||Susan M. Recinella, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and
Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed|
Perilously Close To Simple Murder
By: Dale Recinella
I always look forward to seeing him on my prison rounds.
He is bright, articulate and persistently cheerful. Even downright encouraging. As I approach his cell, there is the telltale pounding of sneakers against the cement floor.
“How ya doing?” I call out over the din of his daily multi-mile workout.
“Still here,” he banters back, wiping the sweat from hours of power walking in his six by nine foot cage. “But it’s good to see you. How’s your family?”
He’s been on Florida’s death row for almost a quarter century and has had more than one death warrant issued. From behind those beige bars he’s watched scores of inmates, guards and politicians come and go. But one thing has never changed. He has always insisted that he is innocent, that he was a victim of the crime. He has been fighting for years to get the courts to look at new evidence to prove his innocence. The courts say they can’t.
During our visits I take his hands in mine, offering a prayer in Jesus Christ’s name. His eyes are gentle. His words are deliberate, fervent. He prays for our families, for men on the row who are sick or away at court, for the staff and administration, and for God’s hand to move and the truth to be revealed.
I find myself wondering how any human being could spend so long under such conditions in total innocence without being consumed by rancor. But there’s not a trace.
At first I was incredulous. With the media reports and politicians’ claims of endless death row appeals, I was sure that no one who was really innocent could be on death row. Now, after researching the facts, I’m ashamed at what I and most lawyers, let alone laymen, don’t know about how the death penalty really works in Florida and in America.
I found out that our constitutional law on the death penalty has evolved as a system of procedures. Soon after the trial and penalty phase of a case are concluded, review by the courts becomes severely limited. Mostly the courts only determine if proper procedures were followed. Consequently, even astounding evidence of innocence can be difficult or nearly impossible to review judicially shortly after the original trial is concluded.
Also, once a conviction is obtained, the prosecutor’s job is to protect the conviction from appeals. No one on the State side is worried about whether or not we got the right man. Consequently, most people who have come off death row because of innocence have done so in spite of the criminal justice system.
Since 1973, Florida has had more people found innocent on death row than any other state. One man was on Florida’s death row for 21 years before it was shown that the woman who had “tipped” the police about him had committed the murders herself!
When our U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear evidence of innocence in death penalty cases, one Supreme Court Justice, a longtime death penalty proponent who finally gave up on capital punishment, wrote despairingly: “The execution of a person who can prove he is innocent comes perilously close to simple murder.”
The more I learned, the more I found myself deeply shaken by the reality of my friend’s predicament. He must have sensed it. After one of our prayers, he continued to clutch my hand.
“I am innocent,” he smiled gently. “Don’t worry; I’m in God’s hands.”
“Fine for you!” my thoughts cringed, “But what about us? Do we dare to put ourselves in God’s hands? Are we innocent of simple murder?”
First published: The Florida Catholic, January 6, 2000
© 2000 Dale S. Recinella & The Florida Catholic.
Used with permission. All rights reserved.
No further reproduction or republication without prior written permission.
I Was In Prison
News & Updates
This ezine is targeted for people involved in prison ministry or in stopping the death penalty, we think you will find helpful information for people who are undecided about capital punishment, for those who have never experienced the inside of a jail or prison, and for those who feel called to participate through prayer and adoration.
Your name and information will never be used or shared with anyone. We promise!
Dale S. Recinella
, Catholic Lay Chaplain, Florida Death Row and Solitary Confinement
Susan M. Recinella
, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and
Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed