After more than a year-and-a-half hiatus, Florida carried out an execution this week, putting to death a prisoner convicted of murdering two men in Jacksonville 30 years ago.
The delay was caused by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling and subsequent court decisions that forced Florida to overhaul its death-penalty sentencing system. Thursday's execution also was the first use of a new three-drug lethal injection procedure, which drew a legal challenge.
The execution of Mark James Asay occurred without incident, raising the possibility that the state could resume a more rapid pace of executions. There are still 360 prisoners on Florida's Death Row, with Dean Kilgore, a prisoner from Polk County, having been there the longest, at more than 46 years.
Meanwhile this week, the debate over Confederate monuments continued, with Gov. Rick Scott contending it will be up to the Legislature to decide whether to remove a memorial from the Capitol grounds.
Also, the Florida Senate lost one of its former members, when Greg Evers died Monday night in a single-vehicle accident near his home in Okaloosa County.
And three Democratic candidates for governor were united in their pledge to support legislation aimed at prohibiting workplace and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation.
FLORIDA RESUMES EXECUTIONS
Asay was executed Thursday evening after spending nearly three decades on Death Row. He was the state's first inmate to be put to death in more than 19 months and the first executed under a lethal-injection procedure never used before in Florida or any other state.
Asay's execution at Florida State Prison was the first since a January 2016 U.S. Supreme Court decision, in a case known as Hurst v. Florida, that effectively put the state's death penalty in limbo. He also was the first white man executed for killing a black victim in Florida.
The lack of complications with the previously untested lethal-injection procedure may have eased concerns about Florida's new three-drug protocol.
"The execution took place without incident," Department of Corrections spokeswoman Michelle Glady told reporters gathered in a staging area beside the prison. "Our objective with this is a humane and dignified process, which was done this evening."
Asay was convicted in 1988 of the shooting deaths of Robert Booker, who was black, and Robert McDowell.
Asay allegedly shot Booker after calling him a racial epithet. He then killed McDowell, who was dressed as a woman, after agreeing to pay him for oral sex. According to court documents, Asay --- who had white supremacist and swastika tattoos --- later told a friend that McDowell had previously cheated him out of money in a drug deal.
A MONUMENTAL UPROAR
The debate over Civil War monuments on public property continued, with Scott saying it's up to the Legislature to decide whether to remove a Confederate soldier memorial from the Capitol grounds.
Democratic gubernatorial candidates and the Florida NAACP are among a chorus of people calling for Scott to relocate the memorial outside the Old Capitol or to hold a special legislative session on the future of Confederate monuments on public property. The demands, at least in part, are a reaction to a white supremacist rally this month in Charlottesville, Va., that turned deadly.
“We've got a regular (legislative) session that starts in January, so that's just a few months away,” Scott told reporters after an Enterprise Florida board meeting in Fort Lauderdale.
The Confederate soldier memorial has stood outside the Old Capitol since 1882.
Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat expected to face an election challenge from Scott next year, tweeted Tuesday that “Confederate statues belong in a historical museum or cemetery, not in a place of honor.”
The corrective tweet came a day after the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported that Nelson said, “I think leaving it up to the good sense of the communities involved is the best thing to do."
And the debate stretched to the U.S. Capitol, with state Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, and state Rep. Patrick Henry, D-Daytona Beach, filing legislation to have the likeness of a civil rights leader and educator replace a Confederate general in the National Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C.
Thurston and Henry want Mary McLeod Bethune, who founded what is now Bethune-Cookman University, to replace Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby as one of Florida's two representative statutes in the national Capitol.
The legislation will be considered when lawmakers begin the 2018 session in January.
A PANHANDLE TRAGEDY
Tributes and condolences poured in this week from elected officials and others after reports that Evers had died Monday night.
“Ann and I are heartbroken to learn of the passing of Sen. Greg Evers,” Scott tweeted, referring to his wife, Ann. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his entire family.”
The Florida Highway Patrol said Evers, 62, failed to negotiate a curve on a road near Baker, with his pickup truck ending up submerged in a roadside creek where he was found Tuesday. Evers ran a farm that was well known for its strawberries.
“Greg passionately represented his district for many years in both the House and Senate,” Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said in a statement. “He was especially dedicated to the men and women of his community who were serving or had served in the military, as well as our fellow Floridians across the state who serve as corrections officers.”
A native of Milton, Evers, a Republican, served nine years in the Florida House before his election to the Senate in 2010. Evers left his Senate seat last year to make a bid for the U.S. House but lost the Republican primary to U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz.
Evers' funeral is scheduled for Tuesday in Milton.
Three Democratic candidates for governor pledged to support legislation that would prohibit discrimination in jobs and housing based on sexual orientation.
Despite support from the business community, the legislation, known as the “Competitive Workforce Act,” has stalled in the Legislature in recent years. Also, a call for Scott to use his executive power to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation in state agencies has gone unheeded.
“If you elect me governor, you won't have to wait any longer,” Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum told the LGBTA Democratic Caucus, which represents the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
“Florida is too big, too proud, too diverse a state for our politics to reflect an error of yesteryear, yesterdecade, yestercentury,” Gillum said during a caucus conference Saturday in Tallahassee.
Candidate Chris King, a Winter Park businessman, said passing the anti-discrimination law is morally and economically right for the state.
“I want to make sure everyone is comfortable here, everyone is safe here, everyone is protected here,” King said.
Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee said she would work to “stop discrimination in its tracks.”
“We're going to protect every Floridian, no matter what color their skin is, where they come from, or who they love,” Graham said.
All three candidates said, if elected in November 2018, they would sign an executive order banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in state agencies.
Two candidates talked about how ending discrimination was personal for them.
King talked about the discrimination faced by his older brother, David, growing up as a gay man in the South. He said his brother, who moved to California, took his own life at age 30 after battling depression and mental illness.
King said his brother's experience has compelled him to make anti-discrimination initiatives a centerpiece of his campaign and underscored the importance of speaking “with moral clarity on these issues.”
“I promise you I will,” King told the caucus. “I will give it my best shot.”
Gillum said his older brother, Terrance, faced similar discrimination as a young gay man in Gainesville, moving to California as soon as he could “so that he could live and be himself.”
Gillum said throughout his 15-year public career he has spoken out for LGBT issues.
“Not only because it's the right thing to do, but it was my little way of showing my big brother that I saw him,” he said.
STORY OF THE WEEK: Florida carried out its first execution since January 2016. Mark James Asay, convicted of killing two Jacksonville men in 1987, died by lethal injection Thursday evening.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Despite the university's sympathy for plaintiff and all of the students, employees and other members of the FSU community who were exposed to the shooting, it respectfully denies that it is liable in any sum or manner for the action of a madman,” Florida State University said in a court document, asking for the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by a former student who was paralyzed by a 2014 shooting at the university's Strozier Library.