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Florida justices asked to reconsider death sentence in 1989 murder case

Florida Supreme Court
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With convicted murderer Louis Gaskin scheduled to be put to death April 12, his attorneys have asked the Florida Supreme Court to stay the execution and reconsider his death sentence.

The attorneys filed a motion for a stay and other documents, arguing in part that a jury was not given evidence of Gaskin’s mental illness before recommending that he be sentenced to death in the 1989 murders of a Flagler County couple.

A 57-page brief said the jury did not receive “profound and important mitigating evidence” about Gaskin’s mental illness and an abusive childhood. It said such evidence would have outweighed what are known as “aggravating” factors and spared Gaskin from the death penalty. The jury voted 8-4 to recommend the death penalty to a judge.

“Four jurors voted for life despite the fact that Mr. Gaskin’s trial counsel failed him at every turn, especially in the penalty (sentencing) phase where only two lay witnesses and no expert witnesses were presented,” the brief said. “Those four jurors knew next to nothing about Mr. Gaskin. They knew nothing about the abuse and abandonment he suffered as a child; nothing about him being raised in squalor by his illiterate great-grandparents who forced him to eat off the floor and beat him mercilessly; nothing about his teenage mother who disappeared from his life for years at a time; nothing about the father he never knew. The jurors heard nothing about Mr. Gaskin being bullied in school, that he continued to suck his thumb well into his teen years, or that he would go off by himself and rock back and forth.”

The filings at the Supreme Court came after Flagler County Circuit Judge Terence Perkins last week rejected Gaskin’s arguments challenging the death sentence. The state is expected to file briefs this week.

DeSantis on March 13 signed a death warrant for Gaskin, who was convicted in the murders of Robert and Georgette Sturmfels during a burglary of their Flagler County home. Gaskin, now 56, also received a life sentence after being convicted of attempted murder for shooting a man during a burglary at another home the same night, according to court documents.

In addition to seeking a stay, Gaskin’s attorneys requested that the Supreme Court order an evidentiary hearing or vacate the death sentence. They also filed what is known as a petition for writ of habeas corpus based on an allegation that an aggravating factor in the case was unconstitutional.

Gaskin would be the second Florida inmate executed in less than two months. The state on Feb. 23 put to death Donald David Dillbeck, who murdered a woman in 1990 during a carjacking in a Tallahassee mall parking lot. Dillbeck, 59, was the 100th inmate executed in Florida since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

Before Dillbeck’s execution, the state had not carried out a death sentence since Gary Ray Bowles was put to death by lethal injection in August 2019 for a 1994 murder in Jacksonville.

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