The Florida Supreme Court late today rejected last-minute pleas from John A. Spenkelink and Willie Jasper Darden for stays of their executions. U.S. District Court Judge William Stafford also rejected a plea for a stay of Spenkelink's execution, and his defense attorneys appealed the ruling to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
Both men are scheduled to be electrocuted early Wednesday morning at the Florida State Prison at Raiford.
The Florida Supreme Court spent most of today in closed conferences before issuing its two terse orders shortly after 5 p.m. Its rejection of Spenkelink's plea was unanimous.
The court split 4 to 3 on the rejection of Darden's plea. Justice Arthur England wrote the dissenting opinion, saying that the court should have granted a 48-hour stay of execution to allow Darden's defense attorney to make oral arguments in behalf of his client. The court majority, however, found the plea "without merit."
For Spenkelink, at least, the only remaining thread of hope is the extremely long-shot possibility that the Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans will grant a stay. He has already appealed unsuccessfully to the U.S. Supreme Court four times and twice to the Florida Board of Executive Clemency. He was convicted of the 1973 murder of a traveling companion and fellow drifter, Joseph Szymankiewicz, 43, in a Tallahassee motel.
Darden was convicted in 1974 of killing James Turman during the robbery of a Lakeland, Fla., furniture store.
A group of eight ministers from all over the United States knelt across the doorway of Gov. Robert D. Graham's office at noon today, singing, praying and exhorting onlookers about the evils of the death penalty. One of them told the reporters "we will remain here praying in Gov. Graham's office, disrupting his normal office routine until Wednesday morning or until there's a stay of execution."
Graham, meanwhile, went about his regular duties apparently unruffled by the demonstrations. "I believe that is a public area," he said."They have a right to be there."
Graham repeated his earlier statement that he would not change his mind on the death warrants unless some new evidence comes to light.