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Florida Murderer Becomes First Vietnam Veteran to Be Executed

April 23, 1986|Associated Press

STARKE, Fla. — A Vietnam veteran who said he was suffering from war-related stress when he stabbed two persons to death was executed Tuesday in Florida's electric chair.

David Livingston Funchess, 39, was strapped into the oaken chair shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court voted, 7 to 2, not to extend a five-hour stay granted earlier in the day. Funchess was declared dead at 5:11 p.m.

It was the 56th execution carried out in the United States since the high court made its 1976 ruling that, in effect, reinstated the death penalty.

Peter Erlinder, professor at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minn., said that Funchess became the first Vietnam veteran to receive capital punishment although he had been diagnosed as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Erlinder said that at least two other Vietnam veterans have been acquitted of murder charges after using the same defense--which was not recognized until 1980--since Funchess was convicted in 1975.

Funchess, a black, was condemned for the Dec. 16, 1974, deaths of a 53-year-old woman and a 56-year-old man during a holdup in the Jacksonville lounge where he had worked a year earlier. Both of the victims were white.

Funchess' attorney, Jeff Thompson, also a Vietnam veteran, has argued that Funchess was a classic victim of post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition said to have left thousands of men unable to adjust to civilian life after fighting in a domestically unpopular war.

Funchess was 19, had no criminal record and had been graduated in the top third of his high school class when he was sent to Vietnam in 1967. After serving 2 1/2 months, he stepped on a land mine and was severely wounded. Attorneys said that medication he was given for the trauma led to heroin addiction.

About two dozen veterans' supporters and death-penalty opponents demonstrated Tuesday at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Tallahassee, the state capital.

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