Death isn’t a unianimous decision: Florida’s jury dilemma

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Timothy Hurst.
Photo courtesy of source url northescambia.com

Josh Hart

Staff Writer

On Oct. 13, the U.S. Supreme Court will have begun hearing arguments in the case of Timothy Hurst, a Pensacola man convicted of tying up his former manager in the freezer of the Popeye’s in which they both worked and stabbing her to death. In 2012, a jury recommended 7-5 that Hurst be executed, but Hurst is challenging the process as unconstitutional.

Florida’s policy goes against a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the stated that juries should decide when the death penalty will be imposed and what made the decision appropriate. Florida is the only state where the jury doesn’t need to explain its decision to condemn someone to death. Florida is also the only state where a unanimous decision is not needed to recommend execution.

Hurst’s dilemma represents a serious problem with the inaction of the Florida death penalty. Namely, the fact that there is one.

Here’s some background: Florida was the first state to reintroduce the death penalty after the Supreme Court temporarily ended the execution process with the Furman v. Georgia decision of 1972, executing the first prisoner since Furman in 1979.

Since 1979, the state of Florida has executed 90 prisoners. Florida has the fourth-highest execution rate in the country, right behind Oklahoma, Virginia, and Texas.

In Florida, defendants must be found guilty by unanimous vote, whether they steal or murder. Yet, when it comes to deciding on the ultimate punishment, a simple majority is all that is required.

The state is saying that sentencing a person to prison time requires more careful consideration than sentencing a person to death. Human life is, for a reason that I simply can’t fathom, considered an afterthought.

Execution often is excused by supporters of the death penalty who often tout it as being a deterrent. This is widely refuted. Countless statistics, most of which are collected and published by Amnesty International, show that murder rates in states which do not enforce a death penalty are lower.

Obviously, I’m not implying causation regarding instances of crime, but if the death penalty really were a deterrent, it would show in the statistics.

The idea of using state-sponsored murder to deter crime makes little sense logically, anyway. Considering that America is a place in which ethics are, in the general public consciousness, determined by the state, showing the populace that some murder can be rationalized would only inspire civilian murderers to rationalize their own killings.

Returning to Hurst, we find that his case shows other discrepancies. The most glaring one is that, in Hurst’s initial trial in 2000, the trial that led to his death sentence, the defense was not allowed to present evidence showing that Hurst was significantly mentally disabled as a result of acute fetal alcohol syndrome.

This Supreme Court case offers a chance for Florida to treat the Hurst murder case with a shred of competence and to potentially revise their disturbing execution system.

There is no doubt in my mind that Hurst deserves life in prison. He committed an absolutely indefensible act, but his appeal is a chance for the Florida justice system to rectify a glaring omission in their sentencing.

I think Pensacola lawyer Nick Ortiz said it best: “A person’s life shouldn’t be cast aside as quickly as it can be in the Florida justice system. It’s fairly obvious. A car thief facing time in jail shouldn’t receive more consideration then a person facing death.”