Florida Supreme Court denies stay of student killer's execution


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously rejected a request for a stay of the Feb. 22 execution of Death Row inmate Eric Scott Branch, who was convicted of murdering a University of West Florida student in 1993.

Branch’s attorneys filed the request for a stay last week as they appealed an issue to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Florida Supreme Court did not detail its reasons for denying the stay in a one-sentence order.

Branch was sentenced to death in the sexual assault and murder of student Susan Morris.

Gov. Rick Scott last month scheduled Branch’s execution for Feb. 22.

The request for a stay involved an issue related to a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a case known as Hurst v. Florida.

The 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.

A 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.

Branch and dozens of other Death Row inmates who were sentenced to death before the Ring decision argued that the new unanimity requirements should also apply retroactively to their cases.

But the Florida Supreme Court has rejected those arguments. In seeking the stay of execution, Branch’s attorneys wrote that the U.S. Supreme Court “will be inundated in the coming months” with challenges to the Florida Supreme Court’s refusal to apply the new sentencing requirements to inmates such as Branch.

Meanwhile, Branch’s attorneys have sought a stay on other legal issues but were turned down last week by an Escambia County circuit judge.

They appealed that decision Monday to the Florida Supreme Court.