Lois Riess at Lee County Jail
The state has filed their notice that they intend to seek the death penalty against Lois Reiss, who allegedly befriended then killed a fellow tourist on Fort Myers Beach. Reiss was wanted in relation to the death of her husband in Minnesota (though at the time, only theft charges had been filed), and it is alleged that she targeted a woman who resembled her so she could steal her identity as she evaded authorities. She is alleged to have killed that woman, stolen her car, and was eventually captured in Texas.
It is not surprising that the State is seeking the death penalty, as they had obtained an indictment for first degree murder a few weeks ago. That is a precursor for seeking the death penalty. Further, the allegations include some aggravating factors, for instance, alleging that the murder was for pecuniary gain and was done to aid the flight from another crime. CNN picked up the latest story, as ‘Losing Streak Lois’ as garnered some national attention, both for the dramatic crime, and the nickname she was given by U.S. Marshall’s for her gambling habit.
Posted in Criminal Law, Death Penalty, Florida, Fort Myers / Lee County / Southwest Florida #SWFL, Gray Menace, Texas
Tagged death penalty, fort myers beach, lois riess, minnesota, murder, texas
The State Attorney’s office held a press conference today to announce that a grand jury had returned an indictment for first degree murder charges against Lois Riess, the granny who allegedly killed a woman on Fort Myers Beach to steal her identity. Authorities have alleged that “Losing Streak Lois” Riess was hiding out from Minnesota, where she is a suspect in her husband’s murder, and used the identity and property she stole from the lady she killed to flee, ultimately until her capture in Texas. She may end up facing murder charges in Minnesota as well, but right now Lee County will proceed first. The indictment for first degree murder supersedes the second degree charges, and may be the next step for the state to announce that they will seek the death penalty. Only a grand jury can indict on first degree murder, and we should expect an announcement soon if the state intends to seek the death penalty.
Jorge Guerrero Torres
The state has announced its intention to seek the death penalty against Jorge Guerrero Torres, who was indicted about a week or so ago for first degree murder in the kidnapping death of nine-year-old Diana Alvarez. Authorities located Guerrero’s phone with incriminating pornographic pictures involving the girl. He has been convicted in Federal court and sentenced to 60 years for child pornography. When he was in jail, he allegedly made incriminating statements that he killed Alvarez and hid her body, leading to the murder charges he now faces. The notice is the next step, after the grand jury indictment for first degree murder, to seek the death penalty, which has been reinstated in Florida.
The procedure for Florida’s Death Penalty was found to be unconstitutional, despite efforts to rework it, until March of last year, when a procedure that meets Constitutional muster was approved and signed into law. But what to do with the cases that had been sentenced under the old procedure. Florida’s Supreme Court ended up splitting the baby, basing their decision on when the US Supreme Court issued their controlling decision in Ring v. Arizona back in 2002. The Florida Court decided that the rule would be applied retroactively to cases decided after the Ring decision, but that individuals sentenced before then are out of luck: even though the Court had already decided the procedure used to sentence them was unconstitutional.
The decision is based on the rule that decisions based on procedure will not be retroactive. In the last several weeks, the Court has been busy issuing ruling after ruling that declines to apply the rule announced in the Hurst case to pre-2002 convictions. This column from the Tampa Bay Times takes a look at the spate of opinions that have recently been released, and the sometimes incongruous results. It’s definitely worth a read.
Governor Rick Scott has signed into law the bill amending the procedure for Florida’s death penalty. The new law requires a unanimous jury finding for the death penalty, in order for it to pass constitutional muster.
Florida’s “Death Chamber”
The Florida Legislature fast-tracked a fix-it bill for the death penalty, which was found to use an unconstitutional procedure because it did not require a unanimous jury finding for a recommendation of the death sentence. That law was an imperfect fix for the previous procedure, and the Florida Supreme Court subsequently made it clear that a unanimous recommendation would be required to meet constitutional muster. Yesterday the Florida Senate approved a new bill that does require unanimity, and today the Florida House voted for it as well. The bill will head to the Governor’s desk, and he is expected to sign it in short order, effectively re-instituting the death penalty in Florida.
Those sentences to death after 2002 will have to have a new sentencing hearing if the State still wishes to seek the death penalty.
For those death row inmates whose cases were finalized before 2002, it appears the death sentences will not have to be revisited, pursuant to a Florida Supreme Court Decision that came out yesterday. The Court ruled that the legal issue is procedural, which means that it is not retroactive from prior to 2002. The court found that the state can move forward wit the execution of Michael Lambrix, who killed 2 people in Glades County some 30-plus years ago. He will surely seek a federal appeal before his execution goes forward.
The Death Penalty has been on hold in Florida for some time. While the Florida Supreme Court struck down the current law for its non-unanimous procedure, that law was only passed a year ago to address earlier decisions that prohibited the enforcement of the death penalty, also for procedural reasons. The courts have made it clear they will require a unanimous finding by a jury before a judge can impose death. A new bill being prepared would address that. Once the law is reestablished, the prosecutors across the state will have to review the cases since 2002 to determine if they wish to proceed on new death penalty sentencing hearings: which will affect a few cases here in Southwest Florida.