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Supreme Court won’t call off execution of ‘ninja killer’

Florida is prepared to carry out the death penalty Wednesday for a man who went on a 1989 crime spree. 

WASHINGTON (CN) — A Florida man dubbed the “ninja killer” made an unsuccessful bid for the Supreme Court to call off his scheduled execution this week.

Louis Gaskin earned his nickname for carrying out two after-dark home invasions, one of them fatal, in 1989 while dressed in all black, apparently under the delusion that he was the ninja. Attorneys for Gaskin say he suffered from a schizotypal personality disorder, but no court has accepted their argument that the alleged condition would make his execution unconstitutional.

In an emergency application to the Supreme Court, Gaskin's attorney emphasized that the jury was split 8-4 when it voted on his sentence.

“To include Mr. Gaskin in the class of defendants who are subject to the death penalty not only violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, it also violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment,” wrote Eric Pinkard, an attorney at the Law Office of the Capital Collateral Regional Counsel.

Citing "a clear, contemporary national consensus," Pinkard argued that "the Eighth Amendment prohibits the execution of those, like Mr. Gaskin, who were sentenced to death by a non-unanimous jury." 

The full court declined the emergency application submitted to Justice Clarence Thomas without comment. The justices also declined to review a certiorari petition in the case. 

Gaskin was sentenced to death for the murders of Robert and Georgette Sturmfels. He shot and killed Robert quickly upon entering the couple's Florida home. When Georgette tried to escape, he managed to hunt her down and kill her as well. Gaskin stole cash, jewelry and other valuables from the Sturmfels' home, then moved on to another home where he lured the inhabitants outside.

Joseph Rector was shot but ultimately escaped with his wife, Mary, driving to a hospital while Gaskin robbed their home. 

Gaskin then offered the stolen goods as Christmas presents to his girlfriend’s cousin, Alfonso Golden. When the cousin heard about the murders, he brought the items to police, saying Gaskin admitted he stealing them and alluded to killing the victims.

Arrested and brought in for interrogation, Gaskin confessed and told the police where they could find the hidden evidence from the murder scene.  

A jury convicted Gaskin of first-degree premeditated and first-degree felony murders of the Sturmfels, and eight of the jurors recommended sentencing him to death. For armed robbery and the burglary charges, Gaskin received 30 years for each count, plus a sentence of natural life for the attempted murder of Joseph Rector.

The Florida Supreme Court did vacate the two adjudications for felony murder in 1991, but the U.S. Supreme Court later intervened and ordered that Gaskin's case be reconsidered in light of Espinosa v. Florida. On remand, the Florida Supreme Court sided with the state. 

Gaskin's subsequent attempts at post-conviction relief failed. 

In his high court brief, the inmate's attorney quoted testimony from one mental health expert that Gaskin “suffered from a severe personality disorder and was one of the most seriously disturbed individuals he had ever encountered."

“Mr. Gaskin was sentenced to death by a jury that was never presented with profound, compelling mitigating evidence,” Pinkard wrote. “Notably, four jurors voted for life even without hearing the weighty mitigation regarding Mr. Gaskin’s abusive childhood and significant mental health disorders.” 

Florida said intervention meanwhile would deprive Gaskin's victims of justice. 

“Every question he presents now should have been (or was) asked and answered long ago,” Carolyn Snurkowski, Florida associate deputy attorney general, wrote in the state’s brief. “Gasking’s long-belated certiorari questions are not entitled to any answer from this Court on that basis alone.” 

Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis issued a death warrant for Gaskin in March, and the warden set his execution date for Wednesday at 6 p.m. 

Follow @KelseyReichmann
Categories / Appeals, Civil Rights, Criminal

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