Wednesday, April 29, 2020

What is Justice?

Cold-blooded Killer “Comes Off” Death Row
Written by Robert A. Waters

“How can you live with yourself knowing that you spilled an innocent person’s blood on the floor for $100.  My grandmother’s life was only worth $100 to that man.” Kara Jones, granddaughter of victim Jeannette Dwyer.

After nearly forty years on Florida’s Death Row, Sonny Boy Oats, Jr. cheated the system.  Having murdered a store clerk for $100, there is no question of his guilt.

The 1979 murder happened at the Little Country Store in Martel, Florida.  When the killing occurred, Martel was barely a town.  It lay at a crossroads to nowhere, surrounded by a half-dozen or so mobile homes.  The convenience store, with a deeply pot-holed parking lot, had six gas pumps and an interior bulging with candy, soft drinks, beer and cigarettes.

Jeanette Dwyer, 50, worked alone on that cold, tragic night.  As so often happens in these cases, the victim is now long-forgotten, except by friends and relatives.  In fact, it has been left to granddaughter Kara Jones to wage the fight for justice.  Back when execution seemed possible, she told a reporter “if I could go up to [then-Governor] Charlie Crist and say, ‘Put the needles in his arm: push the button,’ I would.”

But the courts recently bought the argument that Oats was “intellectually disabled.”

Court documents describe the scene first responders found: “On 12/20/79, Jeannette Dyer, the clerk at the Little Country Store in Martel, Florida, was found lying on the floor with a gunshot wound, which penetrated her right eye and brain.  When Dyer was discovered, she had a faint heartbeat but died shortly after arriving at the hospital.  At the store, money was missing from the cash register.”  The autopsy showed that the killer’s gun was approximately one foot away from Dyer’s face when fired.

Oats was soon tracked down.  This wasn’t his first rodeo.  The previous night, he’d shot a liquor store clerk in the face during another robbery.  Eric Slusser was lucky to have survived.

A career criminal, Oats had previously served time in the state prison for burglary.  Before he could be tried, the killer escaped and fled to Texas.  Six months later, he was captured and brought back to Florida for trial.

Oats confessed to both robberies and led investigators to the gun that he’d hidden.  He was tried separately for each crime.  He ended up receiving a life sentence for attempted murder, 90 years for using a gun in the commission of a crime, and death for the murder of Jeannette Dyer.

On February 6, 2020, the Death Penalty Information Center announced that “Sonny Boy Oats, Jr. will come off Florida’s death row after 39 years…With eight of nine psychologists who evaluated Oats concluding that he is intellectually disabled, State Attorney Ric Ridgeway told the court that his office will no longer contest Oats’ claim.”

So, Oats was able to plan two robberies, a murder, one attempted murder, an escape from a secure jail, and remain at large for six months while committing many other crimes, but he doesn’t have the mental capability required for execution.  Is it any wonder that millions of Americans believe the criminal justice system is skewered against victims and tilts in favor of criminals?    

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