None of the three death row inmates from Manatee County cases will be affected by a Florida Supreme Court decision Thursday.
Delmer Smith, Daniel Burns Jr. and Melvin Trotter are expected to remain on death row.
On Thursday, the Florida Supreme Court ruled 6-1 in the death sentence appeal by Mark James Asay, denying his request to be resentenced under the state’s death penalty scheme. Asay was sentenced to death Nov. 18, 1988, for the first-degree murders of Robert Lee Booker and Robert McDowell in Jacksonville.
Thursday’s decision ruled that only death row inmates whose cases were finalized after the 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Ring vs. Arizona qualify for a re-sentencing hearing. Ring vs. Arizona required a jury to find aggravating factors in order for the death penalty to be imposed.
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Florida’s death penalty scheme has been in limbo since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in January in Hurst vs. Florida that it was unconstitutional that Florida judges, not juries, have the ultimate say in the death penalty.
The state Legislature worked quickly to address the issue. On March 7, Gov. Rick Scott signed the new law, thought to have addressed the problem. But in October, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the Hurst ruling also required a unanimous vote by the jury to sentence someone to death unlike the majority or super-majority required by the old and new laws.
The question then became which, if any, death row inmates would have the right to a re-sentencing hearing.
Smith was convicted Aug. 2, 2012, of first-degree murder for beating Kathleen Briles to death with her cast-iron antique sewing machine in her Terra Ceia home on Aug. 9, 2009.
He was sentenced to death on May 28, 2013, by Circuit Judge Peter Dubensky following a unanimous recommendation from the jury. Aggravating factors were identified in Dubensky’s order.
The cases of Burns and Trotter will be unaffected since both have been on death row for decades, long before the 2002 Ring vs. Arizona ruling.
Trotter was sentenced to death May 18, 1987, for stabbing to death Palmetto grocery store owner Virgie Langford. Burns was sentenced to death June 2, 1988, for the shooting death of Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Jeffery Dale Young.