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US Supreme Court gives go-ahead for Florida execution

 From abortion to Big Tech to guns, Florida heads into 2023 with courts weighing high-profile legal fights.
US Supreme Court
From abortion to Big Tech to guns, Florida heads into 2023 with courts weighing high-profile legal fights.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday cleared the way for Florida to execute Death Row inmate Duane Owen in the 1984 murder of a Palm Beach County woman.

Without explanation, the Supreme Court issued an order rejecting requests by Owen's lawyers to halt Thursday's planned execution. The Florida Supreme Court also issued two opinions last week refusing to block the execution.

The U.S. Supreme Court order came after Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody's office disputed arguments by Owen's lawyers that the convicted murderer was not mentally competent to be put to death.

Owen’s lawyers sought a stay Monday, contending that he “lacks a rational understanding of the connection between his crime and impending execution due to his fixed psychotic delusions and dementia.”

But in two filings Tuesday, Moody’s office pointed to rulings by state courts, including the Florida Supreme Court, that rejected the mental-competency arguments.

“Now before this (U.S. Supreme) Court, just days before his scheduled execution, Owen repackages most of the same evidence as a claim that he is insane to be executed,” one of the filings by Moody’s office said. “This continued recycling of the same suspect and incredible facts to support a stay would be a gross miscarriage of justice and would amount to a commutation of his death sentences for the duration of the stay. Owen is not entitled to any further review.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis on May 9 signed a death warrant for Owen, 62, in the murder of Georgianna Worden, who was bludgeoned with a hammer and sexually assaulted in her Boca Raton home in May 1984, according to the death warrant and court records.

Owen also was sentenced to death in the March 1984 murder of 14-year-old Karen Slattery, who was babysitting at a Delray Beach home, according to court documents. Slattery was stabbed to death.

The warrant touched off a flurry of legal battling, with Owen’s lawyers trying to convince courts that he is not mentally competent to die by lethal injection. The arguments were based on the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment, which bars cruel and unusual punishment, and legal precedents that prevent executing people who are not mentally competent.

“Florida has a minimal interest in finality and efficient enforcement of judgments, but Owen, whose delusions and dementia prevent him from rationally understanding the consequences of his execution, has a right in ensuring that his execution comports with the Constitution,” Owen’s lawyers said in a document filed Monday at the U.S. Supreme Court. “This right includes the ability to have meaningful judicial review of the complex constitutional claims he timely raises.”

Along with a stay, the lawyers wanted the U.S. Supreme Court to order briefing about the issues or to send the case back to the Florida Supreme Court.

One of the Florida Supreme Court's opinions last week upheld a ruling by a Bradford County circuit judge, who concluded that Owen was “feigning or malingering psychopathology to avoid the death penalty.”

In a filing Tuesday, Moody’s office said Owen’s “argument is another futile attempt to have this (U.S. Supreme) Court reweigh the evidence, make different credibility findings based on Owen’s assessment, and substitute Owen’s suggested findings for that of the state courts.”

In another filing, Moody’s pointed to an “interest of finality” for the victims’ families and the state.

“The victimization continues to occur to the families and loved ones of Owen’s murder victims,” Moody’s office argued. “Additionally, the State of Florida as a sovereign, is entitled to enforce its laws and carry out this sentence. The longer it is delayed, the greater the assault is on the sovereign’s legitimate interest and that of the families of Owen’s victims.”

The execution is scheduled at 6 p.m. Thursday at Florida State Prison.

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Jim Saunders is the Executive Editor of The News Service Of Florida.