When the state Clemency Board meets for the final time later this week, the four-person commission might, against better judgment, pardon long-dead rocker Jim Morrison. And the board may look at the case of a condemned South Florida dog.
But a network of activists stretching from Florida to New York to California is hopeful the commission spends a substantial amount of time examining the case of Antonio Balta, the former horse-track employee sentenced to 20 years for the accidental death of his 9-month-old daughter.
Doris Sutton, a 90-year-old poet in California who's been leading the letter-writing campaign aimed at freeing Balta, received a letter from the office of Charles H. Bronson, commissioner of agriculture and a member of the Clemency Board, stating that the board would definitely consider Balta's case.
Earlier this month, a representative from Gov. Charlie Crist's office confirmed that he was also reviewing Balta's case and would make a decision before the meeting tomorrow.
We examined the case of Antonio Balta in a cover story earlier this year. On the day of the Florida Derby six and a half years ago, Balta left his daughter, Veronika, in the family car while he went inside the casino to see his boss, say goodbye to his friends, and place a few small bets. After pleading guilty to aggravated manslaughter of a child, Balta received a 20-year sentence -- one of the longest in the country for this type of crime.
For years, Sutton and a few like-minded associates sprinkled across the country have written letters to the governor and to every member of the state Legislature. In a recent letter sent to all four members of the Clemency Board, which in addition to Crist and Bronson includes outgoing Attorney General Bill McCollum and former Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, Sutton again laid out her case for Balta's release:
"He was the blue collar Dad who worked at the Hallandale Racetrack and whose baby died in the back of the family car," the letter reads in part. "Antonio is an immigrant from Peru who in the heat of the moment got an unprecedented long sentence for a tragic mistake."
At more than $50,000 per year, Balta's 20-year sentence will cost taxpayers more than a million dollars. And since Balta is not a legal resident of the U.S., he will be deported after serving his sentence anyway.
Here is a video Ms. Sutton made, a direct appeal to Charlie Crist: