ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Former President Donald Trump touted the billions of dollars in direct payments to every American affected by the coronavirus pandemic. About a year later, President Joe Biden praised another major push to get cash in citizens' hands.
But some people who received some of that money weren't those who could immediately turn it around to better their lives or the economy — they've been sitting on death row.
10 Investigates looked into three such cases: a man who killed a Florida Highway Patrol trooper 30 years ago, someone who raped and killed a 9-year-old Hillsborough County girl six years ago and another who kidnapped and murdered a mom of two in 2008.
Michael King, sentenced to death
On Jan. 17, 2008, Michael King kidnapped 21-year-old Denise Amber Lee from her North Port, Florida, home. After an intense search that included multiple counties and law enforcement agencies, her body was found.
“Denise was our first born. She was very smart. She was a complete mom,” said her father, Rick Goff. Lee was a wife and mom of two.
Goff was a sergeant at the time in Charlotte County. He still remembers every single detail of that day.
“Every detail,” Goff said. “We found her buried in the middle of the woods.”
King was sentenced to death in 2009 for Lee's murder. He’s been on death row ever since.
“That’s the first thing you think about in the morning,” says Goff, who after 13 years hasn’t stopped thinking about his daughter. “It’s not easy.”
But Goff says while he tries not to think about King, he is upset about what he learned from the 10 Investigates team.
Death row inmates cash in
“It’s absolutely ridiculous and just infuriates me, the guy that killed my daughter is getting paid by the government while he's on death row,” Goff said.
King received a CARES Act stimulus payment of $1,400 on April 30, 2021, and a recovery rebate credit of $1,812.47 on July 28, 2021, according to the Department of Corrections.
It’s not just Florida death row inmate King who received thousands in stimulus funds.
We discovered Daniel Burns Jr., who murdered FHP Trooper Jeffrey Young in 1987 in Manatee County, received $3,200 in stimulus money as did Granville Ritchie, the rapist and murderer of 9-year-old Felecia Williams in Tampa. He had three separate payments totaling $3,200.
“They do nothing to stimulate the economy," Goff said. "It simply doesn’t make sense.”
Sen. Rick Scott, R-Florida, spoke on the Senate floor on March 17, 2021, in an effort to strip stimulus payments for inmates. He claimed if all 1.5 million American inmates received a stimulus check, it would result in more than $2 billion.
"That's $2 billion that could be used to help our small businesses recover, $2 billion that could be used to enhance vaccine development and distribution so more Americans can get the shots they need to move us forward and away from this virus," Scott said.
Both Trump and Biden's stimulus packages did not prohibit inmates from receiving payment, and a judge ruled in September 2020 that the government should not withhold those dollars from people solely because they are incarcerated.
Lawmakers demand a fix
“I feel for the family. They are being re-victimized. In my opinion, these stimulus checks were intended for folks that were affected by COVID,” said Congressman Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor.
Bilirakis said he heard this was happening but did not know the exact amount of payments that were going to inmates like King until we brought it to his attention.
“The thing is, that this is good because you're exposing this. What we can do is get other members of Congress interested,” Bilirakis said.
10 Investigates learned at least one state, Missouri, passed a law requiring that money be taken from prisoner accounts and used to pay any existing orders to those left behind.
"What I wanted to make sure is that that money first goes to pay any restitution they owed to the victims before the prisoner would ever see any of that,” said Missouri State Senator Tony Luetkemeyer, a Republican.
Florida has not.
“If we're going to be writing checks, you know, to these murderers, that money should be transferred to the victims. And, you know, let me look into that. Let me get do some research on that. I prefer that we cut it out altogether. But this is, this would be progress,” Bilirakis said.
“That’d be great,” said Goff, adding what happened to his daughter will never make sense. “She’ll never see her two boys at the baseball games. Football games.”
And her killer receiving this money is just confusing.
“Why shouldn't that money go to them and say hey, here's your new baseball glove or hey here's your new bat and all that stuff but no it's just unfair for him in there,” Goff said.
We reached out to local lawmakers who tell us they are looking into this on the state level and call it “outrageous” and are looking for a fix right now.