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Florida's execution costs re-kindle death penalty debate

7:56 PM, Feb 15, 2012   |    comments
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A lethal injection execution chamber

TAMPA, Fla. -- On Wednesday, Florida had scheduled the execution of 65-year-old Robert Waterhouse, who was convicted in 1980 of murdering Deborah Kammerer of St. Petersburg.

She'd been beaten, raped, and dragged into Tampa Bay.

It took more than 30 years for Robert Waterhouse to even have a date with death, sitting on death row as taxpayers spent millions on appeals, hearings, and delays.

UPDATE: Robert Waterhouse is executed

It's just one reason why Mark Elliott, executive director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, believes life without parole is a better, less expensive alternative.

He says it's a policy that would save Florida an estimated $51 million per year to spend on victim services programs and resources to solve some of Florida's 12,000 homicide cold cases.

"Those families have gotten no justice," said Elliott. "Those killers have literally gotten away with murder."

He also points out that Florida leads the nation in the number of death row inmates mistakenly convicted.

"In Florida, we've had more than 23 people exonerated off our death row," he said.

The financial numbers vary from state to state. Research shows in Virginia and Delaware, for example, the process is faster and the death penalty actually costs less on average.

But in most states, including Florida, where the time between sentencing and execution is an average 13 years, death costs more.

However, the financial debate is tainted by emotion. Just last week, Cindy Roberts, wife of slain Tampa Police Officer Mike Roberts, made that clear at the sentencing for Humberto Delgado. "Killing a cop should be an automatic death penalty," said Roberts, who told reporters she and her husband had discussed the issue before his murder.

Still, the question of whether executions are a deterrent, whether they can prevent such crimes, is also debatable. Even police chief Jane Castor sadly expressed doubt after Delgado was sentenced to death.

"I hope that it would send a message, but I'm not sure that individuals that would commit this type of a crime are open to that kind of a message," said Castor.

There are currently more than 270 people on Florida's death row.  

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