As I write this, it is Saturday March 25, 2017 and it has been now 480 days since Florida governor Rick Scott decided that he would put me to death despite readily available evidence substantiating my consistently plead claim of innocence and I was to die on February 11, 2016. It has now been 397 days since that scheduled date with death.
It was also my older sister Debbie's birthday..she turned 60 and we all sang her Happy Birthday - and I sang extra hard to make sure they could hear me through that way too small hole in the glass window, and when I was told that I'd be moved off death watch, Debbie quickly claimed that news as the best birthday present ever.
Flash forward to today. I just had another great visit with my sisters and this time it was in an open "visiting park" where we all sat around a steel table and could hold hands and walk around. When the visit started, I got a big hug from each - and noticed that they brought some small white frosted cakes that they purchased in the main visiting park downstairs before coming up to the death row visiting park.
No sooner did I get that big hug from each of them and we sat down at our assigned table, they began ripping open the plastic packaging on the cakes and laid them neatly on napkins in front of each of us - and then in obvious preplanned and practised unison, they began to merrily sing Happy Birthday, and I smiled - and stopped them short on that first chorus: "Whoa, what the hell are y'all doing", and for a moment they looked puzzled, then I continued "you know you can't sing in the visiting park unless you stand up and dance", and they all smiled, and one of my sisters quickly stood up (I won't say which one - she'd be embarrassed!) and started to dance as all three continued to sing, and I couldn't help but smile the biggest smile I could as I thanked them and we ate our cake.
It's moment like those that make it all bearable. I'm lucky in that even after all these years. I do still get visits from family as very few get any visits at all. This particular day there were only two others in the visiting park, both of them having visits with their girlfriends, and they both left early so at the end of the day we had the visiting park to ourselves, and it was a great visit, although I admit that it might have been a little better if only I had a girlfriend as then I could have gotten a birthday kiss too...but who would put up with an old dog like me?
This "birthday" visit was especially great as I needed it. As a few of my past posts reflect, I've been kind of "down" lately as in the past few months we went from thinking that the courts would rule favourably and this nightmare would soon end, to having both the state and federal courts deny my appeals and now I'm looking at having my execution rescheduled within the near future. Obviously, the thought of imminent death weighs heavily on me, but it's even harder on my family and so it was especially nice to see them laughing and enjoying the moment.
Still, that cloud hung above us and I did all I could to not talk about what may very well soon come. But it wasn't something that we could avoid and the conversation swung around to what I thought would happen in the coming weeks.
I explained to them that even though the Florida Supreme Court denied my long pending appeals on march 9, that decision is technically not final until my lawyers file the "motion for rehearing" on march 31, then the Court reviews that and decides whether they will allow their decision to stand "as is", or reconsider it, and either actually grant relief, or at least rewrite that March 9 decision.
I shared with them my hopes that the Florida Supreme Court will recognize that it was both factually and legally wrong and then grant me the relief I'm legally entitled. For example, what I believe was our strongest issue was the request for DNA testing of the evidence to substantiate my consistently plead claim of innocence. As they do in all cases, the state opposed DNA testing and in denying my request the court adopted as "fact" that DNA testing was previously conducted when it clearly was not. And that was a significant error, so rehearing should be granted.
More importantly, as a matter of law I was entitled to have this evidence tested for DNA if there's any reason to believe that it will support my claim of innocence - which we did establish how it will, so legally the court was wrong in denying the request for DNA testing and hopefully the court will have the integrity to correct it's own mistake.
Of course, the lawyers are far more interested in arguing the issue of why - the death sentences imposed on me are illegal, and I have no problem with that - I do think it's a really strong legal issue, but I'm not too excited about merely having my sentences reduced to life as I've spent the past 34 years trying to prove my innocence and get my freedom. The truth is that if I wanted a "life" sentence, I would have gotten that many times through the years, but I've repeatedly turned it down as here in Florida it's all but impossible to get parole and so if I'm going to die in prison. I'm at least going to go down fighting.
And it's the same with the recent denial of my federal "actual innocence" appeal - although that was a hard blow and really took the wind out of me. But after I got over that initial blow, I realized that the decision has substantial flaws in it and that I have a really good chance of having that reversed - and the readily available evidence substantiating my innocence fully heard.
So, although we began the visit with that cloud of uncertainty hanging over us, there's still good reason for hope and if the courts do the right thing and allow the evidence to be reviewed, I could still be celebrating my next birthday out there in the real world, a free man.