“I now believe that the death penalty should absolutely not be a punishment delivered by the state of Florida or for that matter, any place in the US or the world,” now-deceased former Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerald Kogan says in his last known interview.
Kogan says he became a death penalty opponent when “I began realizing that we’re executing people who probably are innocent.” It was a realization that came to him after spending years in the state’s judicial system, first as a state attorney beginning in 1960, then prosecutor, circuit judge, administrative judge, and finally, from 1987 to 1998, Florida Supreme Court judge, the last two years of which he served as Chief Justice.
It was on the High Court, especially as Chief Justice, that Kogan’s opposition to the death penalty really solidified.
“How did I feel when, as the Chief Justice of the Court, I would have to sit there and my word would be the last word as to whether or not the person who is sitting in the death chamber lives or dies…? As the Chief Justice, even though I may believe this particular person should not be executed I still have to tell the governor’s counsel that there are no stays of executions even though I know we’re making a mistake,” Kogan says in the video.
During Kogan’s 11 years on the Court, more than two dozen people were executed.
“Regardless of his personal vote and feelings, he was reporting the vote as Chief Justice. That’s what really affected him the most. No one should be put in that position. That’s what we do to people in the system. So many people are traumatized and affected by the death penalty, and he was one of them,” Mark Elliott, Executive Director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, which released the video, said in a phone interview.
“The collateral damage of the death penalty is largely unknown and unaddressed so we just keep creating more traumatized people. Most of it happens out of the public eye. We’re not hearing the stories we need to hear from people involved in the system. We’re not hearing from jurors who are sentencing people to death, judges, lawyers, wardens, no one should be put in that position,” Elliott says.
“An imperfect system is being operated by people who automatically are imperfect so you begin seeing things happening and you say wait a minute this doesn’t sound right. It just doesn’t carry what it should have if these people are guilty, and then you begin doubting whether or not everybody who is prosecuted is, in fact, guilty and whether or not they ought to be subjected to the death penalty….When we find out we have killed an innocent person you don’t go to the cemetery and say sorry…. We cannot bring back the life of people that we make mistakes about,” Kogan says.
He said that he belonged “to many groups that have been fighting this scourge for many years,” and that, “the more you show people your government … is going out and killing people and some of them are innocent, how do you justify that?” the more likely you will convince people of the injustice of capital punishment.
“I, of course, would like to see a total abolishing of the death penalty,” he states unequivocally.
Kogan died on March 4, at the age of 87. In his 60-year legal career, he was involved in more than a thousand death penalty cases.