Florida executes inmate after 33 years on death row

29 September 2011

After 33 years on death row in Florida, Manuel Valle, a Cuban national, was made to wait for several more hours as the US Supreme Court deliberated on his case. He had been due to be executed at 9pm UK time but was finally executed by lethal injection just before midnight on Wednesday 28th September 2011. The execution had already been stayed on three occasions since the death warrant was signed by the state governor on 30th June to allow for earlier appeals to be heard. In the US Supreme Court on an application for a writ of certiorari to review the decision of the Florida Supreme Court, Mr Valle’™s lawyers argued that his execution after such inordinate delay would violate the 8th Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments. In addition his lawyers argued that he had been denied of any clemency hearing by the State of Florida. His appeals were dismissed and relief was denied. Justice Breyer delivered a dissenting judgment in which he stated:

I have little doubt about the cruelty of so long a period of incarceration under sentence of death. In Lackey and in Knight Justice Stevens and I referred to the legal sources, in addition to studies of attempted suicides, that buttress the commonsense conclusion that 33 years in prison under threat of execution is cruel.

During those 33 years Mr Valle was held for 23 hours a day in a cell measuring six foot by nine foot. There was no air conditioning and he was only allowed to shower every other day. So for 33 years Mr Valle endured Florida summers without air conditioning and half of that time without so much as a shower. As with other death row inmates he was not allowed to make phone calls save in the case of a family crisis, he was denied the opportunity to work and had very limited interaction with other death row inmates.

Together with solicitor Hannah Gorman, Mark George QC was asked by Reprieve to draft an amicus curiae brief on behalf of, amongst others, the Bar Human Rights Committee setting out the UK as well as the international perspective on issues such as clemency and the unlawfulness of detaining condemned prisoners for excessive period before sentence is carried out.

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