Man to be executed for 1990 Florida murder while a fugitive

Author: Brendan Farrington / AP
Published: Updated:
A room where lethal injections are performed. Credit: Florida Department of Corrections

Faye Vann was parked at a Florida shopping mall waiting for her family when Donald Dillbeck, an escaped prisoner serving a life sentence for killing a Lee County deputy, approached her with a knife and demanded a ride.

Vann, 44, honked her horn, tried to drive off and fought her attacker that Sunday afternoon in 1990 just 2 miles (3 kilometers) from the state Capitol in Tallahassee, court records show. She was stabbed more than 20 times with a paring knife and had her throat slit by Dillbeck, who is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection at 6 p.m. Thursday for the murder.

Despite a prior escape attempt and an assault on another prisoner while serving a life sentence for the deputy’s murder 11 years earlier, Dillbeck was placed in a minimum security facility. He walked away from a work release assignment catering a meal for a seniors event, bought the knife and walked to Tallahassee, according to court records.

At the time, a furious Republican Gov. Bob Martinez fired three corrections officials and sought to implement rules to make sure prisoners with life sentences would be held in more secure settings.

Dillbeck was 15 when he stabbed a man in Indiana while trying to steal a CB radio, court records show. He fled to Florida, where Lee County Deputy Dwight Lynn Hall found him in a Fort Myers Beach parking lot. While Hall was searching him, Dillbeck hit the deputy in the groin and ran. Hall tackled him and as the two wrestled, Dillbeck took Hall’s gun and shot him twice.

Dillbeck, now 59, would have had the possibility of parole after serving 25 years years of his sentence for the deputy’s murder. During the carjacking, Dillbeck told Vann to drive because he had forgotten how, according to court documents. He crashed the car shortly after taking it and was captured after running from the scene.

A jury recommended 8-4 that he be executed. The state Supreme Court earlier this month denied appeals claiming that he shouldn’t be put to death because he suffers from fetal alcohol syndrome and that it’s cruel and unusual to keep him on death row for more than 30 years before his death warrant was signed. The U.S. Supreme Court denied his appeals Wednesday afternoon.

Unless delayed, Dillbeck’s execution will be Florida’s first in nearly four years and the third under Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis. By comparison, his immediate predecessor, current U.S. Republican Sen. Rick Scott, oversaw 28 executions.

DeSantis, who was reelected last November and who is considered a potential 2024 presidential candidate, was quiet on the death penalty during his first term. His office refused to answer repeated phone calls and emails about the lack of warrants signed since 2019. DeSantis also cut off an Associated Press reporter who asked about the long pause in executions and didn’t answer the question.

But DeSantis criticized a Broward County jury’s failure to sentence Nikolas Cruz to death for fatally shooting 17 students and faculty at a Parkland high school and has since said he wants to change a 2017 state law that requires a unanimous jury recommendation to impose the death penalty so that one or two jurors can’t affect the sentence.

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. 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. Gov. Charlie Crist oversaw five executions in his single term in office.

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