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Florida Supremes to Hear Pensacola-Related Death Row Appeal

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Florida Dept. of Corrections
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Oral arguments are set for Thursday before the Florida Supreme Court, in the case that forced a sentencing change in the state’s death penalty procedure.

The case involves Timothy Lee Hurst, who was sentenced to death for the 1998 murder of a fast-food restaurant manager in Pensacola. In January, the U-S Supreme Court ruled that Florida’s method of imposing execution was unconstitutional – because it gave too much power to judges rather than juries.

Among those in the gallery watching the proceeding will be Bill Eddins, the State Attorney for the First Judicial Circuit – and whose office prosecuted the case.

“The Attorney General’s Office argues the death penalty cases that go on appeal,” Eddins said. “However, because of the importance of the Timothy Hurst case to this office individually, as well as to all the other death penalty cases pending in the First Circuit, I’m going to be present.”

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Hurst prompted the Florida Legislature to modify the death penalty sentencing law in this year’s session, which was quickly signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott. It requires a unanimous vote by a jury that there are aggravating circumstances, which make the defendant eligible for the death penalty.

“The second thing that changed is [the jury] must recommend that by a super-majority of 10-2 that the person receive the death penalty before the defendant is eligible to receive the death penalty. Then the judge will review all the facts and circumstances.”

If at that point the death penalty is not applicable, the judge can still impose life in prison without parole.

Thursday’s arguments before the state’s high court are expected to focus on Hurst’s contention that he should be given life without instead of facing execution, because he received his death sentence under what his attorneys call an “unconstitutional process.”

Calls to Public Defender Bruce Miller, whose office is representing Hurst, seeking an interview were not returned.

When that ruling comes down, how will that affect the other 390 or so inmates on Florida’s death row? Eddins believes all murder cases that have already been adjudicated should not be affected by that, or by the new law.

“That matter has been argued before the Florida Supreme Court, and they have not made a written ruling on that at this time,” said Eddins. “It appears that’s going to be a close decision.”

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.