Less 'panic' for Spaziano
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[Header] Less 'panic for Spaziano
DEATH CLOCK ON HOLD Without the pressure of an impending execution, courts may find the truth.
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The Florida Supreme Court yesterday found itself all but forced into a decision that it should have made willingly last week.
When the court on Friday ordered a hearing into new evidence in the murder case against Joseph “Crazy Joe” Spaziano, it allowed less than two weeks for all questions to be answered. After that, according to a death warrant that the court refused to stay, Spaziano was to be executed.
The key witness in the case, Anthony DiLisio, recently said that he lied 20 years ago when he furnished the testimony that put Spaziano on Death Row. The justices properly told a lower court to examine Mr. DiLisio’s altered story and determine whether it is genuine. But by not staying the death warrant, the court in effect imposed an unrealistic and dangerous deadline. As Justice Gerald Kogan wrote in a dissenting opinion, it created an “atmosphere of panic … for an issue that requires calm and deliberate resolution.”
The panic evidently sent some of Spaziano’s lawyers off the deep end. His principal attorney, Michael Mello – who had no clerical or investigative help and was showing signs of emotional exhaustion – fell to feuding with the state agency that normally represents Death Row appeals. The result was an exchange of lawyerly insults that would have been comical – if someone’s life weren’t at stake.
To this the justices rightly said: Enough. They ordered Mr. Mello off the case, stayed the death warrant indefinitely, and set a new deadline of Nov. 15 for the evidentiary hearing.
Now the inquiry can proceed at a pace that befits both the complexity of the case and the gravity of the death penalty. Spaziano was convicted in 1976, when he was 30, of murdering 19-year-old Laura Lynn Harberts. The case rested
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almost entirely on Mr. DiLisio’s lurid tale of seeing mutilated bodies and hearing Spaziano boast of the crime. The testimony was dubious from the start, and now the witness has recanted it.
Even Nov. 15 may prove an impractical deadline. But at least there is no death warrant rushing the proceedings. That’s how it should have been all along. The justices’ clear desire to know the truth of this matter – which is commendable – was nearly undermined by an undue haste in pursuing it.
To Spaziano, whose life-or-death case nearly got lost in the legal pandemonium, the stay of execution came at a propitious moment. He turned 50 yesterday – two decades older than the day he came to Death Row, and now one step closer to justice.
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