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Henderson: Lethal justice requires absolute certainty

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Published:   |   Updated: April 13, 2013 at 05:20 PM

The perverted, wasted life of Larry Eugene Mann ended at 7:19 p.m. Wednesday, strapped to a gurney in the death house at the Florida State Prison in Starke as poison moved through his veins.

He was there because he murdered 10-year-old Elisa Nelson, of Palm Harbor, and there was no doubt of his guilt. The fact that he became a Christian during his 32 years on death row is a matter between him and God. The fact of his punishment is between him and the people of Florida.

Supporters of the death penalty say it can be a deterrent to stalkers like Mann, but obviously it doesn't work that way. Florida has 400 men and five women awaiting execution, second — behind only Texas — in the nation. Mann was the 75th inmate put to death since executions resumed in Florida in 1976.

In cases like this, though, I think society does have a right to punish even if it doesn't deter the next guy. If Mann's forced departure to the great beyond gives comfort in any measure to the family, even better.

Here's where I will part company from the pack, though.

Though Mann spent an abnormally long time on death row, the execution of anyone demands that there can't be one shred of doubt about their guilt. I've read the same comments as you about the cost of housing death row inmates, or even just the act of keeping them alive during their appeals, but this isn't the Wild West where we grab a rope and get a horse.

More often than you'd think, juries and prosecutors get it wrong.

According to www.deathpenaltyinfo.org, there have been 142 death row exonerations since 1973, and Florida tops the nation with 24 such cases. That's 24 people who were judged guilty and were despised as much as Mann.

Just last December, Seth Penalver was released after 18 years on death row for a triple murder in Broward County he didn't commit. That was about the time Gov. Rick Scott said he wanted to speed up the process for executions.

It's a populist argument for Scott, given that the average stay on death row is 13.22 years. It's not like inmates are hanging out at the Ritz, though, as they await execution. It's a miserable, monotonous dance with eternity.

Their cells measure 6 by 9 feet, barely the size of a closet. They are in there at all times except for medical exams, visitors or exercise. There's no air conditioning, and I doubt anyone much cares about that. I know I don't.

However, I also believe that as exasperating as protracted and sometimes frivolous appeals are for many people, capital punishment is one time where we have to be absolutely sure. Once the deed is done, there is no appeal. We are a nation of laws, and the laws lay out a specific process for states to follow before administering the ultimate punishment.

That's what distinguishes us from mob justice.

What matters is that Larry Eugene Mann got what he deserved. It was a long time to wait, but justice delayed is still justice. A monster is gone, and no one has to wonder whether they got the right guy.

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