Nearly 30 years to the day after authorities say William Van Poyck killed a Glades Correctional Institution guard in a botched attempt to spring Van Poyck’s best friend from prison, he is to die by lethal injection.
Gov. Rick Scott on Friday signed a death warrant for the 59-year-old who was convicted of killing prison guard Fred Griffis outside a West Palm Beach dermatologist’s office in 1987. He is to be executed at 6 p.m. June 12 at Florida State Prison near Raiford.
Van Poyck, who posts missives dubbed “Death Row Diary” on the Internet and sells the three books he has written on the website Amazon.com, admitted he was the mastermind of the ambush that cost Griffis his life. But, he has insisted, while he made sure there were enough guns to pull it off, he wasn’t the triggerman. Therefore, he has argued, he doesn’t deserve to die for killing the decorated Vietnam War veteran.
During his 1988 trial, Van Poyck he told a Palm Beach County jury that it was his idea to free his buddy, convicted murderer James O’Brien, when he was taken to a South Olive Avenue dermatologist for treatment of skin cancer. He and fellow ex-con Frank Valdes intercepted the prison van in the parking lot. They pulled Griffis and another guard out of the van and ordered them to free O’Brien.
But Griffis, 40, didn’t cooperate. He wouldn’t release O’Brien. He tossed the keys into nearby bushes and refused to say where they were. Immediately, shots rang out. Griffis was shot once in the head and twice in the chest at point-blank range, police said.
Fleeing in a Cadillac with Valdes driving, Van Poyck fired repeatedly at the police cars swerving behind them. They traveled down Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard, turning south on Australian Avenue before crashing into a tree.
Members of Griffis’ family, who attended the trial and lamented the senseless death of a war veteran, couldn’t be located on Friday for comment. Neither Van Poyck’s attorney or his sister, who posts his letters on the Internet and insists he is innocent, responded to emails for comment.
Jacksonville attorney Gerald Bettman, who has represented Van Poyck since the late 1990s, predicted last year that the end was near for his client.
In what Bettman forecast was Van Poyck’s last hope, the Florida Supreme Court in February 2012 rejected his claims that jurors would have voted for a life sentence had they been told Valdes, not Van Poyck, fired the fatal shots. Instead of swaying the high court, affidavits from four of the jurors inflamed the justices.
Contrary to the claims in the affidavits Bettman produced, the justices said they had never determined that Valdes was the killer. In a previous appeal, they pointed out that they had merely said that the evidence presented at Van Poyck’s trial was inconclusive. But they upheld his death sentence.
At the time, Bettman marveled at Van Poyck’s fate. The son of an Eastern Airlines executive, Van Poyck didn’t seem to be a future candidate for Death Row when he was growing up in Miami. Yet, he chalked up a lengthy record for robbery and burglary before he crafted the fatal ambush. His brother, Jeffrey, also served time in prison. Valdes, who became a fellow resident of Death Row, was fatally beaten by prison guards in 1999.
In his latest posting on Death Row Diary, Van Poyck writes about the April 10 execution of Larry Mann, who was killed for the murder of a Palm Harbor girl he abducted in 1980 as she rode her bicycle to school. Van Poyck notes that seven days after Mann’s death, Scott signed another death warrant for Elmer Carroll. The 56-year-old is to be executed on May 28 for raping and suffocating a 10-year-old girl in 1992 after breaking into her home near Orlando.
“The governor is wasting no time executing people, he’s killing a guy every 60 days, as regular as a metronome,” he wrote. Decrying a bill that Scott signed Friday that would speed up death penalty appeals, he blasted the “blood lust” of the Florida Legislature.
“To hear them talk, you feel certain they’d love to come in here and kill us all personally,” he wrote on April 25, when the legislature was debating the measure.
Still, he ended on an upbeat note.
“That’s it for now, Sis. Give the doggies a tummy rub for me, and know that you are loved!”