'Amnesty' Joins Rabbis To Save a Jew from Execution Next Tuesday in Florida

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 petition submitted to the governor

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:

Or, for simplicity, online petitions can be signed here and here.

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:

Now consider these thoughts from Amnesty:

What would Rabbi Akiba say?

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.


J.J. Goldberg

J.J. Goldberg

Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).

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'Amnesty' Joins Rabbis To Save a Jew from Execution Next Tuesday in Florida

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