TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a death warrant Monday for a man who was convicted of fatally stabbing a woman after escaping from custody while serving a life sentence for killing a deputy.
Donald David Dillbeck, 59, is schedule to die Feb. 23 by lethal injection for the 1990 murder of Faye Vann in Tallahassee. He had escaped from custody two days earlier while serving a life sentence for the death of Lee County Deputy Sherriff Dwight Lynn Hall in 1979.
It would be Florida's first execution since Gary Ray Bowles was put to death in June 2019 and the longest the state has gone without carrying out an execution since 1983.
Dillbeck escaped while participating in an off-site vocational program in Quincy, according to the governor's office. He bought a knife while walking to Tallahassee in the next county over, then stabbed Vann in a shopping mall parking lot and took her car, according to court records. He crashed nearby before being caught. Vann was waiting in the car alone while her family shopped.
He had served 11 years of a life sentence after being convicted of killing Hall. According to court records, Hall had approached Dillbeck in a Fort Myers beach parking lot and Dillbeck ran away. When Hall caught up to him, Dillbeck grabbed Hall’s gun and shot him twice. Dillbeck confessed to the murder, according to the governor's office.
DeSantis, who was sworn in for a second term this month, last signed a death warrant in September 2019 for the execution of James Dailey, who was convicted of the 1985 murder of 14-year-old Shelly Boggio. But the execution was delayed by the courts and never rescheduled.
In Florida, where 301 people are currently on death row, an execution date is set by the governor, who signs a death warrant. By comparison, in Texas — the nation's most active death penalty state — a court determines execution dates.
DeSantis has criticized a Broward County jury's decision not to sentence Nikolas Cruz to death for fatally shooting 17 students and faculty at a Parkland high school, but otherwise has been quiet when it comes to capital punishment after two executions during his first year in office.
By comparison, his immediate predecessor, current U.S. Republican Sen. Rick Scott, oversaw 28 executions. Since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, Florida has been one of the most active states in carrying out executions.
Democratic Gov. Bob Graham oversaw 16 executions between 1979 and 1987. Republican Gov. Bob Martinez oversaw nine in his one term in office, Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles oversaw 18, and 21 prisoners were executed under Republican Gov. Jeb Bush.
“The signing of the death warrants and the death penalty execution was one of the most difficult parts of the job," Bush said in an email to The Associated Press during DeSantis' first term in office. “It was draining in every way. I never felt comfortable doing it but I was duty bound to do so.”