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Florida To Execute Death Row Prisoner Paul Howell Without Giving Him Final Federal Appeal

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Florida Department of Corrections
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A man currently sentenced to death will be executed next week by lethal injection without receiving his final federal review, a routine right for prison inmates that is universally recognized across the country.

Update Feb. 25, 2013 6:15pm:

Howell has been granted a stay of execution by a federal court in Atlanta, Michael Ufferman, an attorney for Howell, told The Huffington Post.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals issued the order on Monday, the day before Howell was scheduled to be given a lethal injection. The court is currently in the process of deciding whether Howell will have the chance to have his case heard in federal court.

Previously reported:

Michael Ufferman, one of the lawyers representing Paul Howell, a 47-year-old man on death row for killing a state trooper in 1992, told The Huffington Post that Howell was wrongfully denied an appearance in federal court because his previous attorney missed a filing deadline for the appeal.

Ufferman says there is mitigating evidence that needs to be considered. For example, he says Howell suffers from mental health issues and was abused as a child.

The Florida Supreme Court denied Howell's appeal for a stay of execution on Tuesday, NBC local affiliate WESH reports.

Gov. Rick Scott, who got rid of a state committee that monitored capital punishment in order to save $400,000 a year, has the power to withdraw the death warrant for Howell, Ufferman said. But so far, Scott has not done so.

When asked if the governor had plans to grant a stay of execution, his spokesman sent HuffPost the following statement: "Under Florida law, it is the Governor’s duty to make decisions on cases involving capital punishment, and he takes this solemn duty very seriously."

"Mr. Howell is not getting a second look to see if the state court made any mistakes or didn't follow clearly established federal law," said Rick Sichta, an attorney on the board of directors at the Florida Capital Resource Center, which provides support to prisoners facing death sentences. "We're just taking the state court's word for it right now. It's common that when you get up to the federal level, federal courts have a different opinion."

In 2012, Florida handed out more death sentences than most any other state in the nation.

The state sentences about 21 people -- out of about 78 nationwide -- to death every year, making it responsible for a full 25 percent of the country's new death sentences, the West Side Gazette points out.

Nevertheless, Republican state Rep. Matt Gaetz is currently drafting legislation that would bring death row inmates to their demise faster than the current system already does, by setting strict time limits for judges to schedule hearings and to rule on appeals, according to the Northwest Florida Daily News.

"Each capital case costs over $1 million," Gaetz wrote in a News Herald column in January. "Taxpayers should not be forced to fund endless, insincere appeals."

But some would argue that in Florida, which has the highest number of exonerated death row inmates in the country, the appeals process serves a valuable cause. In 2012, for example, a 39-year-old man was acquitted of a crime that he had spent 18 years in prison for and had been sentenced to death over, according to the Sun Sentinel.

Although the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 prescribed a one-year filing limit for habeas review, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that that deadline can be relaxed in certain circumstances, such as the misconduct of a state-appointed attorney.

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