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William Van Poyck, aka, “Billy” has been on death row since 1988 for a killing he did not commit. On the heels of new legislation in Florida to speed up executions, the governor has signed his death warrant. Billy was convicted under Florida’s felony-murder rule, which states that if a person commits a felony and someone dies during the course of that felony, he is guilty of felony murder.
How does this happen? Billy was involved in an attempt to free an inmate from a prison van. During this botched attempt, a correctional officer was killed. Billy’s co-defendant, Frank Valdes, was subsequently identified as the actual, sole triggerman. Billy did not even see it happen. Because of the felony-murder rule, both Billy and Frank received death sentences. The actual killer, Frank Valdes, died in July of 1999 as the result of a beating by guards at Florida State Prison.
What makes this situation particularly appalling is that Billy was never actually convicted for the crime—felony murder—for which he now stands to lose his life. At Billy’s trial, his jury was told he was the triggerman. As indicated on the verdict form, the jurors believed it and sentenced him to death. This is what the trial judge also believed when he upheld the sentence. Since then, all this has been irrefutably proven false but this sentence—meted out under false pretenses as it were—is nonetheless on the verge of being carried out. Under these circumstances, how can any fair-minded, sensible person construe that the death penalty is applied in a fair and just manner? One cannot in Billy’s case.
Should Billy really be executed when he did not kill anyone, when he had no intention to kill anyone, and when the jury and judge who decided his fate believed that he did? Just to state the proposition shows its absurdity. For those who tout an “eye for an eye”, how does this scenario support that notion? Simply put, it does not. It defies comprehension how the State of Florida can carry out the execution of Billy Van Poyck. The State would say that under the felony-murder doctrine they have the legal right to do so. They do not, but that is for the lawyers to decide. MORALLY, however, should the State carry out Billy’s death sentence? Doing so would completely contradict the belief that the public has about the death penalty. The perception that the ultimate penalty in Florida is applied only to the actual perpetrators is simply not true. Florida law does not treat people who kill differently from those who do not kill. It is for this reason that England, the country which invented felony murder, has abolished it. And, unlike Florida, a number of states have severely limited its application. If that is the basis on which a man stands to die, at a minimum the law needs to reach that conclusion through a trial and sentencing proceeding that presents that information.
Billy’s supporters would say that the man he is today is not the man who committed this felony 25 years ago. True enough. People change in prison to a large degree and in Billy’s case he has done some amazing things in the past 25 years. He is a prolific award-winning author with multiple published books and he helps other prisoners with their appeals—despite his circumstances. It should be noted, however, that Billy has always been a caring and compassionate person. Billy would be the first to admit he made some bad choices.
Billy’s death warrant has been signed. The scheduled execution date is: June 12, 2013 at 6:00 p.m. at Florida State Prison. We are asking the public to decide if this crime warrants the death penalty. Specifically, does Billy’s crime rise to the level of applying the final punishment of death?
Dear Governor Scott,
We are asking for you to grant executive clemency for William (Billy) Van Poyck. Specifically, please consider commuting Billy’s death sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
It defies comprehension how the State of Florida can carry out the execution of Billy Van Poyck. Clearly, legally, under the felony-murder doctrine you have the right to do so. Morally, however, should the State carry out Billy’s death sentence? This completely contradicts the belief the public has about the death penalty. The perception that the ultimate penalty in Florida is applied only to the actual perpetrators is simply not true. In this instance, Florida law does not treat people who kill differently from those who do not kill.
A tragic fact is Billy never truly had his day in court. At Billy’s trial, his jury was told HE was the triggeman. Consequently, this is what the jurors believed when they sentenced Billy to death. Billy’s jury was misled. Billy’s co-defendant, Frank Valdes’s jury was also told that Frank was the triggerman. How, then, can any fair-minded, sensible person construe that the death penalty is applied in a fair and just manner? One simply cannot in Billy’s case. Should Billy be executed when he did not kill anyone and, further to the point, when he had no intention to kill anyone? As you know, intent is a big part of criminal law. There is no intent here.
Billy’s supporters implore you and your Cabinet to consider granting clemency for William Van Poyck. If any death row inmate (other than those who are innocent) is deserving of clemency it is Billy. Please let this serve as an opportunity for you to show the citizens of Florida that you are a practical, fair-minded governor that thoroughly investigates a case before carrying out the ultimate sentence.
Dr. Traci R. Francis