Note from Director, Rhonda Moskowitz- One year ago, Martin Grossman, one of the Jewish prisoners in my film, was executed. Nothing in my life had prepared me for such an event. An execution was something I saw in Hollywood movies or learned about from the media, not something real. I was deeply involved with Martin’s execution. I had filmed Martin and his family for a few years. There was a tremendous advocacy effort by major organizations, both religious and secular, powerful individuals and a huge grassroots effort to grant a 60-Day Stay. Mark Elliot, Executive Director of Floridians Against the Death Penalty, (FADP), tirelessly helped to spearhead the advocacy efforts. Below is a compelling and eloquent essay written by Mark. It is well worth your time to read. Also, please feel free to share.
Martin Grossman and the Death House
It has been one year since Florida’s execution of Martin Grossman. Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (FADP) was a proud coalition partner in the Committee to Save Martin Grossman. From around the world, thousands of letters, phone calls and petition signings were made beseeching then-Governor Charlie Crist to grant a 60 day reprieve to allow the Clemency Board to consider an application to commute Martin’s sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The many religious leaders, organizations and concerned individuals who took a brave stand for justice, tempered with mercy, should be proud. It is not about those on Death Row and what they did…it is about US and what WE do.
Some of our current FADP coalition partners believe there is a place for the Death Penalty. However, they acknowledge that the Death Penalty, as PRACTICED, falls well below the standards of ANY religious teachings. As PRACTICED by government bureaucrats and ambitious politicians today, it is an abomination. It is a practice that must end.
There have been at least 23 exonerations of wrongfully convicted people off Florida’s Death Row and 138 nationally. It costs many times more money to try to execute someone than simply lock them up – diverting huge resources (an estimated $50 million per year in Florida alone) away from crime prevention, crime solving and crime victim’s families. The Death Penalty gives too much attention to the perpetrator and not enough to victims and their families. We have maximum security prisons and there is the alternative sentence of life in prison with NO possibility of parole, thereby making prisoner killings unnecessary to protect the public.
What do those on Death Row in Florida and elsewhere have in common? Yes, they have been convicted of murder. But so have many thousands serving life sentences.
What sets them apart? Most have some or all of the following in common: They could not afford a lawyer. They are severely mentally ill, now or at the time of their crime, or both. They are intellectually disabled. They are members of minorities.
Following Martin Grossman’s execution, then-Gov. Crist signed a Death Warrant for David Johnston to be the next prisoner executed in Florida. David was indigent, intellectually disabled and diagnosed as severely mentally ill. Prior to being convicted of murder, David Johnston was sent to the Leesville State School for the Retarded and his IQ tested as low as 57. Although the U.S. Supreme Court and the state of Florida both prohibit the execution of the “mentally retarded,” prosecutors prevailed and he was sentenced to death. Before his execution could be carried out, David Johnston died in prison on September 30, 2010.
It was the killing of another Jewish prisoner by the state that put me on the road to abolish the Death Penalty. Ten years before Martin Grossman was executed, Terry Sims became the first Florida prisoner put to death by lethal injection. I went to the execution vigil across the street from the prison to find answers as to why we were still killing prisoners, now that there was no chance they could ever be paroled. A rabbi was leading a group in prayer and spoke to me of the unimaginable irony of choosing a Jew to be the first prisoner killed by lethal injection. He explained that it was in Hitler’s Germany where this method of execution was first developed and it was used to kill Jews. We were deeply troubled by the revival of this horrific legacy. I made a vow to learn more about Florida’s Death Penalty program. There is a saying, “The more you know about the Death Penalty, the less you like it.” When I learned more, I stood up and began speaking out for abolition.
There is an abiding concern in most of us to uphold the laws of our state and nation. Therefore, we must change the law. Just because something has been legal doesn’t make it right. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We should never forget that everything Adolph Hitler did in Germany was legal.”
No government program should be permitted to forcibly kill captive prisoners. We must take a stand. We do not stand alone. The specter of millions of executed prisoners in human history stands with us and urges us on. “Qui tacet consentit” (silence implies consent). Please stand up and speak out.
For it is time. It is time to close the Death Houses for good.
Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, FADP
P.O. Box 82943
Tampa, Florida 33612
Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty is a coalition of individuals and organizations united to abolish the Death Penalty in Florida.
FADP works to build a strong, diverse, statewide, grassroots movement which:
Supports reforms aimed at reducing the application of the Death Penalty until it is ultimately abolished
Protects the humanity of all persons impacted by the Death Penalty
Educates Floridians about the Death Penalty
Provides concrete action steps for individuals and groups