“Time Out on Executions” signs radiated through Kleman Plaza Thursday afternoon as a small group of protesters spread their message of how the death penalty is unjust.
The rally in favor of a death penalty moratorium began Jan. 21. Over the last month,supporters for a “time out on executions” marched from Ralford, an area in Florida where executions are performed, to the Capitol.
The protesters, including former Florida death row inmates, walked to Tallahassee to present the governor with thousands of signatures in support of temporary halt on executions.
The state of Illinois has already decided to halt executions to further investigate the cases of inmates on death row.
Delbert Tibbs, an African-American former death row inmate convicted of rape and murder, later released, spoke at the rally. He explained human error and how error plays out in the judicial system.
“I am here to bare witness that the state makes mistakes. All human endeavors, it seems to me are full of mistakes,” Tibbs said.
Whether the death penalty moratorium is on Gov. Jeb Bush’s agenda is unknown. The governor’s office was unavailable for comment.
Sheila Meeham, a representative speaking on behalf of former death row inmate Steve Hanlon, discussed a poll taken by the Tallahassee Democrat concerning the public’s view of the death penalty.
“There was a poll taken that said the death penalty was now favored up from 63 percent to 70 percent. [Hanlon] wanted me to point out to you that that was a stupid question to ask,” Meeham said. “The question that needs to be asked is, are you in favor of the death penalty if given the option of life without parole.”
Meeham explained that the percentage of people in favor is lower when the question is asked differently.
“When you ask the question that way you get very different numbers. The latest polling says that only 45 percent of Floridians favor the death penalty when given this option. That means today a minority of Floridians support the death penalty,” Meeham said.
She pointed out that the Columbia University School of Law did an extensive study of the death penalty in the United States between 1973 and 1995. The study found that “in 68 percent of capital cases state and federal courts found errors sufficiently serious to require new trials or new sentencing.”
Bradley P. Scott is a former inmate sentenced to death in 1978 on a murder conviction and released in 1991 on an appeal to the Supreme Court. He paints a picture of life on death row.
“I think almost everybody on death row will probably tell you they didn’t commit the crime,” Scott said. “But the chances are that there are quite a few who didn’t commit the crime that could be executed. If the state had their way I would’ve been executed years ago.”
Although, Scott is a free man, he didn’t forget about the inmates he left behind.
“I didn’t turn my back on my fellow brothers who are in there that could be facing death or die at anytime. I try to be a part of groups who come out and do these things,” he said. The judicial system is so messed up right now. Let’s find out what’s working and what isn’t. What’s working now isn’t working.”
Ed Deaton, an African-American former death row inmate, tells of his horror on death row.
“It was just like being locked in a bathroom for a long time,” he said.
The racial background of death row inmates is a factor of the death penalty system that “isn’t working.”
Meeham also discussed the racial injustice within capital punishment.
“Almost nobody is sentenced to death for killing a black person. Fifty-one people have been executed in Florida since 1979,” she said. “African-Americans are 47 percent of the homicide victims in Florida. But only 12 percent of the inmates are executed for killing an African-American. No white person has ever been executed in the history of the state of Florida for killing an African-American person.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, of the people executed in 2000, 49 were white, 35 were black and one was American Indian. In 2001, 66 inmates were executed, 19 fewer than in 2000.