Florida Governor Temporarily Stops Execution of Duane Owen

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis issued an executive order on Monday to temporarily halt the scheduled execution of death row inmate Duane Owen. Owen’s attorneys had argued that their client may be insane, prompting the governor to appoint a commission of three psychiatrists to examine Owen’s mental state before allowing the execution to proceed.

Owen, 62, was set to be executed by lethal injection on June 15 for the murder of Karen Slattery and Georgianna Worden in separate 1984 attacks in Palm Beach County. According to a neuropsychologist’s report provided by Owen’s legal team, Owen believed that he was a woman in a man’s body and was “trying to fully become the woman he really was”. Owen’s lawyers also sought to secure a stay of execution from a Palm Beach County circuit judge, but their request was denied.

DeSantis had earlier signed Owen’s death warrant, but his subsequent order temporarily halts the execution until the commission has completed their examination of Owen’s mental condition. The commission, known as the “Commission to Determine the Mental Competency of Duane Eugene Owen,” comprises Drs. Wade Myers, Tonia Werner, and Emily Lazarou, who are tasked with determining whether Owen is capable of understanding the nature and effect of the death penalty and why it is being imposed upon him.

The commission’s examination took place on Tuesday, and they are required to submit their report to the governor no later than Wednesday. If DeSantis determines that Owen has the mental capacity to understand the death penalty and why it’s being imposed upon him, the execution will proceed as scheduled. However, if he deems that Owen is incapable of comprehending the nature of the sentence, then Owen will be committed to a mental health treatment facility until such time as he has been restored to sanity and the sentence of death can be carried out.

The governor’s order noted that the “allegations” in the neuropsychologist’s evaluation provided by Owen’s lawyers were “insufficient assertions of insanity.” Nevertheless, DeSantis stated that his “solemn duty to execute a duly imposed sentence of death requires the exercise of utmost caution.”

Owen has been on death row for more than three decades since being convicted of first-degree murder and sexual battery with a deadly weapon for both crimes. The governor’s order temporarily pausing his execution will remain in place until he receives and reviews the commission’s report.

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