After spending more than 25 years on Florida’s death row, the story of William Van Poyck who was convicted in the death of prison guard Fred Griffis has come to an end. With the exhaustion of his final appeal and consequential execution this week, Van Poyck was pronounced dead at 7:24 p.m. Wednesday June 12 by lethal injection in a Florida prison.
A portion of the story of the Van Poyck case was previously mentioned in one of our blog articles (Judge Appoints Three Lawyers in Last Minute Death Penalty Appeal) under the category of murder, posted earlier last month. At the time our article was presented, Florida Supreme Court’s Judge Charles Burton appointed lawyers to the case who had any previous connections to Van Poyck’s original case or any of the appeals related to his petitions over the past 26 years. One of those lawyers, Gerald Bettman was one of the three appointed lawyers to handle Van Poyck’s final attempt at staying his execution. He was marginally involved in a “one of many” Van Poyck’s appeals that in this 2007 case was primarily handled by out-of-state lawyers. The attorney who handled the original case was arrested for cocaine possession in 1993 and is no longer permitted to practice law in the State of Florida
Van Poyck was convicted of first-degree murder after Frank Valdes; an accomplice to the crime attacked a prison van outside a doctor’s office located in West Palm Beach. Their objective was to free James O’Brien, who was an inmate that both Valdes and Van Poyck served time with previously. Van Poyck always maintained that he did not fire the lethal shot that killed the prison guard. Valdes was killed in prison in 1999. Van Poyck spent time in a Virginia prison before he was brought back to await execution on Florida’s death row.
In comparable cases, a volunteer lawyer such as Bettman, were allowed to withdraw from the proceedings after a death warrant was signed by the Governor. State-financed death penalty attorneys were then appointed to take over ongoing appeals
Martin McClain, a prominent death penalty attorney stated after the ruling by the Court that “They are trying to create an obligation that should offend every defense lawyer in the state. It flies in the face of public policy to encourage pro bono work. What lawyer, would volunteer to help out the state by representing a Death Row inmate for free if they are faced with the prospect of handling the flurry of appeals after a death warrant is signed?” He went on to say that “This underscores the chaos in the governor’s office. They didn’t know this (the ambiguity in reference to Van Poyck’s legal representation) was a problem. Nobody is keeping track.”
Bettman failed to persuade Burton to relieve him of his duties at a hearing back in May. The high court’s decision was in answer to Bettman’s appeal of that decision.
“It all worked out,” Bettman said. “If you’re going to kill someone, you better be sure you’re doing things right.”
It all became a moot point last week when Van Poyck was executed. However, the ruling stands and its precedent can affect future cases unless reversed.
To read more about Van Poyck’s years on death row awaiting execution, read our next blog posting titled: 25 Years on Death Row, the Final Chapter of William Van Poyck.
As demonstrated above, the final outcome of a death penalty case can take many years, and a conviction can always be reversed as the case goes through the process of legal appeals. If a person is charged with any capital crime, I cannot stress the importance of hiring an experienced death penalty defense attorney, who will have full knowledge of the applicable laws and be able to properly defend all accusations dealing with the case and any appeals thereafter.
Mr. Cohen is a board certified criminal trial lawyer rated AV by Martindale Hubbel (pre-eminent) and a “Super Lawyer” recognized as being in the top 5% of his specialized field (criminal trial law) among Florida lawyers. He is considered a specialist by the Florida Bar in his field. Mr. Cohen has tried scores of cases over his 35 year career and is a member of the Florida and New York Bars. He practices in Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Miami, among other counties. He is also admitted to practice in the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh and Second Circuit.
Mr. Cohen’s practice has recently expanded and he is now a partner in the prestigious law firm of McLaughlin & Stern, LLP. Through this partnership, Mr. Cohen can now lead your defense in the New York Metropolitan area in addition to the Broward, Dade, or Palm Beach County areas as well as all other jurisdictions throughout the state of Florida
Mr. Cohen is also listed in the 2013 edition of “Best Lawyers in America“.