TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida executed a man on Thursday for murdering a woman in 1990 after he escaped from prison, stabbing her to death in a shopping mall parking lot in an attempted carjacking.
Donald Dillbeck, 59, was pronounced dead at 6:13 p.m. after receiving a lethal injection at Florida State Prison, the governor’s office said. He had been convicted in the murder of Faye Vann, 44, in Tallahassee near the state Capitol.
The execution was Florida’s first in nearly four years and the third under Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis. By comparison, his immediate predecessor, current U.S. Republican Sen. Rick Scott, oversaw 28 executions.
Vann’s children, Tony and Laura, released a statement after the execution: “11,932 days ago, Donald Dillbeck brutally killed our Mother. We were robbed of years of memories with her, and it has been very painful ever since.”
They thanked DeSantis for carrying out the execution, saying it “has given us some closure.”
The curtain between the death chamber and the viewing room opened at 6 p.m. Thursday. When asked if he had any last words, Dillbeck said: “I know I hurt people when I was young. I really messed up.” He also criticized DeSantis.
The execution began at 6:02 p.m., and Dillbeck closed his eyes shortly thereafter. He breathed deeply for a few minutes while his body shook. By 6:07 p.m., his mouth hung open, and he appeared to stop breathing.
“His last meal consisted of fried shrimp, mushrooms, onion rings, ice cream, pecan pie, and chocolate,” explained FDC communications director Michelle Glady.
Dillbeck was 15 when he stabbed a man in Indiana while trying to steal a CB radio, court records show. He fled to Florida, where Lee County Deputy Dwight Lynn Hall found him in a Fort Myers Beach parking lot. While Hall was searching him, Dillbeck hit the deputy in the groin and ran. Hall tackled him and, as the two wrestled, Dillbeck took Hall’s gun and shot him twice.
Dillbeck was 11 years into a life sentence for killing the deputy when he walked away from a work release assignment catering a meal for a seniors event, according to court records. He then bought a paring knife and walked to Tallahassee.
Vann was waiting for her family when Dillbeck approached her car with the knife and demanded a ride, saying he’d forgotten how to drive, court records show.
Vann honked the horn, tried to drive off and fought back that Sunday afternoon, but Dillbeck stabbed her more than 20 times and slit her throat, court records show. He crashed the car a short time later and was captured after running from the scene.
Despite a prior escape attempt and an assault on another prisoner, Dillbeck had been placed in a minimum security facility. A furious Republican Gov. Bob Martinez fired three corrections officials and sought to implement rules to ensure prisoners with life sentences would be held in more secure settings.
Florida’s Supreme Court earlier this month denied appeals claiming he shouldn’t be put to death because he suffers from fetal alcohol syndrome and it was cruel and unusual to keep him on death row for more than 30 years before his death warrant was signed. The U.S. Supreme Court denied his appeals Wednesday.
DeSantis, who was reelected last November and who is considered a potential 2024 presidential candidate, was quiet on the death penalty during his first term. His office refused to answer repeated phone calls and emails about the lack of warrants signed since 2019. DeSantis also cut off an Associated Press reporter who asked about the long pause in executions and didn’t answer the question.
But DeSantis criticized a Broward County jury’s failure to sentence Nikolas Cruz to death for fatally shooting 17 students and faculty at a Parkland high school, and has since said he wants to change a 2017 state law that requires a unanimous jury recommendation to impose the death penalty so that one or two jurors can’t affect the sentence.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, Florida has been one of the most active states in carrying out executions.
On Wednesday, a group of activists met in Jacksonville to protest the death penalty. The group, which met again for a demonstration before the execution, calls it a cruel and unusual punishment and says that there are alternatives.
“A murder victims’ family member, who herself was a victim, stabbed in the head and left for dead saw her father be killed. She forgave the killer,” activist Abraham Bonowitz said. “She talks about that in order to keep him from being executed. Two men who survived, wrongful conviction and time on death row for crimes they had nothing to do with and were exonerated and freed. The fourth is a former warden of the Florida State Prison, who carried out the last three electric chair executions in the state. He talks about the trauma that is being visited on workers in prison.”
Democratic Gov. Bob Graham oversaw 16 executions between 1979 and 1987. Martinez oversaw nine in his one term in office, Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles oversaw 18, and 21 prisoners were executed under Republican Gov. Jeb Bush. Gov. Charlie Crist oversaw five executions in his single term in office.