Florida execution draws protest amid looming death penalty bills

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Reverend David Franks is a pastor at Allendale United Methodist Church. By Josh Holton/WMNF News (4/12/2023)

Louis Bernard Gaskin became the 101st person executed in the state of Florida Wednesday night after being sentenced to death for the murder of a north Florida couple.

Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty held vigils across the state during the execution to voice their opposition to capital punishment, including at a busy intersection in Pinellas County.

At 6:00 p.m. they observed a moment of silence marking the moment that the state of Florida started putting Gaskin to death. Reverend David Franks questioned the effectiveness of the punishment as a deterrent given the recent rise in mass shootings.

 “That somehow we allow people to get their hands onto such guns who have mental health issues, and then they take a life, and then we’re going to go ahead and take their life?”

He was referring to the mass shooting in Parkland, FL which left 17 dead, while the shooter was given life in prison instead of death. Now a proposed bill in the FL legislature would let a jury recommend death with an 8-4 vote, instead of a unanimous vote as is required now.

Herman Lindsey is the Executive Director of Witness to Innocence, and is the 23rd innocent person released from Florida’s death row. The Florida legislature is considering adding child rape as an offense punishable by death, which Lindsey said would hearken back to a troubling era where rapists could be sentenced to death prior to Coker vs Georgia in 1977.

“Most of the people that was harmed and executed back then were the Blacks. Right? And they was doing it at the age of 14, 16, 17 years old.”

Lindsey said that although he was exonerated 14 years ago, he feels like he got a life sentence on the outside because he still hasn’t gotten his rights back.

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Here’s more, via News Service of Florida

By Jim Saunders ©2023 The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — In Florida’s second execution in less than two months, Louis Gaskin was put to death by lethal injection Wednesday for the 1989 murders of a Flagler County couple.

Gaskin, 56, was pronounced dead at 6:15 p.m., according to the Florida Department of Corrections. The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to block the execution, which came after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a death warrant last month.

Gaskin was convicted in the murders of Robert and Georgette Sturmfels during a burglary of their Flagler County home.

A summary of the case included in a Florida Supreme Court opinion said Gaskin parked his car in a wooded area on Dec. 20, 1989, and shot Robert Sturmfels twice through a window of the home. He shot Georgette Sturmfels, who was trying to leave the room, and then shot Robert Sturmfels again, according to the summary. He shot Georgette Sturmfels again after seeing her through a door and then entered the home and shot both of them in the head, the summary said.

After taking lamps, video-cassette recorders, cash and jewelry, Gaskins left the home and went to the home of Joseph and Mary Rector, according to the summary. After Joseph Rector got out of bed to investigate noise, he was shot, but the Rectors were able to get to a car and drive to a hospital.

Gaskin was the 101st inmate executed in Florida since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. He also was the second this year, after the state on Feb. 23 put to death Donald David Dillbeck, who murdered a woman in 1990 during a carjacking in a Tallahassee mall parking lot.

DeSantis also has signed a death warrant for Darryl Barwick, who was convicted of murdering a Bay County woman in 1986. Barwick is scheduled to be executed May 3.

Before Dillbeck was put to death, the state had not carried out a death sentence since Gary Ray Bowles was executed in August 2019 for a 1994 murder in Jacksonville.

The Gaskin execution came as the state House prepares to give final approval to a proposal (HB 555 and SB 450) that could lead to more defendants being sentenced to death in the future.

The proposal, which has already passed the Senate, would eliminate a requirement for unanimous jury recommendations before judges can sentence defendants to death. It would allow death sentences after the recommendations of eight of 12 jurors.

DeSantis and lawmakers began pursuing such a change after Nikolas Cruz last year was sentenced to life in prison in the 2018 murders of 17 students and faculty members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Cruz received the life sentence after a jury did not unanimously recommend the death penalty.

The House is scheduled to take up the proposed change Thursday and likely will vote on it Friday.

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