Death Row inmates seek new sentences

Prosecutor files papers to keep inmate's death sentence

ORLANDO, Fla. – Less than two hours before State Attorney Aramis Ayala held a news conference announcing her office’s opposition to the death penalty, one of Ayala’s prosecutors filed papers in Orange County circuit court trying to keep an inmate on Florida’s Death Row.

Dusty Ray Spencer, who was convicted of stabbing his wife to death in 1991, is among 22 inmates from Orange and Osceola counties currently awaiting lethal injection in the state’s death chamber. 

At least 14 of those death row inmates, including Spencer, have recently filed motions in circuit court attempting to get their death sentences overturned.  Most cite recent U.S. and Florida Supreme Court rulings that require unanimous jury recommendations in death sentences handed down since June 2002.

Ayala’s office is awaiting a mandate from Florida’s Supreme Court detailing how it should proceed with any death sentences deemed unconstitutional, according to a state attorney spokeswoman.

However, Ayala’s office has argued in the court papers that the recent Supreme Court rulings do not apply in some of the death row inmates’ cases, including Spencer’s.

“Spencer’s successive post conviction motion is without merit and summary denial is appropriate,” Assistant State Attorney Kenneth Nunnelley and Senior Assistant Attorney General Scott Browne wrote in a March 1 motion opposing Spencer’s attempt to vacate his death sentence.

On Thursday, about 90 minutes before Ayala announced her decision not to pursue death penalty cases, Nunnelley filed additional papers in Spencer’s case in support of the state’s position that Spencer’s death sentence should stand.

A representative of Ayala’s office said she could not immediately answer questions about how the state attorney would address attempts by Spencer and other condemned inmates to be moved off Death Row.

About the Author:

Emmy Award-winning investigative reporter Mike DeForest has been covering Central Florida news for more than two decades.