After a circuit judge concluded that convicted murderer Duane Owen was “feigning or malingering psychopathology,” the Florida Supreme Court on Friday rejected arguments that Owen should be spared execution because he is not sane.
Justices, in a 6-0 decision, refused for the second time this week to halt the execution, which is scheduled Thursday at Florida State Prison. Both rulings centered on arguments by Owen’s attorneys that he is not mentally competent to be put to death in the 1984 murder of a Palm Beach County woman.
In Friday’s ruling, the Supreme Court upheld a decision issued Sunday by Bradford County Circuit Judge James Colaw, who found that Owen has an “antisocial personality disorder” but can understand the circumstances surrounding the planned execution. Owen also was sentenced to death in another 1984 murder in Palm Beach County.
“This court finds that Mr. Owen is feigning or malingering psychopathology to avoid the death penalty,” Colaw wrote in his order. “Even if Mr. Owen did currently suffer from schizophrenia there is no evidence that that mental illness interferes, in any way, with his ‘rational understanding’ of the fact of his pending execution and the reason for it. Mr, Owen is aware that the state is executing him for the murders he committed and that he will physically die as a result of the execution. There is no credible evidence that in his current mental state Mr. Owen believes himself unable to die or that he is being executed for any reason other than the murders he was convicted of.”
In upholding the ruling, the Supreme Court cited “competent, substantial evidence supporting the circuit court’s determination.”
“Here, the circuit court applied the appropriate legal standard in concluding that Owen is sane to be executed,” said the opinion, which was shared by Chief Justice Carlos Muniz and Justices Charles Canady, John Couriel, Jamie Grosshans, Renatha Francis and Meredith Sasso. Justice Jorge Labarga was recused.
Gov. Ron DeSantis on May 9 signed a death warrant for Owen, 62, in the murder of Georgianna Worden, who was bludgeoned with a hammer and sexually assaulted in her Boca Raton home in May 1984, according to the death warrant and court records.
Owen also was sentenced to death in the March 1984 murder of 14-year-old Karen Slattery, who was babysitting at a Delray Beach home, according to court documents. Slattery was stabbed to death.
In seeking to halt the execution, Owen’s attorneys have pointed to the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment, which bars cruel and unusual punishment, and legal precedents that prevent executing people who are not mentally competent.
“Owen’s severe mental illness, delusions, and dementia inhibit his ability to rationally understand why the ultimate punishment is to be imposed upon him,” Owen’s attorneys wrote in a brief Tuesday at the Supreme Court. “Owen is precisely the case that the Eighth Amendment seeks to protect.”
The Supreme Court on Monday refused to block the execution in a separate appeal dealing with Owen’s competence. The opinion Friday stemmed from a legal rule about holding hearings on whether prisoners would be insane at the time of execution. Colaw is a judge in the circuit that includes Florida State Prison.
If the execution is carried out Thursday, Owen would be the fourth Florida inmate put to death in less than four months.
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