TALLAHASSEE (AP)

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the death warrant Monday for a man convicted of fatally wounding a woman after escaping custody while serving a life sentence for killing a Lee County deputy.

Donald David Dilbeck, 59, is scheduled to die Feb. 23 by lethal injection for the 1990 Tallahassee killing of Fei Wang. He had escaped from custody two days earlier while serving a life sentence for the 1979 death of Lee County Sheriff’s Deputy Dwight Lynn Hall.

It would be Florida’s first execution since Gary Ray Bowles was executed in June 2019 and the state’s longest since 1983.

Dilbeck escaped while attending a vocational program in Quincy, according to the governor. According to court records, he bought the knife while walking to Tallahassee in a nearby county, then stabbed Wang in a mall parking lot and took her car. He crashed nearby before being caught. Van waited alone in the car while her family shopped.

He served 11 years to life in prison after being convicted of Hall’s murder. According to court records, Hall approached Dilbeck in a Fort Myers beach parking lot and Dilbeck fled. When Hall caught up to him, Dilbeck grabbed Hall’s gun and shot him twice. Dilbeck confessed to the murder, according to the governor’s office.

DeSantis, who was sworn in for a second term this month, last signed a death warrant in September 2019 for the execution of James Daly, who was convicted of killing 14-year-old Shelly Boggia in 1985. But the execution of the sentence was delayed by the courts and was no longer postponed.

In Florida, where 301 people are currently on death row, the execution date is set by the governor, who signs the death warrant. By comparison, in Texas, the state with the most active use of the death penalty, the court sets execution dates.

DeSantis criticized a Broward County jury’s decision not to sentence Nikolas Cruz to the death penalty for the shooting deaths of 17 students and teachers at Parkland High School, but has otherwise remained silent on the death penalty after two executions in his first year in office.

By comparison, his immediate predecessor, current Republican US Senator Rick Scott, presided over 28 executions. Since the US Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, Florida has been one of the most active states in carrying out the death penalty.

Democratic Gov. Bob Graham presided over 16 executions between 1979 and 1987. Republican Gov. Bob Martinez oversaw nine in one term, Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles oversaw 18 and 21 inmates were executed under Republican Gov. Jeb Bush.

“Signing death warrants and carrying out executions has been one of the most difficult parts of the job,” Bush told The Associated Press in an email during DeSantis’ first term in office. “It was exhausting in every way. I never felt comfortable doing it, but I had to do it.”

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