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Unanimous death juries legislation headed to governor's desk



In one of their first decisions this year, the Florida Legislature on Friday sent Gov. Rick Scott a bill that will require juries to vote unanimously to sentence a convicted murderer to death.

Mandated by a Florida Supreme Court ruling in Hurst vs. Florida that found the state's existing 10-2 jury vote requirement unconstitutional, the Legislature's move will allow prosecutors to pursue new death row cases as soon as Scott signs it.

"Your vote today allows cases to move forward and victims and their families to have justice," said Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, the House judiciary chairman and the bill's sponsor.

The Florida House voted 112-3 Friday for the legislation (SB 280). Opposed were Reps. Joe Geller, D-Aventura, Robert Asencio, D-Miami, and Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill.

"Our current law's been found unconstitutional, and so it is tempting to vote for this because at least requiring unanimity is better than what we have," Geller said. "(However,) I think it's morally and ethically wrong for the state to take life."

Geller filed legislation (HB 6045) to abolish the death penalty, but it has not been scheduled for a hearing.

The Senate voted unanimously for the measure making juries unanimous on Thursday. A spokeswoman for Scott said he is "reviewing" the legislation, but he has been a supporter of the death penalty, executing more people than any other governor since capital punishment came back into practice in 1976.

Photo: State Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, who sponsored legislation requiring juries to vote unanimously to put someone to death. (SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times)