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Death penalty on hold for local cases

U.S. Supreme Court ruled Florida's death penalty system unconstitutional

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Three local death penalty cases are up in the air after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Florida’s death penalty system is unconstitutional.

The ruling Tuesday came in a challenge filed by death row inmate Timothy Lee Hurst, who was convicted of murdering his co-worker Cynthia Harrison in 1998. She was bound, gagged, and stabbed more than 60 times.

Trials that were set to begin over the next couple of months will now be changing with this ruling.

Some attorneys have filed motions to strike the death penalty from these cases because basically it doesn’t exist right now.

Attorney Randy Reep said the death sentence will be off the table for a while.

“A defendant who is facing the death penalty currently, now is not facing the death penalty,” Reep said.

Within hours of the ruling on Tuesday, lawyers for Donald Smith filed a motion to bar the prosecution from seeking the death penalty if he’s convicted in the kidnap, rape and murder of Cherish Perrywinkle.

This is just one case among others that will be affected by the change.

Luis Toledo’s trial in connection with the deaths of his wife and two children was supposed to begin in St. Augustine next week.

James Rhodes’ case could also be affected. He’s charged with the murder of Shelby Farah.

“Certainly, a defendant facing the death penalty, this is a benefit to them, they are no longer facing the death penalty, until the law in Florida changes to comport with the ruling that came out this week,” Reep said.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Florida’s death penalty system was unconstitutional because the jury only advises a judge on the death sentence. The judge has the final say and doesn’t have to agree with the jury’s recommendation.

Reep said this is different from the standard that’s been held in other situations.

“In almost every other sentencing scheme, it is solely in the purview of the judge to impose a sentence whether its prison, probation, all different types of that falls directly into the scope of the judge and now you’re putting that in the hands of the jury or at least requiring a recommendation from the jury,” Reep said.

When it comes to the future of these cases, Reep said many people will probably go forward with a life sentence instead of staying on “hold” for the death penalty.

“I think there’s more questions than answers in that, does it have to be unanimous on the part of the jury, it wasn’t really clear on that, conviction has to be unanimous, now you might find that a majority is probably satisfactory, but I think there’s questions as well as answers in this ruling,” Reep said.

 

Reep said the ruling this week is clear that people who have already been given a death sentence will still go through with that sentence.