Florida court considers commuting death sentences

- Back in 1998, it was headline news. Popeye's employee Cynthia Harrison was stabbed to death by her co-worker, Timothy Hurst at the restaurant.

Hurst was convicted of her murder and sentenced to death, but on appeal, his sentence was overturned. A new jury sentenced him to death, again.

Then the U.S. Supreme Court took on Hurst's case, and turned Florida's death penalty law upside down.

In January, 2016 the high court ruled Florida's sentencing procedures were unconstitutional. The Supreme Court said jurors should decide a defendant's fate not a judge.

In March, state lawmakers scrambled to fix the law and passed new sentencing guidelines, saying at least 10 jurors must recommend a death sentence.

That means Hurst could be sentenced for a third time.

Arguing before the Florida Supreme Court Thursday, Timothy Hurst's attorney John Selden said, because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on his case, his death sentence should be thrown out.

"What I would like this court to do is reverse and vacate the death sentence and remand the imposition of life sentence without parole," said Selden.

Justice Barbara Pariente agreed the Supreme Court's decision was sweeping.

"It meant that there was no death penalty procedure in Florida," explained Pariente.

However, the weighty decision by the State Supreme Court could have vast implications for the 400 inmates currently sitting on death row.

State prosecutors are fighting the possibility of throwing those sentences out, switching them for life sentences. The prosecutors said the ruling should not be retroactive.

Vivian Singleton argued on behalf of the attorney general's office.

"In the Hurst decision the, Supreme Court did not say Florida's death penalty was unconstitutional; only that the sentencing scheme was unconstitutional," said Singleton.

She argued those sitting on death row committed heinous, atrocious and cruel acts, which she said all deserve to be paid for with their lives.

This week, the Florida Supreme Court heard from three former justices, elected officials and legal scholars who have called for hundreds of death row inmates to have their death sentence replaced with life sentences.

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