In a video interview posthumously released on the anniversary of the first modern exoneration of a Florida death-row prisoner, former Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerald Kogan has called for abolition of the state’s death penalty. “I believe that the death penalty should absolutely not be a punishment delivered by the State of Florida, or for that matter, neither any place in the United States or the world,” Kogan said.

The interview was recorded by attorney and filmmaker Ted Corless during a trip Justice Kogan took with 40 Florida anti-death penalty activists to the Equal Justice Initiative’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. Kogan died on March 4, 2021, at the age of 87. The video was released on July 16, the 48th anniversary of the exoneration of David Keaton. Keaton was the first former death-row prisoner to be exonerated after the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic decision in Furman v. Georgia in 1972 struck down all existing U.S. death-penalty laws and ushered in the modern era of the U.S. death penalty. The 30 death-row exonerations in Florida are by far the most in the nation.

In the video, Justice Kogan speaks about his 60-year journey as a member of the Florida bar from death-penalty supporter to death-penalty opponent. He voices concerns over the grave issues he witnessed throughout his career regarding the administration of capital punishment. Foremost among those concerns, he says, are the risk of executing innocent people and the punishment’s inherent unfairness. “We are executing people who probably are innocent,” Kogan said.

Kogan’s legal career began as a state prosecutor, and he led the Miami-Dade County prosecutor’s capital crimes division throughout the 1960s. Kogan then represented defendants in murder cases for several years, before being appointed to the Florida Supreme Court by Governor Bob Martinez in 1987. He served as Chief Justice from 1996 to 1998.

Kogan “understood the complexity and human frailty of a system that ends with the taking of life,” wrote Mark Elliot, the executive director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, in a July 16 guest column in the Orlando Sentinel. “Justice Kogan knew the justice system intimately. He was involved in more than a thousand death penalty cases. If a conservative former prosecutor that led Florida’s highest court thinks we should end the death penalty, then it’s something our current leaders should seriously consider.”

Kogan did not always oppose capital punishment but says that his direct experiences with the death penalty pushed him to support abolition. Kogan described how the justice system places a tremendous burden on those charged with deciding the fate of a person condemned to death. In the interview, Kogan spoke of the gravity of being “the last word” before a person is executed.

According to Elliot, Kogan “recognized the terrible burden that capital cases put not only on the judiciary, but on our state’s budget, draining resources that could be spent on services for victims of violent crime and their families or programs to address crime rates .… He saw firsthand how the death penalty targets and ensnares the mentally ill, the poor, the traumatized — the most vulnerable among us.”

Kogan said he was convinced Florida had executed three innocent people, though he did not name them. “We cannot bring back to life people that we made mistakes about. And we just have to do something,” Kogan urged.

Florida has executed 99 prisoners since re-enacting the death penalty after Furman. In that time, it has exonerated one wrongfully convicted death-row prisoner for every 3.3 people it has executed.