Make that 23

On Jan. 24 Rudolph Holton walked out of Union Correctional Institution after 16 years on death row. The state of Florida gave him a $100 check for his trouble. Holton is now the 23rd person released since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

Holton's case reflects many of the problems inherent in capital prosecutions. Overzealous state attorneys withheld documents from Holton's defense lawyers, and they implied that one of Holton's hairs was found in the victim's mouth. Later, DNA tests showed the hair belonged to the victim.

His release comes amidst national soul searching on the death penalty. On Jan. 11, outgoing Illinois Gov. George Ryan cleared his death row after 13 inmates were declared innocent.

Though Florida is closing in on twice as many inmates freed as Illinois, Gov. Jeb Bush is pushing to dismantle the state-funded agency that defends the condemned, replacing it with a registry of private attorneys. The Capital Collateral Regional Council is now budgeted at $9.4 million; Bush wants his registry funded for $5.8 million. Each lawyer would be allotted 715 hours per case, though most post-conviction appeals tally thousands of hours. And unlike CCRC lawyers, the private attorneys don't have to actually have experience with life-and-death capital appeals before taking on a case.


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