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Supreme Court rejects 10 death penalty appeals

The Florida Supreme Court on Monday rejected appeals by 10 Death Row inmates, including a man scheduled to be executed Feb. 22 in the 1993 slaying of a University of West Florida student.

The Supreme Court’s release of 10 nearly identical rulings at the same time was a somewhat-unusual move. But each of the cases involved inmates challenging their death sentences because juries did not unanimously recommend execution.

The appeals were rooted in a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a case known as Hurst v. Florida and a subsequent Florida Supreme Court decision. The 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling found Florida’s death-penalty sentencing system was unconstitutional because it gave too much authority to judges, instead of juries. The subsequent Florida Supreme Court ruling said juries must unanimously agree on critical findings before judges can impose death sentences and must unanimously recommend the death penalty.

But the Florida Supreme Court made the new sentencing requirements apply to cases since 2002. That is when the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling known as Ring v. Arizona that was a premise for striking down Florida’s death-penalty sentencing system in 2016.

In each of the cases Monday, the Death Row inmates had been sentenced to death before the Ring decision and argued that the jury-unanimity requirements should also apply to their cases.

The inmates included Eric Scott Branch, who was scheduled Friday by Gov. Rick Scott to be executed Feb. 22. The other inmates were Pressley Bernard Alston in a Duval County case; Kayle Barrington Bates in a Bay County case; Donald Bradley in a Clay County case; Marvin Burnett Jones in a Duval County case; Daniel Jon Peterka in an Okaloosa County case; Harry Franklin Phillips in a Miami-Dade County case; Jason Demetrius Stephens in a Duval County case; Ernest D. Suggs in a Walton County case; and Frank A. Walls in an Okaloosa County case.

The News Service of Florida provides journalists, lobbyists, government officials and other civic leaders with comprehensive, objective information about the activities of state government year-round.

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