Supreme Court rejects death penalty appeals


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday rejected appeals by three Death Row inmates in decades-old cases, including the 1991 murder of a Fort Pierce police officer.

The rulings were part of a long line of similar decisions in cases rooted in a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court decision.

In one of Thursday’s cases, justices turned down an appeal by Death Row inmate Billy Leon Kearse, who was convicted in the murder of Fort Pierce police officer Danny Parrish during a traffic stop, according to court records.

In another case, justices rejected an appeal by Death Row inmate Stephen Todd Booker, who was convicted in the 1977 murder of 94-year-old Lorine Demoss Harmon in Alachua County.

In the third case, justices denied an appeal by Ian Deco Lightbourne, who was convicted in the 1981 sexual battery and murder of Nancy O’Farrell in Marion County.

Each of the appeals related to 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 Thursday, the Death Row inmates had been sentenced to death before the Ring decision and argued that the new requirements should also apply to their cases. But the Supreme Court said the Hurst requirements should not retroactively apply to the inmates.