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Advocates Debate Pros, Cons Of Florida's Death Penalty

Lindsey Kilbride

The First Coast Tiger Bay Club hosted a debate about Florida’s death penalty on Friday.


Kristina Musante debated on behalf of the Justice for Jacksonville Coalition. She says the death penalty has major problems, and it’s overused in Florida. Jacksonville’s judicial circuit issues more death sentences than any other in Florida.


“The last study that was done on cost in Florida was over 10 years ago and they found that the death penalty cost $51 million per year more over the cost of life without parole,” Musante said.


“We believe that money should be going to things that are proven crime reduction strategies.”

She says a better use of the money would be to solve cold cases or given to victims’ families.

Debate attendee Marc Hyden agrees. He’s with the group Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty. He says death is neither pro-life, nor fiscally responsible.

“And I don’t think that it’s representative of a limited government,” Hyden said. “We don’t trust the government to deliver mail or launch a healthcare website, so why would we trust them with life and death decisions?”

But prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda does not agree. He’s an assistant state attorney in Jacksonville and in favor of the death penalty. He says the death penalty is expensive, only because of frivolous appeals.

“I think still the process takes too long in terms of actual jury-recommended death and judge imposing death and the actual imposition of the death penalty,” de la Rionda  said.

He began his debate with graphic accounts of murder trials he’s worked on, to explain to attendees all murders are different and some murderers deserve death.

“When they stab somebody 67 times, you know that you’re doing that and it’s almost like that victim is suffering,” de la Rionda said. “In most cases that victim is begging for their life. ‘How do you continue to do that?’”

Northeast Florida State Attorney Angela Corey also weighed in.

“So what I am concerned about are misperceptions by people who didn’t actually live through these cases the way Bernie and I and our other prosecutors have,” Corey said.

In Florida it takes a majority vote to sentence someone to the death penalty: 7 to 5, while in most death penalty states a unanimous jury is required. The Florida Supreme Court is considering a case, Hurst vs. Florida, challenging that requirement.

According to the Justice for Jacksonville Coalition, there are at least 23 ongoing or scheduled death cases in Duval County.