25 Years on Death Row the Final Chapter of William Van Poyck

As reported in our previous blog post, the 25-plus year saga of convicted murderer William Van Poyck came to an end when his life was terminated last week by lethal injection enforced by a death warrant signed by Florida Governor Rick Scott in early May.

As of the end of May Scott had signed five death warrants this current year, including three in a recent period of less than four weeks. One of the three was Van Poyck’s.

When interviewed by CBS news, Scott stated that “I go through them and when people have exhausted their appeals and when they’re finished with their clemency process, then I continue to move the process along.” CBS also reported that this practice displays that Scott has been signing death warrants at a “stepped up pace” and mentions that he’s signing death warrants at a speed that’s been “rarely seen in Florida since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.” He is also considering a bill that would “speed up death penalty executions by creating tighter timeframes for appeals and post-conviction motions,” according to cbslocal.com.

Van Poyck was convicted in the murder of prison guard Fred Griffis in 1987. He fervently declared that he was not the one that fired the gun that killed the prison guard until the very end. His final words before lethal injection ended his life were “Set me free”.

Van Poyck’s case gained notoriety outside the state of Florida mainly because he wrote books and authored several blogs by writing letters to his sister which she posted on the Internet on his behalf. Two of his books won awards, one of them “A Checkered Past” won first-place in the memoir category of the 2004 Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards. His first book, The Third Pillar of Wisdom, was an award-winning autobiography. He also published short stories that won honors, including the PEN American Center’s “Fielding Dawson Special Citation for Outstanding Achievement” in 2004 for his literary achievements.

Once an execution takes place there are usually two sides that are affected by the finality of the act; the victim’s friends and family and the convicted killer’s connections as well.

Van Poyck’s sister Lisa, 59, who lives in Richmond, Virginia, was his strongest supporter. She said her brother didn’t kill the Glades Correctional Institution prison guard. She admits that her brother masterminded the plot to attack the two guards who were in the van in an effort to free his best friend, but sustains that he had no part in the actual shooting. She maintained that “Billy didn’t want anyone to get hurt or anyone to get shot,”
A day after the Governor signed the death warrant for her brother’s first-degree murder conviction; she initiated an appeal to spare her Brother William’s life. In petitions displayed on Facebook as well as her brother’s Death Row Diary Website, she pressed anyone that could get involved to assist her in staying the execution which was at the time slated for June 12. She said she became “hysterical” once she was advised that Governor Scott had signed her brother’s death warrant. However she implied that she was still optimistic that lawyers that were still operating to stop his execution would be successful in winning him a new trial where different jurors would be able to be convinced that he didn’t fire the shot and go along with a life sentence rather than execution.

“I’ve always had a vision of my brother walking out of there a free man. I believe miracles can happen.” she said.

She attributed her brother’s quandary on incompetent attorneys that handled her Brother’s defense as well as heartless, blood-thirsty jurors as well as the Florida law that holds each person involved in the crime responsible for the murder whether they actually were the killer or not.

Recently during an interview, his sister said “He didn’t kill anyone. He deserves to be released. He’s served enough time in prison for trying to break someone out of a prison transport van.” She went on to submit that “He is deeply remorseful for the ending of Fred Griffis’ life”.

Her Brother however is taking the news of his imminent death calmly, his sister said. He has been placed on death watch and now is allowed to make phone calls to family and friends. When she spoke with him last week, she said he encouraged her to be strong and not dwell on the inevitable.

“Lisa, I’ve been preparing for this for a long time,” she said that he told her. “I’m totally at peace with God.”

Among a mass of protesters’, outside the building where her brother was just executed she was quoted as saying “He’s finally free from those prison walls”.

To view his blog posted and updated by his sister Lisa, click here

On the other side of the issue, members of Griffis’ family were planning a get-together for quiet reflection about their loved one’s life.

The family has said in interviews that they were exasperated that news stories fixated on Van Poyck who is the convicted killer. News stories concentrated on issues dealing with his appeals, the 25-year old crime, as well as his writings and blog posts, but not much had been reported in the news about Griffis who was a highly decorated Vietnam War veteran.

The victim’s cousin, Norman Traylor said “It’s been a very traumatic experience”.

His brother Roland said “When he was murdered, it basically ripped a hole in the family’s heart that’s never really healed”. He further stated that Fred was always looking out for others after he was released on a medical discharge when his first tour in Vietnam was completed, but he re-enlisted for two more tours because he thought he could help his country further.

In the final seconds of his life he was resolute not to permit a killer to escape custody.

In conclusion, Ronald said: “I knew that even at the end, he was still my brother; he was still Freddy, that’s who he was. He protected others.”

Steve Turner, one of the corrections officers involved in the attack on that fateful day along with Griffis, spoke of his feeling after the execution concluded.

“Justice has prevailed,” he said. “They can close the book.”

To read our previous blog posts detailing with Van Poyck’s story, click the below links:
Jun 20th, 2013: Florida Man Executed After 25 Years on Death Row
May 8th, 2013: Judge Appoints Three Lawyers in Last Minute Death Penalty Appeal


As explained in this article, the appeals process in a death penalty case can span a course of many years. The results of a prior conviction in such a case if reversed can be influenced by a new jury or a judge more sympathetic to the defendant during this process. If you or a friend or loved one is charged with capital murder or any crime of this nature, it is imperative to retain an experienced defense attorney who has knowledge of the pertinent laws as well as having the ability to suitably defend all charges relating to the case and any subsequent appeals.
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“.