Florida’s execution chamber. Credit: Wikimedia
The Florida Supreme Court has cleared the way for the execution next week of Duane Eugene Owen for the sexual assault and murder of a Palm Beach County mother in 1984, rejecting claims including that he suffers brain damage as long ago adjudicated.
The seven-member Supreme Court voted unanimously to uphold the death sentence, including Justice Meredith Sasso, who joined the court only recently, although Justice Jorge Labarga — the most liberal justice — recused without explanation.
Unless Owen can persuade the federal courts to intervene, his would be the fourth execution that Gov. Ron DeSantis has ordered in Florida in 2023, according to the Associated Press, and the first since the governor formally opened his presidential campaign on May 24. The other executions happened in February, April, and early May.
The Florida Supreme Court said on Monday that it had rejected similar claims multiple times before as Owen spent years seeking to overturn his death sentences in the murder of Georgianna Worden in Boca Raton.
Owen’s mental illness claims — including “that he is a women [sic] in the body of a man” and that he “was trying to fully become the woman he really was” — led DeSantis on May 22 to order a panel of three psychiatrists to evaluate whether Owen had the mental capacity to understand the death penalty and why it was being imposed against him.
Those doctors concluded that Owen was mentally competent and DeSantis signed an order on May 25 allowing the execution to proceed. The death warrant at issue is for Worden’s death by hammer blows; Owen was sentenced separately in teenaged babysitter Karen Slattery’s stabbing death and sexual assault, also in Palm Beach County.
The execution is set for the Wednesday after next, June 14.
The court noted that Owen has been litigating appeals for decades in state and federal court to no avail, and that at this point the court has rejected his arguments several times.
For example, Owen argued that medical imaging that could have detected his brain damage has advanced to the point that he should be entitled to MRI and PET scans. The court noted that that technology, if less advanced, has been available since 1992.
“Indeed, some form of the evidence that Owen believes he could now find through brain imaging could have been discovered anytime during the past few decades,” the unsigned opinion says.
According to court records, Owen’s mother died when he was young, his father was an alcoholic who committed suicide, and Owen was sexually and otherwise abused in foster homes.
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