Faith leaders from across Pinellas and Pasco counties are urging State Attorney Bernie McCabe to stop seeking the death penalty in murder cases.
Among the 46 pastors and priests who signed a letter to McCabe were Bishop Gregory Parkes from the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg and Reverend Russell Meyer, the director of the Florida Council of Churches.
“We all believe there must be accountability and consequences for those who commit crimes,” the letter stated. “A true justice system can achieve these ends without denying dignity and respect to human lives.”
The faith leaders believe that Pinellas County is over reliant on the death penalty and that these sentences reflect an attitude that some criminals are beyond reform.
The letter presented statistics about local voters’ feelings toward the death penalty. A Pinellas County Public Policy poll in January found that 68 percent of voters would prefer some version of life in prison over the the death penalty for people convicted of murder.
The faith leaders also said that the majority of those sentenced to death in the county were African American, which they say “perpetuates a long legacy of racial bias.”
The faith leaders and the group, Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty planned to deliver this letter at a gathering Friday morning outside of the Pinellas County Justice Center. However, McCabe’s office was closed because of the Good Friday holiday.
“Pinellas residents are looking for life-affirming alternatives to the death penalty–that they no longer want to answer violence with more violence,” said Reverend Robert Schneider, a representative at the event, in a press release. “The death penalty is not a viable means to promote true healing for victims’ families.”
In addition to Friday’s gathering, the group is planning to gather in Tallahassee Saturday where attendees will hear from speakers affected by Florida’s death penalty laws.