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February 16, 2010

Pope joins rabbis in urging Florida Governor to commute murderer's death sentence

As detailed in this new local article, which is headlined "Pope calls for mercy for killer Martin Grossman as execution nears," an array of religious voices are now urging Florida Governr Charlie Crist to give condemned murderer Martin Grossman a sentencing break.  Here are the details of the latest plea for mercy and about the fascinating state criminal case now generating papal attention:

The Vatican is calling for mercy for a man scheduled to be executed Tuesday evening for killing a young Florida wildlife officer 25 years ago. But even the pope doesn't argue that Martin Edward Grossman is innocent.

Grossman, 45, who shot and killed Margaret "Peggy" Park, 26, on Dec. 13, 1984, "has repented and is now a changed person, having become a man of faith," wrote Archbishop Fernando Filoni on behalf of Pope Benedict XVI. He asked for "whatever steps may be possible to save the life of Mr. Grossman."

Filoni wrote the letter at the behest of the chief rabbi of Israel, Shear-Yashuv Cohen....

Activists against the death penalty took up Grossman's case, including several Jewish organizations that pleaded for clemency, asking Gov. Charlie Crist to commute his sentence to life in prison.  Amnesty International said it had "serious questions about the quality of his legal representation and compelling mental health evidence that was never presented to a jury."

More than 26,000 people signed an online petition asking that Grossman's life be spared. Nobel prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel also weighed in on his behalf.

Rabbis from groups including the Rabbinical Council of America, the Aleph Institute and the National Council of Young Israel wrote to Crist on Feb. 9 asking him to spare Grossman's life because he "has shown profound remorse and regret" for the officer's murder.  "He acted under the influence of drugs and alcohol. His fatal shooting of Ms. Parks was not an act of premeditation but of panic," the letter said.  "He has transformed himself from a deeply troubled teenager into a gentle and simple man, a proud practitioner of his faith and a humble servant of God."

A spokesman for the governor said that by Friday night the office had received more than 9,443 e-mails and more than 7,849 phone calls about the Grossman case.  "Signing a death warrant is a responsibility that Governor Crist takes very seriously," spokesman Sterling Ivey wrote in an e-mail to the St. Petersburg Times, "and the warrant for Martin Grossman was signed after a careful review."

Grossman would be the first inmate Florida has put to death for killing a law enforcement officer since the September 2006 execution of Clarence Hill.... Grossman, of Pasco County, was 19 when he killed Park as she tried to arrest him and 17-year-old Thayne Nathan Taylor in what is now the Brooker Creek Preserve in Tarpon Springs.

Grossman has spent the latter half of his life in prison for the murder. He is scheduled to die at 6 p.m., the first Florida execution of 2010 and the 69th since the death penalty was restored in 1976....

Park, a Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission officer, found a stolen Luger pistol in the van Grossman and Taylor were in and tried to report it. But Grossman, fearing that the offense would violate his probation and land him back in prison, attacked the officer with her own flashlight as she used her radio. "I'm hit," Park yelled over the radio....

Grossman, 6 feet 4 and 225 pounds, overpowered the 5-foot-5, 115-pound officer. He broke her fingers wrenching [a gun] away from Park and shot her in the back of the head. The two men escaped but were arrested 11 days later. Grossman was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death a year to the day of the murder. Taylor was convicted of third-degree murder and served two years of his seven-year sentence....

Park's brother, sister and mother, Peggy, 79, planned to attend the execution.  The mother came from Ohio despite a cardiologist's order not to travel.

Some related recent posts on the Grossman case and on religion and the death penalty:

February 16, 2010 at 12:51 PM | Permalink


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Funny that the Vatican does not routinely intervene in death penalty cases, given that capital punishment is impermissible under Catholic moral doctrine except in rare instances not usually applicable. Instead, like the rabbis, the Archbishop only gets involved where a "man of faith" is on the guerney.

Posted by: Res ipsa | Feb 16, 2010 1:20:14 PM

Mercy in this case would be appallingly cruel to the victims' family. Perhaps someone should ask the Pope about that.

Posted by: federalist | Feb 16, 2010 1:46:25 PM

It is all hypocrisy and publicity. They only get mobilized when it suits their purpose. Any other average inmate gets his attorney to request clemency and that's it. But if you are Grossman, Davis, Jamal, or Richey they get alot of media attention. Remember Grossman's jury recommended death unanimously, which is rare in Florida.

Posted by: DaveP | Feb 16, 2010 1:46:44 PM

An equally appropriate headline might have been "anti-death-penalty activists remind governor that they still oppose death penalty."

It's well and good to oppose the death penalty on moral grounds, or to oppose it on the ground that the inevitability of mistakes and human error infecting the process is too much of a risk to accept in that context.

But I find it hard to take these groups seriously when they--opponents of *all* capital punishment--argue that an individual case is particularly problematic. I'm sure that Amnesty International understands that Governor Crist is more likely to respond to arguments about poor representation or missing evidence than to arguments about the wrongfulness of the death penalty, but when will it ever be remarkable that Amnesty International has "serious questions" about procedural aspects of a death penalty case?

Posted by: Draco | Feb 16, 2010 2:59:26 PM

It is noteworthy that the letter from The Vatican to the governor of Florida was the first in about 10 years during a time when there were about 25 executions in Florida.

True the man killed a police officer but as a minor.

She said that a post-sentence examination arranged by Grossman’s defense team confirmed that the defendant was mentally ill.

"We cite the fact that a forensic psychologist who was hired by Mr. Grossman’s lawyers well after the conviction believed, quote, that Grossman had compromised intellectual functioning, probable brain dysfunction, and a developmental history characterized by profound and untreated complicated bereavement. And a high level of fear and depression and parental neglect, abandonment and mistreatment. And as you’ve seen, also, his IQ has been scored at 77.”

It would appear that The Vatican wrote the letter because of the situtation with this particular death sentence.

Apparently Florida does not take into account mental illness nor IQ with the death penalty.

I am Jewish and you may want to know that Jews practice what we preech (which is abolition of the dealth penalty). In Israel there is no death penalty despite the fact that terrorists deliberately target children (e.g. schoolbuses). If Timothy McVae had committed his crime in Israel he would be alive today. A terrorist that has killed 100 Israelis could be surrounded by the army and simply give himself up and he would live. The only person executed in Israel's 60+ year history is Adolph Eichmann who ran the concentration camps.

Posted by: David | Feb 16, 2010 5:15:05 PM

David, the article you link says nothing that I could find about the guy having committed the crime as a minor. If that was true, I imagine he could get his death sentence tossed under Roper v. Simmons. In fact, the post says that Grossman is 45 now and committed the offense 25 years and 2 months ago. That would make him at least 19 and probably 20 when it happened.

Interesting note about Israel, though. Assuming you're right, it's a noble choice that they've made, particularly given the sorts of criminals they have. That said, I'm happy that Timothy McVeigh is dead and hope that Grossman soon meets the same fate. It's a shame that it's taken more than 25 years for Florida to be able to carry out the execution.

Posted by: Draco | Feb 16, 2010 5:54:01 PM

Everyone read the Governor's statement issued earlier this afternoon. For someone with mental illness, Grossman sure did know how to hide evidence linking him to the crime.

Posted by: DaveP | Feb 16, 2010 6:06:04 PM

It's interesting to see how law and religion can influence each other. After all many of the laws we live by in modern times have their roots in religious commandments.

Posted by: Liverpool solicitor | Feb 17, 2010 5:54:45 AM

So. Of all of you who have commented on this topic today and in the past when it was posted above. Are you beholden to the Ten Commandments? Do you believe that: Thou Shalt Not Kill.?

If you are good Christians or Jews then how do the People of Florida derive the right to KILL?
Not execute, not put to sleep like a dog, but KILL. Every Floridian will be a KILLER and a violator of the Commandment. It is fairly simple. Unless you deviate from the Ten Commandments and the one which seems to be the most important. Like I could give a rat's ass if some politician cheated on his/her spouse.

Posted by: mpb | Feb 17, 2010 8:11:17 PM

mpb --

"So. Of all of you who have commented on this topic today and in the past when it was posted above. Are you beholden to the Ten Commandments? Do you believe that: Thou Shalt Not Kill.?"

No I don't and neither do you. If some goon is coming at your ten year-old daughter with a meat axe, and you have a pistol in your hand, you'd blow him away and we both know it. So you can cut out the fake piety. In the right circumstances, you'd kill in a New York minute.

Either that or you can explain why we should have let the Nazis take over the world instead of killing them, which, thank goodness, we did by the tens of thousands. Your alternative would have been............what? Ask them politely to behave?

There are circumstances in which killing is just, moral and legal. The only realistic question is WHAT circumstances.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 18, 2010 12:52:00 AM

And as I've posted earlier, mpb, your biblical scholarship is disingenuous. The most accurate reading of the commandment at issue is "murder," based upon the earliest Hebrew texts (as opposed to a translation of a translation of a translation of a translation of an overhaul of a translation).

And if exegesis is not enough for you, the many offenses that were punishable by death in the Old Testament should eliminate any doubt as to whether the Ten Commandments forbid capital punishment.

Posted by: Res ipsa | Feb 18, 2010 5:18:24 PM

So, this beast has repented and is saved by the Grace of God through his Son Jesus Christ.
That means that when he dies he goes to Christian Heaven, a most wonderful place, we're told.
But the Pope and all you bleeding hearts want him to stay locked up in prison and die slowly.

Posted by: notmyname | Feb 20, 2010 4:09:23 AM

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