Decades ago, when James Dailey got home from four tours of military service in Vietnam and Korea, he deserved a life beyond the hardships of war. Instead, he ended up on death row for a crime likely committed by someone else.
It may seem impossible, but we know it isn’t. We were also sentenced to death in Florida for crimes we did not commit. That’s why we are asking Gov. Ron DeSantis to halt the scheduled execution of Dailey on Nov. 7.
Florida has come too close to making this mistake – a mistake that cannot be undone – many times before. In all, 29 innocent people have been exonerated from Florida’s death row.
Herman Lindsay was convicted with entirely circumstantial evidence. Three years later, the Florida Supreme Court ruled unanimously that there wasn’t enough evidence to find Lindsay guilty of anything, much less sentence him to death.
Although Juan Melendez had an airtight alibi and there was zero physical evidence linking him to the crime for which he was wrongfully convicted, he spent over 17 years on Florida’s death row. He was exonerated when a transcript of a taped statement made by the real killer was discovered.
Almost exactly a year ago, on Nov. 5, 2018, Clemente Javier Aguirre-Jarquin, was exonerated when DNA and multiple confessions from the true perpetrator proved his innocence.
Tragically for Dailey, no court has yet considered the merits of all the new evidence proving his innocence.
Dailey’s co-defendant, Jack Pearcy, has admitted at least four times that he, and he alone, is responsible for the May 5, 1985, murder of Shelly Boggio. Pearcy, who got a life sentence, was the person who implicated Dailey in an attempt to shift the blame from himself. Dailey has maintained his innocence for more than 30 years.
New evidence includes the multiple confessions from Pearcy, including a sworn affidavit he committed the crime alone. New evidence confirms that Dailey was not present when Boggio was killed. Instead of putting Dailey to death, shouldn’t Florida courts consider the powerful evidence of his innocence?
Of course they should. But right now, with just weeks until the scheduled execution, the courts have ruled that they can’t. The legal process and human errors have created another unreliable conviction and death sentence in Florida.
However, one road to justice is possible. The governor can and should act on the new information. The governor could grant Dailey a stay of execution, and it’s in his power to grant a clemency hearing in the case. Stopping the scheduled execution would allow time for Dailey’s attorneys to try to get all the new evidence considered.
There is plenty of it. Dailey’s conviction has many of the hallmark problems we see in other wrongful convictions in death penalty cases. With no physical or forensic evidence against him, Dailey was convicted on the word of unreliable jailhouse snitches who personally benefited in exchange for their testimony. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, this kind of unreliable testimony was a factor in nearly a quarter of all death row exonerations.
One of the state’s star witnesses against Dailey was Paul Skalnik, a man with at least 25 convictions for crimes of dishonesty. The prosecutor who put Skalnik on the stand against Dailey later testified that she would not use him in her cases again because she could not trust his testimony would be truthful. Unfortunately, she had already urged Dailey’s jury to believe Skalnik, and they did.
History proves Florida gets capital punishment wrong. It did in our cases. It has gotten the death penalty wrong at least 29 times before.
Instead of executing a brave veteran just four days before Veteran’s Day 2019, DeSantis should stop the scheduled execution of Dailey. It’s the only way to avoid yet another unthinkable injustice, the execution of an innocent person.
Herman Lindsay spent three years on death row before his exoneration in 2009. He is now the board secretary of Witness to Innocence. Juan Melendez is the 99th person in the nation to be exonerated from a death sentence.
From the Tallahassee Democrat