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Florida can tee up execution after high court denies relief

The inmate says he has a neurological disorder that makes it unconstitutional to put him to death for the murder he committed after escaping a work-release program in 1990. 

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Supreme Court refused on Wednesday to halt the execution of a Florida man who was serving time for another murder when he managed to escape authorities and kill a woman as he tried to make her his getaway driver.    

Donald David Dillbeck's application submitted to Justice Clarence Thomas was declined by the full court with no explanation, about 24 hours before Dillbeck is set to face the death penalty. 

Dillbeck was only 15 when he committed his first murder in 1979, wresting a gun away from Lee County Deputy Sheriff Dwight Lynn Hall and shooting her in a parking lot. In 1990, while catering an event in Quincy as part of an inmate work program, Dillbeck managed to slip away and began to make his way across the state on foot, intending to reach a friend living in Orlando. He made it about 25 miles with about 275 more to go when he decided to steal a car. Not knowing how to drive, however, Dillbeck approached Faye Vann as she sat in the parking lot of a shopping mall.

Vann refused to give into Dillbeck and fought back, honking her horn, grabbing his hair and biting him. Dillbeck stabbed Vann 25 times and then severed her windpipe, causing her to drown in her own blood. When police caught up with Dillbeck, his hands and face were still coated in the victim's blood. 

Dillbeck was charged with first-degree murder, armed robbery and armed burglary. He confessed on the stand to killing and carjacking Vann and was found guilty on all counts. While the state pushed for a harsh sentence, Dillbeck asked the jury for leniency based on his mental health, fetal alcohol effects and difficult childhood. The jury recommended capital punishment in an 8-4 vote, and Dillbeck has been on death row ever since. 

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed Dillbeck’s death sentence last month, scheduling his execution for Feb. 23. In a final attempt for relief, Dillbeck argued that it would be unconstitutional to give him the death penalty as he suffers from Neurobehavioral Disorder Associated with Prenatal Alcohol Exposure. 

Dillbeck argues that the Eighth Amendment holds that individuals with intellectual disabilities can not be executed. He asked the Supreme Court to allow him to prove his neurological disorder prevents him from being executed. 

“Executing Mr. Dillbeck without first providing meaningful access to the courts to demonstrate that the death penalty is disproportionate to his culpability would violate the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment,” Florida public defender Lisa McDermott wrote in a brief for the inmate. 

Florida claims Dillbeck’s claims should have been presented long ago and stopping his execution would deprive his victims of justice. 

“Dillbeck seeks certiorari review in a penultimate attempt to deprive his victims of justice on the eve of his execution for heinous crimes committed decades ago,” Carolyn Snurkowski, Florida associate deputy attorney general, wrote in the state’s brief. “Every question he presents now should have been (or way) asked and answered long ago. Dillbeck’s long-belated certiorari questions are entitled to no answer from his court on that basis alone.” 

Dillbeck is scheduled to be executed Thursday at 6 p.m. 

Categories: Appeals Criminal

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