Activists urge Crist to stay Grossman execution listen02/12/10 Kate Bradshaw
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Last month, Governor Charlie Crist signed a death warrant for Martin E. Grossman, who is on death row for the 1984 murder of 26-year-old wildlife officer Margaret Peggy Park. The execution, which is scheduled for Tuesday at 6pm, would make Grossman the fourth person in Pinellas County to receive the death penalty, and the 69th statewide. But a coalition of religious and human rights groups is urging Governor Crist to stay the execution. Rabbi Menachem Katz, Grossman’s spiritual advisor, said in a conference call this morning that regardless of how one feels about the death penalty, the facts of the case should keep Grossman alive.
“There was never any intent by Martin to kill that woman that night. There was never any intent at any point. Of course, he did kill her, but that was no premeditation. There was never any intent," Katz said.
Those advocating a stay on his execution say that he has shown extensive remorse, and that his cognitive health should have been taken into consideration. Laura Moy of Amnesty International said that the jury was not given adequate information on Grossman’s mental state. “It seems that in this case that the jury was not given any information at all about his mental health, and that the defense didn’t present any expert mental health testimony about Mr. Grossman. So we don’t think the jury had an adequate picture of who they were judging," Moy said.
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.”
Bonita Stanley of the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said that the mental health aspect doesn’t apply in Florida, given that it is one of a few states that executes even those deemed mentally ill.
“One of the things that troubles us most about the Grossman case is the mental health acuity aspect. We believe that the application of the death penalty to anyone suffering from any mental illness does not comport with contemporary standards of decency. We remain one of the few nations in the Western hemisphere that condemns people to death," said Stanley.
A petition on the Web calling on Crist to stay the execution has accumulated nearly 19,000 electronic signatures, which Mark Elliott, Executive Director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty calls an unprecedented outpour of support for Grossman. The case has even caught the eye of Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, who wrote a letter to Governor Crist urging him to reconsider the death warrant. Elliott read the letter, dated February 11th, aloud.
While those who participated in today’s conference call questioned the legality and morality of capital punishment in the case of Grossman, most were also concerned with the greater context – that perhaps the death penalty is no longer an appropriate means of punishment for those convicted of heinous crimes. Elliott said that the financial burden of keeping hundreds of prisoners on death row at a time is massive. “In the 25 years since Martin Grossman’s family turned him in to the authorities, he has been alone in a tiny cell on Florida’s death row. And a lot has happened. Florida taxpayers have spent over $1 billion on the death penalty program, while over 10,000 unsolved homicides have accumulated.”
Elliott added that Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty wants to see that money get put to better use:
“FADP seeks the reallocation of state funding away from trying to kill already locked-up prisoners to preventing more violent crimes and supporting law enforcement by better protecting those who protect us. The $50 million a year that Florida spends on our death penalty program could be reinvested to hire and rehire 1,000 law enforcement officers, solve some of the more than 10,000 unsolved homicides, and provide real assistance to the victims of violent crimes and their families.”
He added that death row prisoners generally share some striking similarities.
“Over 90 percent could not afford a lawyer at the time of their arrest. Many are mentally ill. Many have low IQs, and far too many are minorities. No government program should be allowed to decide who among us lives and who among us dies.”
Sheila Hopkins of the Florida Catholic Conference said that while her religion does not condemn the death penalty outright, a life sentence would be a much more ethical punishment in cases like that of Grossman.
“The death penalty perpetuates the notion of revenge in our current culture rather than fostering a sense of justice. Life in prison without possible of parole is punishment for an offender. And we have delivered our statement to the governor yesterday and released to the press begging the governor to stay the execution of Martin Grossman. That resorting to state-sanctioned violence such as execution is not appropriate for society, and we ask that (the governor) let him spend the rest of his life on death row," Hopkins said.
Martin Grossman is one of 390 people on death row in Florida, and one of more than 3,000 nationwide. The Governor’s office did not return a call from WMNF on the issue.