A FRIGHTENING tale retold in the July 17 edition of The Nation provides yet another example of why even strong proponents of the death penalty have doubts about its employment. In 1975, a man who certainly appears to fit the profile of a murderer -- a biker and rapist known as "Crazy Joe" Spaziano -- was convicted in Florida of killing Laura Lynn Harberts. Her mutilated body was found in a dump in Seminole County. Spaziano was scheduled to be executed for the crime on June 27, but he wasn't.
A good thing. He may not have done it.
In 1982, Spaziano's appeal was assigned to public defender Michael Mello. He discovered his client was convicted solely on the testimony of a single witness who said he remembered Spaziano describing the crime. The jury was not told that the witness had been a regular user of hallucinogens when questioned by police. Nor was it told the witness had provided testimony to police while under hypnosis. The Miami Herald later discovered the same hypnotist had been involved in a case in which two innocent men were wrongly sent to Florida's death row 20 years ago. Confronted with this information, the witness against Spaziano now denies remembering anything about the crime. Gov. Lawton Chiles has issued a stay of execution and is considering clemency.
The question still remaining before Americans is whether their system of jurisprudence is an exact enough science to bet a person's life on it. We think we know what Spaziano would say. But what about the family of Laura Lynn Harberts?