The U.S. Supreme Court has denied a request to halt the execution of Michael Duane Zack, paving the way for his scheduled lethal injection at 6 p.m. on Tuesday at Florida State Prison. This decision comes after the Florida Supreme Court and the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals both declined appeals and refused to issue stays of execution. The Supreme Court did not provide any explanation for its decision, as is customary.
Michael Duane Zack, aged 54, is set to become the sixth inmate to be executed in Florida this year. He was sentenced to death for the murder of Ravonne Smith in Escambia County in 1996, during a crime spree that also included the killing of Laura Rosillo in Okaloosa County.
The execution of Zack was initiated by Governor Ron DeSantis, who signed a death warrant for him on August 17. Since then, Zack’s attorneys have been seeking legal avenues to block the execution. Their primary argument was that Zack should be spared due to his Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), which they claimed rendered him “intellectually disabled.” The U.S. Supreme Court has previously ruled in the Atkins v. Virginia case of 2002 that executing individuals with intellectual disabilities violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.
Zack’s attorneys argued that the cognitive and social impairments associated with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome are indistinguishable from those of Intellectual Developmental Disability. They stated that the medical community now recognizes this fact, and denying Zack’s appeal would penalize him for being ahead of his time in establishing his disability under the standards set by Atkins.
However, the Florida Attorney General’s office disputed the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome argument, claiming that there is no realistic possibility of the U.S. Supreme Court extending the Atkins ruling to include a diagnosis of FAS. They asserted that courts, not experts, determine Eighth Amendment law and that Zack’s reliance on the psychiatric community’s views would not succeed.
The Florida Supreme Court rejected Zack’s arguments on September 21, citing their untimeliness and procedural barriers. Additionally, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the arguments related to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, focusing on whether Zack had gone through a proper state clemency process.
Zack’s conviction for first-degree murder, robbery with a firearm, and sexual battery in the death of Ravonne Smith dates back to September 1997. He is also serving a life sentence for the murder of Laura Rosillo. Governor DeSantis signed Zack’s death warrant just two weeks after the state executed James Phillip Barnes for a 1988 murder in Melbourne.
This year, Florida has already executed James Phillip Barnes, Duane Owen, Darryl Barwick, Louis Gaskin, and Donald David Dillbeck for various murders committed in the past. The execution of Dillbeck in February marked the first execution since August 2019 when Gary Ray Bowles was put to death for a 1994 murder in Jacksonville.