Tuesday, February 20, 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
Goodman: The triumph of the ‘Perennials’

Goodman: The triumph of the ‘Perennials’

At Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School north of Fort Lauderdale in Parkland, a teacher, two coaches and 14 teenagers were living the American dream before they were targeted in what became our nation’s nightmare.There are no words to console a griev...
Updated: 26 minutes ago
Louisville must vacate 2013 basketball title, NCAA denies appeal

Louisville must vacate 2013 basketball title, NCAA denies appeal

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville must vacate its 2013 men’s basketball title following an NCAA appeals panel’s decision to uphold sanctions against the men’s program in the sex scandal case. The Cardinals will have to vacate 123 victories including the c...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Guess co-founder steps aside after allegations from Kate Upton

Guess co-founder steps aside after allegations from Kate Upton

Associated PressNEW YORK — Guess Inc. says that co-founder Paul Marciano will give up his day-to-day responsibilities at the clothing company until a sexual misconduct investigation is completed. Model and actress Kate Upton told Time magazine earlie...
Updated: 1 hour ago
County gives initial support to adding deputies at Hernando elementary schools

County gives initial support to adding deputies at Hernando elementary schools

BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County Commission on Tuesday informally supported adding as many as 10 school resource officers in county schools, including one for every elementary school, in an effort to bolster security in the wake of the deadly school...
Updated: 1 hour ago
She drove drunk with a child in the backseat, deputies say. She said she ‘just got out of rehab’

She drove drunk with a child in the backseat, deputies say. She said she ‘just got out of rehab’

A Miami woman is accused of driving intoxicated with a child in the back seat of her car — and she told a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputy that she "just got out of rehab," according to arrest recordsStephanie Roque, 30, was traveling through Welli...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Neighbor stunned after woman, 71, raped in ‘safe’ Pasco neighborhood

Neighbor stunned after woman, 71, raped in ‘safe’ Pasco neighborhood

NEW PORT RICHEY— Iris Ramos couldn’t sleep Monday night.Ramos, 70, lives four doors down from a house at 7437 Heather St., where Pasco County deputies reported a home invasion and rape of a 71-year-old woman Monday morning. Ramos had helped the woman...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Investigators find insufficient evidence against former state fair executive director

Investigators find insufficient evidence against former state fair executive director

TAMPA — Charles Pesano may have used his position as executive director of the Florida State Fair to funnel business to his family’s company, get Tampa Bay Rays tickets and have a hot tub installed in his Valrico home, but there is no evidence he com...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Middleton, Robinson students arrested in threats to shoot up schools, Tampa police say

Middleton, Robinson students arrested in threats to shoot up schools, Tampa police say

TAMPA — Two Tampa boys, one 15 and one 16, have been arrested for making unrelated threats to shoot up their campuses — Middleton and Robinson high schools.Neither was deemed a credible threat, but the arrests were made anyway. The teens are charge...
Updated: 2 hours ago
U.S. biathletes, who shoot guns to compete, speak out on gun control for America

U.S. biathletes, who shoot guns to compete, speak out on gun control for America

DAEGWALLYEONG, South Korea — For his profession, Lowell Bailey wears a .22 caliber rifle strapped to his back. It has taken him across the world and to four Olympic Games, most recently to the biathlon mixed relay Tuesday night at Alpensia Biathlon C...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Age is a valued number for motocross rider Chad Reed

Age is a valued number for motocross rider Chad Reed

Chad Reed is set to break one of the most impressive records in motorsports, but it’s not the mark he wants most.The Dade City resident and native Australian has started 227 main events in the Monster Energy Supercross 450 cc series, tying former rid...
Updated: 3 hours ago