Execution for Palm Beach County murderer on hold

Published: May. 22, 2023 at 10:37 PM EDT
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The upcoming execution for death row inmate Duane Owen has been put on pause pending a psychiatric evaluation after his lawyers argued that he may be insane.

Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order Monday to temporarily stay the convicted murderer's execution until after three psychiatrists examine Owen's mental condition.

DeSantis signed Owen's death warrant earlier this month.

Owen, 62, was set to die by lethal injection June 15, but his attorneys claim that a neuropsychologist's recent evaluation of Owen "meets the criteria for insanity."

Owen's lawyers unsuccessfully sought a Palm Beach County circuit judge to grant a stay of execution, but the request was denied, in part, because the governor hadn't yet "made a determination of sanity."

Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Jeffrey Gillen during hearing for Duane Owen, May 18, 2023
Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Jeffrey Gillen during hearing for Duane Owen, May 18, 2023

According to a neuropsychologist's report provided by Owen's attorneys, Owen believed that he was a woman in a man's body and "was trying to fully become the woman he really was."

Owen was convicted of murdering Karen Slattery, a 14-year-old high school freshman, and Georgianna Worden, a mother of two, in separate Palm Beach County attacks in 1984.

Owen broke into a Delray Beach home in March 1984 and attacked Slattery while she was babysitting. Slattery was repeatedly stabbed and sexually assaulted.

Two months later, Owen broke into a Boca Raton home, where he beat Worden to death with a hammer and sexually assaulted her. The 38-year-old mother's body was found by her two children the next morning.

Owen was arrested that same year and confessed to the crimes. He was later convicted of first-degree murder and sexual battery with a deadly weapon for both crimes and sentenced to death.

The governor's order claims that the "allegations" in the neuropsychologist's evaluation "are insufficient assertions of insanity," but because his "solemn duty to execute a duly imposed sentence of death requires the exercise of utmost caution," DeSantis appointed three psychiatrists to examine Owen's mental condition.

Drs. Wade Myers, Tonia Werner and Emily Lazarou comprise the "Commission to Determine the Mental Competency of Duane Eugene Owen." They'll be tasked with determining whether Owen "understands the nature and effect of the death penalty and why it is to be imposed upon him."

According to the order, the examination will take place Tuesday, after which time the commission "shall promptly" report its findings to the governor no later than Wednesday.

If DeSantis decides that Owen has the mental capacity to understand the death penalty and why it's being imposed on him, the execution will continue as scheduled. Should DeSantis decide that Owen doesn't have the mental capacity, Owen will be committed to a Florida Department of Corrections mental health treatment facility "until such time as he has been restored to sanity and the sentence of death may be executed."

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