Florida Prosecutor Rejects Death Sentences – an update from CCATDP

Last week, Florida State’s Attorney Aramis Ayala announced that she will not seek any death sentences during her tenure as the prosecutor in the 9th district (serving Orange and Osceola Counties). This is welcome news given that Orange County has historically been one of the leading death penalty counties in America.

There are good reasons to eschew capital punishment. It costs millions more than its alternatives, doesn’t protect society, and can harm murder victims’ families. Most importantly, it risks innocent lives because the criminal justice system is dangerously fallible.

Consider the recent report from the University of California Irvine, where researchers found that more people were exonerated of various crimes in 2016 than in any other year – a total of at least 166 people from only the 25 states that were studied. The same fallibility that led to these wrongful convictions also affects capital cases, and as such, Ayala should be commended for her decision to avoid death sentences during her term.
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36 hours in Orlando

Yesterday, Florida State Attorney Aramis Ayala announced that she will not be seeking the death penalty in any cases while she remains in office.

Ayala’s office covers Orange County, which has historically been an outlier in Florida and in the country with regards to its death penalty usage. It is among just four of Florida’s 67 counties that have produced more than five executions since 1976.

Check out our storify to see how the story has unfolded in the last 36 hours.

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Resolution, at last, for victim’s family in Florida

Darlene after plea announcement“It’s time for healing.”

That’s what Darlene Farah said when she walked out of the courtroom this morning, more than 3 1/2 years after her daughter, Shelby, was murdered.

James Rhodes pleaded guilty to killing Shelby after reaching an agreement with the new State’s Attorney, Melissa Nelson, that would take the death penalty off the table and forgo a trial. Nelson’s predecessor, Angela Corey, had refused to consider such an agreement with Rhodes and his attorneys. Corey even vilified Darlene for her desire to have the charges end in a plea deal.

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Lawmakers across the country re-evaluating the death penalty

Marc at MT capitol

EJUSA’s Marc Hyden speaks at the Montana State Capitol in advance of a hearing to repeal the death penalty.

State capitals are buzzing as lawmakers return for this year’s state legislative sessions. It’s no surprise that the death penalty is on the agenda in so many places, given the growing movement away from executions.

There has long been strong support for death penalty repeal in Kansas, but due to many circumstances, repeal bills haven’t received committee hearings in recent years. This year, a diverse range of Kansans – murder victims’ family members, faith leaders, those with law enforcement experience, and legal experts – were able to express their support for repeal in front of a House committee. The hearing room was standing room only with supporters of the bill, and those testifying in favor of repeal outnumbered opponents 9 to 1.

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Funding available for groups serving survivors in Florida

Florida has opened an application process for organizations to apply for funds (pdf)  through the Federal Victims Of Crime Act (VOCA). If you are an organization in Florida that works with crime survivors, you may be eligible to apply through this RFP process.

Through our VOCA Funding Toolkit, and assistance from our Grassroots Capacity Building Specialist, EJUSA can help groups determine if they are eligible, answer questions about the process, and provide some support for your group’s application. Please contact Latrina Kelly-James at latrinakj@ejusa.org or (203) 823-5826 or download the toolkit here.

Full information about Pennsylvania RFP process:
http://myfloridalegal.com/webfiles.nsf/WF/MNOS-AGVJ42/$file/VOCANoticeofAvailability.pdf

Note: the deadline is fast approaching February 24, 2017. Organizations must register in Florida’s E-Grants system in order to access the RFP.

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Engaging event at Florida’s largest evangelical congregation

This past Wednesday, EJUSA co-sponsored a discussion on the death penalty at Northland Church in Longwood, Florida. We were thrilled to be able to help bring this conversation to Northland – one of the largest Evangelical churches in the nation. Pastor Joel Hunter moderated, and EJUSA Organizer Christine Henderson made the trip from Jacksonville, FL, to share our vision of a criminal justice system that heals and restores lives. The panel consisted of two people who have come face to face with the death penalty in their personal lives and two people who discussed the theological implications of the death penalty.

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Georgia Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty – An update from CCATDP

Last year, Georgia led the nation in executions with nine, which was the most in the Peach State’s history. While executions are at record levels, no one has been sentenced to die in Georgia in nearly three years, which suggests that its death penalty is slowly dying. However, there are many in Georgia who wish to hasten its demise. Just last week, a group of conservatives and libertarians came together to launch the Georgia Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty (GA CCATDP) group and call on the state legislature to reexamine capital punishment. The press event was attended by a conservative state representative, former Republican Party official, think tank leader, and activists from across the state who described in detail why capital punishment is inconsistent with their values.

Republican State Representative and press conference participant, Brett Harrell, said, “I like to make sure that government is as efficient, effective, and small as possible,” but when speaking about the death penalty, “the government has failed to provide an efficient, effective, accurate system.”

If you missed the press conference, you can watch it here.

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Event: Death penalty forum at Northland Church

EJUSA is proud to be sponsoring and organizing a exciting event at Northland Church, Florida’s largest evangelical congregation. Northland Pastor, Dr. Joel Hunter, will moderate a discussion about the death penalty with author and activist Shane Claiborne, Florida death row exoneree Herman Lindsay, and Darlene Farah, whose daughter, Shelby, was murdered.

Please join us for this important discussion! RSVP here. Continue Reading →

Recommended: New State’s Attorney in Florida wants to start CIU

Florida prosecutors have played a major role in creating an unjust criminal justice system with their ability to decide who to prosecute and what charges to file.

Several prosecutors in the state had a history of extreme overzealousness and seemed to forget the community they were elected to represent. They charged children as young as twelve as adults, sentencing them to long prison terms. They helped fill Florida’s death row with people with severe mental impairments and mental illness. And they supported a system that has allowed people of color to be treated more harshly than white people.

Newly-elected prosecutor Melissa Nelson seems to have a different plan coming into office. Nelson represents the 5th district, which includes 5 counties in the Northeast area of the state. According to a recent interview with Reason magazine, she is looking at new ways of encouraging prosecutors to seek justice, rather than just convictions. And she’s even exploring the idea of creating a Conviction Integrity Unit.

Read the full interview in Reason here.

EJUSA helps lead Cities for Life event in St Augustine, FL

Cities For Life candle lightingCommunity 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.

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