Florida death penalty procedure challenged

June 23, 2011 at 11:24 AM
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MIAMI, June 23 (UPI) -- A convicted killer will get a new sentencing hearing because a federal judge ruled the way Florida courts hand out the death penalty is unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez ordered Paul H. Evans to receive a new sentencing hearing because juries, not judges, should be the ones to specify which details about a crime justify execution, The Miami Herald reported.

"If the case survives appeals, the Florida Legislature is going to have modify the law to allow jurors to explain why someone deserves the death penalty," said Miami attorney Terry Lenamon, founder of the Florida Capital Resource Center, a support group for death penalty defense cases.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said she will appeal the ruling.

Legal scholars said the ruling by Martinez, who was appointed to the bench in 2002 by then President George W. Bush, marks the first time a Florida judge has overturned a death sentence under a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision that said defendants are entitled to have juries decide if "aggravating factors" in a crime justify capital punishment.

Jurors in the Evans case voted 9-3 for the death sentence. The trial judge imposed the death sentence, finding Evans committed the crime for "pecuniary gain" and because the killing was "committed in a cold, calculated and premeditated manner."

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