Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Courts Stir Up Campaign Death Penalty Issue Hot in Governor's Race

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Courts Stir Up Campaign Death Penalty Issue Hot in Governor's Race

Article excerpt

Byline: Jim Saunders, Times-Union staff writer

ORLANDO -- With a series of court rulings and legal challenges halting executions in Florida, the death penalty could emerge as a reinvigorated issue in the governor's race this year.

Gov. Jeb Bush has reacted to the court rulings in recent weeks by stepping up his criticism of execution delays, a popular theme among many voters who support the death penalty.

During a four-city tour yesterday to tout an endorsement by the Florida Police Benevolent Association, the Republican governor said the delays hurt the families of murder victims and blamed courts for overstepping their authority in delaying or halting executions.

"It's very troubling that we have a death penalty process that does not put them [victims' families] front and center," Bush said.

But Democratic candidate Bill McBride, a Tampa lawyer, has called for a moratorium on the state's death penalty to make sure it is carried out fairly and does not execute innocent people. McBride's spokesman, Alan Stonecipher, criticized Bush yesterday for attacking the courts.

"What's really now making this a big issue is Bush's contempt for an equal branch of government," Stonecipher said.

Similarly, Democratic candidate Janet Reno, a former Miami prosecutor and U.S. attorney general, thinks the courts should untangle the legal questions before the state moves forward with the death penalty.

"Janet believes that it's important to honor the judicial process," spokeswoman Nicole Harburger said. "And she would say it's our duty to follow the lead of the courts."

With the state's crime rate down and voters focused on issues such as education, the criminal justice system has not been a major issue in this year's campaign. But the death penalty is an issue that politicians have long used to reach voters fed up with seeing some Death Row inmates appeal their sentences for 20 years or more.

The Florida Supreme Court last week halted two executions so it can consider a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that could invalidate some Florida death sentences. That ruling, issued last month, said juries must decide whether inmates are sentenced to death. …

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