By Jamal Thalji, Times Staff Writer
Pope calls for mercy for killer Martin Grossman as execution nears
Posted: Feb 16, 2010 10:33 AM
By Jamal Thalji, Times Staff Writer
STARKE — The Vatican is calling for mercy for a man scheduled to be executed Tuesday evening for killing a young Florida wildlife officer 25 years ago.
But even the pope doesn't argue that Martin Edward Grossman is innocent.
Grossman, 45, who shot and killed Margaret "Peggy'' Park on Dec. 13, 1984, "has repented and is now a changed person, having become a man of faith,'' wrote Archbishop Fernando Filoni on behalf of Pope Benedict XVI. He asked for "whatever steps may be possible to save the life of Mr. Grossman.''
Filoni wrote the letter at the behest of the chief rabbi of Israel, Shear-Yashuv Cohen.
Grossman's lawyers plan to make a last-minute appeal the U.S. Supreme Court today to stay the execution. Grossman, meanwhile, has declined the traditional last meal. Instead, he will have banana cream and peanut butter cookies, canned fruit punch and a chicken sandwich he bought himself from the inmate canteen, according to the Department of Corrections.
His last visitors will be his aunt and two friends.
Activists against the death penalty took up Grossman's case, including several Jewish organizations that pleaded for clemency, asking Gov. Charlie
Crist to commute his sentence to life in prison.
Amnesty International said it had "serious questions about the quality of his legal representation and compelling mental health evidence that was never presented to a jury."
More than 26,000 people signed an online petition asking that Grossman's life be spared. Nobel prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel also weighed in on his behalf.
Rabbis from groups including the Rabbinical Council of America, the Aleph Institute and the National Council of Young Israel wrote to Crist on Feb. 9 asking him to spare Grossman's life because he "has shown profound remorse and regret" for the officer's murder.
"He acted under the influence of drugs and alcohol. His fatal shooting of Ms. Parks was not an act of premeditation but of panic," the letter said. "He has transformed himself from a deeply troubled teenager into a gentle and simple man, a proud practitioner of his faith and a humble servant of God."
A spokesman for the governor said that by Friday night the office had received more than 9,443 e-mails and more than 7,849 phone calls about the Grossman case.
"Signing a death warrant is a responsibility that Governor Crist takes very seriously," spokesman Sterling Ivey wrote in an e-mail to the St. Petersburg Times, "and the warrant for Martin Grossman was signed after a careful review …"
Grossman would be the first inmate Florida has put to death for killing a law enforcement officer since the September 2006 execution of Clarence Hill. The Alabama man was executed at the age of 48 for ambushing two Pensacola police officers after a bank robbery on Oct. 19, 1982. He shot and killed Officer Stephen Taylor and wounded Officer Larry Bailly as they tried to arrest Hill's accomplice.
Grossman, of Pasco County, was 19 when he killed Park as she tried to arrest him and 17-year-old Thayne Nathan Taylor in what is now the Brooker Creek Preserve in Tarpon Springs.
Grossman has spent the latter half of his life in prison for the murder. He is scheduled to die at 6 p.m., the first Florida execution of 2010 and the 69th since the death penalty was restored in 1976.
Park, a Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission officer, found a stolen Luger pistol in the van Grossman and Taylor were in and tried to report it.
But Grossman, fearing that the offense would violate his probation and land him back in prison, attacked the officer with her own flashlight as she used her radio.
"I'm hit," Park yelled over the radio.
Grossman called for Taylor to help him subdue the officer. Park managed to draw her .357 Magnum and fire off a wild shot inside her patrol vehicle. Then she kicked Taylor in the groin.
But Grossman, 6 feet 4 and 225 pounds, overpowered the 5-foot-5, 115-pound officer. He broke her fingers wrenching the .357 away from Park and shot her in the back of the head.
The two men escaped but were arrested 11 days later. Grossman was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death a year to the day of the murder. Taylor was convicted of third-degree murder and served two years of his seven-year sentence.
Park grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and quickly developed an affinity for the outdoors. She camped with park rangers in Ontario and especially enjoyed the sounds of wolves howling.
She graduated from Ohio State University and came to Florida to become a wildlife officer. She quickly took to the law enforcement side of her new post, though it often required her to patrol alone.
"I decided when I was 12 that I wanted to be a park ranger," she told the St. Petersburg Times in an interview before her death. "It will never be a job."
After her service, Park's ashes were scattered by helicopter over the eagles' nests she helped care for as a wildlife officer.
In 2007, a stone marker was placed in John Chesnut Park in Palm Harbor to honor "an officer fallen in the cause of conservation."
Park's brother, sister and mother, Peggy, 79, planned to attend the execution. The mother came from Ohio despite a cardiologist's order not to travel.