Justices reject another batch of death penalty appeals

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – For the second day in a row, the Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday turned down appeals by 10 inmates who have been on Death Row since at least 2002.

The release of 20 death-penalty rulings over two days is highly unusual, with every rejection stemming from legal issues about jury unanimity.

The appeals were rooted in a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a case known as Hurst v. Florida and a subsequent Florida Supreme Court decision.

The 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling found Florida's death-penalty sentencing system was unconstitutional because it gave too much authority to judges, instead of juries. The subsequent Florida Supreme Court ruling said juries must unanimously agree on critical findings before judges can impose death sentences and must unanimously recommend the death penalty. But the Florida Supreme Court made the new sentencing requirements apply to cases since June 2002. That is when the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling known as Ring v. Arizona that was a premise for striking down Florida's death-penalty sentencing system in 2016.

In each of the cases Monday, the Death Row inmates had been sentenced to death before the Ring decision and argued that the new sentencing requirements should also apply to their cases.

One of the rulings Tuesday dealt with the Charlotte County case of James D. Ford, whose two death sentences became final on May 28, 2002, less than a month before the June 24, 2002, Ring decision, according to the Florida Supreme Court ruling.

The other inmates who lost their appeals Tuesday were Jeffrey Lee Atwater in a Pinellas County case; Curtis W. Beasley in a Polk County case; Daniel Burns Jr. in a Manatee County case; Ronald Wayne Clark Jr. in a Duval County case; Loran Cole in a Marion County case; Carl Puiatti in a Pasco County case; Richard Wallace Rhodes in a Pinellas County case; Chadwick Willacy in a Brevard County case; and Curtis Windom in an Orange County case.