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Death Row from the inside

By Staff and Wire Reports
Published May 24, 2004

In Furman vs. Georgia, the U.S. Supreme Court, in June 1972, ruled capital punishment unconstitutional and struck down state death penalty laws nationwide. As a result, the death sentences of 95 men and one woman on Florida's death row were commuted to life in prison. After Furman, the Florida Legislature revised the death penalty statutes in case the court reinstated capital punishment in the future. In 1976 the Supreme Court's Gregg vs. Georgia decision reinstated the death penalty. On May 25, 1979, John Spenkelink was the first Florida inmate executed under the new statutes. Tuesday, on the 25th anniversary of that execution, John Blackwelder is scheduled to be the 59th inmate executed at the Florida State Prison since Gregg.

Means of execution

Florida administers executions by lethal injection or electric chair at the execution chamber at Florida State Prison. A three-legged electric chair was constructed from oak by Department of Corrections personnel in 1998 and was installed at FSP in 1999. It replaced the original chair, which had been in use since 1923. In January 2000, the Florida Legislature passed legislation allowing lethal injection as an alternate method of execution. Terry Sims became the first inmate to die by lethal injection on Feb. 23, 2000. Prisoners convicted after 2000 do not have the option of electrocution. Before 1923, executions were carried out by counties, usually by hanging.

First executed inmate

Frank Johnson was the first inmate executed in Florida's electric chair on Oct. 7, 1924. In 1929 and from May 1964 to May 1979 there were no executions in Florida.

First woman executed

On March 30, 1998, Judias "Judy" Buenoano, known as the "Black Widow," became the first woman to die in Florida's electric chair. On Oct. 9, 2002, serial killer Aileen Wuornos became the first woman in the state to be executed. Her story is the basis for the 2003 Academy Award-winning movie Monster. The first known execution of a woman in the state occurred in 1848.

The executioner

A private citizen is paid $150 per execution to serve as executioner. State law allows for his or her identity to remain anonymous.

By the numbers

By race and gender

Oldest death row inmate

William Cruse Jr. (76) Born: Nov. 21, 1927, sentenced in Brevard County in 1989.

Youngest male death row inmate

Randy Schoenwetter (23) Born: October 27, 1981, sentenced in Brevard County in 2004.

Oldest inmate executed

Charlie Grifford (72): Executed on Feb. 21, 1957.

Youngest inmate executed

Willie Clay (16): Sentenced in Duval County, executed Dec. 29, 1941.

Longest on death row

30 years: Gary E. Alvord: received on death row April 11, 1974; date of offense June 17, 1973. Alvord was sentenced in Hillsborough County.

Juveniles on death row

There are no juveniles on death row. Death row inmates younger than 16 at the time of their offense were tried as adults in court proceedings.

Inside a cell

In Florida, the average confinement for someone sentenced to death is 12 years. Each inmate spends an average of 23 hours per day in a cell that measures 6 feet by 9 feet. Here's what life is like on the inside:

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