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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.
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
- 12.01 years: The average length of stay on death row prior to execution.
- 28.8 years: The average age at the time of offense.
- 43.06 years: The average age of inmates on death row.
- 43.67 years: The average age at time of execution.
- $72.39: The cost to incarcerate someone on death row for a day
- $26,422.35: The cost to incarcerate someone on death row for a year
By race and gender
- 229 white males
- 125 black males
- 10 males classified as "other"
- 1 white female
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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- Air vents: Channel air into the cell. There is no air conditioning.
- The mirror: Made of polished metal instead of glass. Not all cells have mirrors.
- Sink: Made of metal and has hot and cold water. To save space, the toilet is also part of the unit.
- Clothing: Death row inmates wear orange garb when they leave their cells. They are the only inmates in the entire state prison system to wear orange. While in their cells they may wear baby-blue pajamas, white boxer shorts, white T-shirts or black shorts.
- Hair: Must be kept very short. In fact, most inmates have their heads shaved. They are not allowed to have facial hair.
- Bank accounts: Inmates can open their own non-interest bank accounts. There is no limit as to how much money they keep in these accounts, but they can only spend $65 a week. They do not earn money in prison.
- Television: Inmates are allowed to buy a small television with their own money. However, if the inmate is deemed indigent, then the state will purchase a small, black and white TV for them. They can pick up five or six local stations, including PBS. Inmates must wear headphones when watching TV or listening to their radios.
- Shoes: Inmates are issued rubber flip-flops and sneakers, although some inmates buy sneakers and other clothes from the commissary.
- Literature: Inmates can borrow books from the prison library or the law library. Magazines are allowed. Pornography was banned three years ago. Inmates are not allowed to read books on guns or bombmaking.
- Library: Inmates are allowed to visit the law library, located in the same building as death row. There, they can research case law and prepare documents related to their cases. The inmates enter a small room that is locked behind them. They sit on a stool and request a book from the law librarian. The book is passed through an opening in a window. Inmates can spend a few hours a day in the law library. Each cell in the law library has a 4-inch-by-2-foot window, so officers can look in. Inmates can eat in the law library cells if they are inside the cell during mealtime.
- Showers: Inmates are allowed a five- to 10-minute shower three times a week. Showers are in a special cell equipped with hot and cold running water.
- Medical: There are two doctors and a dentist for death row inmates. A hospital in Jacksonville treats all the serious North Florida inmate cases.
- Visitors: Inmates are allowed visits and phone calls from their lawyers. They have a 30-minute time limit for those calls. Prisoners may have contact or non-contact family visits on weekends, depending on the prisoner's behavior record. Lawyers and inmates meet in small rooms. Inmates can also request visits by chaplains of their choice.
- Food: Meals are served three times daily at 5 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. Meals are served through an opening in the cell door. Death row inmates eat the same food as other inmates at the prison, but must eat inside their cells. The food is prepared by non-death row inmates in the prison kitchen. They receive about 3,000 calories per day. They eat with a plastic spork (spoon and fork combined). Inmates can buy other food from the prison commissary if they have money.