Judge Appoints Three Lawyers in Last Minute Death Penalty Appeal

On Monday, the dilemma of who will represent convicted killer William Van Poyck, 58 in a midnight hour appeal has been awkwardly resolved by Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Charles Burton when he appointed “all” three lawyers that had dealings in Van Poyck’s case over the past 26 years. Most people involved in the 2-hour hearing considered the ruling to be bizarre to say the least.

Van Poyck was convicted of murdering Glades Correctional Institution prison guard Fred Griffis in 1987 in front of a doctor’s office located in West Palm Beach.

In the trial where he was found guilty, he was originally represented by William Lasley who was later arrested for possession of cocaine after Van Poyck’s guilty verdict was confirmed. He has since vanished from the case letting his membership in the Florida Bar expire. He claimed an insanity defense in his own case.

The deadline for motions to be filed that could save Van Poyck’s life was set for 3 p.m. this Friday. He is scheduled to be executed on June 12.

Attorney’s Jeffrey Davis & Gerald Bettman were appointed by Burton due to the fact that they both have previously represented him in his appeals that have been going on since his 1987 conviction. The Judge stated that both lawyers had the most understanding of most of the issues dealing with the case. He also appointed Tallahassee attorney Mark Olive to assist in the intricate appeals after a death warrant is signed by the Governor. Florida’s Governor Rick Scott signed the death warrant on May 3.

Both Davis & Gerald Bettman explained to the Judge that they neither had the proper time, expertise or resources to represent their appointed client properly. Davis specified that the single logical maneuver would be to petition the Florida Supreme Court to permit a stay of execution in order for all of the appointed attorneys to present the dynamic type of appeal that’s demanded by the state before an execution takes place.

He also suggested that if that scenario couldn’t be achieved, another option would be to ask the 11th Federal Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta to intercede on the matter.

“Everyone’s willing to clear the decks and put in the time necessary but four days, that’s just not enough time.” he said.

He went on to say “Frankly, this is the kind of case that gives the death penalty a bad name.” Davis practices civil appellate law in Wisconsin, a state that doesn’t have the death penalty.
Mark Olive, the third attorney named in the last minute appeal is known as a premier death-penalty defense attorney, practicing in the state of Florida. He told the Judge that he has the “legal chops” but has no knowledge referring to Van Poyck’s situation. “It’s just a farce, frankly,” he said.
Since his original lawyer’s arrest Davis and Bettman had previously represented Van Poyck on particular issues but the two were never actually appointed to represent him before. Neither of them ever anticipated being recruited to handle this appeal. Davis, who was vacationing in France, last week, said he never received any notification that the death warrant was signed by the Governor. He also mentioned that he was never delivered an order laying out the stringent timetable for appeal by the Florida Supreme Court.

Bettman also argued that he shouldn’t be required to handle the last-minute appeal but his name appears on two of Van Poyck’s previous appeals. Davis’s name appears on the other ten.

Late last Friday, the Florida Supreme Court handed down a ruling specifying that any of the fourteen lawyers who filed appeals for Van Poyck in the past were still his lawyers. This set the stage for this week’s hearing by mandating Burton to choose which of the fourteen lawyers, counting Mr. Lasley, was most capable to handle the last-ditch effort appeal.

Martin McClain, an attorney and a death-penalty expert, who also could have been chosen at the Judge’s discretion, said that what the three attorneys are being asked to do in four days is impossible. “Crazy,” he said, outlining his view of the Judge’s appointments. “Absolutely insane.” In previous cases concerning volunteer lawyers, the Florida Supreme Court stays of execution have been granted in the effort for new lawyers to “get up to speed”, he said.

It goes without saying that the penalties for a conviction of a murder charge is extremely punitive and as in this case can result in the loss of one’s own life. 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.

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“.

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