Posted on Fri, Dec. 08, 2006
Supreme Court rejects appeals of killer set to die Wednesday
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The convicted killer of a Miami topless club manager remains set for execution next week after the Florida Supreme Court unanimously denied multiple appeals Friday.
The issues raised by Angel Diaz, 55, set to be executed Wednesday, included a challenge to Florida's method of lethal injection similar to arguments made earlier this year by three other death row inmates who all lost their appeals and were executed.
Each has argued that Florida's three-chemical method is unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment because it results in extreme pain that an inmate cannot express because one of the drugs is a paralyzing agent.
In an unsigned opinion, the justices rejected Diaz's claim of having discovered new information to support his lethal injection challenge. It really consisted of old data that recently had been reinterpreted to reach a "speculative" conclusion, the high court wrote.
The justices also turned aside a claim of new information on whether Diaz or an accomplice, Angel Toro, fatally shot Joseph Nagy while robbing the Velvet Swing in 1979. Toro received life in prison for second-degree murder as the result of a plea deal.
Diaz submitted a sworn statement from a jailhouse snitch, Ralph Gajus, saying that he had lied when he told the jury Diaz admitted to him that he was the shooter.
The Supreme Court, though, noted the recanted testimony was an issue in a prior appeal so it cannot be considered new. They also concluded the absence of Gajus' testimony probably would not have resulted in a life sentence, the only alternative to death for first-degree murder.
Florida law permits death sentences for those who participate in crimes that result in death regardless of who does the killing.
Diaz' lawyer, Suzanne Myers Keffer, did not immediately respond to a telephone message seeking comment.
"He asked me to express his thanks and asked that I let people know he is at peace," Osvaldo Burgos, executive director of the nonprofit Civil Rights Commission in Puerto Rico, said in a statement in Spanish.
"They have removed his things from his cell and have a guard watching him 24 hours a day. He also told me that since they announced his execution that they are treating him with dignity," Burgos said.
The Supreme Court also rejected Diaz's argument that he should not be executed because he is mentally ill.
Finally, the justices turned aside his claim that a law barring state lawyers who represent death row inmates from pursuing civil rights cases is unconstitutional because it has prevented his attorney from challenging the lethal injection method in federal court.
He misinterpreted a U.S. Supreme Court opinion earlier this year as permitting such challenges only through a civil rights law, the Florida justices decided.
They wrote the federal opinion also permits such challenges through another form of appeal known as "habeas corpus" that Diaz earlier had used in the federal courts. He could have included the lethal injection issue then but failed to do so, the justices wrote.
"Thus it was through his own lack of diligence that he missed the opportunity to challenge execution by lethal injection in a federal habeas action," the high court concluded.
Diaz's prior record includes a second-degree murder conviction in his native Puerto Rico and escapes there and in Connecticut.