Unless he wins an appeal, Bill Paul Marquardt will spend the rest of his life in a 6-by9-foot death row cell in Florida until his execution by lethal injection.
The former Chippewa Falls man has been in the court system on and off since March 2000, when his mother, Mary Jane Marquardt, was murdered in the town of Eagle Point.
Bill Marquardt was charged and acquitted of that crime. But detective work by now-Eau Claire County Judge Jon Theisen and an investigation by law enforcement agents in Chippewa County and Florida tied Marquardt to the vicious murders of two women in Florida.
If he had been convicted of his mother’s murder, the harshest sentence Marquardt would have faced would have been life in prison. That’s because Wisconsin doesn’t have the death penalty. It hasn’t since July 10, 1853, the longest period any state has gone without the death penalty. But because of the brutal killings in Florida, Marquardt faces a far different fate.
Florida has executed 72 murderers since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. From 2008 to 2011, it executed seven prisoners, and it has already executed another this year.
But the families of the murder victims have to wait a long time until the murderers are killed. And that’s a major flaw of the death sentence.
Florida’s Department of Corrections says the average length of stay on death row is 13.2 years.
That will likely become longer when you consider that, as of Wednesday, there were 394 prisoners on Florida’s death row. The pace will not likely quicken with eight executions in a little more than four years.
Wisconsin’s no-death-penalty system also doesn’t have to sort through the irony that, since Marquardt wanted the death sentence, an appeals process under the Florida system was automatically started.
In other words, if you want to be killed, you have to go through a process that extends your life.
The family of Marquardt’s victims may take some satisfaction if Marquardt is put to death for his brutal crimes. But they will have to wait years for that moment. There is also no guarantee that it will ever come.
There are times Wisconsin’s decision to not have the death penalty seems out of place and out of step. The life sentence of mass murderer Jeffrey Dahmer, for one. But it does offer the families of victims a certainty that justice will not be delayed.
The state made the right decision in 1853. It continues to be the right thing today.