DeSantis signs death warrant for Florida man convicted of 1996 murder

Michael Duane Zack mugshot courtesy of the Florida Department of Corrections. 

In what would be Florida’s sixth execution this year, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday signed a death warrant for an inmate convicted in the 1996 murder of a woman he met in an Escambia County bar.

Michael Duane Zack, 54, is scheduled to die by lethal injection Oct. 3 at Florida State Prison, according to information posted Thursday on the state Supreme Court website.

Zack was sentenced to death in the murder of Ravonne Smith during a crime spree that also included killing another woman, court records show. State and federal courts turned down a series of appeals over nearly two decades.

A 2017 Florida Supreme Court opinion in one of the appeals said Zack met Smith, an employee of Dirty Joe’s bar, on June 13, 1996. They wound up going to Smith’s house, where evidence indicated Zack hit her in the head with a beer bottle and then sexually assaulted her, the opinion said.

Zack then was accused of pursuing Smith into a bedroom, where he beat her head against a floor, before stabbing her in the chest, the opinion said. He stole a television, a video-cassette recorder and Smith’s purse and was arrested days later after trying to pawn the television and VCR in Panama City.

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A jury in September 1997 convicted Zack of first-degree murder, robbery with a firearm and sexual battery, records show. He also is serving a life sentence for murdering a woman in Okaloosa County shortly before the Smith murder.

Among the issues Zack raised in appeals was that an intellectual disability should shield him from execution. But in the 2017 opinion, for example, the Florida Supreme Court rejected the intellectual-disability arguments and pointed to a series of IQ scores.

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The U.S. Supreme Court has said executing people with intellectual disabilities would violate constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

DeSantis signed the Zack death warrant two weeks after the state executed James Phillip Barnes, 61, in the 1988 murder of a woman in her Melbourne condominium.

That came after the June execution of Duane Owen for the 1984 murder of a Palm Beach County woman. Also, the state executed Darryl Barwick in May for the 1986 murder of a woman in her Panama City apartment; Louis Gaskin in April in the 1989 murders of a couple in Flagler County; and Donald David Dilbeck in February in the 1990 murder of a woman during a carjacking in a Tallahassee mall parking lot.

Dillbeck was the first person executed since Gary Ray Bowles was put to death by lethal injection in August 2019 for a 1994 murder in Jacksonville.