Seth Penalver, Former Death Row Inmate, Urges Rick Scott To Reject Timely Justice Bill (VIDEO)

If he could talk to Gov. Rick Scott, Seth Penalver would have one simple question.

"Would you kill me?"

Penalver, 40, was acquitted late last year on three counts of first-degree murder, the end of an 18-year saga that brought him from Broward County to death row and back. Now, with the Florida Legislature passing a bill designed to speed up the execution process, Penalver wants the governor to think long and hard before he decides to sign it.

"Give me five minutes," Penalver said in a telephone interview Monday, hours after the Florida Senate passed the Timely Justice bill. "Before he signs it, I would ask him to sit down with those who were convicted and later exonerated or got new trials because of evidence that was withheld. By speeding up the appeals process, are you willing to kill an innocent man? Would you kill me?"

The governor, who has signed nine death warrants since taking office in 2011, has not indicated whether he will sign the measure, which would shorten the appeals process and remove the governor's discretion of when to order an execution.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, who sponsored the bill in the Florida House of Representatives, said its goal is to cut down on frivolous appeals that don't address the question of whether the defendant is actually guilty. "They're just motions for delay," Gaetz said.

Under the bill, the governor would be required to sign a death warrant within 30 days "after all appeals are concluded and the governor has reviewed clemency," said Gaetz. It would be up to the state Supreme Court to determine when the appeals process has run its course.

Penalver is convinced he would be dead now if the law had been in effect when he was sentenced to die for the 1994 murders of Casimir "Butch Casey" Sucharski, Sharon Anderson and Marie Rogers. Penalver faced a jury three times -- first in 1998, with a seven-month trial that ended in a hung jury, then in 1999, with a six-month trial that ended in Penalver's conviction. He was sentenced to death in 2000.

A co-defendant, Pablo Ibar, was convicted in 2000 and remains on death row.

But six years later, the Florida Supreme Court overturned Penalver's conviction and ordered a new trial after finding flaws in the second trial.

Penalver's third trial opened in July 2012 and ended with Penalver's acquittal on Dec. 21. Jurors had deliberated for 10 days.

He never wavered in proclaiming his innocence. Prosecutors and family members of the victims continue to believe he got away with murder.

"It's incumbent on the state not to make mistakes with the death penalty," said Mark Elliott, director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. "Florida has executed 75 inmates since 1979. In the same time, 24 people who were once on death row were exonerated or acquitted after a retrial. That's one exoneration for every three executions."

As of Tuesday, the Florida Department of Corrections listed 406 death row inmates.

The average amount of time spent on death row in Florida is 13.2 years -- a year and a half less than the national average, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a national nonprofit group that studies the subject in the U.S.

"When you realize that the wait in Florida is less than the national average, you have to wonder why this bill is so urgent that it has to pass now," said Elliott.

Gaetz said those who are actually executed have frequently been imprisoned for more than two decades.

John Richard Marek, the second and most recent Broward defendant to be executed, was sentenced in 1984 and executed in 2009.

"To be honest, I was for the death penalty before I was sentenced to die," said Penalver. "But now I see that we'll never know for sure whether we got it right. We need to abolish it.", 954-356-4457 or Twitter @SSCourts ___

(c)2013 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

Visit the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) at

Distributed by MCT Information Services

Countries With The Most Executions Last Year