Execution set for Florida man convicted of killing two women he met at beach bars in 1996

Aug 17, 2023, 4:29 PM | Updated: 4:48 pm

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A man convicted of killing two women he met at beach bars in the Florida Panhandle in 1996 is set to be executed under a death warrant signed Thursday by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Michael Duane Zack III’s lethal injection is scheduled for Oct. 3 at 6 p.m. It’s the sixth execution scheduled in Florida this year after a break dating back to 2019.

The scheduled execution of Zack, 54, would be the eighth under DeSantis. Though Florida has been executing death row inmates at a far slower pace than under its previous governors, DeSantis has made tougher, more far-reaching death penalty laws an issue in his presidential campaign.

According to court records, Zack went on a crime spree across the Florida Panhandle in June 1996. He had been living in Tallahassee when he borrowed a bartender’s car and never returned it, authorities said. Zack made his way toward Panama City, where the owner of a local construction business allowed Zack to stay in his house. Investigators said Zack stole two guns and some cash from the man and then went to Niceville, where he pawned the guns.

Zack eventually ended up in Okaloosa Island. Officials said he met Laurie Russillo, whom Zack strangled to death before leaving her body on the beach. Zack then drove to Pensacola Beach, where he met Ravonne Smith. Investigators said Zack sexually assaulted Smith and then fatally stabbed her at her home. Zack stole some electronics from Smith’s home and tried to pawn them in Panama City. He was arrested two days later after breaking into a house.

Zack was convicted of first-degree murder for both deaths. He received a life sentence for Russillo’s murder and the death penalty for Smith’s slaying.

Defense attorneys have argued that Zack suffers from fetal alcohol syndrome and posttraumatic stress disorder, which make Zack impulsive and cause him to be under constant emotional and mental distress.

Earlier this year in Florida, Donald Dillbeck was executed in February, and Louis Bernard Gaskin was executed in April. Darryl B. Barwick was executed in May, followed by Duane Eugene Owen in June. James Phillip Barnes was executed earlier this month.

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Execution set for Florida man convicted of killing two women he met at beach bars in 1996