The heads of seven major Orthodox organizations wrote a joint letter to Florida Governor Charlie Crist on February 9, asking for clemency for a Jewish man, Martin Grossman, 45, who is scheduled to die by lethal injection next Tuesday, February 16, at 6:00 p.m.
Separately, some 200 Jewish and non-Jewish organizations appealed to Crist on February 9 to stay the execution for 60 days to allow time for a comprehensive clemency application to be prepared. As of this writing, Crist had not responded to either appeal.
Grossman was convicted in 1985 of killing a Florida Wildlife Officer, Margaret Park, 26, during a struggle over a gun. Grossman was 19 at the time. Park was on patrol in a wooded area in Pinellas County on December 13, 1984, when she came across Grossman and a friend, Thayne Taylor, 17, shooting a stolen gun (some reports say they had “obtained” or “found” it). After she confiscated the gun, according to state records, Grossman “pleaded” with her not to report him because he was in violation of probation and would be returned to prison. He had been released in July after serving 14 months of a two-year sentence for robbery in neighboring Pasco County, and both leaving the county and possessing a handgun were violations.
When Park began to radio in a report, Grossman panicked by most accounts, grabbed her flashlight and began beating her in the head. Taylor joined in the fight. Park pulled out her own gun and fired one shot. Then Grossman grabbed the gun away from her and shot her once in the head. The pair were arrested December 25 after telling two friends about the incident.
Taylor was convicted of third-degree murder, sentenced to seven years and released to community service after two years and 10 months. Grossman was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death.
Grossman had dropped out of school after eighth grade. According to his advocates, he had an IQ of 77, was addicted to drugs and alcohol and was high at the time of the arrest.
A psychiatrist who evaluated him [in prison] concluded, from his psychological and medical condition, that he could not have formed the intent to kill.
A petition submitted to the governor
argues that the death sentence meted out to him is disproportionate in the extreme and that his defense was inadequate. Only one percent of murder sentences end in capital punishment, crimes commonly referred to as “the worst of the worst.” The petition further argues that Martin’s crime, considering the lack of premeditation, his drug addiction, his IQ level, and several other compelling factors does not qualify for the death penalty, and that the court ignored mitigating circumstances. Only four of thirty-three available defense witnesses were used in the sentencing phase. Additionally, there are allegations of prosecutorial misconduct as well. A fellow prisoner and key witness for the government swears that he lied at trial, and that he was rewarded by having his own charges dropped. Martin Grossman’s appeals regarding these issues have been rejected without hearings, but they could be considered in a clemency petition.
Grossman has submitted at least 15 appeals in the 24 years since his conviction, including seven to the Florida supreme court and two to the U.S. Supreme Court. His original execution date in 1990 was stayed, but courts have refused to hear his appeals since then.
Here’s Grossman in his own words, in a 2008 letter to his aunt, describing spending another Hanukkah on death row, praying for his own “maccabean miracle.”
In addition to the seven Orthodox organizations (which range from the Orthodox Union to Agudath Israel and groups representing Chabad and Satmar), campaigns are being waged on Grossman’s behalf by Amnesty International, Amnesty’s Florida branch, the international Catholic peace movement Pax Christi and, Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (in a joint petition campaign with Chabad and Aleph Institute).
Crist is seeking the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, but his shoo-in campaign has been slowed by a challenge from the right. Some observers say his scheduling of an execution date for Grossman is part of an effort to shake his moderate image and woo the party’s conservative wing.
Jewish groups are urging “concerned citizens” to call or email Crist at 1-850-488-7146 / Charlie.Crist@eog.myflorida.com.
Amnesty offers guidelines for petitioners to frame their appeals effectively:
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as possible:
APPEALS TO: Governor Charlie Crist Office of the Governor The Capitol 400 S. Monroe St. Tallahassee FL 32399-0001 Fax: 1 850 487 0801 Email: Charlie.Crist@MyFlorida.com Salutation: Dear Governor Crist
- Explaining that you are not seeking to excuse the killing of Margaret Park;
- Noting Martin Grossman’s young age at the time of the crime, and that he has spent 24 years on death row;
- Expressing concern that the jury heard no expert mental health testimony, noting the post-conviction assessment;
- Calling for clemency for Martin Grossman and for commutation of his death sentence.
Remember: Next Tuesday…
Next step: Petition your favorite major Jewish organization, or your neighborhood rabbi, to keep up the good fight – but not to stop with Martin Grossman. Go to bat for more death-row inmates, even if they’re not Jewish. Organizations like Amnesty International and Pax Christi are working alongside the Orthodox Union, Agudath Israel and other Jewish groups to save Martin Grossman, not because he’s “one of theirs,” but because it’s the right thing to do. The Jewish community can do no less. The Jewish community, as a community, must stand for what’s right, and must be seen to stand for what’s right.
Consider what our sages had to say about capital punishment:
A Sanhedrin that puts a man to death once in seven years is called destructive [also translated “murderous” and “bloodthirsty”]. Rabbi Eleazer ben Azariah says: even once in seventy years. Rabbi Akiba and Rabbi Tarfon say: had we been in the Sanhedrin none would ever have been put to death. Rabban Simeon ben Gamaliel says: they would have multiplied shedders of blood in Israel. (Mishnah Makkot 1:10)
Now consider these thoughts from Amnesty:
The USA has carried out 1,193 executions since resuming judicial killing in 1977. Florida accounts for 68 of these executions. There have been five executions in the USA this year.
What would Rabbi Akiba say?
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).