Execution faces great criticism

Ron McAndrew, a former prison warden, gave a speech opposing the death penalty at the Co-Cathedral of St. Thomas More. The Tallahassee Citizens Against the Death Penalty, the Florida Catholic Conference and Pax Christi organized the March 25 event.

“If you don’t at least question the death penalty, there’s something wrong with you,” said McAndrew, a prison and jail consultant

The event took place to allow McAndrew to discuss his experiences as a warden of Florida State Prison in Stark, a place where death-row inmates are kept, and what ultimately made him change his mind about the death penalty.

“My story of how I was a pro-death penalty warden and a pro-death penalty person throughout the better part of my entire adult life and how I’ve come to be an abolitionist today requires some biography,” McAndrew said in his introduction. 

A North Carolina native, McAndrew spent many years in France as a perfume salesman before moving to Florida in 1978 as a retiree.  With his expenses building, McAndrew began looking for work and was hired by the Dade County Correctional Institution in 1979.

“They didn’t tell me that they were so desperate for people,” he said. “I’d have an interview at 10 in the morning and I’d be back to work that afternoon at quarter to four, in uniform, supervising a dormitory of 240 inmates without any training whatsoever.”

After some time, McAndrew said he realized that he’d found his niche and soon began aiming for the position of warden.

McAndrew explained that by 1996, he was warden of Florida State Prison. Soon after, he began learning the process, and three weeks later he oversaw his first execution. 

McAndrew said two more executions followed, and by 1999, after overseeing three executions and witnessing five in Texas, his views on the

 TCADP was a sponsor of the event.  The TCADP wanted to coordinate and encourage citizens to promote alternatives to the death penalty.

 “Our organization tries to put together events in the community to inform people about the death penalty.  I thought he’d (McAndrew) be a great person to speak,” said Sheila Meehan, TCADP Chair.

 Agnes Furey, a death penalty opposer, attended the event and said she was moved by McAndrew and his change of heart.  Furey’s daughter and grandson were killed March 23, 1998.

 “I’ve known a lot of people who are survivors of homicide, and I’ve only met one who felt strongly that killing the killer would make a difference,” she said.

 McAndrew discussed the role that he feels race plays in death penalty cases.

 “A white person has never been executed for killing a black person in Florida,” McAndrew said.

 According to the Death Penalty Information Center, a recent study in California found that people who killed whites were more than three times more likely to be sentenced to death than those who killed blacks. 

 McAndrew said the majority of people falsely believe that the death penalty is a crime deterrent and that the cost of incarceration is a reason to advocate the death penalty.

 “It costs at least six times as much to execute someone then to keep them in prison for the rest of their natural life,” he said. 

 Juvais Harrington, a TCADP board member and graduate of Florida A&M University, said he was left feeling hopeful after McAndrew’s speech.

“There are people here who are against the death penalty and know that it targets low income people and is obviously racist,” Harrington said.  “It’s important to see someone who was for the death penalty and is now against it and hear why he made that change.  It gave me hope that we could swing those who are for the death penalty our way so they’ll go to the Florida legislature and tell them it’s wrong.”

 McAndrew said in the process of renewing his faith in God he had to accept the fact that killing people was wrong.

 “It wasn’t a bolt of lightning, it was something I realized over time,” he said. “But once I realized it, I knew that I needed to tell others.  That’s the cross that I carry, but my cross is weightless compared to the cross another man carried for me.”