Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Death Penalty Doubters Start Tallahassee Trek Group Carries Petitions for Moratorium

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Death Penalty Doubters Start Tallahassee Trek Group Carries Petitions for Moratorium

Article excerpt

Byline: Jessie-Lynne Kerr, Times-Union staff writer

RAIFORD -- They joined hands and sang several verses of We Shall Overcome in a muddy parking lot across Florida 16 from the Union Correctional Institution as rain sprinkled intermittently.

Then the group of about 70 people from different parts of the state crossed the road and began walking yesterday to Tallahassee -- 143 miles away. They expect to reach the state capital by Jan. 31, when they will present signed petitions to Gov. Jeb Bush.

"We are calling for a timeout on executions," said Abe Bonowitz, who was dressed in a black and white-striped referee's shirt .

Bonowitz, head of an organization called Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, based in Jupiter, said a poll shows most Floridians favor a moratorium on executions because they say there are serious flaws in the system.

"This does not mean we want to abolish the death penalty, although many of us do," Bonowitz said. "We just want to make sure it is done with fairness and accuracy."

He said Florida leads the nation in the number of people released from Death Row.

Since Florida reinstated the death penalty in 1976, 23 people have been released after evidence of their innocence was discovered. Another inmate, Frank Lee Smith, died of cancer in January 2000 in prison but DNA testing later cleared him in the 1985 rape and murder of an 8-year-old girl.

The moratorium asks the governor to halt executions of the 350 people now under death sentence until a fair and impartial, independently appointed commission can examine and review all of their cases.

"There should be a panel of experts that will study the system, find the flaws and fix them," Bonowitz said.

John Linnehan, who heads Jacksonville Citizens for a Moratorium, said that of those who showed up for the walk's launch yesterday, perhaps 10 to 15 will walk the entire 143 miles.

"So far we have 6,000 signatures from Jacksonville," Linnehan said, adding that the walkers hope to give Bush 20,000 signatures from throughout the state by Jan. 31. Backers hope to have 100,000 signatures from people statewide by the end of the year. …

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