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Senate panel OKs death penalty fix as two from Miami vote no

The Senate Appropriations Committee agreed with the House Thursday that in future capital cases, a defendant cannot be sentenced to death unless at least 10 or 12 jurors agree to recommend that punishment.

The 10-2 provision makes Florida's death sentencing system the same as one other state, Alabama. It was added to a bill (SB 7068) that makes other changes to bring Florida in compliance with last month's U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down the state's sentencing system as a violation of the right to trial by jury.

Voting no were Republican Sens. Thad Altman of Melbourne, Anitere Flores of Miami and Don Gaetz of Niceville, and Democrats Arthenia Joyner of Tampa, Gwen Margolis of Miami and Bill Montford of Tallahassee.

Altman, who opposes capital punishment, said: "I do not believe that we need to diminish our position constitutionally, based on what the House would like." Flores told the Times/Herald that juries should be unanimous in recommending the death penalty, and Gaetz said he voted no because he supports the current Florida law, under which a 12-member jury can recommend death by a simple majority of 7-5.

Florida prosecutors support the 10-2 compromise but public defenders oppose it, arguing that Florida should follow most other states and require that juries be unanimous in recommending a death sentence. Public Defender Rex Dimmig of Polk County predicted Florida's "outlier" status as a 10-2 sentencing state would trigger a flood of new lawsuits by death row inmates.

A third state, Delaware, allows a jury recommendation of death by a simple majority, but that state has suspended use of the death penalty pending a full legal review.

Executions in Florida have been on hold following the Jan. 12 decision in the case of Hurst vs. Florida. After that ruling, the Florida Supreme Court indefinitely postponed the execution of death row inmate Michael Lambrix, and will hear arguments next Tuesday in the case of another convicted murderer, Mark Asay, whose execution is scheduled for March 17.