In a departure from its prior editorial stand, the Orlando Sentinel published an editorial on November 22, 2019 calling for Florida to abolish the death penalty. Describing the state’s capital-punishment system as a “hopeless quagmire of inequities,” the Sentinel said “[t]oo many questions cannot be adequately answered for us to continue supporting the death penalty, and for Florida to continue administering it.”

The Sentinel editorial board had previously raised concerns about specific death-penalty cases and practices, including Florida’s former policy of allowing death sentences when a jury was not unanimous, but this was the first time it had called for an end to the death penalty. The board said, over time, it “has become increasingly concerned about the death penalty’s inequities and, in particular, what the rate of exonerations suggests about how often the justice system gets it wrong.”

The editorial noted several overarching problems with capital punishment, saying, “It does not deter murder. It disproportionately affects the poor and minorities. It drains the state budget.” The paper focused its discussion on the arbitrariness of death-penalty outcomes and the persistent risk of wrongful convictions. Using two recent capital trials to highlight the unpredictability in sentencing decisions, the board wrote: “Here in Central Florida, an Orange County jury recently spared remorseless career criminal Markeith Loyd from the death penalty for murdering his girlfriend and their unborn child. A few weeks later, an Osceola County jury recommended death for a mentally disturbed Marine veteran who murdered two Kissimmee police officers. … No law should stand if it consistently produces such unequal outcomes,” the editorial said.

Regarding innocence, the editorial noted that Florida has had more death-row exonerations than any other state, with 29. “Only Illinois, with 21 exonerations, comes close to Florida’s total. The next closest is Texas, with 13.” That problem, the paper indicated, has been exacerbated by legislative resistance to redressing unfair trial procedures. “Compelled by the courts, Florida lawmakers eventually, and reluctantly, passed a law requiring a unanimous vote to recommend death. That’s already had the effect of lowering the number of death sentences,” the editorial states. This policy likely contributed to Florida’s high number of wrongful death sentences. Researchby the Tampa Bay Times found that, in 90% of Florida death-row exonerations for which the jury vote was known, the judge had imposed a death sentence after a non-unanimous vote for death or a recommendation for life. “The fates of the condemned are decided by a roulette of timing, luck, legislative posturing and judicial whim. And no state spins the wheel of haphazard justice quite like the Sunshine State,” the Sentinel said.

The editorial board acknowledged that political realities in Florida make abolition unlikely any time soon. “We realize there’s little appetite in the Legislature or the governor’s mansion to abolish the death penalty,” the paper wrote. “But national polls show support for capital punishment is eroding. And a 2016 poll of Floridians found a clear majority favoring life sentences over death.” Still, it opines that ending capital punishment is the right step for the Sunshine State, concluding, “Too many questions cannot be adequately answered for us to continue supporting the death penalty, and for Florida to continue administering it. If two people are tried for murder, and the circumstances are the same, will the outcome be the same? Is there fairness when it comes to the most profound act a government can impose on its citizens? Can we always be completely sure of someone’s guilt before putting them to death? The verdict is no. That’s why it’s time to do away with the death penalty in Florida.”


Editorial, It’s time for Florida to get rid of the death penal­ty, The Orlando Sentinel, November 222019.