami Beach, Disney World, the Everglades. And the electric chair. The Sunshine State is leading the nation in returning to capital punishment, with more men on Death Row than any other state. This report explains why. Discussion 1 J . TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - At 8:09 a.m., July 17, Gov. Bob Graham • signed the papers that empowered the state of Florida to end the life of Howard Virgil Lee Douglas. At 8:11 a.m., the governor informed David Brierton, superintendent of Florida State Prison, a maximum security institution set in the piney, flat woods of north Florida, an institution that houses a 55- year-old electric chair and the 135 men the courts of Florida have said must die for their crimes. At 8:29 a.m., Brierton went to "Q Wing." Death Row. He spent about a half-hour with Douglas, a man who had nine days left to live if the courts did not intervene. "I was expecting it," Douglas told the superintendent, matter of factly. Brierton said later: “He didn't seem too upset. It was a very low- key event. It was more of a legal business transaction than with any • of the others." The “others" in the first state to pass on acceptable capital punishment law after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the old laws as unconstitutional, have been four. Three won stays. One was executed. Douglas waited exactly one week ^,*to find out on which side of the v ledger his name would go. Two days C before he was to die a federal judge granted him a stay. I The whole affair was subdued — •* as the governor of Florida has -* promised the electorate it would be. There were no banner headlines for v Douglas, a man the press had sel- .1 dom sought to interview. When the • occasional request did come, the 43% year-old murderer had turned it *t down. Florida got the jump on states re- 1+ turning to capital punishment when *. a hooded executioner put John Arl thur Spenkelink to death on May 25. •’ It was the first time in 12 years that % a criminal was executed in the Unit-, ed States against his will. One, Gary *1 Gilmore, went before a firing squad *» in Utah two years ago at his re*; quest. * Lawyers for Spenkelink fought in »' every conceivable court to spare his life. The U.S. Supreme Court alone *% was petitioned five separate times to consider the case of a drifter with a funny last name, a name prison of•' ficials spelled wrong for years, a ** man nobody in Florida knew, a man who killed another friendless drifter with a funny last name in a Tallahassee motel room in 1973. So far, 35 other states have followed Florida in passing new penalty statutes since the Supreme Court ruled the old statutes unconstitu- «* tional. •; Spenkelinks execution set off con** troversy, protests and vigils. But it has not stopped Florida in its grim business: two more men on death row could have had their warrants '•signed at any time. The cases of ,• nine more are under review. If they fl; are not granted clemency in Sep. tember, they, too, must prepare for the ominous visit from Brierton. The sudden association with the T macabre contrasts oddly with the ordinary perceptions of Florida: The , Sunshine State, the land of palm ‘ trees and pre-packaged vacations . for Northeasterners, the tourist ha: ven from the $1.50 roadside alligator wrestling pits to the spectacles vof the newest Disney playland. v Why is this inviting state of re- „■tirees, this land of orange groves “,and cattle ranches, the first and - therefore widely publicized to re* turn to capitai punishment? — Former Gov. LeRoy Collins answers with one man's name: "Bob •Shevin The credit or the blame, defending upon your point of view, be*' longs to Shevin." Bob Shevin, for- ;.*mer attorney general and gubernatorial candidate: "Florida is gener- t ally a-conservative state. It has a 1; high crime rate. People are just fed * up with crime." * — Jacksonville criminal lawyer Bill Sheppard: "Florida is a redneck •«state. We’ve just got smarter red* necks here. Why, in Georgia there are 158 counties and there aren't * but five of them where they can sit a * jury without stepping on someone’s * rights." *; — Tobias Simon, ACLU lawyer * who defended Spenkelink: "Lack of * leadership. The leadership in Florida is pandering to the lowest form t’of emotions. It is pandering to the •’rising demand for blood and vengeance, yielding to the pressures of ^ ;he Roman mob." — Ed Cohen, aide to State Sen. Jack Gordon: "There’s a frontier attitude down here, a let’s-kill-back attitude. People here are hostile to gun control; they're handy with knives and guns." - State Rep. Andy Johnson: “It would be logical that one of the Southern states would start it." And Florida, despite its diversity, is one other thing. It’s a very Southern state, once U.S. 1 passes the Gold Coast. Johnson and other opponents of the death penalty point out that the South has historiclly been the region readiest to impose capital punishment. A map of executions from 1882 to 1930 and a current map of men on death row, published in Southern Exposure magazine, are strikingly similar. Florida has more men on death row than any other state. Jacksonville, the seat of Duval County, is one of the most vocal spots in favor of the death penalty. Duval has sent more men to death row than any other county. It was here that the Police Benevolent Association sold one T-shirt celebrating the first execution and another looking forward to the execution of a convicted cop killer. The first shirt, featuring a picture of "Old Sparky," the electric chair, oore the legend: "One down and 133 to go.” Nearly 4,000 shirts were sold for $5 apiece. A local disc jockey who calls himself "The Greaseman" greets his listeners with "Welcome to the Redneck Capital of the World." "The Greaseman" blankets four states on the 50,000-watt WAPE and often addresses himself to the inmates on death row. "Good morning, you maggots," he will say. "Are you up yet? You'd better enjoy the sunrise. There aren’t many more left for you." He still chortles as he tells how he played a sound track of bacon frying just prior to Spenkelink's execution. "I told him to get used to that sound," says the Greaseman. The day after the execution he told listeners the prisoners were having "spenke-links" for breakfast. "The Greaseman’s" identity is kept secret. "The legend is that I'm a truck driver from cow country turned disc jockey." He says he has received few complaints. "The people here are for the death penalty. For the first time in many years, the politicians are following through. One wimp councilman complained, but that was about it." The "wimp councilman" is Rep. Andy Johnson, a native of Jacksonville who may have committed political suicide when he witnessed the execution and then told the public he had seen a "cruel and unusual" thing. "The station manager thanked me for calling," says Johnson, "but he said the calls were running 15-to-l in favor of the Greaseman." Johnson, the youngest member of the legislature, says he has been called a hippie, a Communist and an atheist since he took his unpopular stand against the death penalty. He says he’s had telephone calls in the middle of the night asking him if he would maintain his position if somebody killed his wife and child. At 26, he's not shaken. ; "I feel confident I’ll be re-elected. Any politician who wants the luxury of maintaining unpopular positions ! must just work harder. That’s 10 more chicken dinners." By Dan Manley When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Oklahoma’s death penalty law in 1976, 36 doomed inmates escaped the state’s well-worn electric chair. When and if the state again takes the life of an inmate, probably two or three years from now, that number could be awaiting the fatal dose of barbiturate. Since Richard Lawrence Hager's April 1977 murder conviction in Kay County earned him the dubious honor of being the first man sentenced under the state's new death penalty, 17 other men have joined him on death row at the state penitentiary at McAlester. Convicts are being sentenced to die in Oklahoma about once every six weeks. Due to lengthy appeals processes built into the state capital punishment statute, it is likely the state will finish the 1970s without sending an inmate to his death, authorities said. The last to die in Oklahoma was James D. French, a cocky killer who claimed credit for seven murders. He was electrocuted at the prison, as were 81 others. The only executed inmate not to die in the electric chair was Arthur Gooch, whose federal kidnapping conviction mandated his death by hanging. A dozen death row inmates escaped the chair in 1972 when the unemployment and uncertain economic conditions, the death penalty gains support, while it declines in good times. Johnson, the death penalty foe, says Florida may feel the economic pinch more than some other states, especially the many senior citizens who live on fixed incomes. Some observers point out that the state’s large influx of transients also contributes to crime. Spenkelink and the man he murdered had just drifted across the line. Ted Bundy, the newest assignee to death row, was also a visitor. Johnson says Florida’s particular brand of religion is also a factor. "Religion here is law and order, Am- high court struck down Oklahoma's first death penalty law. Pour years later the justices in another ruling gave three times that number a new lease on life. In rewriting the state's death penalty law in 1976, the state followed closely the laws in Florida, Georgia and Texas that were upheld by the same Supreme Court that knocked down Oklahoma’s capital punishment statute. The justices had found the state’s law unconstitutional on the grounds that provisions for mandatory death sentences in certain cases — such- as killing a police officer — were "cruel and unusual punishment. Under the current 3-year-old statute, only first-degree murder is punishable by death and only if aggravating circumstances exist. First-degree murder trials are broken down into two phases. The first follows standard court procedure in determining the guilt or innocence of the defendant. Should the defendant be found guilty, the next phase of the hearing allows prosecutors to show if one of seven aggravating circumstances was present when the crime was committed. They exist, according to the law, if: — The accused had a previous conviction on a felony involving violence or threat of violence. — The accused knowingly risked the life of more than one person. Artists drawing, at left, depicts John Spenkelink after his execution in Florida in May. Below, his mother shows her anguish os she discusses her son. ericanism and Jesus all rolled into one. The Baptists have a tremendously strong influence on all the religions. And the Baptists are the only major denomination that has not denounced capital punishment." State Rep. Tom Bush of Fort Lauderdale says, "It's a religious argument. Don't let anybody kid you." Bush, a youthful redhead, says he's a "born-again Christian,” with a slight grin over that oft-used phrase. He is in favor of capital punishment. "I would wrestle with the death penalty if I didn't think it was God- ordained. It’s God's temporal sword in the hand of government." — The murder was committed for money or profit. — The crime was especially heinous, atrocious or cruel. — The murder was committed to avoid arrest. — The murderer was serving a felony sentence at the time of the crime. — The defendant constitutes a continuing threat to society. Automatic review of all death sentences by the state Court of Criminal Appeals is built into the legislation, as well as the normal court appeals. In 1977, Rep. William Wiseman, R- Tulsa, introduced legislation which made obsolete the oaken chair in favor of execution by drug injection. "It'll be two or three years, at least" before the new method is used, said Deputy Corrections Director John Grider. The convicts facing death, in addition to Hager, are Carl Shelton Morgan, Lonnie Joe Dutton, Warner Irving, William Burrows, Venory Cox. Alton Franks, Charles Davis, John Boutwell, Robert Glidewell and Robin Parks, all sentenced from Oklahoma County. William Jones and Clifton Driskill from Garfield County; Larry Chaney from Tulsa County; Monte Eddings from Creek County; Thomas Hayes from Muskogee County; Charles Giddens from McCurtain County and Larry Smith from Ottawa County. The politicians speaking out against the death penalty are few. The activists against capital punishment, who are coordinated by the Florida Clearing House on Criminal Justice, can tick off their names easily. One is Collins, now 70, governor of the state from 1955-1960. He signed the papers for 29 executions while he was in office — eight of them for rape. That has since been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. "I sit here with the agonizing thought now and then that they are down in that cemetery at Raiford. It was just as much unconstitutional then as it is now," Collins says. While governor, Collins asked the legislature to abolish the death penalty. When it didn't, he says, he felt he had no right to put himself above the law and refuse to sign the warrants. Like others, Collins considers Bob Shevin the chief architect of Florida's revised death penalty statute. All nine Supreme Court justices, Collins notes, wrote separate opinions in the complex death penalty ruling and "as attorney general, Shevin studied all nine and wrote the new law. It gave a legal craftsman the opportunity to put together a strong law." It was passed in a landslide at a special session of the Florida. In a speech in Pensacola, very conservative county in Florida's Panhandle, Graham said he would support the death penalty for rape. "It's been said that Shevin kept looking for Graham over his left shoulder and he passed him on the right," says State Rep. Bill Sadowski, a Miami Democrat opposed to the death penalty. Shevin also ran strongly against Graham in the Florida Democratic primary last year, campaigning on a tough law-and-order platform. Both candidates favored the death penalty, and some politicians think Shevin's stand pushed Graham into making his even more emphatic. Shevin now is an attorney in private practice in Miami. He was personally touched by violent crime. While a sophomore in college, he walked into his father’s clothing store one day and found him in a pool of blood, victim of a robbery. ' The elder Shevin died a few years later of complications from his injuries. Says Shevin: "That probably piqued my interest in crime, but it did not influence my position on capital punishment. As a member of the legislature I sponsored a bill that would have made the jury take an extra step to recommend capital punishment. "I would say my views on capital punishment came about in 1973 when I was attorney general. I saw- so many brutal cases coming across mv desk." And had Shevin become governor? "I would have signed more warrants than the governor has signed," says Shevin. "I’m not saying there would have been more executions, but by now I would have signed more warrants. It's one thing to have a death penalty on the books, it's another to use it. It's not a deterrent if you use it every four or five years." Some elected officials feel even more strongly than Shevin. Dr. David Lehman, a physician and state representative from Hollywood, says it's high time the state really got started. "If Graham wanted to he could have signed every damn warrant the next day. I'm sure the 70 percent of the people in this state who are for the death penalty are going to start getting rough with their elected officials if they don't start pulling the switches. "I think we ought to have a public hanging. It would make a great impression on criminals." Dr. Lehman feels the protests and vigils that accompanied the death of Spenkelink will wither away. "The further along it goes, the easier it will get," he says. Foes of capital punishment in Florida believe — or hope — that there will be public revulsion if executions become routine. Today, nationwide polls show that from 66 to 73 percent of Americans favor the death penalty (against only 38 percent who supported it in 1965). Kay Isaly of Jacksonville, a researcher into the death penalty and prison conditions, says that this was historically predictable; at times of high crime rates, higher Oklahoma Injects New Life Into Power of Death Penalty This is a copy of a drawing made by John Spenkelink in 1976. Oklahoma law mandates the use of injection of drugs as its form of execution.

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