Conservative group forms to challenge Florida’s death penalty

FL CCATDP launch
Florida’s death penalty system has come to epitomize the typical big, dysfunctional government program. It is marred by failures, including wrongful convictions and rising costs. It fails to adequately protect society, often harms murder victims’ families, and the Sunshine State’s capital sentencing scheme has been declared unconstitutional twice in just the last year. As a result, roughly 200 people on death row must be resentenced.

As the death penalty’s many shortcomings have come to light, an increasing number of notable conservatives from across the country have turned against it. Many in Florida have taken note of CCATDP’s activities and reached out to me, asking how they can become more involved.

Consequently, I helped organize a press conference on June 14, where the Florida Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty officially launched, making it the 12th state-based CCATDP group so far. Conservative leaders from around the state passionately explained why the death penalty is inconsistent with conservatism, and they called on prosecutors to reject death sentences for those whose cases are now in limbo. Continue Reading →

More Exonerations – an update from CCATDP

In the past month, we’ve been confronted with our death penalty system’s dangers and flaws again. Rodricus Crawford was released from Louisiana’s death row in April and Ralph Daniel Wright Jr. from Florida’s death row just days ago because they had both been wrongly convicted and sentenced to die. Regrettably, this isn’t a rare occurrence. In fact, these exonerations bring the total number of wrongful capital convictions in the US since 1973 to 159, while others have been executed who might have been innocent.

The Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission concluded its year-long examination of the state’s capital punishment program, and their findings reflected what has been discovered in many other states. Oklahoma’s death penalty is dangerously flawed, has led to wrongful convictions, and it costs far more than life without parole.

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Racist hate mail a reminder of the death penalty’s true colors

Last month, an African American prosecutor in central Florida received an especially disturbing piece of hate mail: a racist note and a noose.

The prosecutor, State Attorney Aramis Ayala, made national news earlier this year when she announced she would not seek the death penalty in future cases. Her constituents broadly supported the decision, and a grassroots movement sprang up in support. But Florida’s Governor Rick Scott made the reactionary decision to transfer all her death penalty eligible cases to a neighboring prosecutor.

The specter of a white Governor stripping the state’s first black States Attorney of almost two-dozen cases for exercising her lawful discretion was discomfiting enough. But that battle is now buried in a thicket of legal arguments.

Lest the courtroom drama obscure the obvious racial implications of the entire saga, a noose in the mail brings them back into stark relief.

A noose is not just a threat; it’s a symbol of lynchings – which themselves were precursors to the modern death penalty.

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Floridians rally in support of state attorney who won’t seek the death penalty

Christine speaking - photo credit Mark Elliott

Busloads of people from all corners of Florida descended on the state capitol in Tallahassee this morning for a “Rally in Tally” to show their support for State Attorney Aramis Ayala. Ayala announced earlier this month that she will not seek the death penalty during her tenure as the head prosecutor of Orange and Osceola Counties.

Following a rally on the capitol steps, leaders delivered over 130,000 petition signatures to the office of Governor Rick Scott. Scott filed for the removal of Alaya from a high profile murder case in Orlando, overstepping his authority and undermining her discretion as a prosecutor.

Ayala is fighting back, and people throughout Florida and around the country are standing with her.
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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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