Since the Florida Supreme Court ruling in Hurst v. Florida deemed part of the state’s death sentencing law unconstitutional, now requiring death sentencing to be decided by a unanimous jury, it’s still not clear what that means for the 386 inmates currently on Florida’s death row.
Some lawyers and legislators argue the ruling means that death penalty sentencings could be thrown out and retried. Others say that it means from now on, juries must vote unanimously in death row cases.
Three of those death row inmates are from Manatee County, but only one was placed on death row by a unanimous jury vote.
Delmer Smith, 45, who was convicted of the Aug. 9, 2009. murder of Kathleen Briles, was denied a U.S. Supreme Court hearing in 2015. His 12-member jury had voted unanimously for the death penalty, but his case remains reopen despite the newly established constitutionality of the law. The next status conference on his appeal will be Jan. 18.
Daniel Burns, now 71, was convicted of first-degree murder in the Aug. 18, 1987, fatal shooting of FHP trooper Jeff Young with the trooper’s revolver and has been on death row since June 2, 1988. In Burns’ case, on May 12, 1988, a jury recommended the death penalty by a vote of 10-2. Appeals to higher courts to overturn the death sentence have been denied, and his case still remains closed.
In Melvin Trotter’s case, his jury recommended the death penalty by a vote of 9-3 in the June 18, 1986, stabbing of Virgie Langford during a Palmetto grocery store robbery. His case remains closed, according to the 12th Judicial Circuit website.