Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Rolling may figure into election

Rolling may figure into election

Execution set for two weeks before the Nov. 7 balloting

By Mark Hollis Tallahassee Bureau

Posted September 26 2006

TALLAHASSEE · Will the fate of serial killer Danny Harold Rolling, who is set to die shortly before the Nov. 7 election, play a role in Florida's political campaigns?

Gov. Jeb Bush signed on Friday the death warrant for Rolling, who pleaded guilty in 1994 to the 1990 slayings of five college students in Gainesville.

Killed were Sonja Larson, 18, of Deerfield Beach; Christina Powell, 17, of Jacksonville; Christa Hoyt, 18, of Archer; Tracy Inez Paules, 23, of Miami; and Manuel R. Taboada, 23, of Miami.Bush set the execution for Oct. 25.

The execution of one of the most infamous killers on Florida's Death Row likely will draw national attention just as the campaign enters it most intense final stretch.

Some Democratic Party candidates said Monday they are wondering if the Republican governor's timing for the execution is meant to give a public relations boost to Republican candidates statewide, including Attorney General Charlie Crist, who is emphasizing crime and punishment issues in his campaign for governor.

"The timing is really suspect," state Sen. Walter "Skip" Campbell, a Broward County Democrat running for attorney general, said of the Republicans. "It's like they are trying to show everybody that they're tough on crime.

This [warrant] could have been signed a long time ago and the date set for another time when politics wouldn't be a consideration."

Bush said Monday he could have set the execution date for after the election, but insisted statewide elections weren't a consideration.

He said Rolling's case had already gone before the U.S. Supreme Court, which recently finished deliberations on other capital cases.

"I have a duty to sign these warrants when the timing is right," Bush said.

The governor also said it is unlikely Crist or Bill McCollum, the Republican running for attorney general, will make a lot of noise about the Rolling execution, given that their Democratic opponents also support the death penalty.

"I don't anticipate this being political, or one candidate benefiting from it," Bush told reporters. "I could have [signed the death warrant] for a week after the election, it doesn't change anything.

"Questions about the timing of the execution should be expected, said Mark Bubriski, a spokesman for the Florida Democratic Party."When something like this happens that close to an election, I think we're always going to raise the question of how is politics involved," he said.

Crist plays an official role in carrying out the death penalty.As attorney general, his office represents the state in death penalty appeals and he reports to the governor when those cases are ready for death warrants.

Aides to Crist and Democratic candidate Jim Davis aren't yet saying how they will deal with the Rolling execution."I can assure you, I can tell you now, it is not something we're going to play politics with," said Josh Earnest, Davis' campaign spokesman.

"This is one of the most important responsibilities that a governor has. And it's more important than politics.

"But Erin Isaac, a spokesman for Crist, was less definitive.

In a written reply to questions about the matter, she said: "As attorney general, [Crist] plays a role in handing down the punishment and will fulfill his obligation as he always does.

"Bush did not address whether he would have set a different date for the execution had state Sen. Rod Smith of Alachua beaten Davis to become the Democratic nominee for governor. Smith was the prosecutor in the Rolling case.

Bubriski, the Democratic Party spokesman, said if Crist or other Republicans attempted to exploit the Rolling case, "Rod Smith would come out swinging. Rod Smith would, no doubt, join Jim Davis' defense if they tried to do that."

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