Advocates and supporters of Antonio Balta, the man sentenced to 20 years in prison for allowing his daughter to die in a hot car as he gambled, were given sad news over this holiday season: The same clemency board that voted to pardon long-deceased rocker Jim Morrison chose not to commute the sentence of Balta.
But now supporters -- like 90-year-old California poet Doris Sutton -- hope newly sworn-in Gov. Rick Scott might be their angel of mercy. (Advocates point out that as an illegal immigrant, Balta will automatically be deported once he gets out of prison anyway.)
As it turns out, the Tea Party-favorite Scott -- who has promised to eliminate nearly all regulation in the state and slash the budget completely -- made several campaign promises regarding Florida's many prisons. PolitiFact Florida has amassed a list of the promises Scott has made in the past few months (there are more than 50), and among them are having inmates grow their own food, allowing more corporate bids for prison health-care contracts, and reducing public prison costs.
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Balta's supporters hope one of the ways Scott reduces prison costs is by sending Balta -- who, at $50,000 per year, will cost the state at least $1 million if he serves the duration of his sentence -- back to Peru.
"We are still recovering from our disappointment that Antonio Balta was not considered for clemency," says Sutton, who has been Balta's staunchest advocate. "But strong, strong hope arises now that Rick Scott declares his intent to reform the prison system. That was his campaign promise, and he sounds like he really intends to do it."
She adds: "Antonio looks to us to be such an easy way to save up to a million dollars by releasing him now."
We wrote about Balta's case in an October cover story. At that time, former prosecutor Howard Scheinberg argued that the sentence was -- and still is -- fair. "Frankly, I'm surprised anybody is outraged over this sentence," he said. "It's not overly extreme. He killed his little girl."