Herman Lindsey was once a man that the state of Florida believed was guilty of murder.
The conviction put him on death row, in a prison cell with other inmates in 2006. Every night, he called to a higher being, his God, in hopes of being freed from punishment of a crime he said he didn’t commit.
“I prayed every day, I cried,” the 44-year-old said, recalling the days when he believed he would be put to death.
But when the Florida Supreme Court ruled the evidence used against him by the state was insufficient in a 2009 decision, Lindsey fell to his knees. He was free.
In 2016, the Florida Supreme Court ruled part of the state’s death penalty unconstitutional, stating that a unanimous jury was needed for a conviction. In response, the Florida Legislature worked to change the part of the bill that the court took issue with, changing the requirement of having a majority of jurors having to vote in favor of the sentence to requiring a unanimous one. Lindsey testified on Feb. 22 before the legislature in hopes of convincing them that the new changes will not fix the problems of the death penalty.
In both the House and Senate, the bill passed smoothly.
Until Monday, it waited on Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s approval. But that changed.
With a stroke of a pen, he revived a law that allows people to be put to death.
In January, Democratic State Sen. Randolph Bracy introduced Senate Bill 280, which adjusted the language to require that a unanimous jury vote to convict someone.
It reads, “If a unanimous jury determines that the defendant should be sentenced to death, the jury’s recommendation to the court shall be a sentence of death.”
Sen. Bracy said as leader of the Senate on criminal justice issues, he was charged with bringing the bill back to the floor and into law.
“It’s the will of the legislature,” he said.
Opponents to the death penalty had little doubt in their minds that Scott would sign the bill. But they all agreed the lives of more than 300 inmates on death row are worth fighting for.
When Rep. Joseph Geller heard testimony from former death row inmate Lindsey, it served as a reminder of why it is that he continues to be a voice against the death penalty.
“When I heard Mr. Lindsey’s testimony, of course it struck a chord in me, but thank God he wasn’t executed,” said Geller, who represents District 100 and voted against the bill.
“What if he’d been executed? As bad as it is he’s been kept in prison, at least he’s alive.”
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Herman Lindsey still feels like he’s serving a life sentence.
Images of his days on death row float to the front of his mind and interrupt the life he lives now, even after becoming Florida’s 23rd exonerated inmate.
He struggles with bouts of depression and anxiety. Despite being found innocent, he struggles to find a job, with a murder conviction appearing on his record. He struggles with the fear of a system that put him through the chaos.
“I wish this on no one, because even though I didn’t get executed, I got placed in a situation where I’m serving a life sentence,” he said.
Mark Elliott, executive director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said it’s important to have the public scrutinize every aspect of Florida’s death penalty law.
“The elephant in the room is we don’t need the death penalty, it’s totally unnecessary,” he said.
Stories like Lindsey’s are important, Elliott said, because it’s important to hear from people who have lived through it.
Lindsey said he will continue to tell his story. He continues to vocally oppose the death penalty; a punishment he believes is flawed. The bill doesn’t do anything to help, he added.
“It’s like putting a Band-Aid over something that needs stitches. It’s still going to bleed,” he said.
Rep. Geller is asking for the legislature to change.
On March 7, he introduced House Bill 6045, which he said aims to abolish the death penalty in Florida.
“The notion that any innocent person could be executed is horrible,” he said.
Among his long list of reasons he believes the death penalty should be abolished, he said the exponential cost is among them. He added that studies have shown the death penalty is not a deterrent to crime; mistakes are made by people; and he believes the law is the wrong approach.
He believes a unanimous jury is better than requiring a majority, but it doesn’t make the law much better. Despite strong opposition, Geller said he will continue to oppose the death penalty.
“You have to believe in what you think is right and be willing to stand up for what you think is right,” he said. “I was sent here to take a stand on things, and this is one of them.”
Elliott said he’s spent more than a decade organizing with coalitions across the state to increase education on the death penalty.
If people understood how the state’s death penalty program works, he said he believes more people would be against it.
“Many people say, the more you know about the death penalty, the less you like it,” he said. “The more I found out about it, the more I found needed to be done about it.”
Before Monday, Elliott held onto hope.
He believes everyone is capable of change, even Florida’s governor.
That’s why he believes death row inmates don’t deserve to be put to death. And that’s why he said he had hoped Scott “sees the light.”
“Our governor claims to be pro-life, but he’s apparently made a political accommodation with his conscious,” Elliott said.
Lindsey had no doubt Scott would sign the bill.
“It’s nothing we or anybody can do,” he said simply. “Even if he don’t want to sign it, he’s going to sign it.”
He said when a jury sentenced him to death, it was by an 8-4 vote. The amended bill, had it been in place before, would not have placed him on death row. But his experience has made an activist out of him.
“I think God sent me through that time so that I could be the voice to help in the death penalty,” he said.
He believes the bill will mark change for the death penalty, which he hopes will be abolished in the next couple of years.
“It’s changing a lot. We are going through a quiet storm right now,” he said of the legislation. “The real storm is about to come and it’s going to tear the death penalty down.”