Executed October 2, 2002 by Lethal Injection in Florida
H / M / 27 - 43 H / F / 11
55th murderer executed in U.S. in 2002
804th murderer executed in U.S. since 1976
1st murderer executed in Florida in 2002
52nd murderer executed in Florida since 1976
(Race/Sex/Age at Murder-Execution)
(Race/Sex/Age at Murder)
Katixa "Kathy" Ecenarro
A Cuban immigrant who came to Florida in the 1980 Mariel boatlift, Sanchez-Velasco was convicted of the 1986 rape and murder of 11-year-old Katixa "Kathy" Ecenarro, the daughter of his live-in girlfriend. He confessed to the crime but later recanted. In 1995, he stabbed to death two of his fellow Death Row inmates, Edward Kaprat and Charles Street, and was given two 15-year sentences for the killings. Sanchez-Velasco had been trying since 1994 to drop his appeals and quicken the pace of his execution. After the execution, Sanchez-Velasco's attorney, Craig DeThomasis of Gainesville, presented reporters with a statement Sanchez-Velasco had written that morning - a statement in which he denied killing Ecenarro but admitted committing other murders, an apparent reference to the two 1995 prison killings.
H / M / 27 - 43
H / F / 11
Sanchez-Velasco v. State, 570 So. 2d 908 (Fla. 1990).
Sanchez-Velasco v. State, 702 So. 2d 224 (Fla. 1997).
Sanchez v. Wilson, 639 So. 2d 980 (Fla. 1994).
Sanchez-Velasco v. Secretary, (11th Cir. April 2, 2002)
Chicken fried rice, fish filets, avocado salad and cheesecake.
"I love you, everybody."
Florida Department of Corrections
Governor Jeb Bush ordered the execution of death row inmate Rigoberto Sanchez Velasco, who was condemned for the 1986 murder of a Hialeah girl. Sanchez, who has dropped his appeals, was scheduled to be executed on Oct. 2. Sanchez, 43, is condemned for the murder of 11-year-old Katixa "Kathy" Ecenarro, who was raped and strangled in her home 16 years ago. Sanchez later killed 2 fellow inmates and has been fighting to drop his appeals for more than 7 years. In arguing against pursing a federal appeal, Sanchez told his judge: "I hate people. I don't like them. I want to kill people. You understand?" Sanchez was part of the boatlift from Mariel, Cuba, in 1980 and was sent to jail for a 1982 burglary and grand theft in Broward County.
UPDATE: Sanchez-Velasco was visited in the hours before his execution by a brother, two nephews and a priest. ''I love you, everybody,'' Sanchez-Velasco said after he was strapped to the execution table. His mouth trembled slightly before the execution began at 9:31 a.m.
The Lamp of Hope
"Man Executed for Rape-Murder of 11-year-old." (AP 10-03-02)
STARKE -- A man condemned for raping and killing an 11-year-old girl and later convicted in the murders of two fellow death row inmates was executed Wednesday, several years after dropping his appeals. Rigoberto Sanchez-Velasco, 43, had been declared competent to make that decision by a state judge, a federal judge and, most recently, three state-appointed psychiatrists who interviewed him Tuesday.
The family of Katixa "Kathy" Ecenarro, the Hialeah girl Sanchez-Velasco raped and strangled in December 1986, witnessed the nine-minute execution by lethal injection. "They were nine long minutes, but justice was done," said Celia Ecenarro, stepmother of the child. "She was a nice little girl. … The thing that is always in my mind is how innocent she was."
Police said Sanchez-Velasco confessed to Kathy's murder after his arrest and also admitted the killing during his trial for her death. But Wednesday, he denied it in a statement issued by his lawyer after the execution. "I did not commit the crime for which I will die. It does not matter who believes me and who won't believe me," the statement said. "I cannot call myself totally innocent because I have committed all kinds of sins, including murder. I am receiving my punishment and I am proud to receive my punishment for those lives I have taken." The statement was written by Sanchez-Velasco during the night and handed to a Roman Catholic priest who was among his final death row visitors, said the lawyer, Craig DeThomasis of Gainesville.
DeThomasis said he didn't think Sanchez-Velasco had previously gone public with the denial, and he said he himself wasn't sure what to make of it. "I don't know that there is a case to be made, that there was an innocent man who is executed," DeThomasis said. Ecenarro, who came from Spain with her husband to witness the execution, called his final statement "foolish."
Sanchez-Velasco appeared calm during the execution. "I love you, everybody," he said after being strapped in. "He was at peace with his decision" to drop the appeals, DeThomasis said.
Gov. Jeb Bush issued temporary stays Monday for Sanchez-Velasco and serial killer Aileen Wuornos, who has also dropped all appeals and is set for execution Oct. 9, after questions were raised about their competency. The stay for Sanches-Velasco was lifted Tuesday after an exam by the three-member psychiatric panel. Bush lifted the stay for Wuornos later Wednesday after a similar panel found her competent.
Sanchez-Velasco was sentenced in 1988 for the murder of the Hialeah girl. In 1995, he was convicted of fatally stabbing fellow death row inmates Edward B. "Mike" Kaprat III and Charles Street, and was given two 15-year sentences. Susan Cary, a Gainesville attorney who works with death row inmates, said Wednesday's execution and the scheduled death of Wuornos were political moves by the governor. "These are the only two people he could have hoped to kill by November," she said. Bush faces a re-election vote Nov. 5.
The governor denied that politics were involved. "The mother of the 11 year-old child that was raped and murdered, think of her for a moment, think about her family," he said. "I hope they get closure on this now. I put greater weight on that than all this talk about politics." Sanchez-Velasco, who came to Miami from Cuba in the 1980 Mariel boatlift, was the 52nd person executed in Florida since the state resumed executions in 1976.
Florida has executed 247 inmates since 1924.
St. Petersburg Times
October 3, 2002 - "Cuban Refugee Executed; Police say he confessed to raping and killing an 11-year-old girl, but Rigoberto Sanchez-Velasco denied it just before his death sentence was carried out," by Jamie Jones.
STARKE -- In the end, Rigoberto Sanchez-Velasco admitted he was a murderer and said he was ready to die for his crimes. But not for the one for which he was strapped to a gurney at the Florida State Prison and executed Wednesday. The 43-year-old Cuban refugee insisted he did not rape and strangle 11-year-old Katixa "Kathy" Ecenarro of Hialeah in 1986, though police say he confessed. "It does not matter who believes me and who won't believe me," Sanchez-Velasco said in a statement released after his execution. "I cannot call myself totally innocent because I have committed all kinds of sins, including murder."
Sanchez-Velasco was pronounced dead at 9:39 a.m. It was the state's execution since January 2001.
The execution happened four weeks before the Nov. 5 election, a fact that prompted death penalty opponents to accuse Bush of playing politics. "This is a sideshow to the election," said Abe Bonowitz, director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. But Bush said Sanchez-Velasco deserved to die for his crimes and that further delays would be irresponsible. "There was a mother of the 11-year-old child who was raped and murdered," Bush said. "Think about her for a moment. Think about her family. I hope they get closure on this thing."
Katixa's stepmother traveled from Spain to witness the execution. "They were nine long minutes, but justice was done," said Celia Ecenarro. "And that is the truth. Justice was done. I don't think he realized the amount of pain he caused."
Sanchez-Velasco also was convicted of killing two fellow death row inmates, Edwin "Mike" Kaprat III, a Hernando County serial killer, and Charles Street, a convicted cop killer. Sanchez-Velasco had dropped his appeals, the state's fifth inmate to volunteer for death since 1987.
Wednesday's execution took place after Sanchez-Velasco had been declared competent by three state-appointed psychiatrists who interviewed him Tuesday. Bush then lifted an execution stay he had issued a day earlier. On Wednesday, Bush also lifted a stay he had imposed for the execution of serial killer Aileen Wuornos after questions were raised about their competency. Wuornos, who also has dropped her appeals, is scheduled for execution next Wednesday.
Inside a small room at the prison, brown curtains opened at 9:31 a.m. Sanchez-Velasco lay quietly on a gurney, his new navy dress pants hidden beneath a white sheet. He looked out at the 26 people there to witness his execution. "Thank you," he mouthed to the two people who wished him well, Father Fred Ruse and Craig DeThomasis, his former attorney.
At 9:30 the night before, Sanchez-Velasco ate his last meal -- chicken fried rice, fish filets, avocado salad and cheesecake. After dinner, he met with his brother and two nephews. He watched television from his cell and slept for 45 minutes. He asked for Ruse, of St. Matthews Catholic Church in Winter Haven, who arrived at 3:30 a.m. Sanchez-Velasco refused a Valium before the execution.
His last words were: "I love you, everybody." As chemicals flowed, Sanchez-Velasco blinked his eyes and his feet twitched. After several minutes, his eyes began to close, and two doctors pronounced him dead. DeThomasis of Gainesville said he didn't think Sanchez-Velasco had denied the murder publicly before and wasn't sure what to make of it. "I don't know that there is a case to be made, that there was an innocent man who is executed," DeThomasis said.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
The Gainesville Sun
October 3, 2002 - "Inmate's Statement Admits to Killings," by Tim Lockette.
STARKE - To the end, Rigoberto Sanchez-Velasco denied committing the crime that earned him the death penalty. But before he was executed Wednesday morning at Florida State Prison, he wrote a statement apparently confessing to two prison killings committed after he was on Death Row. "I cannot call myself innocent because I have committed all kinds of sins, including murder," Sanchez-Velasco wrote. "I am receiving my punishment and am proud to receive punishment for the lives I have taken."
Sanchez-Velasco, 43, died by lethal injection at the prison shortly after 9:30 a.m., years after he first tried to drop his appeals and speed his own execution. A Cuban immigrant who came to Florida in the 1980 Mariel boatlift, Sanchez-Velasco was convicted in 1988 for the 1986 rape and murder of 11-year-old Katixa "Kathy" Ecenarro, the daughter of his live-in girlfriend. He confessed to the crime but later recanted.
In 1995, he stabbed to death two of his fellow Death Row inmates, Edward Kaprat and Charles Street, and was given two 15-year sentences for the killings. Sanchez-Velasco had been trying since 1994 to drop his appeals and quicken the pace of his execution. After the execution, Sanchez-Velasco's attorney, Craig DeThomasis of Gainesville, presented reporters with a statement Sanchez-Velasco had written that morning - a statement in which he denied killing Ecenarro but admitted committing other murders, an apparent reference to the two 1995 prison killings. DeThomasis, who defended Sanchez-Velasco in his trial for those killings, said his client killed Kaprat and Street in self-defense after being attacked by the prisoners.
Death penalty opponents said Sanchez-Velasco wasn't mentally competent to fire his lawyers, and an Ohio woman asked the Supreme Court on Monday to let her file an appeal on his behalf. Gov. Jeb Bush imposed a temporary stay of execution Monday, but lifted it after a panel of psychiatrists ruled Sanchez-Velasco was competent.
Prison officials say Sanchez-Velasco slept only 45 minutes on the night before his execution, spending much of the morning in consultations with a Catholic priest from Winter Haven and two prison chaplains. He appeared calm but red-eyed before his execution, which began at 9:31 a.m. Strapped onto a gurney, wearing the prison-issue white shirt and blue pants, Sanchez-Velasco mouthed the words, "I love you" to his priest and DeThomasis. "I love you, everybody," Sanchez-Velasco said when asked for his last statement. His eyes closed slightly after the execution began. He was pronounced dead at 9:39 a.m.
Ecenarro's stepmother, Celia Ecenarro, told The Associated Press that she considered Sanchez-Velasco's remarks "foolish." "They were nine long minutes but justice was done," she said. "And that is the truth. Justice was done. I don't think he realized the amount of pain he caused."
He was the 52nd person executed in Florida since the state resumed the death penalty in 1976 and the eighth to die from lethal injection. Florida has executed 247 inmates since 1924.
DeThomasis said that honoring Sanchez-Velasco's decision to file no more appeals was "as difficult a thing I have had to do in law in 20 years." "I think one of my students fresh out law school could have filed a writ to stop this process," he said. Susan Cary, a Gainesville death penalty opponent who knew Sanchez-Velasco, said the inmate used the justice system to commit suicide. "He was a person who was very tormented, who felt he had no reason to live," she said.
Cary was one of about two dozen death penalty opponents who picketed in a field across the road from the prison. No death penalty supporters picketed at the event. Activists at the protest said turnout for the gathering was lower than usual - due partly to the fact that the execution was scheduled during the workday. But prison officials say they expect to see a large number of activists on both sides of the death penalty issue next week when Aileen Wuornos, 46, one of the nation's first female serial killers, is scheduled for execution. Like Sanchez-Velasco, she refused to appeal her execution and was evaluated by psychiatrists earlier this week. Wuornos was found mentally competent, the governor's office announced Wednesday afternoon.
"Sanchez-Velasco executed for 1986 slaying in Miami-Dade." (AP) STARKE, Fla. - A man who killed an 11-year-old girl and two fellow death row inmates was executed Wednesday after he dropped his appeals and volunteered to die.
Rigoberto Sanchez-Velasco, 43, had been declared competent to make that decision Tuesday after he was examined by three state-appointed psychiatrists. He was pronounced dead from lethal injection at 9:39 a.m., said Katie Muniz, spokeswoman for Gov. Jeb Bush. After the psychiatrists' examination, Bush lifted a stay of execution he had issued one day earlier. Bush had issued stays for Sanchez-Velasco and serial killer Aileen Wuornos when an attorney argued that Wuornos wasn't competent to drop her appeals.
Death penalty opponents said allowing the inmates to drop their appeals is equivalent to state-assisted suicide. Dianne Abshire, a member of the Florida Support Group, which supplies emotional support to Florida death row inmates, has said both Wuornos and Sanchez-Velasco are insane.
The death warrants for Wuornos and Sanchez-Velasco were signed while the state Supreme Court continued to review whether a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in an Arizona case would apply to Florida's 369 death row inmates. The high court ruled that only juries and not judges can sentence inmates to death. In Florida, juries make a recommendation to the trial judge, who imposed the sentence.
Sanchez-Velasco was visited in the hours before his execution by a brother, two nephews and a priest. ''I love you, everybody,'' Sanchez-Velasco said after he was strapped to the execution table. His mouth trembled slightly before the execution began at 9:31 a.m.
He was sentenced to death in 1988 after confessing to the slaying of Katixa ''Kathy'' Ecenarro, the 11-year-old daughter of his live-in girlfriend in Hialeah, near Miami. While in prison awaiting execution, Sanchez-Velasco was convicted in the 1995 stabbing deaths of two other death row inmates -- Edward B. ''Mike'' Kaprat III and Charles Street. He was given two 15-year sentences.
A psychiatric exam conducted Tuesday by doctors ruled Sanchez-Velasco ``has no major psychiatric illness and understands the nature and effect of the death penalty and why it is being imposed upon him.'' Sanchez-Velasco was very calm and answered all the questions put to him by the psychiatrists, said Baya Harrison III, a lawyer appointed to represent the inmate. ''He made it very clear to me that his mind is made up,'' Harrison said. ``He was very coherent. He was cogent. He was courteous. He instructed me not to interfere with his execution.''
Sanchez-Velasco had argued in a handwritten filing with the Florida Supreme Court that he was legally convicted and wants to die. ''I have killed people repeatedly, repeatedly, repeatedly, even while being on death row,'' Sanchez-Velasco wrote.
Sanchez-Velasco, who came to Miami from his native Cuba in the 1980 Mariel boatlift, was the 52nd person executed in Florida since the state resumed executions in 1976 and the eighth to die from lethal injection. Florida has executed 246 inmates since 1924.
Wuornos' execution, scheduled for Oct. 9, was temporarily stayed Monday in the wake of allegations by a Fort Lauderdale attorney that Wuornos wasn't competent to drop her appeals. Wuornos, 46, one of the nation's first known female serial killers, was convicted of fatally shooting six middle-aged men along Florida highways in 1989 and 1990. Her story has been portrayed in two movies, three books and an opera.
October 2, 2002 - "Gov. Bush Lifts Stay for Condemned Man" (AP)
TALLAHASSEE (AP) -- Gov. Jeb Bush lifted a stay of execution Tuesday for a convicted murderer after a panel of psychiatrists concluded the man is mentally competent. The execution of triple killer Rigoberto Sanchez-Velasco was again set for Wednesday. Sanchez-Velasco, who was condemned for the 1986 murder of an 11-year-old girl and convicted in the deaths of two fellow inmates while in prison, had dropped his appeals.
Bush signed the stay Monday after an Ohio woman asked the Florida Supreme Court to let her appeal on the condemned man's behalf. The state Supreme Court rejected the woman's request. Three psychiatrists interviewed Sanchez-Velasco early Tuesday and reported to the governor he was competent. Under Florida law, the standard for competency is understanding that execution will result in death and why the sentence is being imposed.
The governor also issued a temporary stay Monday of the execution of serial killer Aileen Wuornos on Oct. 9 after an attorney argued that Wuornos wasn't competent to drop her appeals. Wuornos, one of the nation's first known female serial killers, was convicted of fatally shooting six middle-aged men along Florida highways in 1989 and 1990. Her story has been portrayed in two movies, three books and an opera.
Death penalty opponents say allowing the inmates to drop their appeals is equivalent to state-assisted suicide. Dianne Abshire, a member of the Florida Support Group, which supplies emotional support to Florida death row inmates, has said both Wuornos and Sanchez-Velasco are insane.
Sanchez-Velasco, 43, came to Miami from Cuba in the 1980 Mariel boatlift. He was sentenced to death for the murder of the 11-year-old daughter of his live-in girlfriend. In 1995, he fatally stabbed two other death row inmates.
Bush said in a statement Tuesday that "justice will finally be served."
Sanchez-Velasco v. Secretary (11th Circuit Court of Appeals 2002)
Rigoberto Sanchez-Velasco is a Florida death row inmate. He is under sentence of death for the brutal rape and murder of an eleven year old girl who had been left in his care by her mother. While on death row for that crime, he has murdered two inmates. As he explained to the district court in this proceeding: "I hate people, I don't like them, I want to kill people. You understand?" When asked by an interviewer how he made the shank he used to kill his two fellow inmates he declined to tell, explaining that he plans to make more shanks to use against other inmates in the future. Professing that he will kill or attempt to kill again in the future, Sanchez-Velasco insists that he wants his death sentence to be carried out.
December 6, 1997 - FLORIDA:
A death row inmate pressing Gov. Lawton Chiles to send him to the electric chair for raping and strangling an 11-year-old girl can refuse a lawyer and drop his appeals, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
"Firing his attorney and skipping appeals must be knowing, intelligent and voluntary" decisions, but Rigoberto Sanchez-Velasco, 38, of Hialeah met those requirements, the court said.
Even before his trial, Sanchez-Velasco told police when he confessed to the 1986 slaying that he would rather be executed than "rot in jail."
Although the Florida Supreme Court ruled in favor of Sanchez-Velasco, his court-appointed attorney, Michael Bowen, said he will try to talk the inmate into appealing the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Without an appeal, Bowen said that "the next step would be for the governor to sign a death warrant." Chiles had not decided how to proceed. "This is a highly unusual case that the governor will have to review and then move appropriately," spokesman Ryan Banfil said. "I don't think it would be responsible to give up," said Bowen, although he admitted he did not know if Sanchez-Velasco would speak with him. "I do not know if he will talk to me. He does not want me to represent him."
At a 1996 hearing on whether he could dismiss the attorney, Sanchez- Velasco referred to Bowen as his enemy and asked the judge to force him to stay at a distance "before a misfortune could take place."
Sanchez-Velasco, who came to Miami-Dade County from Cuba in the 1980 Mariel boatlift, was sentenced to death for the slaying, on Dec. 12, 1986, of the daughter of his live-in girlfriend, Marta Molina. The girl's body was found at Molina's apartment. A medical examination indicated that she had been raped and strangled. Sanchez-Velasco was gone, and gold chains and a fur coat were missing. When police apprehended him and questioned him, Sanchez-Velasco confessed to robbery, rape and murder. He was convicted and sentenced to death in 1988. The state Supreme Court upheld the sentence and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review it.
Sanchez-Velasco made several attempts to end further appeals, including court motions and 3 letters to Chiles in 1994 and 1995 seeking to waive the appeals and have his death warrant signed. "It's my right to represent myself and to withdraw my...motion," he told a judge in 1996. "It's my own will, and I'm competent to make my own decisions."
Bowen persisted "because I was the only game in town," he said. "Had I not pursued it, this appeal would have lapsed and he presumably would have been scheduled for execution a long time ago." He told the court that Sanchez-Velasco's inconsistent arguments proved he was not competent to represent himself. While demanding to dismiss Bowen for ineffectiveness in pressing his appeal, he also demanded to withdraw the appeal, the attorney said.
"We find that, to the extent such a contradiction may exist, it does not in and of itself lead us to doubt Sanchez-Velasco's competence in the face of at least 10 evaluations determining him to be competent," the justices wrote. "We...find no reasonable basis for any doubt concerning Sanchez-Velasco's competency to dismiss his attorney and withdraw his post-conviction motion."
Sanchez-Velasco v. State of Florida (December 4, 1997)
Michael Bowen, special appointed post-conviction counsel for Rigoberto Sanchez-Velasco, files this appeal of the trial court's order discharging Bowen and dismissing Sanchez-Velasco's Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.850 challenge. We have jurisdiction. Art. V, § 3(b)(1), (7), Fla. Const. For the reasons expressed, we affirm the order of the trial court. In so holding, we do not mean to imply any improper conduct or ineffective assistance by Bowen as pro bono counsel in this matter. It is clear he has proceeded in an ethical and professional manner in his representation of Sanchez-Velasco.
A thorough discussion of the underlying facts of this case is contained in Sanchez-Velasco v. State, 570 So. 2d 908 (Fla. 1990), cert. denied, 500 U.S. 929 (1991). In summary, Sanchez-Velasco resided with Marta Molina in Hialeah. On December 12, 1986, Molina left her eleven-year-old daughter in the care of Sanchez-Velasco. Molina returned home from work that evening to find that her daughter had been murdered. Sanchez-Velasco was not at the apartment. The victim's face was swollen, and she was naked and bleeding from her vagina. A medical examination concluded that the victim was raped and that strangulation was the cause of her death. Missing from Molina's apartment were the victim's gold chains, her identification bracelet, and Molina's fur coat. Sanchez-Velasco was located by the police and questioned about the murder. Following proper Miranda warnings, Sanchez-Velasco confessed to robbery, rape, and murder. Sanchez-Velasco also remarked that he would prefer to be executed immediately rather than "rot in jail." The jury found Sanchez-Velasco guilty of first-degree murder, sexual battery of a victim under twelve years of age, and theft as a lesser included offense of grand theft. Upon the conclusion of the penalty phase, the jury recommended the death penalty by a vote of eight to four, and the judge imposed a sentence of death for the first-degree murder conviction.
In his sentencing order, the trial judge found the following two aggravating circumstances: (1) the capital felony was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel, and (2) the capital felony was committed while the defendant was engaged in the commission of a sexual battery. The judge found no statutory or nonstatutory mitigating circumstances. The judge explained in his order why he did not find Sanchez-Velasco's mental condition to be a mitigating circumstance. Following his trial, this Court affirmed the convictions and death sentence and the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari review.
Sanchez-Velasco's competency to stand trial and waive certain rights was evaluated numerous times during the proceedings below. A pretrial mental health examination demonstrated that Sanchez-Velasco was competent at the time of the crime and competent to stand trial. A competency evaluation ordered by the trial judge during the trial again demonstrated that Sanchez-Velasco was competent to stand trial. During the penalty phase, a defense psychiatrist testified that Sanchez-Velasco suffered from an emotional disturbance, but was legally sane. Prior to sentencing, a second defense psychiatrist testified that Sanchez-Velasco possibly suffered from a neuropsychological dysfunction, but was legally competent at the time of the examination. By the conclusion of the trial, Sanchez-Velasco had been examined by no less than eight mental health experts, all of whom found him to be competent to proceed.
National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty
Rigoberto Sanchez-Velasco(FL) Oct. 2, 2002 7:00 AM EST
The state of Florida is scheduled to execute Rigoberto Sanchez-Velasco – a foreign national from Cuba – Tuesday, Oct. 2 for the 1986 murder and sexual assault of eleven-year-old Kathy Encenarro. Two expert psychiatrists have deemed Sanchez-Velasco mentally incompetent since his conviction, and one of the state’s expert witnesses during the trial has reversed her court testimony to concur with the those two opinions. Sanchez-Velasco has been attempting to drop his appeals for several years, and outside lawyers contend this attitude only further supports the argument that he is mentally incompetent.
Gov. Jeb Bush set Sanchez-Velasco’s execution date just two weeks after the state Supreme Court heard arguments challenging the constitutionality of Florida’s death penalty statute. This debate resulted from the U.S. Supreme Court’s June decision concerning sentencing procedures in death penalty cases.
In Ring v. Arizona, the high court ruled that juries, not judges, must hear the evidence and determine the sentence during a capital trial’s punishment phase. Prior to Ring, five states gave judges sole discretion in the sentencing process; four others, including Florida, allowed juries to recommend sentences, but saved the final word for judges. In the majority’s decision, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote: “the right to trial by jury by the 6th Amendment would be senselessly diminished” if jurors were not given the final say. The Ring decision will likely reduce the number of death sentences nationwide, because jurors are less likely than judges to choose execution.
Now many current death row inmates claim that the sentencing problem the court addressed and changed in the Ring ruling unjustly led to their death sentences. Sanchez-Velasco has a legitimate case for the Florida court to retroactively enforce the decision; his jury handed the judge a hesitant 8-4 recommendation for the death penalty. However, as previously stated, Sanchez-Velasco, although competent according to the law, has given up his appeals.
Sanchez-Velasco’s situation in regard to the Ring decision has further prompted accusations concerning political motivations in Florida’s application of the death penalty. Gov. Bush faced immediate criticism that this death warrant – signed amidst the court’s debate over sentencing procedures – was purely a political tactic. Critics claim the governor, who is up for re-election in November, used Sanchez-Velasco to show off his tough stance on crime and punishment.
With no lawyer and no willingness to contest his own execution, Sanchez-Velasco is at high risk of being executed. However, this only makes it more imperative for the government to carefully consider every last aspect of the case. This includes the Florida Supreme Court’s pending ruling regarding juries and judges in the sentencing phase. Please write the state of Florida to request a stay for Rigoberto Sanchez-Velasco.