Archive for October, 2012

AFTERMATH OF THE EXECUTION OF A JEW

October 10, 2012

Notes from Director/Producer, Rhonda Moskowitz

This is the 4th in a series of essays about Martin Grossman, in preparation for my presentation at LeMood, Montreal.

I originally wrote the essay below soon after the execution of Martin Grossman. His execution was a profound experience that forever changed me. I had filmed Martin four times on death row over two years and also his surviving family members. I stayed with his family before, during and after his execution and slept in the bed of his late mother, Myra. An intense experience at the very least. People on death row and executions are something you read about or see in movies. A human face was put on a decades-long tragedy of epic proportions.

Aunt Rosol, Martin Grossman’s closest surviving relative

May, 2010

It’s been a little more than three months since Martin Grossman’s Feb. 16th execution. His last words were “Ahavat Israel,” meaning love of Jews.  Before Martin uttered these words, he recited the Shema, the watchword prayer of the Jewish faith. (Here O Israel, the Lord our G-d, the Lord is one…”)   It’s traditional for a Jew to say the Shema  before he or she dies. How many Jews have uttered these words before they’ve been executed? This is unknown. It’s also unknown how many Jews in the United States  have been executed. I presume the numbers are few. Martin had a deep feeling for Judaism. He reconnected with his faith after ten years of virtual isolation in his 6 by 9 death row cell.  “I am an island of Judaism,” he wrote in a letter to his aunt, Rosol, during Hanukkah in 2008, 14 months before he died. Grief, emptiness, disbelief and depression, pretty much describe my feelings about Martin’s execution over these last few months. If I feel traumatized, it’s almost unimaginable how both Martin’s family and the family of his victim, Peggy Park, feel.  I speak to Martin’s aunt, Rosol, several times a week and I know she feels indescribably horrible. Rosol never turned her back on Martin and wrote to him and visited him on Death Row up until the day he died. I don’t know how Peggy Park’s mother and brother feel. (Her father died.)  Do they feel a sense of justice and closure? Or do they feel empty? Martin’s execution did not bring Peggy Park back. From news accounts, Peggy’s mother and brother had been waiting for over 26 years for Martin to be executed. I personally don’t believe in the death penalty, but if there is going to be a state sanctioned murder of a murderer, it should be swift. As a filmmaker, I now have the challenge of documenting Martin’s redemption, (Teshuva), and showing his humanity without sanitizing the tragic murder he committed. It’s now time to get past my grief and move forward. I didn’t know how much my documentary film meant to Martin until I read letters received by others. Seems like he intrinsinctly knew he had a lot to teach us. Paradoxically and astonishingly,  Martin, a murderer, died a Ba’al Teshuva. I’ve been given a monumental task, but I’m up to the challenge. I filmed Martin on Death Row four times, I’ve filmed his family for two years, and I have home movies from his childhood, newspaper articles and photographs. I also had the honor of filming Martin’s funeral and burial. I still need to document the tremendous advocacy efforts to save Martin’s life.  It’s  through my film, that Martin’s voice will be heard. He has a great deal to teach both Jews and non-Jews and the lessons are life-altering and profound.

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THE DAY I WATCHED A MAN DIE

October 9, 2012

Note from Rhonda Moskowitz:  This is the 3rd in a series of essays about Martin Grossman. I’m excited to be giving a presentation on Martin at LeMood, Montreal’s largest Jewish festival. The amazing Rabbi Nochum Kurinsky witnessed Martin’s excecution. Below is a powerful essay he wrote about his experience. We will be skyping with Rabbi Kurinsky during my presentation.

Martin Grossman on the day of his Bar Mitzvah

The Day I Watched A Man Die

by Rabbi Nochum Kurinsky, February 2010

Today I watched a man die.

The call came in  at about 2:00 pm. “Can you be with Mr. Martin Grossman during his execution?”  How can you say no? How can you say yes? What can you say? After speaking to my wife, I decided to go. I made a few phone calls and found a companion for the road and off we went. Along the way, another friend offered to join and the three of us departed down the I95 to the I10 to be with Mr. Grossman.

A little background.

A few months ago Rabbi Mendy Katz from Aleph sent out an email to the local Chabad. Rabbis. In it was a very simple request. Due to the financial downturn Aleph could no longer afford to send Yeshiva students to all the prisons in Florida .  Would any community be willing to go visit a few prisons in their area? We volunteered. Rather, I volunteered and subsequently invited members of our community to come along.

On our first visit, during Chanukah, our group was divided into pairs of two for maximum efficiency. David Sall, a local psychiatrist and Rabbi Menachem Mendel Lieberman, my lifetime friend and a local law student teamed up and I partnered with Dovid Moyer, a local financial repair specialist and businessman. Our group went to a number of prisons that day including Union Correctional. Mendy and David went to death row. As you know by now, death row housed the now world famous Martin Grossman A”H.

Several days after our visit to death row, the Governor signed Martin’s death warrant and set the date of execution for February 16th at 6:00 PM. Saddened by the news, but not really sure what to do, I kept about my daily business and even went back to visit the prison one more time with a group.

Sometime during January, Rabbi Katz called me, “Martin is going to die,” he said. “What we can do to help him?” At first, I have to admit, I was hesitant. What could I do? I’m a local Chabad Rabbi.  This is for the national organizations. After reading the proclamation by Rabbi Shochat of Los Angeles that one could even violate Shabbos to save Mr. Grossman, I was convinced.

First, I called Rabbi Mendy Katz back and told him I was on board but only to assist him, not to take charge of this. Then, I called Rabbi Oirechman the Chabad Rabbi in Tallahassee and asked if he was on board. After giving it some thought, he said that he was fully on board. Now was time to get the plan in motion.( Let also add that tremendous work was being done by many organizations at the time. This is just my account and the events that led me to watch Martin Die.) Rabbi Katz put together a letter that most of the 150 Chabad Rabbis in Florida signed. Another letter was written by Rabbi Zvi Biarsky which many Rabbis from every Jewish group signed as well, and they were both later hand delivered to the Governor by Rabbi Oirechman.

In addition, I started an online petition. On the first day we had 23 signatures, day two we had 200 on day three 1,000. At about that time, many in the broader Jewish community got involved in the cause to encourage the Governor to grant a clemency hearing to Mr. Grossman. Leaders from Agudath Israel, the OU, the RCC, many in the Yeshiva world in Monsey and Lakewood, and Satmar Chassidim were getting involved. It was simply amazing! The cause was taking a life of its own. Every day emails were being sent out to thousands upon thousands of people from all walks of life encouraging them to sign the petition. At its close, the petition had in excess of 33,000 signatures; many people wrote personal and some heart rending notes. The Achdus/togetherness of Klal Yisroel/the Jewish people was heart-warming.

Just to give further insight into this we put together a website called http://www.savemartingrossman.com. While  putting the site together, I realized in amazement, that  the man with the idea for the site was a Litvisher/yeshivish Jew, the man who paid for the site was a Satmar Chosid and here I was, a card carrying Lubavitcher shliach working on the site through Chabad.org’s unbelievable server system. Incidentally, nearly 20,000 people logged onto the site during the last week alone.

That’s the background for today’s events. I’m now on the way to the prison with my two friends Dr. David Sall and Rabbi Mendy Lieberman who by divine providence are the same two people who visited Martin during Chanukah. I did not specifically call them. I asked some others first. As they say a Jew plans and G-d laughs. I planned on spending my afternoon and evening with some teenagers at the local high school doing a Jewish teen group and helping my wife who just had a baby give the kids dinner and do bedtime. David was busy with some needed recreationand Mendy was at school. None of us ever expected our day to turn out the way it did.

We got to the prison and were told, as expected, that only I could go in. Mendy and David were to wait with the media across the street. I was escorted in and given the rundown. There was to be only respectful behavior. There would be no contact with Martin. No books or metal were allowed in. I  had the opportunity to meet with and thank a few of the chaplains and department heads who had been very helpful in our past prison visits. I also met Martin’s attorney. It was touching to be able to meet the man who put up such a fight for Martin over the years. .

At about 5:30 we were escorted together with all the other people who were to witness the execution H”LS. Amongst the group were about 7 or 8 members of Ms. Parks’ family. There were a number of state witnesses, and about 6 or 7 members of the press. We were taken through the metal detectors and searched. We then passed through a number of security doors which I was all too familiar with from previous visits. The mood was a mix. People were chatting nervously and were very cordial with each other. I was so thoroughly impressed with the Parks family and the other people present. They handled themselves so courteously despite the obviously intense tension..

We were taken into a van and driven to another section of the prison. We were then escorted into a room at about 5:45. The room was about 30 feet by 15 feet; it was lined with 3 rows of chairs each about 10 chairs deep. On the last row, furthest from the front, sat the members of the media. In front of them, the state witnesses, and in the first row was the Parks family and myself. For fifteen minutes you could hear a pin drop in that room. . Nobody looked at each other. People sat in silence, just reflecting. I put on my ‘gartel’ [special belt for prayer] and started to daven/pray. First I said a number of prayers by heart and then I started to say Psalms. I became oblivious to my surroundings, just simply lost in thought and prayer. Suddenly, I began thinking, what am I doing here? Why would Hashem want me to be here? What purpose does this serve? After all, there is so much pain and hurt in this room, the Parks family suffered terribly. They are obviously still dealing with much of it. Tens of thousands of Jewish people throughout the world are sitting in prayer, hoping praying that Hashem will have mercy and grant Mr. Grossman reprieve. And much of that burden falls on my shoulders as the one Jew, the one rabbi, the one ‘shliach’ of the Lubavitcher Rebbe sitting in this room.

Suddenly, a thought crossed my mind about all of those people, those individuals that the Rebbe had reached out to through the years – one Jew at a time, mostly through his shluchim. The Rebbe loved EVERY Jew. Here again there is one Jew sitting in   a faraway place in middle of nowhere, no family with him, no love from the audience. He would have died alone. The only person that cared about him was the Rebbe, who sent Rabbi Katz to spend 4 hours with him on his dying day and me to be here while he breathes his last breath.

I started to daven that whatever I think, whatever I feel should be what the Rebbe would want me to think and/or feel. What does Hashem want me to do now? I started to sing a niggun to myself based on the words “Kiayil taarog al afikei mayim kein nafshi taarog eilecho elokim.” My soul wants to be with you Hashem …..

Almost immediately the curtain opened and there was Martin in the next room. He was only four or five feet from us, but he was strapped down and covered up until his neck. The only visible part of him was his arm, in which was an IV that would deliver the sam hamoves, the poison, and his face. In the room with him were a police officer and someone who stood with a paper and notebook presumably recording every detail of what transpired. The room also had a large clock behind Martin as well as video cameras and microphones hanging from the ceiling. Otherwise there were freshly painted walls, a sparkling clean floor, and a one way glass leading to a third room behind Martin.

Martin did not look at the crowd nor at the police officer next to him, he just stared up at the ceiling. There was silence in the room, the tension was so thick you could cut it with a knife. I for one was almost convulsing. The clock read 6:02.

The officer asked “Mr. Grossman do you have any final words?” to which Martin replied “Yes”.

Martin began “ I completely regret everything that I did on that night, both that which I remember and that which I do not”. He then said, “ I would like to say a prayer,” the officer said okay.

At that point Martin says “Shema Yisroel adon- elokenu adon- echod” in a loud voice and then said something that I will never forget so long as I live.

“Ahavat Yisroel”.

At that point I began to weep so loud that the guy behind me asked me if I would like to leave. There are no words to describe the way Martin died. Martin committed a terrible crime, one that will haunt a family  as long as they live. But with those two words he showed that, “ein dovor bo bifnei harotzon,” nothing stands in the way of a man’s will. Martin died proclaiming his affection for Yisroel his brothers and sisters throughout the world, more for G-d and his Torah as well. Martin died a repentant man, but more than that. Martin died a man that accomplished something that we as Jews have been trying to do for nearly 2,000 years He brought us together with true Jewish unity -Ahavas Yisroel.

Who knew a child born to an abusive father and sick mother, a boy who could not make it through school, a young man who shopped for drugs in his mother’s closet, a man who killed someone-  and not just a person, but a beautiful Park Ranger, who was just doing her job, while he was high on a cocktail of drugs,  could have such an incredible impact.

Martin died as a true bal Teshuvah Al Kidush Hashem, sanctifying G-d’s name in public, the highest level a Jew can reach on this earth.

MARTIN GROSSMAN AND THE DEATH HOUSE

October 8, 2012

Note from director, Rhonda Moskowitz

I’m excited to be giving a presentation at LeMood in Montreal on the life and death of Martin Grossman. Here is the second in a series of blogs about him.

Mark Elliott, the amazing  executive director of Floridians For Alternatives To The Death penalty, (FADP), which is the Florida chapter of the NCADP, tirelessly  helped to spearhead the advocacy efforts to save Martin Grossman’s life.   Below is a compelling and eloquent essay written by Mark written in February, 2012.  It is well worth your time to read. Also, please feel free to share.

Martin Grossman on death row with his late mother, Myra

Martin Grossman and the Death House

by Mark Elliott, Exec. Dir. FADP

It has been one year since Florida’s execution of Martin Grossman.  Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (FADP) was a proud coalition partner in the Committee to Save Martin Grossman.  From around the world, thousands of letters, phone calls and petition signings were made beseeching then-Governor Charlie Crist to grant a 60 day reprieve to allow the Clemency Board to consider an application to commute Martin’s sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The many religious leaders, organizations and concerned individuals who took a brave stand for justice, tempered with mercy, should be proud.  It is not about those on Death Row and what they did…it is about US and what WE do.

Some of our current FADP coalition partners believe there is a place for the Death Penalty.  However, they acknowledge that the Death Penalty, as PRACTICED, falls well below the standards of ANY religious teachings.  As PRACTICED by government bureaucrats and ambitious politicians today, it is an abomination.  It is a practice that must end.

There have been at least 23 exonerations of wrongfully convicted people off Florida’s Death Row and 138 nationally.  It costs many times more money to try to execute someone than simply lock them up – diverting huge resources (an estimated $50 million per year in Florida alone) away from crime prevention, crime solving and crime victim’s families.  The Death Penalty gives too much attention to the perpetrator and not enough to victims and their families. We have maximum security prisons and there is the alternative sentence of life in prison with NO possibility of parole, thereby making prisoner killings unnecessary to protect the public.

What do those on Death Row in Florida and elsewhere have in common?  Yes, they have been convicted of murder.  But so have many thousands serving life sentences.

What sets them apart?  Most have some or all of the following in common:  They could not afford a lawyer.  They are severely mentally ill, now or at the time of their crime, or both.  They are intellectually disabled.  They are members of minorities.

Following Martin Grossman’s execution, then-Gov. Crist signed a Death Warrant for David Johnston to be the next prisoner executed in Florida.  David was indigent, intellectually disabled and diagnosed as severely mentally ill.  Prior to being convicted of murder, David Johnston was sent to the Leesville State School for the Retarded and his IQ tested as low as 57.  Although the U.S. Supreme Court and the state of Florida both prohibit the execution of the “mentally retarded,” prosecutors prevailed and he was sentenced to death.  Before his execution could be carried out, David Johnston died in prison on September 30, 2010.

It was the killing of another Jewish prisoner by the state that put me on the road to abolish the Death Penalty.  Ten years before Martin Grossman was executed, Terry Sims became the first Florida prisoner put to death by lethal injection.  I went to the execution vigil across the street from the prison to find answers as to why we were still killing prisoners, now that there was no chance they could ever be paroled.  A rabbi was leading a group in prayer and spoke to me of the unimaginable irony of choosing a Jew to be the first prisoner killed by lethal injection.  He explained that it was in Hitler’s Germany where this method of execution was first developed and it was used to kill Jews.  We were deeply troubled by the revival of this horrific legacy.  I made a vow to learn more about Florida’s Death Penalty program.  There is a saying, “The more you know about the Death Penalty, the less you like it.”  When I learned more, I stood up and began speaking out for abolition.

There is an abiding concern in most of us to uphold the laws of our state and nation.  Therefore, we must change the law.  Just because something has been legal doesn’t make it right.  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We should never forget that everything Adolph Hitler did in Germany was legal.”

No government program should be permitted to forcibly kill captive prisoners.  We must take a stand.  We do not stand alone.  The specter of millions of executed prisoners in human history stands with us and urges us on.  “Qui tacet consentit” (silence implies consent).    Please stand up and speak out.

For it is time.  It is time to close the Death Houses for good.

Mark Elliott

Executive Director

Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, FADP
P.O. Box 82943

Tampa, Florida  33612

727-215-9646

mark@fadp.org

Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty is a coalition of individuals and organizations united to abolish the Death Penalty in Florida.

FADP works to build a strong, diverse, statewide, grassroots movement which:

Opposes executions

Supports reforms aimed at reducing the application of the Death Penalty until it is ultimately abolished

Protects the humanity of all persons impacted by the Death Penalty

Educates Floridians about the Death Penalty

Provides concrete action steps for individuals and groups