What Happens if there is a Non-Unanimous Death Penalty Sentence? Hillsborough Execution Sentence Reconsidered

March 31, 2022 Criminal Defense

A Florida man convicted of first-degree murder almost eighteen years ago has found himself in the courtroom once again. William Deparvine was found guilty of the murder of a Florida couple, and while the issue of his guilt is not up for discussion, the fate of his life or death is.

Due to a change to Florida law regarding the death penalty, Deparvine’s case is one of many that are being reinvestigated in front of a new jury. The new law came about in 2016 when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Florida’s death penalty law – resulting in the law being rewritten to require that a jury be unanimous if they recommend the death penalty. When Deparvine was sentenced to death in 2006, the jury was non-unanimous and voted 8-to-4 in favor of the death penalty. As a result, he, and any inmates on death row who did not have a unanimous vote, must once again go into the courtroom to find out their fate. While Florida does not currently mandate that death sentences be handed down unanimously, The United States Supreme Court has held that all death sentences must be unanimous, causing this review.

While it’s technically a life-or-death sentence, it remains that Deparvine will still maintain his guilty verdict. It is more of a matter of where he will die, and when. This blog discusses Deparvine’s original case, along with the death penalty in Florida and its amendments from 2016.

What was the Case?

William Deparvine was found guilty of the murders of Richard and Karla Van Dusen in the case Deparvine v State in 2003. The couple lived in Tierra Verda at the time and were attempting to sell their red 1971 Chevrolet Cheyenne. Richard Van Dusen placed an ad in the St. Petersburg Times earlier in the year, with an asking price of $13,700 for the car.

Deparvine lived in St. Petersburg with his wife and three children and was interested in buying the vehicle. After contacting the couple and drawing up a bill of sale, Deparvine planned to meet the Van Dusen’s on November 25th, 2003.

Karla Van Dusen had called her mother to inform her that she was driving behind her husband, both planning to meet the man who would purchase their car. However, the next day police found both of the Van Dusen’s dead bodies lying face-down on an empty dirt road off Old Memorial Highway. Both had been shot, and Karla had also been stabbed twice in the chest.

Their Jeep Cherokee would be found by investigators not long after, abandoned at a business near the crime scene. The vintage Chevy Cheyenne was later found at Deparvine’s home complex. Upon investigation, Deparvine attempted to frame someone else that lived at his complex by leaving their stolen driver’s license inside the abandoned Jeep Cherokee. However, with the help of DNA testing, it was determined that it was Deparvine’s DNA that was found inside the jeep.

Assistant State Attorney Michelle Doherty said of the case, “This wasn’t done because this defendant was angry or disliked the Van Dusens. This was done solely to steal their truck.”

When the case initially took place seventeen years ago, William Deparvine was found guilty of the murder of both Van Dusens. The jury at the time voted on an 8-to-4 in favor of the death penalty. Back then, the majority vote was enough to sentence the death penalty.

Deparvine has spent most of the last two decades in the Union Correctional Institution near Raiford, which is home to Florida’s death row inmates. Deparvine has spent his time confined in a single cell by himself, awaiting his execution.

However, after new amendments to Florida’s death row statute were put into place, Deparvine’s case was one of many that needed to be readdressed.

Assistant public defender Jamie Kane spoke to the new jury in Florida on Monday, March 28th, 2022. “His release is not an issue,” Kane said of Deparvine’s case. “Regardless of your decision in this case, Mr. Deparvine is going to die in prison. The reality is just as certain and just as final as the verdict in this case.”

Florida and the Death Penalty

According to the National Conference of State Legislature (NCSL), Florida is one of the 27 states that still impose the death penalty as a possible sentence in the most serious cases. Capital punishment is typically available to those who have been convicted of violent crimes, and the worst kinds of murder.

Florida Statute Section 921.141 covers the sentence of death or life imprisonment for capital felonies. After the defendant has been found guilty of a capital felony, there is another sentencing held separately by the court. The court must then decide if the defendant shall be sentenced to life in prison or to the death penalty.

Prior to 1923, death penalty executions were held by the county instead of the state. Once placed under the state’s control, the method of the death penalty was changed from hanging to electrocution. Now Florida allows inmates on death row to choose whether they would prefer to be electrocuted or to receive a lethal injection. 

According to data from the Department of Corrections, Florida has executed 99 people since 1979. Those who were executed within the last decade spent an average of 24 years on death row.

Newest Updates to the Death Penalty in Florida

In 2016, a new update to the law was struck down by the Supreme Court. The current state of the death penalty and its non-unanimous vote was deemed unconstitutional. The issue was first brought up in the Supreme Court’s opinion of Hurst v. State, where the court argued the death penalty sentence treated the jury function as only advisory in nature. 

Up until 2016, Florida was one of three states that allowed judges to impose the death penalty even when there was a non-unanimous vote from the jury. There was only a required majority vote of 7-5 for the death penalty sentence to be valid. In all prior capital court cases, the judge would only consider the jury’s recommendation of sentencing before weighing the mitigating factors and forming a sentence of their own. In March of 2017, the law was rewritten by the Florida legislature to require a death penalty sentence be found unanimously by the jury.

In January of 2020, the Florida Supreme Court rescinded on requiring unanimous death penalty jury verdicts. In State v. Poole, Florida’s highest court overturned its decision on Hurst v. State. The Court decided that the opinion in Hurst v. State was made in error and premised on a misreading of the United States Supreme Court in Hurst v. Florida. In Poole, the Court also held that the only question necessary when evaluating the death penalty was whether the jury had found a single aggravating factor necessary to put capital punishment on the table.

More death penalty decisions have come down from the Florida Supreme Court which do not affect unanimous/nonunanimous sentences. See Phillips v. State, Bush v. State, Lawrence v. State.

What Happens Next?

Although the case is currently being reinvestigated, the resolution will not come quickly. If the new jury does vote to resentence Deparvine to death, he would sit on death row indefinitely. In fact, a new sentence would then start an appeals process, which can last over a decade. So, a death sentence would not mean any immediate execution for Deparvine. If the appeals were exhausted, then the next step would be for Gov. DeSantis to sign the warrant for execution.

If Deparvine is resentenced to life in prison rather than given the death penalty, then it is likely that Deparvine will remain in the Union Correctional Institution until he inevitably dies in prison.

To read more about Florida’s history with the death penalty, visit our blog here. Further, to read about a recent contentious case involving Florida’s death penalty, visit our blog here.

Newest Updates in Deparvine’s Sentence

Monday, April 4th, 2022 marked the day that the jury came to a verdict in the case against Deparvine. It only took them three hours to come to a decision—that Deparvine would receive a double life sentence. This means he will no longer face the death penalty.

Only hours before the verdict came in, the Hillsborough prosecutor, Michelle Doherty, urged the jury to give Deparvine the ultimate punishment in Florida, claiming that Deparvine’s actions from 2003 were considered cruel, calculated, and heinous.

Deparvine’s public defender, Jamie Kane, insisted that the death penalty was not the answer. “If you say no and if anyone of you says it’s going to be a life sentence then no one knows the date he’s going to die.”

The jury did come to the conclusion that the crime committed by Deparvine was aggravated enough to merit capital punishment, but there was not a unanimous vote to go through with the death penalty.

The new sentence of two life sentences without parole was issued immediately by Hillsborough Circuit Judge Michelle Sisco. Deparvine did not show any emotions once the verdict was announced. After spending the last 16 years on death row, Deparvine will now join the general prison population.

One of the portraits painted of Deparvine was of his younger self, graduating with a law degree and raising two small daughters. Corrections consultant Aubrey Land pushed that Deparvine’s educational background and good behavior would be beneficial in the Florida prison system, and that he could even make for a law library clerk to help other prisoners.

Deparvine’s daughters did have a reaction to the resentence, both seen crying once they found out their father would no longer face the death penalty. When asked on the witness stand about what would happen if his sentence were to be reduced to life in prison, his daughter Kelly said, “I would still have a connection. There is still a relationship there. I still benefit from having a dad.”

Now that the verdict is finalized, Deparvine will be transported to the Florida prison where he will spend the rest of his life.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

If you or a loved one have been accused of a crime, it is imperative that you prioritize reaching out to an experienced Florida criminal defense attorney in your area. Receiving quality legal advice while navigating a criminal case is of utmost importance. Don Pumphrey and his legal team at Pumphrey Law Firm have represented clients all across the state of Florida from all walks of life. In times of need, Pumphrey Law Firm is there to ensure all possible defenses are properly explored. Call (850) 681-7777 or send an online message to receive a free consultation today.

Written by Karissa Key

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