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Supreme Court Rejects Another 10 Death Row Appeals

Florida Supreme Court
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

After issuing another batch of 10 rulings Friday, the Florida Supreme Court this week rejected a total of 40 death-penalty appeals on similar legal grounds.

The 40 appeals all were filed on behalf of Death Row inmates who received their sentences before June 2002, though the Supreme Court’s decision to release four large batches of rulings in a week was highly unusual.

The appeals stemmed from a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a case known as Hurst v. Florida and a subsequent Florida Supreme Court decision.

The 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling found Florida's death-penalty sentencing system was unconstitutional because it gave too much authority to judges, instead of juries. The subsequent Florida Supreme Court ruling said juries must unanimously agree on critical findings before judges can impose death sentences and must unanimously recommend the death penalty. But the Florida Supreme Court made the new sentencing requirements apply to cases since June 2002.

That is when the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling known as Ring v. Arizona that was a premise for striking down Florida's death-penalty sentencing system in 2016. In each of the cases this week, the Death Row inmates had been sentenced to death before the Ring decision and argued that the new unanimity requirements should also apply to their cases.

The inmates who lost their appeals Friday were Richard Harold Anderson in a Hillsborough County case; Charles William Finney in a Hillsborough County case; Kenneth Hartley in a Duval County case; Sonny Ray Jeffries in an Orange County case; William H. Kelley in a Highlands County case; Ian Deco Lightbourne in a Marion County case; Robert D. Morris in a Polk County case; Kenneth Allen Stewart in a Hillsborough County case; George James Trepal in a Polk County case; and Melvin Trotter in a Manatee County case.