Timely Justice Act Not Timely Enough for Death Row Inmate
STARKE -- Meet Ricardo Gill.
He’s been an inmate on Florida’s Death Row for a little more than 7 and a half years. He's also threatened to kill Gov. Rick Scott's wife because he wants to be executed immediately.
Gill has qualified for execution for more than 2 years. He believes the Timely Justice Act, enacted last year, requires the governor to have already signed his death warrant—and he has been writing the governor insulting letters laced with expletives twice weekly telling him so.
“If you have a real heart and know how to do your job, you will sign my death warrant!” Gill wrote in his first letter. “Charlie Crist is 7% up on you, don’t let it get to be double or triple because you’re scared.”
Scott signed the Timely Justice Act of 2013 into law in June to speed up the death penalty appeals process. It sets deadlines for convicted killers to file appeals, and for the state to proceed with issuing warrants after the Florida Supreme Court upholds their sentences.
Gill believes it requires the governor to sign his death warrant within 30 days of receiving certification from the Florida Supreme Court that he qualified for a warrant.
“Within 30 days after receiving the letter of certification from the clerk of the Florida Supreme Court, the Governor shall issue a warrant for execution if the executive clemency process has concluded,” the law reads.
Scott received the letter certifying Gill and 131 other Death Row inmates for execution on Oct. 4. The governor has only signed 4 of their death warrants since.
Gill thinks every one of those days has been a waste of taxpayer money. According to a staff analysis of the Timely Justice Act, each day Gill stays on Death Row comes at a cost of $61.53 to taxpayers.
The current average time spent from sentencing to execution is 13 years, meaning Gill has a little more than 5 years (1,967 days) to go. The remainder of Gill’s sentence will cost taxpayers at least $121,029.51, using that average.
“Stop wasting precious money and sign it,” Gill wrote in his next letter. “If not, you’re pure [expletive] and will lose your next election!”
Gill first became incarcerated in 2001. He’s been convicted of murder twice—first, for fatally beating and stabbing Gainesville travel agent Beverley Moore in 1999.
He pleaded guilty in that case and requested the death penalty, telling Circuit Court Judge Stan Morris at his sentencing hearing that he’d rather be killed for a crime he didn’t commit than spend the rest of his life in prison.
"Don‘t make the next judge do the job you should have done!" wrote Gill in a letter to Morris roughly a year before his sentencing.
Morris denied Gill's request, citing his mental health history, and instead sentenced him to life in prison in 2001.
Four days later, Gill strangled his cellmate Orlando Rosello—who was serving a 20-month prison sentence for car theft—with a torn bed sheet.
Gill pleaded guilty to murdering Rosello in 2005. At a hearing, he told Circuit Court Judge Robert Cates to sentence him to death or expect another person to die. Cates obliged.
In June 2011, Gill appeared in trial court to stop all of his appeals and fire his attorney—as well as be deemed competent to receive the death penalty.
For more than 2 years, Gill has been waiting for Scott to sign the death warrant he’s been seeking since his first murder conviction in 2001.
He didn’t have hope that it’d be anytime soon until last June when he read Scott had signed the Timely Justice Act into law.
Gill believes that law guaranteed a death warrant within 30 days of the governor receiving that letter certifying which death row inmates are warrant-ready.
Scott received that letter containing 132 names on Oct. 4 last year. Fifty-one days passed, but Gill’s death warrant never came.
That doesn't come as a surprise to Bob Deckle, a UF law professor. He said that following Gill's logic would mean that Scott would've had to sign 132 death warrants by Nov. 4 last year, leaving only 180 days to execute all of them.
"If the governor signed all 132, then 129 of them wouldn't want to die and would pull out all the legal stops to prevent their execution. There aren't enough people in the Attorney General's office to handle that many cases," said Deckle.
He said the Legisature often passes bills that sound good but are difficult to execute.
"Enforcing the Timely Justice Act that way is like asking the governor to fit 11 ounces of perfume into a 10-ounce bottle," he said. "It just can't be done."
So when no death warrant came, Gill began writing the governor two taunting letters a week, hoping to irk him into signing his death warrant.
As the weeks went on, the tone of Gill’s handwritten letters became darker and more frustrated. The Florida Department of Corrections disciplined him for the letter in which he threatened to kill the governor’s wife.
Gill set a deadline of Dec. 20 for the governor to sign his death warrant in his letters—and when his deadline passed with no death warrant, he turned to the courts.
On Jan. 13, Gill petitioned the state Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus order requiring the governor “to uphold the ‘Timely Justice Act of 2013’ he sought implemented” and thus sign his death warrant.
“Petitioner has diligently sought the death warrant signed by writing Rick Scott threatening letters, including threatening his wife’s life,” wrote Gill in his petition for a writ of mandamus.
Writs of mandamus are used to compel a public official perform a “ministerial duty,” which the law defines as an “official duty of a public officer wherein the officer has no room for the exercise of discretion.”
Deckle says signing a death warrant, however, does not qualify as a ministerial duty, since the governor is allowed to grant any death row inmate clemency and that requires discretion.
The Court denied Gill’s request for mandamus without issuing an opinion on Jan. 23.
Now all that’s left for Gill to do is wait for his death with or without a warrant. He’s been without an appeal or an attorney for more than 2 years.
There was a brouhaha among death penalty opponents when the Timely Justice Act passed the Legislature. The New York Times wrote an editorial denouncing the bill for its potential to send innocent men and women to their doom before DNA evidence could exonerate them.
"Only God can judge," said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Okaloosa, before voting in favor of the bill. "But we sure can set up the meeting."
For Ricky Gill, however, justice under the new law couldn’t be less timely.
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