Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Death Row inmate fights state law

Posted on Wed, Dec. 06, 2006


Death Row inmate fights state law

Florida justices ordered the state to respond today to a Death Row inmate's argument that state law unconstitutionally bars a federal lawsuit challenging lethal injection.

Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE - Lawyers for a Death Row inmate set for execution next week claimed in an appeal Tuesday that a Florida law is unconstitutional because it bars them from challenging the lethal injection procedure in federal court.

It is the latest appeal Angel Diaz has before the Florida Supreme Court. Another argues he should get a life sentence because that's what another defendant received for the fatal shooting of a Miami topless club manager in 1979.

Diaz is scheduled to die Dec. 13.

The Supreme Court previously ruled a state law prohibits lawyers from the state's Capital Collateral Regional Counsel offices from representing Death Row inmates in civil rights cases, wrote one of his lawyers, Suzanne Myers Keffer.

That violates his due process rights, contended Keffer, who works for the Capital Collateral office covering South Florida.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this year in another Florida case that Death Row inmates can challenge execution methods in federal court but only under a civil rights law.


''Counsel for Mr. Diaz is now statutorily precluded from raising a challenge to the manner of his execution through the only means Mr. Diaz has at this point for presenting such a challenge in federal court,'' Keffer wrote.

The Florida justices ordered the state to respond today.

The U.S. Supreme Court made its ruling in the case of Clarence Hill, convicted of fatally shooting a Pensacola police officer.

Hill had a private lawyer who then challenged the state's lethal injection method in the federal courts. They refused to hear the challenge, ruling it should have been filed earlier. Hill was executed Sept. 20.


Since then, two other Florida killers have made the same argument. They also lost and were executed.

Keffer contends in another appeal that Diaz is entitled to a life sentence because that's what codefendant Angel Toro received for second-degree murder in a plea deal.

The Supreme Court previously rejected that argument, but Keffer argues that was before new information was obtained recently -- a sworn statement from jailhouse informant Ralph Gajus.

In the statement, Gajus recanted his trial testimony that Diaz, who spoke poor English, admitted he was the shooter through hand signs.


Gajus said he lied on the stand because he was angry with Diaz about leaving him out of an escape plan, and police had promised to help him with his case in return for his testimony.

Gajus later was sentenced to 20 years for second-degree murder.

His was the only testimony implying Diaz was the shooter. Other testimony suggested it was Toro.

Circuit Judge Amy Steel Donner rejected Diaz's argument Friday and Keffer appealed to the Supreme Court on Monday. The state responded Tuesday, arguing he cannot make that argument now because the high court previously rejected it.

Diaz's record includes a murder in his native Puerto Rico and escapes from prisons there and in Connecticut.

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