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Florida Supreme Court Affirms Prisoner’s Death Sentence

The Supreme Court of Florida affirmed in February 2012 the circuit court’s denial of post-conviction relief in the death sentence of William Van Poyck. Appellant Van Poyck filed in 2007 a motion alleging his non-triggerman status as being of sufficient weight to support a reduction of the death sentence he received for his part in the 1987 slaying of prison guard Fred Griffis. This was one of six post-conviction actions field by Van Poyck averring different avenues of support for the same basic premise: he did not pull the trigger. In the original affirmation of a lower court’s ruling, the Supreme Court noted that the record failed to establish that Van Poyck was the triggerman, but the court also did establish that he was the instigator and primary participant in the murder.

In the instant case, Van Poyck hired a private investigator to track down members of the jury in this original trial and ask them if, in light of the facts surfacing that Van Poyck was not the triggerman, would they have voted differently in the penalty phase of the jury convocation, or life without parole instead of death. Four of the jurors said they would have opted for life and another one said she voted for life in the first place. The private investigator obtained affidavits to that effect from the four and based his latest appeal on that newly discovered evidence.

The supreme court in response noted that (a) second guessing a juror’s vote or causing the juror to second guess is impermissible procedurally and by statute, rendering any evidence involved inadmissible, and (b) that the information provided by Van Poyck did not satisfy the two-prong Jones test used in determining the viability of information as sufficient new evidence to warrant an new capital penalty-phase proceeding. The Jones test requires the evidence must not have been known at the time of trial and that the new evidence must be of such nature that it would probably yield a less severe sentence were it known. The Florida Supreme court held that Van Poyck failed in both prongs.

The district court ruled the case procedurally time-barred and the four changed votes insufficient to change the sentence. Since a simple majority determines the decision the penalty phase voting and the four changed votes would change the result from eleven-to-one to seven-to-five for death, the supreme court agreed with the district court; noting also impropriety on the part of Van Poyck’s attorney for including in a motion inadmissible evidence that was supplied to him by his client. See: Van Poyck v. State, 91 So.3d 125 (Fla. 2012).

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Related legal case

Van Poyck v. State