In a wide-ranging six-part editorial series analyzing systemic flaws in the administration of the death penalty, the editorial board of the South Florida Sun Sentinel has called for the abolition of capital punishment. “[I]t is past time to repeal it, here in Florida and nationwide,” the editors wrote.

The editorial series, published from March 21 through March 28, 2021, critiqued capital punishment from a variety of angles. The death penalty, the editors wrote, “has nothing to do with preventing crime. It cannot be applied with an even hand. There is no assurance that only the ‘worst of the worst’ are put to death. It wastes millions of dollars compared to the cost of a life sentence without opportunity for parole.”

The editors quote former Florida Supreme Court Justice Gerald Kogan, who observed the criminal justice process over the course of 40 years as a state prosecutor, defense attorney, trial judge, and supreme court justice, on the certainty that Florida has executed an innocent person. “There is no question in my mind that we certainly have in the past executed those people who either didn’t fit the criteria for execution in the State of Florida or who, in fact, were … not guilty of the crime,” Kogan said. “If you say that no innocent person has been executed, you are just burying your head in the sand.”

The opening editorial concludes: “The death penalty accomplishes no valid purpose that can’t be fulfilled at less cost and infinitely less risk of making the worst possible mistake. No citizens and no states should want such miscarriages of justice on their collective conscience.”

The Sun Sentinel editorials argue that the problems with capital punishment are endemic across the United States but remain particularly acute in Florida, which by itself accounts for 30 of the nation’s 185 death-row exonerations. The second editorial looks at the financial and moral cost of the death penalty. The paper estimates that capital punishment “has cost Florida an extra $223 million since 1972 to execute 99 people who could be serving life without parole instead, and is costing some $800 million more for the 333 people still on death row.” Yet the legislature has never asked its auditing and research arm to “calculate the costs with reasonable precision” or to “investigate other issues that go to the moral hazards of the issue.” It appears, the paper writes that Florida’s legislature is ensconced in a “shell of immoral indifference” and “seems to not want to know” the answers.

In its third editorial, Two men, similar crime. One sentenced to die, the other gets life in prison, the newspaper addressed the continuing arbitrariness of capital punishment. Reviewing the history of Florida’s death penalty, it said that the U.S. Supreme Court’s promise that new death penalty statutes would replace arbitrary exercises of discretion with a system that was “controlled and channeled until the sentencing process becomes a matter of reasoned judgment, rather than an exercise in discretion at all” turned out to be “nonsense.” Under the new death-penalty law, “[p]olice, prosecutors, judges and juries would still have almost boundless discretion in charging, trying and convicting murder defendants,” resulting in continued significant systemic disparities based on race, income, and mental health. “Comparable defendants are still treated differently,” the editors said. Further, appellate review of arbitrariness and new evidence has become increasingly lax, as “a new and fiercely conservative majority of justices has repudiated the obligation … to conduct proportionality review” and “has ruled against inmates in 56 of the most recent 58 cases it has heard.”

The fourth editorial addresses the failure of the death penalty to deter crime. “There are some assumptions people hold in absolute — but unfounded — faith that they must be true,” the editors wrote. “One is that the death penalty deters murder. That’s like the faith of some primitive societies that human sacrifices would placate their gods.” Citing data that “annual murder rates are consistently higher overall in the death penalty states than in [states] without capital punishment” and that murder trends are unaffected by execution rates, the editors say that, “[a]s it has fallen in popularity and practice, execution has come to be a random symbolic ritual with no logical nexus between who dies and who doesn’t.” “[T]he bottom line,” they write, “is that the death penalty in Florida is capricious, unpredictable and unrelated to public safety.”

The fifth editorial documents how executive clemency has failed as a safeguard against wrongful executions. “Florida has executed 99, with no clemencies since 1983,” the editors noted. “The historic ‘fail safe’ of executive clemency is a failure in Florida,” they write.

In the paper’s concluding editorial, the editorial board noted that the death penalty has been “rejected by much of the developed world [but] lingers in Florida because of its political usefulness to politicians and their fear of being targeted if they oppose it.” With multiple reform bills languishing without action by the legislature, the editors write that “the likelihood remains high that innocent people will be condemned in Florida. The winnowing of candidates for execution will continue to be a ghastly game of chance.”

Quoting Justice Harry Blackmun that “the execution of a prisoner with a strong claim to innocence would be perilously close to simple murder,’” the editors ask, “When that is done in our name, what does that make us?”


Editorial Board, If you say no inno­cent per­son has been exe­cut­ed, you are bury­ing your head in the sand’, The South Florida Sun Sentinel, March 21, 2021; Editorial Board, Why has it been so easy to send inno­cent peo­ple to Florida’s death row?, The South Florida Sun Sentinel, March 23, 2021; Editorial Board, Two men, sim­i­lar crime. One sen­tenced to die, the oth­er gets life in prison, The South Florida Sun Sentinel, March 24, 2021; Editorial Board, The death penal­ty is not a deter­rent, The South Florida Sun Sentinel, March 25, 2021; Editorial Board, The his­toric fail safe’ of exec­u­tive clemen­cy is a fail­ure in Florida, The South Florida Sun Sentinel, March 26, 2021; Editorial Board, A high like­li­hood that Florida will exe­cute inno­cent peo­ple, The South Florida Sun Sentinel, March 282021.