Wednesday, April 27, 2005


"It ought to be impossible": A monstrous injustice

A friend emailed me yesterday an editorial from the St. Petersburg Times. It needs no comment from me—
It ought to be impossible to imagine an American government that deliberately leaves innocent people in prison. But in Florida, present reality is precisely that savage scenario.

In 157 cases across the nation, it has been established to a moral certainty that innocent prisoners can be exonerated by the recent science of DNA testing. Wilton Dedge, the Floridian who lost 22 years of his life for a rape he did not commit, is one of them. Without doubt, there are more prisoners whose innocence cries to Florida's collective conscience.

Yet with less than two weeks left in this year's session, the Florida Legislature is not only apparently unwilling to compensate Dedge, but it is also failing to extend an Oct. 1 deadline to file testing petitions on behalf of at least 700 other people still in prison. Their cases have languished because only a handful of volunteers, unpaid by the state, are available to help them or to lobby for extension of the deadline. On that date, clerks of court and other keepers of DNA evidence in closed cases will be technically at liberty to destroy it.

The reason appears primarily a matter of indifference on the part of committees that should have undertaken to extend the deadline, complicated by turf-guarding, finger-pointing and ego among some members who could not be bothered to listen. "It just fell through the woodwork," claims House Criminal Justice Committee Chairman Dick Kravitz, R-Jacksonville. None of that resembles a pardonable excuse.

Were Florida legislators not listening, or did they choose not to hear, when President Bush spoke to the subject in his State of the Union address? This is what the president said:

"Because one of the main sources of our national unity is our belief in equal justice ... we need to make doubly sure no person is held to account for a crime he or she did not commit - so we are dramatically expanding the use of DNA evidence to prevent wrongful conviction."

The president also asked Congress for money to finance DNA testing grants for state prisoners under a law he signed last year. To qualify, Florida needs the legislation that the House and Senate will not hear.

Many technicalities stand in the way of pending attempts to pass the extension as amendments to other legislation. There is almost nothing the Legislature cannot do, however, when its leaders set their minds to it.1 It is now the inescapable moral duty of House Speaker Allan Bense and Senate President Tom Lee to get the extension enacted.

It bears remembering that everything that Florida legislators do, or do not do, is in the name and by the authority of the people. In our names and by our authority, they are on the verge of perpetrating a monstrous injustice.

The very worst of this is the possibility that evidence will be destroyed if no action is taken.

Please send the Florida legislature a message. It is helpful even if you are not a Floridian. Legislators don't like negative attention no matter where it comes from—

The Hon. Allan G. Bense, Speaker
Florida House of Representatives
420 The Capitol
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1300
Phone: (850) 488-1450

The Hon. Dick Kravitz, Chairman
House Criminal Justice Committee
1302 The Capitol
402 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1300
Phone: (850) 488-1304

Senator Tom Lee, President
The Florida Senate
Room 312, Senate Office Building
404 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1100
Phone: (850) 487-5072

If you are a Floridian, it would also be helpful to contact your representative and your Senator.

Letters to the Florida legislature
I read the following article and I just could not believe that you are going to collect pay from TAXPAYERS and not try to help people who may be innocent. Shame on you. Shame on Florida. I don't think I will EVER spend my money on vacation in your State again and will be sure to share what you are NOT doing with everyone I talk to.

Sabrina Schultz

The Honorable Allan G. Bense, Speaker
Senator Tom Lee, President of the Florida Senate
Senator Victor D. Crist

I believe there is a strong connection to the treatment of our own prisoners here in America and those in Iraq and elsewhere. I don't want to be a part of it, and I don't want to have it remain a matter of indifference by others if possible.

Louise Kienast

To the Honorable Ed Homan:

I read with sadness the editorial in the St. Petersburg Times today (4-26-05) titled "A Monstrous Injustice". I do not want this kind of activity (i.e., failing to extend an Oct. 1 deadline to file testing petitions on behalf of at least 700 other people still in prison, due to indifference by committee members), to be done in my name. I am only one person, but I, for one, think this is wrong. I would appreciate it if you would give this some thought and if you can do something to encourage those members to reconsider and attend to this matter, I would appreciate it.

Louise Kienast

If you would like to have your letters posted, email them to me, indicating whether or not you would like your name withheld. Or you may post them in the Comments here.


1 Recall that on October 21 of last year the Florida legislature acted with all due haste to restore Terri Schiavo's feeding tube. According to the AP—

... the Legislature rushed through a bill designed to save Schiavo's life, and Bush quickly invoked the law and ordered the feeding tube reinserted. A hospital then began giving the woman fluids intravenously to prepare her body for the resumption of feeding. ....

Bush and lawmakers who supported the legislation said they had a legitimate reason to intervene in the case to save Schiavo's life.

The governor and legislature have "a legitimate reason" to intervene to save an unknown number of lives of sentient, as opposed to vegetative, humans. It appears that it is the Florida legislature that is now in a vegetative state. It is time to pull the feeding tube.


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