If you were with us on Christmas week you heard the story of Betsie Gallardo, who, unless something changes quickly, is going to be intentionally starved to death in a Florida prison after being convicted of spitting on a cop. In fairness, the State did not decide simply to starve her; instead, the Department of Corrections (DOC) first chose to withhold any further treatment for her inoperable cancer...and then they decided to starve her to death.
Her adopted mother is trying to get her released on humanitarian grounds; the DOC recommended in October that she be allowed to go home and die, the Florida Parole Commission refused. Governor Charlie Crist chairs the Executive Clemency Board, who could also agree to let her go...and so far, they've also refused to take action.
Funny thing is, the Governor and his Board have been more than willing to step in when other Floridians requested pardons and commutations, even in situations that seemed a lot less dire.
Today, we're going to look at that history--and to be honest, as with many things in the Sunshine State, from the outside...it all looks a bit bizarre.
"Forgiveness, particularly at this time of year, is a very worthwhile message for all of us to be reminded of..."
--Florida Governor Charlie Crist, December 9, 2010
So right off the bat, if you're 21 years old and you're having sex with a 15 year-old, you're looking at some trouble if the police find out. In fact, you're going to be regarded as a sex offender in the eyes of the law if you're doing something like that and you get caught.
But as it turns out, in Florida, if you marry the young person in question, you can get a pardon. In fact, it comes up often enough that they're called "Romeo and Juliet" pardons, and the Executive Clemency Board actually handed out a couple of them in 2009 to John Kemp and Virgil McCranie, who were dating 14 and 15 year-olds when they were originally convicted.
Actually, you don't even have to marry the minor in question if you can obtain their consent for the underage sexual encounter and demonstrate a reasonable degree of remorse: that happened to Gregory Allen, who was 40 when he was convicted of having sex with a minor.
Describing the events that led to Allen's conviction, Alex Sink, who was not elected Governor to replace Crist:
"...later expressed frustration with the state's classification of people as sex offenders even though they may have been convicted of having consensual relations."
Suzanne Squires killed her own daughter and seriously injured another woman while driving drunk, and just this month the Board commuted 12 years of her 23-year sentence so that she could return home to her family.
18 year-old Jennifer Martin was driving way too fast, and in the eventual crash she killed one of her passengers, and injured another, although she was sober when she did it; she received the second commutation granted by the Board under Crist's chairmanship when her 16 year sentence for manslaughter by culpable negligence was cut in half in 2009.
The Doors' Jim Morrison, who is not at risk to die in prison, was posthumously pardoned by the Board just this month for an indecent exposure "event" that took place in 1969. Reached for comment, Morrison suggested that these were strange days indeed when he could be pardoned in death and Betsie Gallardo can't be pardoned in the final days of her life.
Donald Keehn lent a neighbor $7,000. When she couldn't repay the debt, he drove by her house and shot up the place--five times.
He was 88 at the time, she was 66, but instead of starving him to death because of his cancer, congestive heart failure and kidney failure, the Board chose to commute half of his five year sentence in 2009 and set him free.
Remember when I suggested that Florida, to the outside observer, seems a bit bizarre?
If you date underage girls in "Chain Gang Charlie's" Florida you can get a pardon or a commutation. In fact, if you do...they even have a special name for it.
If you kill someone drunk driving--or even driving sober--there might be a commutation for you, too.
Did you ever wag your penis onstage 40 years ago, then die, and now you're having trouble finding a job because of your besmirched reputation? Governor Crist wants to help--and the Board has his back.
Have you ever committed a series of drive-by shootings, and then developed a series of serious physical problems that make you seek a commutation so that you can go home and die? Florida will find a way to let you out.
On the other hand, if you spit on a cop, and then you develop inoperable cancer...and your name's Betsie Gallardo...Florida not only won't let you out of prison to go home and die--they'll starve you in prison, just to make your death come a bit faster.
Wanna discuss any of this with the Board? Here's some handy contact information for Crist and the other three members:
Charlie Crist, Governor of Florida
Bill McCollum, Attorney General
Click here to e-mail Mr. McCollum
Charles Bronson, Commissioner Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
Alex Sink, Chief Financial Officer Florida Department of Financial Services
I don't know how many of you remember the show "Daria", but all of this reminds me of an episode of "Sick Sad World"--except that in this case the application of outside pressure is having an effect on the DOC...and that means we need to keep the pressure coming.
If we drag them to it, kicking and screaming, I'm sure the State of Florida will be just as compassionate and humane toward Betsie Gallardo as they were to all the other fine folks you read about here today--and with your help we'll be able to write a happier ending to what has been, so far, a rather unhappy story.
Read All of Betsie Gallardo's story at The Bilerico Project: