After decades of legal proceedings and appeals, 62-year-old Duane Eugene Owen is set to be executed in Florida. The execution, scheduled for 6 p.m. on Thursday, comes as a result of his conviction for two separate murders that occurred in 1984. On March 24, 1984, Owen broke into a home in Delray Beach, attacking 14-year-old Karen Slattery, who was babysitting two young children. Court records show that Owen stabbed Slattery multiple times, sexually assaulted her, and subsequently left her for dead. Later in May, Owen targeted Georgianna Worden, a 38-year-old woman who he assaulted in her Boca Raton home. His attacks were not limited to these two victims, as court records also reveal several other home invasions and attacks on women in Palm Beach County during the 1980s.
Relatives of Victims Respond
Debbi Johnson, Slattery’s younger sister who was only 10 at the time of her sister’s murder, told the South Florida Sun Sentinel that she is relieved that justice will finally be served. Johnson maintains that she holds no forgiveness for Owen.
Questions Over Owen’s Competency to be Executed
However, this pending execution has not come without controversy, primarily over concerns about Owen’s mental health. Lisa M. Fusaro, Owen’s attorney, has submitted an application to the U.S. Supreme Court, requesting a halt to the execution on the grounds that Owen is not competent to be executed. Fusaro argues that Owen’s dementia and fixed psychotic delusions prevent him from understanding the connection between his crimes and impending execution. Fusaro criticized the state courts for their excessive emphasis on Owen’s past competency and mental illness instead of focusing on his present mental condition. She also raised questions about the credibility of the commission of experts appointed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to evaluate Owen’s competency, arguing that their evaluation was cursory compared to the detailed assessment by a neuropsychologist retained by the defense.
The Controversy over the Psychiatrist’s Comment
Adding fuel to the controversy is a recent comment made by Emily Lazarou, one of the three psychiatrists appointed by Gov. DeSantis to evaluate Owen. Lazarou, in a public comment on social media, criticized a planned vigil for Owen, arguing that support should be shown for his victims instead. She claimed that Owen was faking his mental illness to avoid the death penalty. The comment has raised questions about Lazarou’s impartiality and professional conduct, with some arguing it demonstrates a clear bias against Owen.
The Court’s Decision
On Wednesday, Justice Clarence Thomas of the U.S. Supreme Court denied Owen’s request for a stay of execution. This, in essence, upholds the findings of the three psychiatrists who evaluated Owen. Their evaluation, stating that Owen was faking his mental illness, had previously been accepted by a trial judge in Bradford County and upheld by the Florida Supreme Court.
What Lies Ahead
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis had previously granted a temporary stay of execution to Owen in May, assigning a commission to assess his mental competency. Despite the resounding calls for clemency based on Owen’s mental health, the Governor later rescinded this stay. The decision came after the psychiatrists, including Lazarou, concluded that Owen understood the nature of the death penalty and why it was being imposed upon him. In contrast to the defense’s stance, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody has urged the court to proceed with the execution. Moody has described the repeated appeals as “recycling of the same suspect and incredible facts” that would amount to a “gross miscarriage of justice” if they succeeded in delaying the execution.
The Bigger Picture
Owen’s case shines a spotlight on the broader issue of capital punishment and the ethics surrounding the execution of mentally ill inmates. Critics of the death penalty, like Allison Miller, a capital defense attorney, question the reliability of evaluations like Lazarou’s, particularly when potential biases come into play. Miller’s stance, while controversial to some, embodies the dichotomy of opinion on this critical issue.