NEW YORK – A coalition of Orthodox Jewish groups is appealing for clemency on behalf of a Jewish inmate on Florida’s death row who is scheduled to be executed on Tuesday night.
Martin Grossman was convicted of first-degree murder for killing a Florida wildlife officer in 1984, when the officer found Grossman, then 19, and a 17-year-old friend shooting a stolen handgun inside a nature preserve. But, arguing that Grossman’s crime was not premeditated, and committed while Grossman was mentally impaired and on drugs, the Jewish groups are asking for a 60-day reprieve, in order to prepare another appeal and explore legal options.
“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,” the groups, including the National Council of Young Israel, Agudath Israel of America and the Orthodox Union, said in a statement. Grossman, they argued, should “be permitted to serve his debt to society by serving the rest of his life in prison.”
Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger, citing “new evidence,” also wrote to Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, according to a letter publicized by Yeshiva World News.
“I am convinced that there is sufficient cause to at least delay this execution until all evidence and legal arguments are presented,” he wrote.
With Grossman sitting on death row for decades, the groups sprung into action on January 12, when Crist signed Grossman’s death warrant.
Courts have rejected multiple appeals based on claims including ineffective assistance of counsel and diminished mental capacity. The Florida Supreme Court rejected Grossman’s latest appeal last week.
Grossman was convicted of first-degree murder for killing Margaret “Peggy” Park, a Florida wildlife officer, who found him and a teenaged accomplice shooting a stolen gun in a Florida nature preserve on December 13, 1984. Grossman, who had recently been released from prison after serving time for burglary, begged Park not to turn him in. When she refused, he hit her 20 to 30 times and then shot her in the head with her service gun.
For the victim’s family, who seek closure on the painful memory, the execution is long overdue.
“I don’t take any pleasure in an execution, but it’s time,” Margaret Park, the victim’s 79-year-old mother, told The Associated Press. “He had very good representation all the way through. I think he’s been treated very fairly by the state of Florida,” she said. “It’s long overdue.”
Park, who planned to travel with her daughter and son to Florida from Ohio to witness the execution, said every time there is a new development in the case, it feels like a “wave coming up and knocking you back down, and you go over all the emotions again. We just need to have an end to this coming back and hitting us again.”
The Jewish groups argue, however, that no matter how terrible Grossman’s crime, it does not warrant the death penalty.
So far, more than 24,000 people have signed an online petition on behalf of Grossman, and a Web site, www.savemartingrossman.com, includes medical reports outlining his low IQ and unspecified mental problems, as well as letters from family members, death penalty opponents and even Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, who wrote, “These days, death is winning too many battles and life imprisonment is a harsh enough punishment.”
Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who signed onto the effort on behalf of Grossman, wrote in the Jewish groups’ public statement: “Even those who strongly support capital punishment would limit it to recidivists or people who commit the most heinous of crimes. Martin Grossman fits neither of those categories.”
Dershowitz added that Grossman’s crime was unplanned, impulsive and the “product of a serious mental illness, that can now be proven by medical technology that was unavailable at the time of his sentencing. All that he is seeking now is a 60-day postponement of his execution, so that his supporters can martial the evidence and present his case for clemency,” Dershowitz wrote. “No one should be rushed to execution while doubts remain unresolved.”
An animal lover, Peggy Park earned a degree in natural resources and wildlife management from Ohio State in 1981, and in 1982 took a job as a Florida wildlife officer patrolling the Brooker Creek nature preserve near Tampa.
Grossman and an accomplice, Thayne Taylor, 17, were arrested two weeks after Park was killed and Taylor served nearly three years in prison. Grossman was convicted in October 1985. The jury recommended the death penalty by a vote of 12 to 0.
Rabbi Menachem Katz of the Aleph Institute, who has counseled Grossman for 15 years, said the inmate is “trying to be as strong as possible. He takes full responsibility for his behavior and actions. He has unbelievable amounts of remorse and he believes in God and hopes for life. He’s praying for a miracle.”
Katz said the Aleph Institute, an organization that works with incarcerated Jews in American prisons, typically does not get involved in legal aspects of criminal cases. “Definitely not as far as this,” he said. “But after the governor signed the death warrant, we looked closer at the case, at the details, to save the life of someone who never should have been given the death penalty,” he said.
Citing Grossman’s history of drug use, he said there was no premeditation in this case. “If this execution goes through, it’s not on the merits of the case.”
He said the fact that Grossman has become more religious has nothing to do with the Aleph Institute’s involvement in his case. “It’s because this is a matter of life and death,” Katz said.
“The facts of the case are so clear,” he said, reiterating his belief that the crime does not warrant death. “If it was a brutal rape and murder crime, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
But the victim’s younger sister, Betsy, told the St. Petersburg Times
that Grossman’s execution is not about vengeance. “It’s to see it finished,” she said. “He had a chance to make choices. And he made the wrong ones.”