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Tallahassee Democrat: Death row exonerees deliver letter to governor's office to block execution

Credit: Lance Oliver Photography

Four Florida death row exonerees visited Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office Tuesday and asked for mercy for James Dailey, who is scheduled to be executed Nov. 7 for the 1985 murder of a Pinellas County teenager.

The four petitioners — Seth Penalver, Juan Melendez, Clemente Aguirre and Herman Lindsey — had lived with Dailey on death row at the Florida State Prison in Raiford. They said his case is eerily similar to theirs: convictions based on no physical evidence, and testimony from jailhouse informants that would later be recanted.

“You don’t have to sign the death warrant,” said Melendez about the message he wants DeSantis to hear.

"You can release an innocent man from prison. But you can never release an innocent man from the grave," said Melendez as he and the others gathered in the cafeteria, a floor below the governor’s office at the state Capitol. "Don’t make this mistake, please."

Left to right in front, Herman Lindsey, Clemente Aguirre, Juan Melendez. Standing are Seth Penalver and Derek Jamison. All five men served time on death row before their convictions were overturned.

Dailey, a Korean and Vietnam War veteran, was sentenced to death for the murder of 14-year-old Shelly Boggio 34 years ago. Boggio was beaten, choked, stabbed and drowned near Indian Rock Beach in 1985.

After Dailey's conviction, his roommate Jack Pearcy recanted testimony that implicated Dailey, and signed a sworn affidavit that he alone was responsible for Boggio’s death.

DeSantis signed Dailey’s death warrant on Sept. 26. Citing Pearcy’s confession, the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops and a group called Witness to Innocence have launched efforts to save Dailey’s life.

If his execution is carried out in November, Dailey will be the 100th inmate Florida puts to death since the state resumed executions in 1976. Melendez, Aguirre, Lindsey and Penalver are among 29 Florida death row inmates the courts have exonerated during that same time period.

“That is not a good number,” said Penalver who lived on death row for 17 years. “Say, if you had a car, right? And you had 29 cars with the same problem. Wouldn’t we have a massive recall? It’s sort of the same thing here.”

Penalver notes that Florida leads the nation in wrongful convictions in capital cases. He said the numbers indicate that someone is wrongly convicted and sentenced to die for every three executions the state carries out.

The Florida Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Dailey earlier this month. The justices ruled Dailey's attorneys had failed to demonstrate that new evidence would result in an acquittal.

The Catholic bishops reject the court rulings and have called on DeSantis to block Dailey's execution.

"This case of a veteran with evidence of innocence is especially alarming," the bishops wrote the governor in a letter that also called for the end of the death penalty in Florida.

Dailey's attorneys Monday asked DeSantis and the Florida Commission on Offender Review to grant Dailey a full clemency hearing on his case.

DeSantis' office did not respond when asked for comment.

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