Capital Case Roundup — Death Penalty Court Decisions the Week of November 232020

NEWS (11/26/20) — Florida: A Santa Rosa County judge has sentenced Thomas Fletcher to death for murdering his cellmate in a county prison. Fletcher’s case is emblematic of recent capital sentencing trends in which death sentences have been imposed disproportionally against defendants who waived key procedural protections.

Fletcher strangled his cellmate, Kenneth Davis, after Davis told Fletcher he was thinking about committing suicide. State attorney Bill Eddins told reporters that Fletcher, who was 24 years into a life sentence, confessed that he committed the crime so he could be sentenced to death. Fletcher pleaded guilty in August 2019, waived his right to a jury sentencing, and asked for the death penalty, which he called his “retirement plan.”

NEWS (11/25/20) — Florida: the Florida Supreme Court has denied state prosecutors’ efforts to reinstate the death sentences of Bessman Okafor and Michael James Jackson without affording them the capital resentencing hearings previously ordered by the court.

Okafor’s and Jackson’s death sentences had been overturned under the state court’s 2016 decision in Hurst v. State, which held that death sentences based upon non-unanimous jury recommendations for death violated the Florida and federal constitutions. In January 2020, after dozens of death sentences had been overturned, the Florida Supreme Court receded from its decision in Hurst and applied that change in the law to pending cases. Prosecutors then attempted to cancel the penalty-phase trials and reinstate the death sentences of those prisoners who had not yet completed the resentencing process.

Rejecting the prosecutors’ position, the court stated that once an order vacating a death sentence has become final, “neither we nor the trial court can lawfully reinstate that sentence.”

NEWS (11/25/20) – Texas: The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has ruled that Geronimo Gutierrez is ineligible for the death penalty because of intellectual disability and has resentenced him to life imprisonment.

Gutierrez is one of numerous intellectually disabled death row prisoners in Texas whose claims of intellectual disability were initially rejected by the Texas courts under an unscientific and unconstitutional definition of the disorder that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down in Moore v. Texas in 2017. At least eight former death-row prisoners in Texas have since been resentenced to life after their cases were reconsidered under Moore. However, more than a dozen prisoners whose challenges to their death sentences were rejected under Texas’ unconstitutional definition of intellectual disability have already been executed.


David Ovalle, Florida Supreme Court won’t rein­state death penal­ty for killers once sen­tenced to exe­cu­tion, Miami Herald, November 27, 2020; Tom McLaughlin, Thomas Fletcher gets retire­ment plan’ he want­ed by being sen­tenced to die, Northwest Florida Daily News, November 25, 2020; WKRG Staff, Blackwater inmate sen­tenced to death for mur­der of cell­mate, WKRG, November 25, 2020; GateHouse Media staff report, Convicted killer judged guilty of sec­ond mur­der, Northwest Florida Daily News, August 302019.