Florida has become the execution capital of the United States under Gov. Robert Graham.
Thirteen of the 47 executions since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976 have occurred in Florida during Graham's two terms. Only two other states come close to that: Texas with nine and Louisiana with seven.
More executions are expected in the electric chair at Florida State Prison in Starke.
Graham, first elected as a liberal Democrat in 1978, has signed 108 death warrants, including 15 this year. No other governor in the nation has signed as many.
Steve Hull, Graham's press secretary, said the governor believes capital punishment "acts as a deterrent to crime and sends a message to people who may want to commit heinous crimes in Florida that they have a very good chance of being executed."
Graham's actions have had important political repercussions, according to political observers and death-penalty opponents. Simply put, it is good politics to support the death penalty in Florida, where nearly three of every four voters questioned in public opinion polls consistently support executions.
"Implementing the death penalty has been the biggest thing he has been associated with as governor," said Charles Black, a political adviser to Sen. Paula Hawkins (R-Fla.), whom Graham intends to challenge in 1986.
"Graham has used the death penalty to offset his image as a weak liberal," said Scharlotte Holdman, director of the Florida Clearinghouse on Criminal Justice. "It's excellent politics. Paula Hawkins isn't going to challenge him on law and order issues. The death penalty has helped him make tremendous inroads among conservatives and Republicans."
Hull said that politics "has never been discussed" in connection with signing of death warrants. "We've never seen or sought any political information about executions," he added.
Graham signed six death warrants in 1979; six warrants in 1980; 10 warrants in 1981; 23 warrants in 1982, the year he won reelection; 20 warrants in 1983; 28 warrants in 1984; and 15 so far in 1985. There have been three executions this year.