Saturday, January 30, 2010

To save one life is like saving the whole world

Save Martin Grossman

Sponsored by: Aleph Institiute and Chabad.

To save one life is like saving the whole world:

We need your help today to save the life of Martin Grossman who is set to be executed on February 16th. We are only advocating that he not get the death penalty at this time. We are asking that the Governor take the time to hold a proper clemency hearing to determine if the Death Penalty is really appropriate in this case. This may not be easy for you to go out of your way to try and save the life of someone who took someone else’s life but we must do what is just and right and what the Torah teaches us is correct. Prominent Rabbis have ruled that every Jew has the responsibility to save this man’s life. Please sign the petition at the end of this story.

There is no question that Martin Grossman committed a grievous and violent act, robbing Margaret Parks of her life and her future but also robbing her family of their beloved daughter and sister and the future they hoped for her. Having counseled Martin and providing spiritual guidance to him over the course of the last 25 years, we know without any doubt that he takes full responsibility for his evil deed and that he lives (as he should) with tremendous daily guilt and remorse. He often speaks of the anguish and devastation he wreaked on Ms. Park’s family and of his impotence, being completely unable to do anything to relieve their sorrow or make amends.

His childhood history, in fact, is marked by the fact that as a young child, Martin had this very feeling of impotence imposed upon his undeveloped psyche, much too young, because he was unable to relieve the suffering of his father (a veteran who was never known to his son during healthy productive years and whom Martin only knew as an ailing and needy invalid).

The unusual circumstances in Martin Grossman’s case include:

1. The unfortunate arbitrary character of the death sentence in Martin

Grossman’s case. In fact, we think it is clear that if Martin were tried in a criminal court today, he would not have received the death sentence. We think you may agree that it was imposed as a result of many distinctly unusual factors that were never well understood, at various levels of the trial and appeal process. For instance, the reason that his crime was identified as “premeditated murder” was a technicality, and nobody who actually knows what took place the day he committed the crime would really use the word “premeditation” for that situation. (He was a drug-addicted youth without much guidance in the world who was surprised and taken aback by the sudden approach of an officer, and he “lost it” and tried to prevent her from turning him in. He was not knowingly committing a crime at the time he was apprehended although technically he was committing the crime of probation violation.) We would ask permission to show the following:

a. The “aggravating circumstance” was not what we would consider to be

aggravating circumstance today, and in fact, did not amount to what most people consider “heinous, atrocious or cruel.”

b. The “mitigating circumstances” were not explored because of the

situation including Martin’s communication deficits.

c. The crime was not what any of us today would probably consider

“cold, calculated or premeditated.”

d. Martin Grossman’s history points to the high probability that he

would be considered in “extreme mental and emotional disturbance” at the time of the crime, although that could not come out at the time of the trial.

e. Martin Grossman acted “out of frenzy, panic or rage” although that

was also not brought out at the trial.

f. Martin’s sentence was extremely disproportionate to other criminals

who receive the death sentence, and was not worse than many, many other criminals who receive considerably less punishment.

2. The fact that Martin’s mental capacity is so seriously challenged

(Martin has an IQ of 77 and was uneducated, and also suffered from a seizure disorder and possible organic brain dysfunction since earliest childhood) that he probably misunderstood the nature of his crime itself and surely was not very capable of cooperating in his own defense to the degree needed, considering the gravity of his situation. At the same time, his support system of family and friends was seriously deficient for many of the same reasons, and nobody “kicked in” properly to help his defense at that critical moment. Had he been able to garner support or to provide his lawyer with vigorous assistance in defending himself it is almost certain that he would not have been sentenced to death.

3. The fact that Martin’s tragic childhood and adolescence provided a

backdrop for the trial and the appeal that was never adequately presented to jury, judge or appeals courts. In the sentencing phase, 30 out of 33 of the witnesses he wanted to call in his defense were not called, and the terrible result was that he received the ultimate penalty. When he brought this issue up in post-conviction litigation, the court held that the missing 30 witnesses did not matter because they knew Martin when he was much younger than 19 (when he committed the crime) but the three who did testify knew him closer to the contemporaneous time period. In fact, that is the very reason these 30 witnesses would have so much to add to the knowledge that a fact-finder would need to conscientiously decide whether or not a man should die for his crime: what childhood circumstances went into the making of the man who stood before them? In the case of Martin Grossman, the jury decided that they knew his motivations when he killed his victim. Had they heard from the 30 witnesses who were precluded from testifying, they would have had a much different body of knowledge about his motivations. They believed his motivation was purely evil and wicked. Information from these 30 individuals would have made it much more likely that they would have believed that he was motivated by panic, confusion, and a degree of utter helplessness to manage his own emotions brought on by a deficient childhood and deprivation of the ability to mature into a responsible and confident adult.

4. Martin’s unequivocal contrition and changed nature – Rabbi Katz with

The Aleph Institute has been Martin’s spiritual advisor for the past 15 years and can speak to the man that Martin has become and, as his aunt has written also, he is now a “solid, humble human being” far from the disturbed youth who shot Ms. Parks over 25 years ago. In this case, the rehabilitation given to him by the State of Florida has been effective, and Martin Grossman, far from being a hopeless criminal who must be put to death for fear of worse behavior, has become an example of correctional services effectively correcting both behavior and character.

5. Martin’s age (19) and physical state and state of mind at the time

of the offense – Martin was an addict – he had been taking prescription barbiturates for seizures since early childhood and developed as an adolescent an addiction to other drugs. He was regularly high, suffered from a permanent state of paranoia and a lack, sometimes complete absence of judgment. On the night of his crime, Martin was on all kinds of drugs including PCP, Cocaine, Crystal Meth and other pills.

6. Life in prison without parole is an effective sentence to serve

justice. Martin’s crime was not actually cold-blooded. His conduct since that night has been exemplary and he is a model prisoner. He did not set out to commit a crime that night over 25 years ago – it was very truly a juvenile lark that went terribly and tragically awry. Note that the medical report of Dr. Fisher, a forensic psychiatrist who studied Martin and a wealth of background information, concludes at page 12 in its final paragraph “Given the facts and diagnosis described above it would be inconsistent and highly illogical to characterize Martin’s actions during the murder as rationally directed towards the goals of avoiding arrest or avoiding law enforcement. No such goal-oriented behavior or cognition was possible given the severely altered mental state in which Martin was functioning at this time. Because he was in a psychotic state he was likewise unable to form the premeditation for the underlying felonies present in this case (robbery, burglary and escape).” For the real person who really committed the real crime, death is not necessary; correction has been working and can be expected to be 100% effective.

7. The Affidavit of Charles Brewer dated 21 July 1990. Charles Brewer,

a fellow inmate in 1985, testified for the prosecution. Subsequently he provided a very disturbing affidavit that states that his testimony was not completely true and that he expected, and received, consideration for enhancing what he really knew and what he actually heard from Martin Grossman. What is most disturbing is that he appears to have been a critical witness, bringing into question the strength of the case without Brewer, who admits his testimony was tainted and improperly procured.

Moreover, the case relied on such witnesses as Brewer, the accomplice Taylor (who was sentenced to a mere three years), and others who all had something to gain by lying or at least embellishing the truth. This may have, at the very least, made the difference between life and the death sentence. We do not know what attempts, if any, were made to plead Mr. Grossman “down” on diminished criminal responsibility. We are looking into this question now.

In a death penalty system in which approximately 2% of known murderers are sentenced to death, fairness mandates that those few who are sentenced to death should be comparable to others who are similarly sentenced, and worse than those who are not. Problems with the trial of Martin Grossman have been admitted by the appeals courts (while being called “harmless” one by one, but their cumulative effect was far from harmless) and in one case, a new law was passed to say that judges were required to do things differently from the judge in Martin’s trial. In today's system, the sentence of death depends on many factors other than the moral depravity of the defendant or the actual severity of the offense. Especially in the case of Martin Grossman, it seems that it came about because of many misunderstandings that could be carefully and dispassionately explained if Martin Grossman is given a 60-day stay for the preparation of a clemency petition.

Please sign the petition today to save the life of Martin Grossman:

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