Saturday, July 13, 2024

DeSantis Signs Death Warrant for Duane Owen

Rick Lincoln spoke with Carolyn Slattery last week. Gov. DeSantis had just signed a death warrant for Duane Owen. He killed Carolyn Slattery’s 14-year-old daughter, Karen, nearly 40 years ago. Lincoln got Owen’s confession.

Mrs. Slattery, Lincoln said, was “relieved.” She is 88 and lives in the Keys. Her mind remains sharp. Lincoln said she hopes the June 15 execution comes off. Lincoln himself is “not optimistic” that Owen will die as scheduled.

Even four decades later, it’s hard to overstate the panic that followed Karen Slattery’s murder. It happened as she was babysitting two sisters—ages seven and two—on the barrier island in Delray Beach. Owen stabbed Karen Slattery 18 times. Lincoln, then a lieutenant in the detective bureau, told me again last week that it was the worst crime scene he ever worked.

“Everyone says they get a career case,” Lincoln told me. “This was mine.” Yet two months later, the case had gone cold. Then Owen struck again.

On May 29, he murdered 35-year-old Georgianna Worden in her Boca Raton home while her daughters—ages 13 and nine—slept in another bedroom. Owen bludgeoned her to death with a hammer. Despite the difference in the ages of the victims and the weapons, investigators in both cities began talking and believed that they were looking for the same person.

They narrowed their search to Owen, and Boca Raton police issued a bulletin based on an open warrant. On May 30, Owen was arrested as he walked through the Hidden Valley neighborhood of Boca Raton.

Investigators believe that Owen was leaving town. They were certain that he would have killed again. Given Owen’s history, they likely were right.

Owen had already built a record for two years before killing Karen Slattery. Many of the crimes were sexual in nature, and they were becoming increasingly violent. He would troll for victims, Owen said, by going “on maneuvers.”

In challenging the death sentences for each murder, Owen’s attorneys have cited his upbringing in the rural Midwest. They have noted the physical abuse by his father and how his parents gave their young children alcohol. After his parents died, Owen lived in an orphanage until he was 18.

Palm Beach County prosecutors and the Florida Attorney General’s Office have responded that the crimes were so heinous that they outweigh any mitigating circumstances. That argument has prevailed during every appeal.

Owen is 61. Eugene Slattery, Karen’s father, died in a plane crash 34 years ago. All the investigators have retired. Lincoln lives in Rabun Gap, Georgia. As the execution nears, though, coverage of Owen and the murders may increase.

Lincoln has kept a copy of Owen’s confession. “I look at it from time to time.” When Karen Slattery was buried, she had a rosary in her hands and a teddy bear in her casket.

Legislature’s effect on Home Rule

florida state capitol
Florida State Capitol

Compared to what could have happened, cities fared well during the recent session of the Florida Legislature.

Bills that would have required partisan local elections failed. So did legislation that would have raised payment limits by cities in liability cases.

Current limits on what is called sovereign immunity are $200,000 per person and $300,000 per incident. Higher damage awards must go to the Legislature for approval. Some claims can take years to resolve. Some never get resolved.

One bill would have increased those caps to $2.5 million and $5 million. Supporters said the change would allow cities more flexibility to negotiate with plaintiffs. Opponents, including the Florida League of Cities, said higher limits only would encourage more lawsuits.

In addition, Tallahassee did not further restrict the ability of local governments to regulate vacation rentals. Delray Beach City Manager Terrence Moore had raised the issue last fall in a cautionary memo.

But legislators again made it harder for cities and counties to impose restrictions on businesses. If Gov. DeSantis signs the bill—he vetoed a similar one last year—local government would have to post estimates on how much ordinances might cost. It also would be easier to challenge those ordinances in court.

And Tallahassee banned cities and counties from making socially responsible investments with public money. DeSantis has labeled investments in, say, low-carbon energy as “woke.”
The most important legislation may be the Live Local Act, which is designed to encourage more affordable housing. It also could cut elected officials out of the approval process for some development projects.

Boca Raton has prepared an analysis of the law. I’ll examine it in an upcoming post.

Legislature’s effect on schools

Public schools and educators fared much less well.

The Legislature expanded the ban on discussion of gender and sexual orientation through high school. The Legislature imposed eight-year term limits on school board members—four years shorter than term limits for senators and representatives. A constitutional amendment requiring partisan school board elections will go to voters next year.

In addition, the Legislature shifted what could be $500 million after five years in construction money from traditional public schools to charter schools. That will hit school districts’ capital budgets. The universal vouchers bill will hit districts’ operating budgets.

And Tallahassee also said that teacher unions can’t automatically deduct dues from paychecks. That rule does not apply to police and firefighter unions. They tend to support Republicans who dominate the Legislature. Teacher unions usually back Democrats.

Finally, school boards no longer can require masks during public health emergencies. Districts also cannot require employees to be vaccinated or tested. In a related development, parental opt-outs of childhood vaccinations are at record levels.

Legislature extends favor to graduating seniors

The Legislature did extend a small favor to roughly 2,000 Palm Beach County high-school seniors.

In an April 21 letter to legislators, School Board Chairman Frank Barbieri asked for a delay in higher graduation requirements. Those higher standards, Barbieri said, put those students at risk of not getting their diplomas.

Barbieri noted that this is the first class to have started high school in 2019, just before the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools were closed for the last two-plus months of that year. Half of those students attended classes online throughout their sophomore year. “Raising the bar,” Barbieri said, would mean “penalizing” the class that the pandemic most affected.

Tallahassee did ease some of those standards, but it left others in place. Some of those students remain at risk.

Boca Regional meets campaign goal

Boca Raton Regional Hospital has met its Keeping The Promise capital campaign goal of $250 million.

The last $1 million came from Michael and Debra Coslov. They have been major philanthropists in the Philadelphia area. In a news release Monday, Boca Regional announced another $1 million gift from Martin and Toni Sosnoff.

In a statement, CEO Lincoln Mendez said the hospital’s fundraising “will continue. . .to ensure we are meeting the growing needs of our community.” Keeping The Promise will transform Boca Regional.

The new parking garage has opened. The Cooperman Medical Arts Pavilion, housing specialty clinics, will open this fall. A new power plant is scheduled to open early next year. 

The new Gloria Drummond Patient Tower is set for completion in early 2026; the foundation has been poured. And what the hospital calls “all other additions and renovations,” such as to the existing patient tower,” will be done in 2028.

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Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, has been a South Florida journalist since 1974. He worked for The Miami Herald until 1976 and for The Palm Beach Post from 1976 until 2014, where he served as managing editor and editorial page editor. Since 2014, he has written a politics blog, commentaries and other articles for Boca magazine. His writing has earned first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Randy has lived in Boca Raton with his wife, Shelley Huff-Schultz, since 1985. His son, daughter-in-law and their three children also live in Boca Raton.

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