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Decision restoring ‘good time’ to Florida prisoners left intact

December 28, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A Florida court’s ruling that restores time off for good behavior for about 22,000 of that state’s prisoners has been left standing by the Supreme Court.

The ruling thwarts Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth’s attempt to rescind time off for many prisoners in reaction to an outcry over the scheduled release of a convicted child-killer, who was subsequently slain in a prison yard.

The high court on Friday for the time being left intact the Florida Supreme Court’s Oct. 10 decision, which overturned Butterworth’s order rescinding good behavior credits.

Because of overcrowded prisons, Florida in the 1980s started giving inmates an immediate 33 percent reduction in sentence. They could then earn 20 days time off each month for following prison rules.

Changing those rules after prisoners had already served their punishments violated their constitutional rights, the Florida court said.

The Florida court’s action restores good behavior privileges to about 22,000 prisoners whose crimes were committed before Oct. 1, 1995, when a new law took effect requiring that Florida prisoners serve at least 85 percent of their sentences.

Charles Wells, sheriff of Manatee County, Fla., and head of a citizen’s group, Stop Turning Out Prisoners, said Friday’s action meant Florida would see more violence and more victims. ``That’s reality,″ he said. ``That’s going to happen.″

He said the ruling might help his group’s drive to put a measure on the 1998 state ballot that would make all prisoners serve 85 percent of their sentences.

Butterworth had sought to rescind time-off when it appeared that Donald McDougall would otherwise go free next spring. McDougall was serving a 34-year sentence for the 1982 torture-slaying of his girlfriend’s 5-year-old daughter.

In a bizarre twist, McDougall himself was beaten to death in a prison yard on Oct. 1, a week after a caller to a radio talk show put a $1,000 bounty on his head. The show marked the 14th anniversary of the death of Ursula Sunshine Assaid.

McDougall, who was 40, spent a week in protective custody after the bounty was offered. Eight hours after he joined other prisoners at his own request, he was attacked in a compound filled with about 200 prisoners at the Avon Park Correctional Institution.

Prison witnesses said Arba Earl Barr, 33, struck McDougall in the head with a steel bar and then hit him several more times after he fell. Barr, serving a 114-year term for robbery and battery, was charged with murder.

``All we wanted to do was keep this guy in prison,″ said talk show host Russ Rollins of WTKS in Orlando. ``We didn’t want to have him killed. But we’re not upset that he’s dead.″

Ursula Assaid died after more than two months of abuse. She was deprived of food and water, fed soap, denied sleep and forced to stand naked for hours and recite the alphabet. Her body was found months later in a weighted duffel bag in a pond.

McDougall was convicted of murder and aggravated child abuse. Ursula’s mother, Susan Assaid, convicted of manslaughter, served nearly five years.

McDougall initially was scheduled to be released on New Year’s Eve 1992, but after protests, Butterworth ruled child sex offenders weren’t eligible for early release. Later, Butterworth again changed the rules to deny killers, kidnappers and sex offenders credit for good behavior.

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