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Governor Sees Door Open for More Executions

July 28, 1990

STARKE, Fla. (AP) _ The execution of a convicted killer should end weeks of controversy over whether Florida’s electric chair is a valid means of execution or a torture device as defense attorneys claimed, the governor said.

″Florida should now be able to resume carrying out its capital punishment statute,″ Gov. Bob Martinez said after Anthony Bertolotti was pronounced dead Friday evening.

″The people of Florida can know that criminals who show a total disregard for human life will indeed be called upon to pay the ultimate penalty for their actions,″ the governor said.

During the May 4 execution of Jesse Joseph Tafero, flames and sparks shot from the inmate’s head and smoke filled the execution chamber. Tafero was finally declared dead after three jolts of electricity.

Attorneys for three condemned inmates won indefinite stays from the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta with arguments that the electric chair was not functioning properly.

As a result, Martinez ordered an independent examination of the chair. In a demonstration witnessed Monday by the media and state officials, Michael Morse, an associate professor of electrical engineering at Auburn University, concluded the chair was functioning properly and would send a lethal amount of electricity through an inmate’s body.

Prison officials said a moistened synthetic sponge contact, used for the first and only time in the Tafero execution, caused flames to rise from his head.

On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a ruling by a lower court that the chair’s 2,000-volt charge is ″sufficient to cause painless termination of life,″ ending the legal alternatives for Bertolotti.

The three cases held up by the 11th circuit would be the likeliest to result in the next execution, the governor’s press secretary, Jon Peck, said Saturday.

″No decision has really been made on those other three, but potentially at least they could be treated a little differently because they all are basically ready and they were awaiting a ruling on the workings of the chair itself,″ Peck said.

Martinez, a strong advocate of the death penalty, applauded the courts’ decisions clearing the way for Bertolotti’s death.

″It is gratifying that the courts concluded Florida’s electric chair does in fact work as it is designed to,″ the governor said.

″Today’s events have begun to restore certainty to Florida’s ultimate penalty, and I commend the courts for moving toward that eventual end,″ he said.

Bertolotti was sentenced to die for the Sept. 27, 1983, murder of Carol Ward. She was working in her yard in Orange County when Bertolotti approached and asked to use the telephone, and she let him in.

He grabbed a knife, robbed her of $30 and then stabbed her repeatedly until the knife broke. He then found another knife and stabbed her until she died, leaving the knife in her body. At some point, Bertolotti removed her clothes and raped her.

An unrepentant Bertolotti wrote several letters to prosecutors after his conviction, saying he wasn’t sorry.

″I have no regrets or sorrows for the murder of Carol Ward,″ he wrote. She ″should have locked her damn door. I really did a favor by taking her life, don’t you think so?″

Bertolotti was the 23rd inmate to die in the electric chair - dubbed ″Old Sparky″ - since Florida resumed executions in 1979.

Since inmates carved ″Old Sparky″ from an oak tree almost seven decades ago, it has killed 219 state murderers and rapists and one federal killer.

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