A day after Gov. Rick Scott signed a death warrant for William Van Poyck for the 1987 killing of a prison guard outside a West Palm Beach doctor’s office, his sister on Saturday launched an appeal to spare her 58-year-old brother’s life.
In petitions posted on Facebook and her brother’s Death Row Diary website, Lisa Van Poyck urged people to help her stay the execution now scheduled for June 12.
“We are not giving up hope that Bill’s sentence can be commuted to a life sentence where he could be released for time served (26 years), getting him off Death Row,” she wrote.
Van Poyck, 59, who lives in Richmond, Va., said her brother didn’t kill Glades Correctional Institution guard Fred Griffis, a decorated Vietnam veteran. While Van Poyck masterminded the plot to ambush Griffis and another guard in an attempt to free his best friend, he didn’t pull the trigger, she said in a phone interview Saturday.
“Billy didn’t want anyone to get hurt or anyone to get shot,” she insisted.
Like her brother, she blamed the shooting on fellow ex-con Frank Valdes, who was by Van Poyck’s side for the botched attempt to free convicted murderer James O’Brien. The two surrounded the prison van when it arrived at a dermatologist’s office on North Olive Avenue, where O’Brien was being treated for skin cancer. When Griffis, 40, threw the keys to the van in the bushes, he was shot three times and died instantly. Another guard, Steven Turner, was shot and recovered.
Lisa Van Poyck blamed her brother’s predicament on poorly trained defense attorneys, blood-thirsty jurors and a Florida law that holds everyone involved responsible for a murder.
“He didn’t kill anyone,” she said. “He deserves to be released. He’s served enough time in prison for trying to break someone out of a prison transport van.”
She said she was “hysterical” when she heard Scott on Friday signed her brother’s death warrant. But she said she is hopeful that attorneys now working to block the execution can win him a new trial in front of jurors who will see he didn’t fire the fatal shots and will agree to a life sentence.
“I’ve always had a vision of my brother walking out of there a free man,” she said. “I believe miracles can happen.”
However, most of the typical appeals, such as ineffective assistance of counsel, have been heard and rejected by the Florida Supreme Court.
Last year, it again rejected the notion that Van Poyck deserves mercy because he wasn’t the triggerman. In a previous appeal, it said it was unclear whether Van Poyck or Valdes killed Griffis. But justices upheld Van Poyck’s death sentence. Valdes was killed by prison guards in 1999.
By Saturday evening, 37 people had signed the petition on Death Row Diary, a website where Lisa Van Poyck posts letters that her brother, an award-winning author of three books, writes her from prison.
Nicholas Francisolas Francis, the husband of William Van Poyck’s former girlfriend, called the planned execution unfair.
“We are not talking Ted Bundy or Timothy McVeigh here,” he wrote. “We are talking about a man being put to death for killing someone when he did not. We’re talking about executing a man based upon a technicality. We all get disgusted and indignant when a guilty person gets off on a technicality. Should we not then be at least equally appalled when it goes the other way?”
As for Van Poyck, he is taking the news of his looming death calmly, his sister said. Now on death watch he is allowed to call friends and family. When she talked to him Friday afternoon, she said he urged her to be strong.
“Lisa, I’ve been preparing for this for a long time,” she said he told her. “I’m totally at peace with God.”