A convicted murderer has been executed in Florida, marking the sixth instance of capital punishment in the Sunshine State this year and the eighth during the tenure of Governor and 2024 Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis.
Michael Duane Zack III, 54, died by lethal injection at 6:14 p.m. Tuesday. Zack was convicted of killing Laurie Russillo and Ravonne Smith amid a crime spree in June 1996, having met both women at beach bars in the Florida Panhandle.
Zack received a sentence of life in prison for the murder of Russillo and the death penalty for the murder of Smith, whom he was also convicted of sexually assaulting.
A Florida Department of Corrections spokesperson said in an email to Newsweek that Zack declined to request a last meal. He reportedly met with his wife and spiritual adviser in the hours before the execution.
The execution began promptly at 6 p.m., according to the Associated Press. Zack reportedly said “yes sir” after being asked whether he had any last words. He then looked at the witnesses and said, “I love you all.”
Just after being executed, a final statement from Zack was released by anti-death penalty group Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.
“Twenty-seven years ago, I was an alcoholic and a drug addict,” Zack said in the statement. “I did things that have hurt a lot of people—not only the victims and their families and friends, but my own family and friends as well. I have woken up every single day since then filled with remorse and a wish to make my time here on earth mean something more than the worst thing I ever did.”
“I make no excuses,” he added. “I lay no blame. But how I wish that I could have a second chance, to live out my days in prison and continue to do all I can to make a difference in this world. To all my brothers on death row, please continue to help each other.”
Zack’s execution came after a last-minute appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was denied on Monday, with justices giving no reason for the denial. An appeal to the Florida Supreme Court was also rejected in a unanimous decision last week.
Lawyers for Zack had argued that he should not be executed due to his diminished impulse control, mental and emotional issues caused by Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), citing a 2002 Supreme Court decision that made intellectual disabilities a disqualifying factor for the death penalty.
The office of Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody disputed the argument that FAS qualifies as an intellectual disability, writing in a Supreme Court filing that “unelected and unrepresentative experts” should not be allowed to intervene despite the argument from Zack’s attorneys that “the psychiatric community now views FAS as functionally identical to intellectual disability.”
The intellectual disability claim was also cited in one of several arguments against execution by religious and anti-death penalty groups who called on DeSantis to grant Zack clemency.
DeSantis, who has made expanding the death penalty an issue as he seeks the presidency, signed Zack’s death warrant on August 17. The governor has far outpaced his recent predecessors in death penalties carried out in his state, although most of the executions have occurred this year.
Shortly before announcing his run for president, DeSantis signed a Florida bill that allows the death penalty to be imposed on child rapists. The bill officially became law on Sunday, but is likely to be challenged, due to the punishment already having been outlawed for rapists by the Florida Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court.
Five other men convicted of murder were executed earlier this year in Florida: Donald Dillbeck, Louis Bernard Gaskin, Darryl B. Barwick, Duane Eugene Owen and James Phillip Barnes.