Joe Henderson: Sen. Bracy’s heart might have been right, but his numbers were wrong

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You can legitimately argue that the executive order by Gov. Rick Scott removing Orlando State Attorney Aramis Ayala from 21 more potential death penalty cases was blatant over-reach. For the record, I wouldn’t automatically agree but I can see that side of the argument.

We all know what a firestorm Ayala created when she decided not to seek the death penalty for alleged cop-killer Markeith Loyd. Scott came down on the side of outrage and in a stunning turn he ordered that the case go to another prosecutor. He doubled-down on that – well, 21nd down – with his most recent decree.

That prompted state Sen. Randolph Bracy, an Orlando Democrat, to blast Scott in an op-ed published in the New York Times. He was making strong arguments why the governor’s actions are wrong, at least up to the point where he wrote this paragraph:

“As a black man, I see the death penalty as a powerful symbol of injustice in which race often determines who lives and who dies, especially in Florida. The state has the second-largest number of death row inmates in the country, after California, and African-Americans are grossly over-represented on Florida’s death row.”

Fact check, please!

Actually, there are 143 black males on death row compared to 214 white males. And when it comes to the total number of executions carried out since the capital punishment was reinstated in 1976, Texas is the runaway leader with the number of people put to death with 576. Florida is fourth (behind Oklahoma and Virginia) with 92.

As for the butcher’s bill, those executed include 57 white males compared to 29 black males. Both women executed in the state also were white.

His heart might have been in the right place, but being so far off on the numbers totally undercuts Bracy’s argument.

Public sentiment is turning against the death penalty because it’s obviously not the deterrent its supporters claim. It’s strictly about society’s need for vengeance. If the state were to decide to do away with it in favor of locking murderers up and never letting them out, that would be fine by me.

I might make an exception for anyone who murders a police officer, but that’s about it.

Here’s the thing, though: It’s not my call. Florida has the death penalty and if there ever was a case where it should be in play, it’s the one involving Loyd. If the law is going to be changed, that is done in the Legislature. While I appreciate and maybe even agree with Ayala’s argument about the futility of capital punishment, it’s her job to prosecute crimes like the one Loyd allegedly committed to the full extent of the law.

Yes, a prosecutor can exercise judgment in deciding what to course of action to take. I believe she was wrong, though, by basically saying she won’t seek the death penalty because she doesn’t like it.  If that’s her heartfelt belief, she should consider a career change – maybe defending accused murderers instead of prosecuting them.

Joe Henderson has had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. He covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also including hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. Henderson was also City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. He served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. Henderson has numerous local, state and national writing awards. He has been married to his wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and has two grown sons – Ben and Patrick.