Instead of having one lawyer who claims he is incapable of representing him, condemned prison guard killer William Van Poyck now has three.
In a two-hour long hearing Monday that most involved described as bizarre, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Charles Burton appointed the three lawyers even though all said they have neither the time, resources nor expertise to represent Van Poyck as the clock ticks toward his scheduled June 12 execution.
Faced with a 3 p.m. Friday deadline to file motions that could spare Van Poyck’s life, attorney Jeffrey Davis indicated that the only logical move would be to ask the Florida Supreme Court to grant a stay so he and the other two lawyers could launch the type of vigorous appeal the state demands before it executes someone.
Failing that, he said they could ask the federal 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta to intervene.
“Everyone’s willing to clear the decks and put in the time necessary,” he said. “But (four) days — that’s just not enough time.”
“Frankly, this is the kind of case that gives the death penalty a bad name,” said Davis, who practices civil appellate law in Milwaukee. Wisconsin doesn’t have the death penalty.
Davis and Jacksonville attorney Gerald Bettman were tapped because they have represented Van Poyck, 58, in appeals he has launched since his conviction for the 1987 murder of Glades Correctional Institution prison guard Fred Griffis outside a West Palm Beach doctor’s office. Therefore, Burton said, they have the most knowledge about the case. He appointed Tallahassee attorney Mark Olive to help them navigate the complex appeals that occur after a death warrant is signed.
As one of Florida’s top death-penalty defense attorney, Olive said he has the legal chops but knows nothing about Van Poyck’s case. “It’s just a farce, frankly,” he said.
The problem, Davis said, is that Van Poyck’s only court-appointed appellate lawyer, William Lasley, was arrested for possession of cocaine, claimed insanity as a defense, disappeared from the case and let his Florida Bar membership lapse.
Davis and Bettman agreed to represent Van Poyck on specific issues but were never appointed to represent him. Neither ever contemplated being tapped to handle Van Poyck’s appeal after Gov. Rick Scott signed his death warrant May 3.
Davis, for instance, who was in France on vacation last week, never received notice that the death warrant had been signed nor was he sent an order from the Florida Supreme Court laying out the strict timetable for appeals.
Last week, Bettman argued he shouldn’t be forced to handle Van Poyck’s last-minute appeals. Late Friday, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that all 14 lawyers who filed appeals for Van Poyck were still his attorneys. The high court set the stage for Monday’s hearing by ordering Burton to decide which of the 14 attorneys, including Lasley, was most qualified.
Burton said he had no choice but to follow the high court’s order. He called claims by Davis and Bettman that they weren’t well-versed in the facts of the case “disingenuous.”
The prosecutor, Celia Terenzio, agreed. “Everyone’s trying to do the backstroke here, but what they did they did,” she said. Davis’ name appears on 10 of the 12 appeals filed on Van Poyck’s behalf since 1994. Bettman’s name appears on two, and Olive’s name on one.
Olive said he did little more than walk papers to a courthouse. Bettman said his role was limited to specific issues. Davis said much of the detail work was done by attorneys from the state’s now-defunct Volunteer Lawyers Resource Center.
Martin McClain, an attorney and a death-penalty expert, narrowly escaped being named to Van Poyck’s team. In a telephone call to Burton from Florida State Prison, Van Poyck said he didn’t want McClain’s help because he represented Frank Valdes, who was also given a death sentence for killing Griffis in a failed attempt to free a convicted murderer who was being taken for skin cancer treatment. Valdes was killed by prison guards in 1999.
McClain said what the three attorneys are being asked to do in four days is impossible. In other cases involving volunteer lawyers, the Florida Supreme Court has granted stays, so new lawyers can get up to speed, he said.
“Crazy,” he said, summing up his view of the hearing. “Absolutely insane.”