David Alan Gore was set to be executed Thursday nearly 29 years after murdering 17-year-old Lynn Elliott, whose attempted escape ended a string of rapes and murders that shook the quiet coastal town of Vero Beach.So what did take so long?
In all, Gore killed four teenage girls and two women. Elliott's murder is the only one for which he's condemned. He was scheduled to die by lethal injection at 6 p.m. Thursday at Florida State Prison. It's a day Elliott's parents have been waiting for - they say living for - and one many think should have come years ago considering there is no doubt he committed the crimes and he has shown no remorse for the killings.
"For us it's been a nightmare, because I just turned 81. I was beginning to think that I might die before he went," said Carl Elliott, the girl's father.
Jeanne Elliott almost did die. About two years ago she was in a coma, and doctors told her son to begin making funeral arrangements. She suddenly began recovering, and she said she believes it was because of her wish to see Gore die first.
Gore was first convicted in 1984. The initial death sentence was overturned on federal habeas because the trial court had not allowed Gore to introduce the supposedly mitigating evidence of alcohol and drug use, in violation of the rule created by the Supreme Court out of blue sky in Lockett v. Ohio, with no basis in the text or history of the Constitution. That proceeding ended in 1992. The resentencing was affirmed in 1997, but state collateral review took another ten years. The federal habeas courts seem to have moved quite promptly in the second round, taking only one more year.
That brings us to 2009. What happens for the next three years? Apparently it just sits waiting for the governor. In Florida, the governor has to sign a warrant for the execution to occur, and governors sign them whenever they get around to it while justice languishes.
Once the governor signed the warrant on February 28, 2012, Gore filed a successive state petition, and the state courts dispatched it with dispatch.
So what went wrong was:
1. The U.S. Supreme Court's "annually improvised" death penalty jurisprudence of the 1970s and 1980s, constantly making up new rules and applying them retroactively. That is pretty much history for rules of procedure. Although they continue to make up substantive categorical rules of exclusion, those rules only apply to a few cases.
2. State courts taking too long with state collateral review.
3. Executions waiting for the governor to sign a warrant.
The Florida Legislature can and should address numbers 2 and 3. Put some reasonable time limits on courts, and move the setting of execution dates away from the governor to the trial court.