Community members joined murder victims’ family members, religious leaders, families of of death row inmates, and a death row exoneree for a “Cities For Life” event in St. Augustine last week, hosted by EJUSA and the Diocese of St. Augustine. EJUSA’s National Organizer Christine Henderson emceed the evening, which featured the lighting of 386 candles, one for every person awaiting execution on Florida’s death row.
Cities for Life began 15 years ago by the Italy-based Sant’ Egidio Community. More than 2,000 cities worldwide have participated, declaring themselves “Cities for Life” and committing to ending the death penalty throughout the world. It is the largest international mobilization effort to end the death penalty.
This year’s Cities for Life event in St. Augustine took on special significance. Earlier in the year, Father Rene Robert, a local priest, was kidnapped and murdered across the Florida border in Georgia. The Diocese has been mourning and trying to help parishioners through the grieving process. Now, prosecutors in Georgia are seeking the death penalty for the man accused of killing Robert, which has upset members of his faith community. Several years ago, Robert signed a “Declaration of Life,” which stated that, in the case of his death by homicide, he did not wish for the person or people responsible to receive a death sentence.
Also, the Diocese of St. Augustine encompasses Duval County, which was recently singled out as an “outlier” in its use of the death penalty. The county is one of only 16 counties in the country that sentenced five or more people to death in 2010-2015, representing the growing decline and isolation of the death penalty. In August, clergy released a letter to the State’s Attorney’s Office signed by over 50 religious leaders demanding there be a halt to death penalty prosecutions in Duval County.