Victims' kin: Keep death penalty
By JULIE HAUSERMAN, Times Staff Writer
TALLAHASSEE -- For Roy Brown, Sept. 11 brings a different sort of pain than it does for most Americans. It was the day his little girl disappeared in Tampa.
Amanda was 7 years old that day in 1998. Her body was never found. Crabber Willie Crain Jr., 56, is on death row for the murder.
Amanda would be 11 now, and Brown, 51, can get no peace. On Wednesday, he was back in a courtroom looking for justice. This time it was the Florida Supreme Court, where the death penalty is once again on trial.
The state's high court heard arguments from defense attorneys seeking to throw out the sentences for 372 death row inmates, including Crain.
"They can't just overturn these death sentences," Brown said. "Amanda was 7 years old. They've got to give me some kind of break here."
The arguments are prompted by a major U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June. The ruling said that only a jury can impose a death sentence. The decision struck down Arizona's death penalty statute because judges alone impose death sentences there.
In Florida first-degree murder cases, juries recommend life or death and judges make the final decision.
Attorneys for two Florida death row inmates told the Florida court Wednesday that the U.S. decision means their death sentences should be thrown out.
One was Amos King, who escaped from the Tarpon Springs Community Correctional Center in 1977 and went to the nearby home of Natalie Brady, 68. He raped her, stabbed her and set her home on fire.
Brady's family was not at Wednesday's hearing, but the families of many other Florida murder victims, like Brown, showed up. A small crowd of them gathered, bonded by grief and a burning frustration with a legal system they say gives more rights to killers than victims.
While lawyers in pressed suits argued before the black-robed justices, Brown wore a T-shirt with a picture of him hugging Amanda and the words "Daddy's Little Angel." After the hearing, he sat on the sun-baked court steps with sad eyes, smoking unfiltered Camel cigarettes.
"I want to be a voice," Brown said. "I want Amanda to mean something."
Karen Delisi, 45, of Orlando, stood nearby. She has been waiting 17 years for her father's killer to die. Her father, retired NASA engineer Orville Oliver Landis, was murdered in Pinellas County in 1985. He was 54 when 21-year-old Mark Davis stabbed him to death. Davis, now 38, is still on death row.
"They open up a wound every time we go to court," Delisi said. "My father can't rest. Now we're supposed to change our laws to satisfy the murderer?"
But Mark Gruber, who represents King, told the justices: "The right to a jury trial is something that's very, very important in the public's mind."
A jury voted 12-0 to recommend death for King. Gruber argued that it was the judge who actually imposed the sentence. That, he said, conflicts with the new U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
Wednesday's hearing also focused on Linroy Bottoson, awaiting death for the murder of Catherine Alexander, the 74-year-old postmaster of Eatonville, north of Orlando. Bottoson held her captive for 83 hours, stabbed her 16 times and ran her over with a car, crushing her to death.
Her son Hubert Alexander, 78, traveled to Tallahassee from Williamsburg, Va., to attend Wednesday's hearing. He has been waiting 22 years for the state to put Bottoson to death. He stood next to an old black and white portrait of his mother.
"This is a self-admitted killer," Alexander said. "If he confessed, then why are we here? It makes no sense. He was convicted by a jury of his peers."
In June, Bottoson was six hours from death when the U.S. Supreme Court made its new ruling about the death penalty. He already had eaten his second final meal, having come within three hours of execution in February.
Florida's justices peppered attorneys on both sides with questions, but left few clues as to how the court would rule.
At one point, Justice Harry Anstead asked bluntly: "How can we continue to rely on findings made by a trial judge if the U.S. Supreme Court has said we can't do that?"
-- Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.
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