Murderer Duane Owen Asks for Rehearing in 1984 Case

Thirty-five years after he stalked and killed a 14-year-old girl in Delray Beach and a 35-year-old woman in Boca Raton, Duane Owen is back in the news.

Owen’s lawyers are not arguing his innocence in either case. Owen did fatally stab and sexually assault Karen Slattery on March 24, 1984. The teenager was babysitting two girls at a Delray Beach home near the ocean. Owen did not harm the other girls.

Owen also did fatally bludgeon, strangle and sexually assault Georgianna Worden on May 29, 1984. She lived in the Boca Raton Hills neighborhood with her two daughters, who were in the house. Owen also didn’t harm them.

Duane Owen (Courtesy Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office)

Given how much both cities have grown and how much time has passed, many residents may not know or remember the fear that took hold after the Slattery murder and the race to find the killer. They may not know or remember the horror of Owen’s crimes.

The Delray Beach and Boca Raton Police Departments were able to focus on Owen through a combination of hard work and luck. Owen had tried to kill earlier and likely would have killed again. Boca Raton investigators believe that Owen, who had drifted in and out of the area, was headed out of town when police arrested him on May 30, 1984, holding him on an outstanding warrant.

The issue is Owen’s sentence. In each case—the Slattery murder had a retrial—a judge handed down the death penalty. In each case, however, the jury recommendation was 10-2.

At the time, Florida was one of the few states not to require a unanimous recommendation for a death sentence. In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court—in Hurst vs. Florida—ruled that the recommendation had to be 12-0. The Legislature has since changed the law, to bring the state into compliance.

After the Hurst opinion came down, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that all Death Row inmates who had been sentenced by majority rather than unanimity were entitled to a rehearing. Owen is seeking one based on the recommendation in the Worden killing, though his legal team cites both cases.

But in January, three justices who had joined that 2016 majority opinion retired. Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed successors who are much more conservative and may not be inclined to follow that precedent. Two holdovers dissented three years ago.

On April 24, after reviewing Owen’s appeal, the Florida Supreme Court asked for briefs on the question of whether the state should apply the Hurst ruling retroactively, which would overturn that 2016 precedent. The Florida News Service reported that 154 of Florida’s Death Row inmates could have been eligible for rehearings. Twenty-nine already have had their sentences reduced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Four others were resentenced to death.

(Photo by Rawpixel)

Owen regularly has argued for leniency based on what even prosecutors acknowledge was a horrific childhood—but not horrific enough to mitigate the brutality. Owen also tried an insanity defense, which investigators undermined by noting Owen’s attempts to hide his guilt.

There remains only the issue of the jury recommendation. Given the depravity of the murders, it’s stunning that there were two holdouts in each case.

But there were, and in the new filing Owen’s attorneys write, “Mr. Owen’s death sentences were unconstitutional when he received them and even more so if this court allows them to stand.” The Florida Attorney General’s Office responds that any error in Owen’s sentencing was harmless and that Florida precedent is to apply U.S. Supreme Court rulings from when they are issued. There is no date for oral arguments.

No death warrant ever has been signed for Owen. Florida put just three Death Row inmates to death in 2017, two in 2018 and one in 2019. If you favor the death penalty, Owen should have died long ago. If you oppose the death penalty, the state should not be wasting money on appeals when the facts are not in doubt.

Recreation assessment

The first responses are back from Boca Raton’s recreation assessment.

Actually, the survey is a project of the city and the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District. Both build and maintain parks. Each agency is contributing $50,000 toward the consultant preparing the report, which will help the city and district decide priorities for the roughly 100,000 people who live in Boca Raton and the 25,000 between the city and the Florida Turnpike who also are within the district’s boundaries.

The timing of the survey is good. The city and district are debating how much public money the proposed new public golf course might deserve. As Boca Raton studies a new downtown municipal complex, one question is the fate of the tennis center and shuffleboard courts.

From the first public session two weeks ago, which drew about 65 people, the consultant found high demand for more “special event” space and outdoor playgrounds. There was high interest in more public pools and aquatics and a larger community center. City council members envision such a facility in the downtown campus.

In addition, residents asked for kayak launches. They are planned for Phase 2 of Hillsboro/El Rio Park, which is scheduled for completion this year, and the new Lake Wyman Rutherford Park. That project is still in the permitting stage. Other popular items were trail, bike lanes and “multi-generational” parks.

The consultant also asked about programs. Demand remains strong for sports teams. In tandem with some of the facilities responses, residents also requested more outdoor activities and arts programs. Golf wasn’t among the choices offered.

Recreation Services Director Michael Kalvort said the city and district next will be “constructing the questions for the actual needs survey.” That will happen over the summer. Kalvort estimates that the survey will take a year.

Vaping on the rise

Since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, Boca Raton officials have talked about the mental health of students in the city’s public schools. They may want to consider adding physical health.

The Naples Daily News reported last week that tobacco-related offenses at schools in Collier and Lee counties—on the southwest coast—have increased 300 percent in the last year. School district officials blame the trend on an “epidemic” of vaping.

Electronic cigarettes, which companies aggressively market to teenagers, don’t give users the tar in traditional cigarettes that cause cancer. But “e-cigs” addict users to nicotine, which can make them more likely to move on from smokeless cigarettes.

And any chemical addiction is a problem. A Collier County School District spokesman told the News, “This is a new trend and we just don’t know years down the road the consequences from these students nationwide putting all this nicotine in their body in high doses.”

Boca to replace underground pipes

First, Boca Raton had IRIS. Now, it’s iSIP.

IRIS stands for In-City Reclamation Water System. It’s the program through which the city offers the option of using recycled wastewater for irrigation. The city treats it enough to be safe for that use, not as drinking water.

ISIP, as the city announced in its annual water quality brochure, stands for Innovative Sustainable Infrastructure Program. Over what could take decades and cost, according to a city spokeswoman, “hundreds of millions of dollars,” Boca Raton will replace all underground pipes that carry water, sewage and stormwater. There are 1,200 miles of them, and some date to the 1940s. As part of that project, the city also will replace problem sidewalks.

Ideally, residents won’t see new bills or fees. The utilities department budget is an enterprise fund, with money comes from fees, not property taxes. The city is financing the work through existing revenue, though the spokeswoman could not rule out new fees.

Even if that happens, the money will be worth it. While Fort Lauderdale touts its surface glitz, the city is rotting underneath. Sewer lines regularly rupture. Rising seas exacerbate the problem. One estimate for updating the system is $1.5 billion. City commissioners have known about the problem for years, but they keep putting off the expensive solution.

Boca Raton wants to never reach that point. Technology enabled the Utilities and Municipal Services departments to identify the neighborhoods whose systems most need replacing—Chatham Hills, Country Club Village, Tunison Palms, Old Floresta, Boca Square, Boca Villas and Boca Wood and Winfield Park. The first phase will cover those neighborhoods—in that order—and take five years.

City officials will try to minimize disruption by timing the underground work with other projects, such as road repairs. As I have noted, sometimes the most important work cities do is work that residents never see. This is Boca Raton’s way of ensuring that residents can continue to take for granted that safe water comes out of their taps, their toilets flush and their streets don’t flood.

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