Saturday, June 23, 2018
News Roundup

75 Tampa Bay area religious leaders call for end to death penalty in wake of Harvard report

TAMPA — The names of those who signed the letter read like a who's who of the local religious community, with Catholics, Jews and various Protestant denominations represented.

There was James Favorite, the pastor of Beulah Baptist International Church. There was Betsy Torop of Congregation Beth Shalom in Brandon. There was Bishop Robert Lynch of the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg.

The three were among 75 Tampa Bay clergy members who urged Hillsborough and Pinellas prosecutors on Monday to put an end to the death penalty.

Addressed to Hillsborough State Attorney Mark Ober and Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe, the letter referenced a report from Harvard's Fair Punishment Project, which found the two counties are among 16 in the nation that sentenced five or more people to death between 2010 and 2015. Researchers accused prosecutors in both counties of being overzealous in pursuit of capital punishment, and noted racial disparities and cases in which defendants had severe mental illness or intellectual disabilities.

"None of us deny the need for accountability and severe consequences for those guilty of grave crimes," the group stated. "At the same time, our criminal justice system must recognize the dignity of every person, and not close off hope and the possibility for redemption."

Nine Tampa Bay area pastors and priests carried the letter to a news conference in Joe Chillura Courthouse Square in downtown Tampa. They stood together to denounce capital punishment before delivering their missive to the State Attorney's Office.

Ober, in a statement, didn't directly address the demand from the clergy members but said his office would continue its practice of reviewing cases individually, while following the law as interpreted by courts.

McCabe and his chief assistant were both unavailable for comment Monday, his office said.

After the Harvard report was released, both Ober and McCabe defended the handling of death penalty cases by their respective offices. Both said the report was unfair and written in a manner that favored an anti-death penalty position.

Appearing at the news conference across the street from Ober's office were the Rev. Russell Meyer, executive director of the Florida Council of Churches; the Rev. Dr. Bernice Powell Jackson of the First United Church of Tampa; Pastor Robert Schneider of St. Stephen Catholic Church in Valrico; Pastor Mel Harris of Destiny Baptist Church in Spring Hill and five other clergy who signed the letter.

"Right now, today, the time has come, the moment is here," Meyer said. "It is our opportunity as faith leaders and as people of good will from across the state of Florida and particularly Tampa Bay to say it's time to end the death penalty. It serves no public good."

Bishop Lynch, who leads Catholics in Tampa Bay and the north Suncoast, was among the most prominent names on the list. He signed the letter but could not attend Monday's gathering because he was out of the country, said Sabrina Schultz of the Diocese of St. Petersburg. The Catholic Church maintains an official stance against the death penalty.

Meyer, who recited a litany of moral and legal objections, noted the death penalty's effect even on victims' families, who are often subjected to years of legal wrangling before an execution.

"It's punitive to the families of the victims," Meyer said. "Why would we put families who are victims of horrendous crime through decades of emotional torture?"

Contact Dan Sullivan at [email protected] or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.

     
 
Comments
Sanders says she was told to leave Virginia restaurant

Sanders says she was told to leave Virginia restaurant

WASHINGTON (AP) — White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders acknowledged Saturday in a tweet that she was booted from a Virginia restaurant Friday night because she works for President Donald Trump.Sanders said she was told by the owner of T...
Updated: 29 minutes ago
Lightning takes Quebec LW Gabriel Fortier with second-round pick

Lightning takes Quebec LW Gabriel Fortier with second-round pick

The Lightning is on the board in the 2018 NHL draft, using their first pick — 59th overall in the second round — on Gabriel Fortier, an undersize left wing from Quebec."I spoke with them a couple of times, so I knew there was an interest,...
Updated: 1 hour ago
For starters: Rays vs. Yankees, looking for two straight

For starters: Rays vs. Yankees, looking for two straight

After hanging on for a 2-1 last night over the MLB-best Yankees, the Rays are looking to make it two in a row today.And their lineup will have a different look, with INF Joey Wendle making his first career appearance,  majors or minors, in the o...
Updated: 2 hours ago
FHP: Wrong-way driver hit 100 miles per hour before sideswiping car

FHP: Wrong-way driver hit 100 miles per hour before sideswiping car

A Clearwater man who authorities said sideswiped a car while driving more than 100 miles per hour the wrong way on U.S. 41 was arrested Friday. Wendel Jamel James, 35, is charged with DUI with property damage, reckless driving and leaving the scene ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
‘Notorious RBG’ wanted to be a singer. Now, a CD celebrates her life.

‘Notorious RBG’ wanted to be a singer. Now, a CD celebrates her life.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has often said, in interviews, that she would have loved to have been an opera singer.She has certainly become a fixture at many opera houses around the country: She is often spotted in the audience; she sometimes presides...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Rays Tales: Why ‘trades’ and ‘prospects’ are always in same conversation

Rays Tales: Why ‘trades’ and ‘prospects’ are always in same conversation

Besides the continual evolution of their intriguing pitching plan, the primary topics of conversation for the Rays over the next several weeks will be trades and prospects. And not mutually exclusively.Some sooner than others, the Rays are going to c...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Oldsmar cheer coach faces new sexual battery charges

Oldsmar cheer coach faces new sexual battery charges

An Oldsmar cheerleading coach charged this week with sending explicit images to a minor now faces additional sexual battery charges.Victor Martin Valenty, 28, is accused of having "inappropriate sexual activity" with a 15-year-old at his home for mor...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Migrants denied access to lawyers, held in cells 23 hours a day, ACLU lawsuit alleges

Migrants denied access to lawyers, held in cells 23 hours a day, ACLU lawsuit alleges

After crossing the U.S.-Mexico border seeking asylum, 123 men have been detained for weeks, caged in prison cells for up to 23 hours per day and denied access to attorneys at a federal detention center in Sheridan, Oregon, a lawsuit filed Friday by t...
Updated: 4 hours ago
First step for Hillsborough schools facing biggest challenges: Hire more teachers

First step for Hillsborough schools facing biggest challenges: Hire more teachers

TAMPA — As chief of diversity for the Hillsborough County School District, Minerva Spanner-Morrow tries to keep her expectations realistic."We want the best of the best and I know that’s very difficult," she told principals last week as they prepared...
Published: 06/23/18
Girl Scout convinces companies to cut down on millions of plastic straws

Girl Scout convinces companies to cut down on millions of plastic straws

Last fall, the CEO of San Francisco-based Dignity Health received an email out of the blue. It was from a 16-year-old Girl Scout named Shelby O’Neil. With all due respect, she wrote, the company’s "Human Kindness" commercial had a glarin...
Updated: 1 hour ago