Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda once again files legislation to end the death penalty

in Uncategorized by

Gov. Rick Scott last Monday signed a death warrant for 42-year-old Johnny Shane Normandy, who was found guilty of committing first-degree murder and sexual battery during a home-invasion robbery in 1993 in Escambia County. He is scheduled to die by lethal injection on January 15.

The execution would be the 21st in the Rick Scott era, equaling the number overseen by former Gov. Jeb Bush, which is the most for any Florida governor since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. Two weeks ago, the state executed Chadwick Banks, 43, for the 1992 killing of his wife and 10-year-old daughter. That was the 8th such execution this year, tying the record for the most in Florida history. That’s nearly a quarter of the total number of executions in the U.S. this year. (There have been 33 so far.) The state led the nation in executions in 2011 and 2012.

The state’s propensity for executing death row prisoners is going against somewhat of the trend nationally.  Since 2007, six states have abolished the death penalty, out of 18 total.

Earlier this month, former death row inmate Carl Dausch was added to the Death Penalty Information Center’s list of exonerations from death row, bringing the national total to 147 and Florida’s total to 25, the most in any state in the nation. On June 12, the Florida Supreme Court directed the acquittal of Dausch because there was insufficient evidence of his guilt.

Although the death penalty remains popular in Florida, that’s not preventing Tallahassee state House Democrat Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda from  filing legislation for the fifth year in a row to repeal the law in Florida.

‘The way I think about it is, if my job is to help find solutions to keep the citizens of Florida safe, and also to spend taxpayer money wisely, then the death penalty is not the answer,” Rehwinkel Vasilinda told FloridaPolitics on Tuesday. “The death penalty has never been proven to be a deterrent to crime, and so why are we pursuing it? The other thing is, I talk to all types of folks, conservatives, liberals, people who are religious, people who are not religious, and many of them have told me that they don’t want the state to execute people in their name. People who believe that way need a voice, and I am that voice. I’ve chosen to do that, and I will continue to press the issue.”

The Tallahassee Democrat confesses that “it was pretty nerve wracking to file it the first time,” but said she believes the issue is of such relevance that it needs to be in front of her colleagues each time they gather in regular session. “I feel it’s extremely important for the people in the state of Florida and frankly the nation, and I’m going to continue to do it.” She thinks that the tide could turn in Florida like it has in so many states over the past few years.

And she says that even though she may not be around to ever see such legislation implemented (she’s term-limited out in 2016), she’s hoping some other legislator “will carry the torch and move forward with this” after she leaves the state House.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.