On Thursday at 6 p.m., man sentenced for a murder three decades ago is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection

TALLAHASSEE, Florida — Faye Vann was waiting for her family at a Florida shopping mall when an escaped prisoner who had killed a deputy and was serving a life sentence came up to her with a knife and asked for a ride.

Court records show that Vann, who was 44 at the time, honked her horn, tried to drive away, and fought with her attacker that Sunday afternoon in Tallahassee in 1990, just 2 miles (3 kilometers) from the state Capitol. Donald Dillbeck stabbed her more than 20 times with a paring knife and cut her throat. He will be put to death at 6 p.m. Thursday by lethal injection for the murder.

Even though Dillbeck had tried to escape before and attacked another prisoner while serving a life sentence for killing the deputy 11 years ago, he was put in a minimum security facility. Court records show that he left a work release job where he was making food for an event for seniors, bought a knife, and walked to Tallahassee.

At the time, Republican Gov. Bob Martinez was so angry that he fired three corrections workers and tried to change the rules so that people with life sentences would be kept in safer places.

Court records show that Dillbeck was 15 years old when he stabbed a man in Indiana while trying to steal a CB radio. He ran away to Florida, where Lee County Deputy Dwight Lynn Hall found him in a parking lot near Fort Myers Beach. While Hall was searching him, Dillbeck hit the deputy in the groin and ran away. Hall tackled him, and while they were fighting, Dillbeck took Hall’s gun and shot him twice.

Dillbeck, who is now 59, would have been eligible for parole after 25 years of his sentence for killing the deputy. Court records say that during the carjacking, Dillbeck told Vann to drive because he had forgotten how. He crashed the car soon after taking it, and when he tried to run away, he was caught.

A jury voted 8-4 that he should be put to death. This month, the state Supreme Court turned down appeals that said he shouldn’t be put to death because he has fetal alcohol syndrome and it’s cruel and unusual to keep him on death row for more than 30 years before his death warrant is signed. His appeals were turned down by the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday afternoon.

If the execution of Dillbeck doesn’t get put off, it will be the first one in Florida in almost four years and the third one under Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis. His immediate predecessor, Republican U.S. Senator Rick Scott, was in charge of 28 executions.

DeSantis was re-elected last November and is thought to be a possible presidential candidate in 2024. During his first term, he didn’t say much about the death penalty. His office wouldn’t answer calls and emails about the lack of signed warrants since 2019. DeSantis also didn’t answer a question from an Associated Press reporter about the long break in executions.

But DeSantis criticized a Broward County jury for not giving Nikolas Cruz the death penalty for killing 17 students and teachers at a Parkland high school. Since then, he has said he wants to change a 2017 state law that says the death penalty can only be given if a unanimous jury says so, so that just one or two jurors can’t change the sentence.

Since 1976, when the U.S. Supreme Court brought back the death penalty, Florida has been one of the states with the most executions.

Between 1979 and 1987, Democratic Gov. Bob Graham was in charge of 16 executions. In Martinez’s one term as governor, nine people were put to death. During Lawton Chiles’s time in office, 18 people were put to death, and 21 people were put to death while Jeb Bush was governor. In the one term that Gov. Charlie Crist was in office, he oversaw five executions.

Jordan Collins

Jordan is an experienced editor with years in the journalism and reporting industry. He loves talking with the community about the problems local residents face and state politics. You can find him in the gym almost every day or see him jogging.

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