Stop an Execution

The comments I read on the first sites and petition forms that I saw left me very uncomfortable and torn. The arguments were primitive, hopelessly parochial – to the point that they struck me as creating a chilul Hashem. Do we want to save a life BE”H at the expense of creating a chilul Hashem? (I have seen this time and time again. Frum Jews pack the courtroom at a sentencing hearing and say the most outlandish things, sometimes impacting the judge to move in the very opposite direction that they wanted.)

It doesn’t have to be that way. There is a tasteful and appropriate way to ask for clemency or review. Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zweibel articulated it perfectly in his mailing today, reproduced below. I hope that all will respond to this call.

No one need to have misgivings about asking for clemency. Other people from very different frames of reference will be making the same arguments. I friend of mine, decidedly outside the haredi and Agudah orbits, reminded me today that we knew Mike Farrell, the actor who played BJ Hunnicut decades ago on M*A*S*H (This was on a show that none of our readers ever watched, on a gadget called a television that none of us ever had.  In my case, I can actually say that I did not have a TV in that time, and saw not a single episode.) Mike is pretty far to the left, but a person of impressive and deep conviction. My friend emailed him, and learned that indeed, his chevrah know about the scheduled execution, and as implacable foes of the death penalty, are agitating against it. My guess is that they will also go the practical route, and ask for clemency, rather than froth at the mouth and attack the entire institution of capital punishment.

Rabbi Zweibel’s letter:

As you may know, a Jewish man is slated for execution – Rachmana litzlan! – in Florida next Tuesday. Martin Grossman was convicted of killing Margaret Parks, a Florida Wildlife Officer, in 1984, when he was 19 years old. He did so while under the influence of drugs and alcohol, and in an act of panic, not premeditation. He has conducted himself as a model prisoner since his incarceration some 25 years ago and has shown profound remorse and regret for his actions.

Agudath Israel has joined other Orthodox Jewish groups in asking Florida Governor Charlie Crist to grant clemency to Mr. Grossman, and we have also requested a meeting in person with Governor Crist to discuss the matter.

But it is important that the Governor hear from the grassroots as well – certainly from people who live or spend significant time in Florida, but even from non-Floridians. His e-mail address is Charlie.Crist@eog.myflorida.com , his phone number is (850) 488-7146 and he can be faxed at 850-487-0801. Letters and calls should be polite pleas to the Governor to take into account Mr. Grossman’s youth and impairment at the time of the crime and his good behavior and remorse in the years since. And the request should be that Mr. Grossman be permitted to serve his debt to society by serving the rest of his life in prison.

May we have happier occasions to demonstrate our achdus and ahavas Yisroel. And may our action here merit us such times.

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27 comments to Stop an Execution

  • Menachem Lipkin

    What bothers me in this case is the apparent hypocrisy of the orthodox community. Orthodox Jews are overwhelmingly conservative. By default this includes being pro-death penalty. (Of course there are exceptions.) Anecdotally, many orthodox Jews one speaks to have no problem with an execution when its one of “them”, even though you hear similar mitigating circumstances about people on death row all the time.

    Had everything about this murderer been exactly the same, his background, his remorse, his good behavior, his IQ, except if he wasn’t Jewish would there have been such an outcry from the frum community? Would there at least be a token letter on his behalf from our esteemed orthodox leadership? What about if he was Jewish but an avowed atheist? Now, let’s say his victim was a frum mother of 10. Would we not hear bloodthirsty howls for vengeance?

    If, as a community, we hold that the death penalty, as applied at least in some cases, is immoral then we have an obligation to consistently oppose it. The Aguda, Young Israel, et al should have been filing similar letters in all such cases. It makes us look very selfish, is a Chilul Hashem and increases Aivah if we only oppose it when a Jew is on death row. Yes, when it’s one of our own our voices can be raised a notch, but our voices ring quite hollow when we only raise them for our own.

  • DF

    If it is wrong to execute a man for a crime committed in panic when he was 19 – and I agree with you, it is wrong – than it is also wrong to keep someone in a prison cell for his entire life for the same act. I would urge groups like the Agudah and OU to speak up on behalf of prison reform, period. [Recall that the concept of lengthy prison sentences is utterly foreign to the Torah] I recognize the mission of these groups is to represent their constituents, but it shouldnt preclude them from occasional advocacy on behalf of a universal cause, as the Prohpets envisoned the role of the Jewish people. And while liberals and conservatives have diffrent ideas about “social justice” and the role of government, it seems to me that prison reform, or sentencing reform, is one cause that men of all stripes can support.

  • tzippi

    I’m not going to tilt at windmills; though I have some reservations (and this isn’t the only case) I am going to join the rabbim (masses) and make SOME effort.

    I guess the silver lining in this is, just how many Jews proportionately do end up in this situation?

  • andy

    despite being considerably conservative, I oppose the death penalty.

    But he still deserves our attention, as does the family of the Wildlife Officer who was killed.

    So let’s pray he does not die by lethal injection.

  • Adoniah Ritchley

    This is a very difficult situation. I am from Florida and have lived here all of my life. I will send an email to the Gov. I do not believe in the Death Penalty. It is however the law, but I do not believe that it should be imposed on people who are not mentally mature enough to handle situations like the one Martin Grossman found himself in. Granted he put himself in that situation, but with and IQ of 77 I do not think he was able to judge that for himself. It is well past time for changes to be made in all areas of our judicial and prison system. The Quakers time is well over.

    Good Shabbos~Adoniah

  • Kimberly J. Koch

    I myself would do the same if I received the e-mail and it was for a Jewish person or a non-Jew! All I have to do is have someone e-mail me about it. But, I most likely would not know of the other cases. I have to know of it to object to it. I know a person that is not Jewish and sending a letter. In fact, the person knew about it before I did!

  • jean jacques

    Dear Sir
    I have some problems believing that 25 years of incarceration ,good behaviour ,and remorse could not be taken into consideration. Killing Martin will not bring back Margaret , .Have mercy! We are not advocating
    that he should be released but be left to serve his sentence behind bars .DEATH ROW for 25 years is already
    inhumam. Social justice will not be advanced by this action. Please GOV CRIST, COMMUTE THE SENTENCE
    our brother Martin has already forfeited his freedom , killing him will not alter or remedy the death of poor
    Margaret PARKS . You already know that he has reformed.
    Dugs and alcohol are the real culpits,,,,,,,
    I will be praying for my fellow jew, from SYDNEY AUSTRALIA

    JEAN JACQUES LACHEVRE

  • TeshuvaFilm

    In response to Menechem Lipkin’s comment- No one, even those who are pro-death penalty, would want someone executed, where the death penalty shouldn’t apply. In Martin Grossman’s case,executing him is a moral issue, as there were mitigating cirmcumstances. His IQ tested at 77, mental health testimony was not introduced into evidence,(incompetent attorneys) and his murdering Margaret Parks was not pre-meditated; it was reactionary. Also, Martin Grossman was 19 years old and only one year away from currently being unconstitutional to receive a death sentence. I am a documentary filmmaker and have been filming Martin Grossman and his family for almost two years. Executing him would compound an already existing tragedy and punish his family who has done nothing wrong.

  • J Kaifos

    I came across this article while looking at torah.org. I am sending an email plea to the governor of Florida because the Lord taught that we should plead grace and mercy for all regardless of Jew or gentile. I do not approach this matter strictly from a legal standpoint because although I have not been guilty of the same crime, I require grace and mercy for many things in my life that I am as unable to change as Martin Grossman is. I ask for what I would likewise want. I ask God for this and ask the governor for it and leave it in their capable hands.

  • Raymond

    I must be missing crucial information here. If somebody is a murderer, he deserves the death penalty, end of issue. So what if he is Jewish by birth? We Jews are supposed to help each other out in time of need, but I have always assumed that this means Jews who are basically decent human beings, not monsters who murder other human beings.

    Having said that, I am going to backtrack just a little, because of one factor, and that is the age at which this person committed his murderous act. As much as I am a strong advocate for the death penalty when it comes to murder, I do NOT believe in the death penalty for teenagers, and nineTEEN years old is still a teenager. I am pretty sure I am in the spirit of Jewish law here; my understanding is that while we accept responsibility for doing G-d’s commandments upon reaching our teenage years, that He forgives our sins that we do uring this volatile period in our lives, letting us start with a clean slate upon reaching twenty years old.

    Nevertheless, murder is such a serious, terribly evil crime, that while I do not believe in the death penalty for teenagers, I do think that teenagers who commit an act of murder, should be imprisoned for the rest of their lives, without the possibility of parole. The man in question can repent and become a better person if he so chooses, but must do so in prison, until the end of his life.

    The standards I have stated here, should stand regardless if the person is Jewish or not. If anything, us being G-d’s Chosen People means that more is expected of us, that we are held to a higher standard than the gentile world. Perhaps this Jewish murderer should therefore get a harsher penalty than his gentile murderer equivalent.

  • Yechezkel

    To #1 Menachem Lipkin – The Orthodox community lives its Halachos. The Halacha regarding a Jew is: Kol Hamikayem nefesh achat b’yisrael k’ilu mekayem olam maleh.Though certainly there may be other considerations to look at b’shaat maaseh. It may appear imbalanced but it is the Halacha. If you want to rail that Orthodox Halacha is intrinsically hypocritical, perhaps you have grounds, but to say that a community which unswervingly follows its halachos (if only that would always be the case) is hypocritical is a bit absurd.

    To Raymond #10 – “Murder” is something that carries a few definitions. Technically any homicide is “murder” but clearly not all murders or homicides are the same. It is certainly not so simple and legal jargon reflects that. In some places the terms are “First degree Murder”, “Second Degree Murder”, “Third Degree Murder”. Other places use different terms “Murder” to mean calculated or premeditated murder akin to First degree, “Manslaughter” akin to Second Degree, “Involuntary Manslaughter” akin to third degree. Even beyond that, there are terms such as “reckless homicide” and “justifiable homicide” i.e. self defense.

    Technically, any homicide is murder so if you are going to oversimplify it and say “murder is murder” then “justifiable homicide” is “murder” just like first degree murder. Off with his head!

    But it is not so. First degree is not like second degree whicch is not like third degree. The murder that calls for the death penalty, where it is implemented, is what typically meets the definnition of “First degree murder” or “premeditated murder”.

    So, the argument in our situation is, that his level of murder better meets what is legally categorized as a “second degree” or “manslaughter” and not the type (or “degree”) of murder that warrants the death penalty at any age.

    Of course it doesn’t mean that he should be released forom jail but, from a practical standpoint, if he is no longer a menace to society, I don’t know what is the point of keeping him in jail. Who gains? Every inmate costs the local taxpayers thousands upon thousands of $ /year and adds to overcrowding which often leads to shorter stays (or unjustified suspended sentences and probations) for those who may be worse menaces. While at the same time the inmate is prevented from being productive and contributing to the economy instead of detracting. If he is going to stay alive, aren’t we all better off if he is allowed to make something productive out of what is left to his life?

  • Ruth Nussbaum

    Thank you for bringing this to our attention. Would you have pleaded for Moshe Rabbenu who was a murderer? Hashem used him mightily, being the humblest man.
    Would you have pleaded for David hamelech, who murdered Uria and repented? Yet David was a man afer Hashem’s heart.
    Hashem, bevakasha, be merciful and change the verdict.

  • tzippi

    To Ruth Nussbaum: WADR, murder refers to taking a life without a purpose. Self-defense, or protecting someone else is not murder. (I won’t go into David Hamelech but there was much beneath the surface. It is true that we learn a great deal about repentance from him but that is not necessarily relevant.)

  • Aryeh L.

    Oh, I see, if you’re a JEWISH murderer, then we start pulling out the exceptions and argue mitigating circumstances: he was strung out on drugs, he’s retarded, he panicked, he’s a model prisoner etc, etc.

    I see how one might argue that liberal Jews are at least consistent in their approach to the death penalty, but the rest of us conservative yidden look rediculous, not to mention very self-serving an arrogant. #1 is right on.

  • Menachem Lipkin

    From Yechezkel:

    but to say that a community which unswervingly follows its halachos (if only that would always be the case) is hypocritical is a bit absurd.

    This statement is incredible! You say that we “unswervingly” follow Halacha, yet you admit that we don’t. That’s kinda my point. I have no belief whatsoever that if the parameters of this case had been different, as I mentioned above, our “leadership” would have “unswervingly” followed the Halahca not to allow a Jew to be executed based non-Halahcic laws.

    It’s this inconsistency, that you readily admit to, combined with the global inconsistency of only caring about the unfairness of the legal system as it applies to Jews that I find uncomfortable. You may disagree, but it’s certainly not “absurd”.

  • daniela

    Tzippi: an officer is blocking you for a petty offence and is threatening to cause you disproportionate harm (e.g. a long period of jail time for being out there in the wilderness shooting some harmless target), you try to plead with the officer to no avail, and the officer does hot hesitate to shoot at you, but misses you. Your mobility is impaired and you can not run away. You wrestle away the officer’s weapon, the same used to shoot at you, and now have it in your hands. What do you do?
    I wonder what the sentence would have been, and what the reactions would have been, had this happened, let’s say, with a Palestinian Authority police officer.

  • joe friday

    Daniela – Your story is inaccurate. It should read: an officer who is a foot shorter and weighs 110 pounds less than you is trying to arrest you for a parole violation. You sieze her flashlight and beat her with it 20-30 times. In a desperate attempt to defend herself, she fires a warning shot that strikes no one. Then you wrest her gun away from her, breaking her fingers in the process. Having completely disabled the officer, what do you do? Do you shoot her in the back of the head?

  • Bob Miller

    Are our organizations planning to study and recommend any needed changes to state laws (not only in Florida) relating to the death penalty, or do they regard this case as

    1. an anomaly because of incorrect application of the law?

    2. an anomaly because the convict repented?

  • Miriam

    Daniela writes: …and the officer does hot hesitate to shoot at you, but misses you. Your mobility is impaired and you can not run away. You wrestle away the officer’s weapon, the same used to shoot at you…

    Don’t overdo it. That makes the whole campaign look stupid.

    “Everglades Lawmen” pages 221-222 (searchable on Amazon) tells a version supposedly based on the testimony of Grossman’s friend. The two of them were standing with the officer as she called in Grossman’s license to report possession of a weapon, at which point Grossman jumped her. Only then did she pull out her own gun, and only fired (and missed) in the midst of a 2-on-1 struggle.

    The argument about his IQ, and ability to comprehend multiple layers of legal options under crisis, makes much more sense.

  • DovInBeitShemesh

    Yechezkel’s comment unfortunately reflects caring about what the velt says but not necessarily what halacha says.

    Yes, we are mechuyav to care about Jewish lives, and it pains the heart to think of a Jew being given the death penalty.

    But the halacha is broader than this. A halachic analysis has to consider the Gemorah in Baba Metzia about Rebbi Eliezer turning Jewish robbers to the king to be executed. This is discussed by the Mabit and by the Bais Yosef (who in Choshen Mishpat concludes that it’s not assur). We have to consider Rambam saying that non-Jewish courts have the right to give the death penalty for any of the sheva mitzvos bnei noach even without witnesses or warnings. And we have to consider the psak of the Maharam mi’Rotenberg that saving a life (with all the importance that Chazal give to pidyon shevuyim) has to be balanced against the consequences that it will have in the future.

    I have no conclusions to give on the halachic analysis, and I have no conclusions to give on this particular situation. Both should come from people more knowledgeable than I am. And both are now irrelevant in the case at hand. But we need to understand that halacha is more than a one-sentence response, and claims about what “the halacha is” need to employ sophistication and lumdus even if what the velt says is clear. We tremble before G-d, not before the velt’s mass-market opinion.

  • Yossi Ginzberg

    I am saddened by the execution of this man, but even more saddened by the fact that the establishment has proven that it can mobilize tens of thousands of Jews and dozens or hundreds of rabbis when they feel the need.

    So why don’t they ever feel the need for solving the issues like agunas, or corrupt batei din, or massive public Chilul Hashems, or any one of so many other important issues? Where’s the leadership on real issues that affect us daily?

  • J

    “an officer is blocking you for a petty offence and is threatening to cause you disproportionate harm (e.g. a long period of jail time for being out there in the wilderness shooting some harmless target), ”

    If anything, this is understated. We all know, from Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, how bad it is to be disproportionate. Grossman was innocently violating the terms of his probation. What choice did he have but to bludgeon the officer and blow her head off? The officer was virtually an attacker, and Grossman acted purely in self-defense. Only a goyishe kup could see this otherwise.

    “The argument about his IQ, and ability to comprehend multiple layers of legal options under crisis, makes much more sense.”

    Absolutely. Long, long before Grossman, all the organizations defending him now determined that only people with an IQ above 77 could be executed. And how could Grossman choose among all his legal options? Go quietly, call a lawyer, bash in an officer’s brains? It makes MY head spin, and my IQ is higher than 77.

  • Daniel Rubin

    The Governors office e-mailed the following response. Has anyone heard a counter response to it?

    Thank you for contacting me and sharing your concerns about the execution of Martin Grossman.

    On December 13, 1984, Mr. Grossman violated the terms of his probation by leaving Pasco County and having a stolen firearm in his possession. In a routine stop, Florida Fish and Wildlife Officer Margaret Park found the weapon. When she reached for the radio in her patrol car to report him, Mr. Grossman attacked her with her own large flashlight, beating her over the head and shoulders 20 to 30 times. When Officer Park tried to fight back, Mr. Grossman took her .357 Magnum revolver and shot her in the back of the head, killing her.

    Mr. Grossman took several carefully planned steps to cover up this horrible crime. The weapon was buried, and Mr. Grossman attempted to burn his clothes and shoes, which were later disposed of in a nearby lake. The following day, Mr. Grossman thoroughly cleaned the van and changed its tires to mislead law enforcement.

    Officer Park’s autopsy revealed lacerations on top of her head, hemorrhaging inside the scalp and extensive fracturing of the skull. All of these injuries resulted from Mr. Grossman’s attack. The facts of this crime clearly meet the definition of heinous, atrocious and cruel, and his actions afterward demonstrate his well-reasoned attempts to cover it up.

    The courts have fully reviewed Mr. Grossman’s legal claims, and his conviction and sentence have been affirmed by both the Florida Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court. Based on the facts and exhaustion of legal proceedings, and in accordance with Florida law, I signed his death warrant on January 12, 2010.

    Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

  • tzippi

    To Yossi Ginzburg, and where’s leadership: it is a lot easier to ask people to spend a few minutes sending in a form letter, or saying a few chapters of Tehillim, than to ask them to change their lives. I would like to think that the leadership would like nothing better than to have the confidence that if they would put up a united front for other causes, that everyone would listen. But we’re still in a pre-Messiah, imperfect world, with free will (in overdrive, as with the progression of galus, the hester panim – hiding of the face of G-d – just deepens).

  • joe friday

    The next scheduled execution if Melbert Ray Ford, on February 23. Like Grossman, it is a felony murder case. Also like Grossman, Ford has found religion in prison and has been a model prisoner for 25 years. Unlike Grossman, Ford claims he did not murder the victims, but rather was made the fall guy by his partner in crime who ratted him in exchange for a lighter sentence. Let’s see how many Jewish groups take up this cause.

  • Aaron

    Forgive my ignorance and illiteracy, but could someone provide sources in English that I could review concerning DovInBeitShemesh’s statement: “But the halacha is broader than this. A halachic analysis has to consider the Gemorah in Baba Metzia about Rebbi Eliezer turning Jewish robbers to the king to be executed. This is discussed by the Mabit and by the Bais Yosef (who in Choshen Mishpat concludes that it’s not assur). We have to consider Rambam saying that non-Jewish courts have the right to give the death penalty for any of the sheva mitzvos bnei noach even without witnesses or warnings. And we have to consider the psak of the Maharam mi’Rotenberg that saving a life (with all the importance that Chazal give to pidyon shevuyim) has to be balanced against the consequences that it will have in the future.”

    Also, does pidyon shevuyim really apply to someone rightfully imprisoned for a crime? Given the not-so-ancient widespread practice of authorities imprisoning Jews — largely taking advantage of our mitzvah of pidyon shivuyim to secure considerable ransoms — this does not appear to be the practice in America and our behaving as if we were appealing to corrupt despots cannot raise opinions about us by our neighbors.

    I am of the opinion that the way this was handled was anything but a kiddush Hashem and may well represent yet another case where a gadol (or gedolim) and organizations were misled by “notorious gatekeepers, who are known to color, filter, and distort.” (see http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2010/01/15/dismissing-dybbuks/) It is inconceivable to me that Agudah or any Rav would have made this argument and instigated this widespread public appeal had the victim been Jewish and the killer been named Timothy McVeigh or Ahmed Jihadi.

    Tactically, I do not understand why Grossman wasn’t advised from the beginning to prioritize making amends with the victim’s family. I’m not sure there has ever been an execution over the objections of the family and friends most affected by the death. Case in point, the siblings of Kitty and José Menendez argued on behalf of not executing their nephews Lyle and Erik.

    Last point, I find it difficult to accept that a 77 IQ correlates with “Mr. Grossman took several carefully planned steps to cover up this horrible crime. The weapon was buried, and Mr. Grossman attempted to burn his clothes and shoes, which were later disposed of in a nearby lake. The following day, Mr. Grossman thoroughly cleaned the van and changed its tires to mislead law enforcement.” How do you measure IQ accurately when there is considerable disincentive to score highly? Perhaps his real IQ was a bit closer to normal?

  • Bob Miller

    Tzippi said, “I would like to think that the leadership would like nothing better than to have the confidence that if they would put up a united front for other causes, that everyone would listen.”

    Leaders often have to say and do things not knowing what proportion of their followers will follow.