NewsLocal NewsLee County


Could Wade Wilson spend life in prison, even if he's sentenced to death?

278 people are on Florida's death row roster.
Posted at 3:38 PM, Jul 10, 2024

LEE COUNTY, Fla. — A jury recommended he be put to death for the murders of Kristine Melton and Diane Ruiz. If Wilson is sentenced to death, he will go on death row.

Fox 4 Senior Reporter Kaitlin Knapp started looking at Florida's death row roster, and it's a long list. It begs the question: could Wilson spend the rest of his life in prison either way?

At this moment, Wilson's fate lies in the hands of Judge Nick Thompson, who will sentence Wilson July 23.

If it's death, he will join 278 other people on Florida's death row. The Death Penalty Information Center says Florida has the second largest death row roster in the country.

Some have been sitting on death row since 1976, so Knapp asked Executive Director Robin Maher why so long?

"There are appeals that are absolutely necessary to avoid doing what has happened, which is we have wrongfully sentenced people to death," she explained.

200 people have been exonerated in the United States, meaning they were wrongfully sentenced. Maher says Florida has 30 — the most in the country.

"That means something is really wrong," Maher said. "We should be making sure that every case gets the proper scrutiny."

She says reforms could help solve the issue of innocent people being convicted.

"We should be sure that people that are charged with a death offense get the best possible lawyers," Maher said. "Even the very best lawyers need resources."

In Wilson's case, he's fighting his conviction. His lawyers are asking for a new trial or an acquittal, which means if Wilson's sentenced to death, Maher says that could also cost more.

"Capital cases are inherently more expensive," Maher said.

She says this is because of resources, prosecution and defense, trials, security, and death row maintaining.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, a report by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts in 2010 found that seeking a federal death sentence costs eight times more than seeking a life sentence.

Though people are on death row, they do not get a scheduled execution date even after appeals.

In Florida, the governor signs a death warrant.

"Florida took a long pause — did not execute or sentence people to death," Maher said.

The governor did not sign a warrant for anyone from 2020 to 2022. It's not clear why, but Maher thinks part of the reason is COVID.

In 2023, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed six death warrants. He has not signed any in 2024.

While Maher says the Death Penalty Information Center does not swing one way or the other on the death penalty, she does say people need to take a hard look at it, if they want change.

"It starts with caring about what happens to people in our criminal justice system," Maher said. "We have seen an all-time low in the number of new death sentences."