By Rich Pollack
Attorneys for convicted double-murderer Duane Owen hope a Palm Beach County judge will grant their client a chance to get off Death Row.
They hope to persuade a new jury to reconsider two death sentences Owen received for the murders, which took place more than three decades ago.
In what amounts to a complicated legal maneuver, based in part on a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, attorney James Driscoll asked Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley to set aside Owen’s death sentences and present his case to a new jury for sentencing.
Driscoll said he is not asking for jurors to overturn the two guilty verdicts; instead he wants to focus on the jury recommendations that his client be put to death.
“We’re asking for a jury trial on the penalty phase,” Driscoll said.
Jurors convicted Owen, one of Palm Beach County’s most notorious Death Row inmates, of fatally stabbing Delray Beach babysitter Karen Slattery, 14, and a few months later, of beating Boca Raton single mother Georgianna Worden to death with a hammer while her children slept in another room.
In both cases, juries voted 10-2 in favor of the death penalty for Owen.
In January 2016, however, in Hurst v. Florida, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Florida’s death sentence process was unconstitutional because it allowed a judge to be the final finder of facts in determining the sentence, rather than a jury.
In a subsequent ruling, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that all death penalty jury recommendations must be unanimous.
The Florida Supreme Court later determined that some cases after June 24, 2002, in which a death penalty verdict was not unanimous might be eligible for relief. That was the day the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Arizona’s death penalty unconstitutional in Ring v. Arizona on grounds similar to those in the Hurst case.
Owen’s situation is complicated because, although his death sentence in the Worden case became final in 1992, it was not final in the Slattery case until December 2002 because he had been granted a retrial.
In making his case to Kelley, Driscoll argued the 2002 date is arbitrary. He contended that seeking a reversal of the death penalty should be open to all Death Row inmates who qualify regardless of when the punishment was handed down.
In response, attorneys representing Florida claimed the 2002 date should be binding because until that point there was no reason to believe the state’s death penalty was unconstitutional.
Attorneys have until Sept. 15 to submit additional information to Kelley before the judge makes a ruling.
By Rich Pollack