Florida prosecutor has strong moral basis for renouncing death penalty (COMMENTARY)

Shane asked us to imagine what would happen if a medicine killed 1 out of 9 patients. We then visited with Bryan Stevenson, the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama. Rick Scott took 21 more first-degree murder cases away from the Orange-Osceola state attorney. In 2015, he was exonerated and freed. Ayala described Florida’s death penalty “as the cause of considerable legal chaos, uncertainty and turmoil.” It is difficult to argue with that assessment. On all these measures, Aramis Ayala judged that the death penalty proves ineffective and morally indefensible, and for those reasons, she announced that she would not seek death sentences in the future. The purpose of law enforcement is to protect the public and save lives. Anthony told us his personal story of spending nearly 30 years on Alabama’s death row. A former college English teacher and pastor, he is an Auburn Senior Fellow, a contributor to We Stand With Love and a leader in the Convergence Network) Finally, Ayala noted the high cost of death sentences, which run hundreds of thousands and sometimes millions of dollars more than incarcerating someone for life. (Brian D. and then introduced us to one of his employees, Anthony Ray Hinton. And they continue to back Florida’s death penalty no matter how many innocent people end up on death row, how much it costs and what it puts murder victims’ families through. Some say that a policy’s cost is not a moral issue, but I beg to differ. Florida’s death penalty has been struck down as unconstitutional three times in its history, and twice last year alone. Where you spend your money shows where your priorities lie. There is no evidence that death sentences actually protect the public.”
Indeed, a comprehensive analysis of deterrence studies by the National Academy of Sciences found no evidence that the death penalty impacts murder rates in either direction. (RNS) In recent months, a Florida state attorney carefully reviewed the death penalty with a particular focus on the goals of criminal justice: promoting public safety, serving the needs of murder victims’ families and using public dollars in a wise and effective manner. For some Florida officials, it seems, the death penalty can do no wrong. When I heard of State Attorney Ayala’s decision to stop seeking death against people in Florida, I couldn’t help but think of Anthony’s heart-wrenching story and Shane’s sobering statistic. Since 1976, Claiborne explained, about 1 in 9 death row inmates has been exonerated. “It would be outlawed immediately!” we replied. “I cannot, in good faith, look a victim’s family in the face and promise that a death sentence handed down in our court will ever result in execution.”
We have an obligation to victims’ families to ensure that criminal justice policies are honest and help them rather than hinder them in healing. When there are so many pressing community needs, it is irresponsible to spend resources on ineffective policies like the death penalty. These arguments strike a personal note with me, a former pastor and now a Florida-based author and networker among clergy nationwide. If Scott and others who oppose her will consider with open minds and hearts the compelling legal and moral reasons for her decision, they will come around … or they will remain stuck on the wrong side of history, wisdom and morality. Budgets are always moral documents. Ayala emphasized that her office pursues evidence-based practices, not policies such as the death penalty whose deterrent effect rests on faith alone. She is leading Florida out of a legal and moral mess and into a better future. Florida’s death penalty utterly fails in these goals, given the frequent delays and reversals in capital cases, which keep families stuck in the legal process. In its push to carry out the ultimate punishment, Florida has harmed victims’ families and wasted valuable resources that could have enhanced public safety. Sadly, on Monday (April 3) Florida Gov. McLaren of Ocala, Fla., is an author, speaker, activist and public theologian. They back death penalty statutes even if warned they will get struck down, which Scott and the Florida Legislature did when supporting last year’s ill-fated death penalty fix. But, as Ayala pointed out in her statement, the “death penalty has no public safety benefit. “I’ve learned that the death penalty traps many victims’ families in a decades-long cycle of uncertainty,” said Ayala. Despite the oft-repeated claim that the death penalty delivers justice to murder victims’ families, Ayala recognized that that’s not true in reality. That’s why I believe Ayala is right. “By not pursuing death sentences in a handful of cases,” Ayala rightly argued, “we can spend time pursuing justice in many more cases.”
Ayala makes a powerful argument that the death penalty embodies mistaken priorities for the Orlando community she represents. Stevenson helped us understand the history of the death penalty in the U.S. A few months ago, some friends and I spent a weekend with Christian activist Shane Claiborne, author of “Executing Grace,” a book on the death penalty.