Experts mull death penalty
By Francie Weinberg (4JM)
Bob Dekle, Teresa Reid and William Miller made up the panel of experts on Oct. 30 discussing the death penalty. The event was sponsored by the Criminal Law Association and Criminal Justice Center and the discussion was accompanied by pizza, wings and cookies.
Dekle, a UF Law legal skills professor and retired assistant state attorney, is a proponent of capital punishment. He famously prosecuted the case of serial murderer Ted Bundy in 1979. Miller, the chief assistant public defender of the 5th circuit is strongly against the death penalty. Reid, a death penalty law professor, acted as an intermediary between the two.
“I don’t tell my students my own personal viewpoint and I’m not going to tell you my own viewpoint today,” Reid said. “The death penalty is supposed to work as a deterrent and to provide retribution, but now those two twin aims need to be called into question.”
Students were free to submit questions ahead of time but the floor was open to any questions during the discussion. Queries ranged from the pros and cons of the death penalty to the Timely Justice Act and how much say a family has in the outcome of a death penalty case or what to do if a criminal wants the death penalty.
“I understand a victim’s family’s belief that they want retribution,” Miller said. “I think that’s the only possible justification of the death penalty. I don’t think any other argument holds water.”
Dekle almost always managed to point out the opposite end of the spectrum with blunt answers.
“Capital punishment gets rid of a lot of worthless people,” he said. “But it costs too much money and takes too much time.”
Miller countered, explaining that if the execution process was shortened, undeserving people would be killed.
“The average stay of the 143 exonerates from death row since 1973 has been more than 13 years,” he explained. “If we speed it up we’re going to kill innocent people. Those states where they have speeded it up already have.”
Reid’s goal of educating students about the death penalty from an unbiased perspective was achieved through the multitude of facts she offered including that a country cannot be a member of the European Union if they have the death penalty and that the death penalty is more expensive for taxpayers than life in prison.
The heavy subject had some lighter moments when Dekle and Miller finally agreed following answer after answer of intense back and forth.
The Timely Justice Act, passed by Florida Gov. Rick Scott this past June, sets a deadline of 30 days for the governor to sign a death warrant once an inmate’s appeals become final. Once the governor signs the warrant, the Timely Justice Act says the execution must occur within 180 days.
“I completely agree with you,” Miller said after a point Dekle made stating that the Timely Justice Act wasn’t designed to get tough on crime but rather to get tough on prosecutors. “I wasn’t expecting that to happen.”