Fla. Justice Has 'Grave Doubts' on Guilt of Some Convicts Executed
TALLAHASSEE—A retiring state Supreme Court justice says he has "grave doubts" about the guilt of some of the convicts executed during his dozen years on the bench.
Justice Gerald Kogan, who will retire Dec. 31, ruled on hundreds of capital appeals during his tenure. He watched 25 people get sent to death in Florida's electric chair.
"There are several cases where I had grave doubts as to the guilt of a particular person [and] other cases where I just felt they were treated unfairly in the system," Kogan said in an interview last week.
Kogan said that in "two or three" cases that ended in execution, he was not convinced the condemned person was guilty.
In those cases, which Kogan did not specify, he voted to stop the executions. But he was unable to muster a majority of the seven-justice court, and no justice holds veto power over the others.
Justice Ben Overton, who is retiring early next year after 24 years on Florida's high court, said he does not discuss his views on capital punishment. Chief Justice Major Harding also does not comment on the death penalty.
Kogan, 65, made the decision to retire last summer and plans to take a job in March as head of a private group that promotes ethical government in Miami-Dade County. Prior to his appointment to the court in 1987, he worked as a prosecutor, defense attorney and trial judge in Miami.
Kogan has long held the belief that capital punishment "just doesn't work," even though it may be warranted in some cases, he said.
"I've had people say to me, 'Oh, you bleeding-heart liberals,' " Kogan said. "And I say, 'Wait a minute. . . . When I was with the homicide and capital crimes, one of our duties was to go to the scene of homicides, and I have seen many a dead body under all sorts of circumstances.' "
State Rep. Victor Crist, a Republican who chairs the House Criminal Justice and Corrections Council, said Kogan has been "on the record as being an adversary to capital punishment."
Crist cited the rigorous appeals process as assurance that no innocent person has been executed in the state since the U.S. Supreme Court lifted a moratorium on the death penalty in the late 1970s. Forty-three Florida prisoners have been executed since then.
Kogan, however, pointed to research by Michael Radelet, a professor at the University of Florida, who claims to have documented 26 cases in which innocent people were executed.
And since DNA evidence was introduced in the past 10 years or so, 53 people nationwide have been released from death row, Kogan said.
"But how about . . . before we could rely upon DNA?" Kogan asked. "What happened to those people?"