Letter to Governor Crist re: the Death Penalty

The following letter was sent today to Governor Crist.  Copies were sent to The Palm Beach Post, The Florida Catholic, and all Florida Bishops.  A pdf copy of the actual letter is here.

August 1, 2007

Office of Governor Charlie Crist
State of Florida
PL-05 The Capitol
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001

Re: The Death Penalty

 

Dear Governor Crist,

 

After a seven-month moratorium executions have resumed in Florida.

 

As Catholics and as citizens of this state, we are compelled to voice to you our unequivocal opposition to this practice of State sponsored killing.  

 

We urge you to follow the lead of Illinois Governor George Ryan who imposed a permanent moratorium on that state’s death penalty.  Halting executions will not only prevent innocent people from being killed – more than 120 people who were on death row have been exonerated  – but it will make us a less violent, less revengeful and more life-affirming civil entity.  Statistics show that the dozen states that chose not to enact the death penalty since the Supreme Court ruled in 1976 that it was constitutionally permissible have not had higher homicide rates than states with the death penalty.  In 2003 the State of New Jersey abolished the death penalty a year after imposing a moratorium.

We do wholeheartedly subscribe to the insight that violence begets violence.

The U.S. Catholic Bishops have been calling for an end to the death penalty for 25 years.  In 2005 they issued a new pastoral statement, “A Culture of Life” to clarify this position.  They state that the death penalty is unnecessary and unjustified in our time and circumstances, and that our nation should forego the use of the death penalty because:

 

  • The sanction of death, when it is not necessary to protect society, violates respect for human life and dignity.

 

  • State-sanctioned killing in our names diminishes all of us.

 

  • Its application is deeply flawed and can be irreversibly wrong, is prone to errors, and is biased by factors such as race, the quality of legal representation, and where the crime was committed.

 

  • We have other ways to punish criminals and protect society.

 

Florida Catholic Bishops have concurred that the death penalty has been discriminatory toward the poor, the indigent and racial minorities.  In their position statement released in January 2002, they state:

 

“Capital punishment contributes to the escalating atmosphere of violence in our society and undermines belief of the inherent worth and dignity of human life.”

 

Florida is one of the five states that contribute to more than 60% of the nation’s executions. 

 

Since you have taken office, we have been very encouraged by your willingness to take bold steps to improve the lives of Florida citizens.  We need your courage and leadership to get us out of this business of revengeful killing of human beings.

Sincerely,

 

The members of Pax Christi Palm Beach

 

cc:       The Florida Catholic

            The Palm Beach Post

            Archbishop John C. Favalora, Archdiocese of Miami

            Bishop Victor B. Galeone, Diocese of St. Augustine

            Bishop Robert N. Lynch, Diocese of St. Petersburg

            Bishop Thomas J. Wenski, Diocese of Orlando

            Bishop John H. Ricard, Diocese of Pensacola/Tallahassee

            Bishop Gerald M. Barbarito, Diocese of Palm Beach

            Bishop Frank J. Dewane, Diocese of Venice

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2 comments

  1. This is a wonderful action which should be replicated by every other PC Chapter. Hope to see a grassroots ground swell in the name of Christian justice.

  2. One day in January of 1993, Richard Henyard went into the bedroom of family friend Luther Reed and took Reed’s gun. On January 29th, 18-year-old Henyard showed the gun to a long-time acquaintance, Dikeysha Johnson, when he was in Eustis, Florida. That same evening, Henyard showed the gun to Shenise Hayes and told her of his plan to steal a car, kill the owner, and put the victim in the trunk in order for him to have transportation to an Orlando nightclub and to visit his father in South Florida.

    Henyard tried to persuade William Pew to participate in the robbery when he saw him the last week in January. Pew saw Henyard later that same day with Alfonza Smalls, a 14-year-old friend of Henyard’s. Henyard showed Pew the gun and told him that in order to get the car he needed, Henyard was going to rob someone at either the Winn-Dixie or the hospital.

    On the evening of January 30, 1993, Ms. Lewis and her daughters arrived at the Winn-Dixie. As Lewis, the eventual survivor, and her daughters, the victims, were entering the Winn-Dixie, she noticed a few people sitting on a bench near the doors. After Lewis exited the store with Jamilya, age 7, and Jasmine, age 3, she walked to her car and proceeded to place her daughters in the front passenger seat. As Lewis crossed the rear of the car to get to the driver’s side, she noticed Alfonza Smalls approaching her. As Smalls neared, he revealed a gun tucked into his waistband. Lewis and her daughters were ordered into the back of the car as Smalls and Henyard entered the front. The Lewis car left town with Henyard driving and Smalls issuing directions. Prior to the abduction of Lewis and her daughters, a female witness observed Henyard and Smalls loitering outside of the Winn-Dixie.

    During the drive, Smalls repeatedly demanded that Lewis keep her daughters quiet since they were crying and upset. Later, Henyard pulled the car over at a remote area and pulled Lewis from the car. After Henyard forced her against the trunk and raped her, Smalls raped Ms. Lewis as well. Henyard told her to sit on the ground and when she hesitated, he shot her in the leg and forced her to the ground. She was also shot by Henyard three more times at close range and was wounded in the mouth, neck, and on the forehead between the eyes. After she was unconscious, Henyard and Smalls rolled her over to the shoulder of the road. Lewis survived and several hours later regained consciousness and went to a nearby house for help. The occupants contacted the police and Lewis collapsed and waited for the officers to arrive.

    As Henyard and Smalls drove away from the scene of the shooting, the Lewis girls were repeatedly asking for their mother. Henyard pulled the car over after a short period of time had passed and removed the girls from the car. Henyard and Smalls took the girls further off the road and killed both Jamilya and Jasmine with a single bullet to the head. Henyard and Smalls then threw their bodies into some underbrush over a fence.

    Smalls, Henyard, and a third individual arrived at the home of Bryant Smith in a blue car. Henyard proceeded to boast about raping Lewis and about her subsequent murder. He also showed Smith the gun that was used. Later in the evening, Henyard went by the Smalls’ residence where Colinda Smalls, Alfonza’s sister, noticed blood on hands of Henyard. He explained the blood as a minor knife accident. On January 31st, the next day, Henyard was driven to the Smalls’ residence by his “auntie”, Linda Miller because he said he needed to speak with Smalls.

    Henyard made a trip to the Eustis Police Department that same Sunday claiming to have information concerning the Lewis case. He offered that he knew what events transpired because he was present at the scene of the crime. Henyard’s initial story pointed to Smalls and another individual as the perpetrators; however, when an officer noticed blood spots on Henyard’s socks, he admitted to the abduction, rape, and shooting of Lewis, yet maintained that he did not shoot the Lewis girls. The police apprehended Smalls and discovered the murder weapon after a search of his bedroom.

    The autopsies of the girls confirmed that they were killed by a single gunshot wound at close range and also that Jasmine’s eyes were open when she was shot. Analysis of the blood spots indicated that Henyard was less than four feet from the victims when they were shot.

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