More than 20 Duval County, Florida, religious leaders participated in an EJUSA press conference in front of the County Courthouse today. They gathered in reaction to a report from the Fair Punishment Project branding Duval County an “outlier” in its overuse of the death penalty. Clergy released a letter to the State Attorney’s Office signed by over 50 religious leaders from throughout the region, demanding a halt to death penalty prosecutions in their county.
“Duval County represents everything that is wrong with the small and shrinking number of counties that are still using the death penalty in America,” said EJUSA Executive Director Shari Silberstein. “They all suffer from overzealous prosecutors, ineffective defense lawyers, and racial bias, which helps to explain why Florida leads the nation with 26 death row exonerations.”
EJUSA’s Jacksonville-based organizer, Christine Henderson, facilitated the news conference, which included the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of St. Augustine, the Most Reverend Felipe Estévez, as well as Pastor Reginald Gundy of Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church, and several others.
“The overzealous pursuit of the death penalty has become a symbol of our racist and broken criminal justice system, and now we have confirmation that Duval County is in fact one of the worst of the worst,” said Pastor Gundy. “There is no escaping our outlier status when many other Florida counties are beginning to turn away from the death penalty.”
Bishop Estévez also expressed concerns: “Whenever we can choose life over death, we are called to so. Duval County’s high use of the death penalty raises grave concerns and goes completely against promoting a culture of life, since means other than execution are available to keep society secure.”