US Supreme Court Targets Death Penalty Case From 1998 Nine Mile Popeye’s Murder

July 31, 2015

The U.S. Supreme Court this fall will hear arguments in a challenge to the way Florida sentences people to death — a challenge backed by three former Florida Supreme Court justices and the American Bar Association.

The case, which stems from the 1998 murder of a Nine Mile Road Escambia County fast-food worker, focuses on the role that juries play in recommending death sentences, which ultimately are imposed by judges.

Hurst, now 36, was convicted in the 1998 murder of Cynthia Lee Harrison, who was an assistant manager at a Popeye’s Fried Chicken restaurant where Hurst worked. Harrison’s body was discovered bound in a freezer, and money was missing from a safe, according to a brief in the case.

Attorneys representing Death Row inmate Timothy Lee Hurst, including former U.S. Solicitor General Seth Waxman, contend that Florida’s unique sentencing system is unconstitutional. Supporting that position in friend-of-the-court briefs are former Florida Supreme Court justices Harry Lee Anstead, Rosemary Barkett and Gerald Kogan, along with the American Bar Association and seven former Florida circuit judges.

Part of the argument centers on what are known as “aggravating” circumstances that must be found before defendants can be sentenced to death. Hurst’s attorneys argue, in part, that a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling requires that determination of such aggravating circumstances be “entrusted” to juries, not to judges.

Also, they take issue with Florida not requiring unanimous jury recommendations in death-penalty cases. A judge sentenced Hurst to death after receiving a 7-5 jury recommendation.

“Florida juries play only an advisory role,” Hurst’s attorneys wrote in a May brief. “The jury recommends a sentence of life or death based on its assessment of aggravating and mitigating circumstances, but that recommendation has no binding effect. Moreover, the jury renders its advisory verdict under procedures that degrade the integrity of the jury’s function. Unanimity, and the deliberation often needed to achieve it, is not necessary; only a bare majority vote is required to recommend a death sentence.”

But in an earlier brief, attorneys for the state argued that the U.S. Supreme Court and the Florida Supreme Court have repeatedly denied challenges to the sentencing process, including the Florida Supreme Court rejecting Hurst’s challenge. The state attorneys argued that a jury, in recommending the death penalty, has found facts that support at least one aggravating factor — which can be the basis for sentencing a defendant to death.

“Therefore, because the jury returned a recommendation of death, this court may infer the jury did find at least one aggravating circumstance beyond a reasonable doubt,” state attorneys wrote in a January brief in the U.S. Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court this week scheduled oral arguments in the case for Oct. 13, according to an online docket. The court agreed in March to take up the case.

In sentencing Hurst to death, a judge found two aggravating circumstances — that the murder was committed during a robbery and that it was “especially heinous, atrocious or cruel,” according to the brief filed by Hurst’s attorneys. That brief, along with others in the case, were posted on an American Bar Association website and on SCOTUSblog, which closely tracks U.S. Supreme Court proceedings.

Much of the October hearing could focus on how to apply the 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision — a major case known as Ring v. Arizona — to the Florida law. Hurst’s attorneys contend that the 2002 decision held that “findings of fact necessary to authorize a death sentence may not be entrusted to the judge.” They said Florida’s system undermines the juries’ constitutional “functions as responsible fact-finder and voice of the community’s moral judgment.”

The brief filed on behalf of Anstead, Barkett and Kogan raised similar arguments and said there is “no assurance that
Florida death sentences are premised on a particular aggravating circumstance found by the jury.”

“And because jury unanimity is not mandated during the sentencing process, there is no assurance that a Florida jury’s death recommendation represents a reliable consensus of the community,” the brief said. “As a consequence, (the former justices) believe that the jury’s role is impermissibly denigrated and that there is an unacceptable risk that Florida death sentences are erroneously imposed, in violation of the Sixth and the Eighth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States.”

by Jim Saunders, The News  Servic of Florida


26 Responses to “US Supreme Court Targets Death Penalty Case From 1998 Nine Mile Popeye’s Murder”

  1. Bones on August 3rd, 2015 7:47 pm

    I believe that after two appeals, the guilty party should immediately be put to death by hanging or firing squad. It should also be made public and televised. I don’t think that we should have to pay to keep them up for years and years.

  2. Sam on August 3rd, 2015 10:27 am

    I remember when this happened as well. I still can not go into that restaurant. My question is: How could this monster NOT deserve the death penalty?

  3. old school on August 2nd, 2015 6:20 pm

    In 1998 when this happened I was shocked as everyone else in the county that acts like this usually happened in much larger cities. Now, we see that Pensacola has become infested with drugs and violence. The police nor the sheriff’s department can stop all that is going on in our communities. What bothers me most is the fact that there are hardly any deterrents or punishments bad enough anymore to make people think before they act! I think we need to bring back the whip and post for petty crimes and the public hanging noose for the big ones like this!

  4. Sedition on August 1st, 2015 5:47 pm

    Give him to me, I’ll supply the bullet and save the taxpayers a metric butt-ton of money.

  5. Officer on August 1st, 2015 8:10 am

    I was one of the courtroom security officers assigned to this case. I was present for every portion of the trial, I heard every piece of evidence, and I interacted with the jury. To this day I have not nor will I ever step foot inside any Popeye’s chicken restaurant. This case is still completely fresh in my memory and it’s still very disturbing. The facts of the case prove that this crime was especially heinous. Mr. Hurst deserves the death penalty for this. I sincerely hope he gets it.

  6. Wharf Rat on July 31st, 2015 10:32 pm

    Many people would not have met Mrs. Harrison at Popeye’s, but she was also a cashier at the nearby Winn-Dixie. She was striving for her dream. She was a sweet and caring person. She did not deserve in any fashion what happened to her. True, some people have been exonerated for crimes, but, that does not mean they were “innocent.”

  7. chris in Molino on July 31st, 2015 5:49 pm

    There are really too many factors to consider. I agree there are some (a miniscule amount mind you) that are innocent. Gotta break a few eggs to make an omlet. On the other hand, many more would be found innocent if they had unlimited resources in their defense that the state has and uses to prosecute. Needless to say, most defendants don’t even have a private attorney. I also believe the death penalty is not a deterrent nor will be nomatter how much it’s used. For one reason : Criminals are never thinking of consequences because they’re planning on not getting caught.
    I am a supporter of this however: when there is overwhelming evidence that leaves no question of guilt, make a public announcement of death sentance to be carried out in front of the courthouse. Have the guilty strung up by the ankles and death sentance carried out in the manner with which they themselves killed. Leave the body for 24hrs for all to see. Amen.

  8. Jim on July 31st, 2015 5:33 pm

    We are all going to die. Some of us should die sooner for the overall public good.

  9. David Huie Green on July 31st, 2015 5:04 pm

    His conviction stands regardless

    At worst, they would have to resentence him and the jury would have ALL the details regarding the case. This way he gets to live at least another three years while they decide and Florida reacts.

    Well, at the VERY worst, they will sentence him to time served and he will go and kill again.

    Maybe the Lord will call him home — or send him to his eternal home — before then.

    David for justice
    and people obeying laws,
    not just those they feel led to follow

  10. Simmer Down on July 31st, 2015 4:53 pm

    @ Alex A: Since 1976 there have been 1,407 executions. In April of 2014 The National Academy of Sciences reported that 4.1% of all death row inmates were actually innocent. That equates to about 58 executions of people who were not guilty of the crimes for which they were executed.

    @ Just Saying: Referring to my first post in this thread the region of the US where there are the most executions, the South, also has the highest murder rate. This doesn’t invalidate your point, but I’m wondering how many more we’d need to execute before we started to notice a reduction in murders. That’s difficult to test.

    Finally, let’s get smarter about the cost of housing murderers for life. There’s no doubt that it’s expensive. But having a death penalty is more expensive. A 2014 report by the non-partisan Death Penalty Information Center, and reported by FOX News, has shown that a death penalty case costs $1 million more to prosecute than a similar case seeking life without parole. And that doesn’t even consider the appeals. Plus, housing death row inmates costs twice as much as general population inmates. The death penalty doesn’t save money. I can provide sources!

  11. Solomon on July 31st, 2015 3:29 pm

    Alex A: 1,389 executions from 1976-2014–thanks for asking nicely…

    I did initially misread the study, but I’ll try to keep it simple for brevity’s sake:

    Of 7,482 death sentences imposed from 1973-2004, 234 were exonerated before being executed. The estimated number of innocent people actually executed is around 50 in that time. And all of those cases have not been reviewed, so the actual numbers are likely higher.

    If one person of those executed was innocent, it is one too many.

  12. Just Saying on July 31st, 2015 2:13 pm

    This animal, yes I called him an animal he is what he is knowingly took someone’s life and stuffed her in a freezer with no regard to her or the ones who loved her. WHY is he still breathing? I don’t remember all of the details in this case but I’m pretty sure there was no doubt of his guilt. Why should every hard working tax payers money continue to support any of these animals? As for your comment simmer down I believe you are wrong if the death penalty was used more often I’m sure it would be a much bigger deterrent than it is currently.

  13. Alex A on July 31st, 2015 1:55 pm

    Solomon: 300 innocent since 1973. This sounds to be a liberal,OUT OF THE THIN AIR STAT. give me the total amount of executions in the USA since 1973, seeing you know the facts

  14. Solomon on July 31st, 2015 12:33 pm

    Interesting how many people cannot accept facts and insist that their opinions are more valid than verifiable data.

    Yes, statistics can be manipulated, but it is much easier to manipulate people’s ‘feelings’ about an issue.

    As far as executing every ‘convicted murderer’– ridiculous. A minimum of 4% of ‘convicted murderers’ are actually innocent. Since 1973, at least 300 innocent people have been executed.

    I am not ok with that human toll. Life in prison, no parole.

  15. Simmer Down on July 31st, 2015 12:06 pm

    @nod Easy does it, my friend. I agree that statistics can be used to mislead, but the numbers I provided come from the FBI. If you think those numbers are inaccurate I would love to see some information and I know you’ll be willing to provide it. Right? I’m also not sure where I said people commit murder so they can be executed. Which of my 5 sentences brought you to that conclusion. I’ll amend the offending sentence, because that is certainly not what I believe. What I do believe, and what I think other studies have shown, is that the death penalty is not an effective deterrent. Having said that, I am still a supporter of the death penalty, though I am not as ardent in my support as some.

  16. majority rules on July 31st, 2015 11:34 am

    I also remember this horrific inhumane crime. That being said I do find some reason in what the lawyer is presenting. He is right that sentencing in these types of cases in the state of Florida should Not be left in the hands of one judge. The convicted criminals’ fate should be decided by a group of his/her piers. But he is morally mistaken if he is perusing on behalf of the state of Florida that there be a unanimous vote from the jury for the sentencing. For what it’s worth, in my opinion the majority decision by this convicted murders’ piers of 7/5 should suffice for this man to be put to sleep eternally. Majority (should) rules…

  17. nod on July 31st, 2015 10:55 am

    simma down, u are wrong why don’t you go to Chicago or Detroit and see the murder rate there. according to what you said people commit murder just so they can get the death penalty. numbers can be and are twisted for statistic purposes. just imagine the death penalty is the cause of murder?????????????????

  18. Simmer Down on July 31st, 2015 9:27 am

    @MikeJ I am not an opponent of the death penalty, but I think your views are a bit extreme. Here are some fun facts. According to a 2012 report from the FBI, the murder rate in states with the death penalty was 4.7 per 100,000 persons. In states without the death penalty the death penalty the murder rate was 3.7 per 100,000 persons. Additionally, the South, which carries out the most executions of any region, had the highest murder rate in 2012.
    I’m not sure the death penalty is actually much of a deterrent.

  19. EMD on July 31st, 2015 9:21 am

    I cannot eat there either since this happened. Especially since a sweet, well behaved little girl by that name rode my school bus for a few years. After all this time of thinking it was her (same name and others saying they thought it was her), I found out just about a week ago that she is alive, when I saw her picture and name on Face Book. I contacted her and she assured me that she was the girl who rode my bus and is very much alive. Still so sad :’( for the murdered girl, but so very glad :D it was not the girl that rode my bus.

  20. BT on July 31st, 2015 8:45 am

    I suspect the Supreme Court will decide by a 5-4 vote that a 7-5 vote is not sufficient to make an important decision.

  21. Krod on July 31st, 2015 8:15 am

    I remember when this happened! It was horrific! There should be no doubt that this man deserves the death penalty!! The question that should be asked is, “why have we allowed him to still be residing in a hotel than in a grave?” We just love our tax payers dollars getting spent this way!

  22. Mike J. on July 31st, 2015 7:54 am

    EVERY convicted murderer should get the death penalty. Period. No 1st degree or 2nd degree or extenuating circumstances. Planned or un-planned, bar fight or random city street attack doesn’t matter. The intent was to kill.

    If the method of execution would match the crime AND the time between conviction and execution were less, then I think fewer murders would be committed.

  23. Mike on July 31st, 2015 7:27 am

    The Supreme Court is liberal right now, they are gonna let this guy go, or give him life in prison. That or some cushy mental institution. And he will live, after torturing & killing a person. :(

  24. Idea on July 31st, 2015 7:05 am

    How about do not take the life of another person, commit murder, and this decision by the jury/judge will not be necessary.

  25. friend on July 31st, 2015 6:52 am

    He deserved to fry and if hes attorney feels that way let him fry with him. Her family lost a child and loved one… So sad

  26. barbara agerton on July 31st, 2015 3:47 am

    My husband and I can not eat at the Popeyes on Nine Mile Rd. Since Cindys murder. We were just talking about this last week. We have always thought that they should tear down that building,building and the least they could do is place some sort of permanent marker honoring her.
    Why is her murderer still alive.
    All of these years this man is being taken care of with our tax dollars.
    America the land of the free,home of the brave,now what are we?

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