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Local clergy to Pinellas state attorney: Stop seeking death penalty

Faith leaders say Pinellas Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe seeks the penalty far more often than his peers, and deliver a letter asking him to stop.

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Local religious leaders hand-delivered a letter to the Pinellas Pasco State Attorney’s office Friday.

They’re asking Bernie McCabe to stop seeking the death penalty in murder cases.

“Pinellas County continues to use the death penalty at an alarming rate,” said the Rev. Bob Schneider, from St. Cecilia Catholic Church.

Schneider and clergy from around the Pinellas County area intentionally chose Good Friday to send their message to McCabe.

“Good Friday, as we have come to call it in the Christian church, is a day when we remember our religious leader was lawfully executed even though he was innocent,” said the Rev. Russell Meyer, who leads the Florida Council of Churches

The group Florida Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty points to a recent poll that found more than 66 percent of the people in Pinellas County would prefer some version of life in prison over the death penalty.

“We don’t need the guillotine, or the gas chamber, or the needle, or the electric chair or the hangman’s noose,” said Meyer, “We don’t need any method of keeping society safe by taking the life of another human being.”

Capital punishment, they said, is also being applied unfairly to minorities in our area.

“This disproportionate use of the death penalty against African-Americans perpetuates a long legacy of racial bias,” said Schneider.

Recent changes in state law are already having an impact.

Juries recently failed to reach unanimous agreement on applying death sentences in a pair of high-profile cases, sparing the lives of convicted murderer Adam Matos, and Marco Parilla, who was convicted of murdering Tarpon Springs Police Officer Charles Kondek.

Both defendants - before 2017 - would have been sent to death row.

McCabe’s office was closed for Good Friday, so faith leaders left their letter with the clerk of the court.

But McCabe previously urged the group to speak with state legislators, pointing out the law requires him and other prosecutors to consider the death penalty based upon certain legal criteria.

The Rev. James Golden called that assertion disingenuous.

“It is only up to him right now,” said Golden. “So, if he doesn’t want that responsibility, he should petition the Legislature to say 'Remove this onus from me.'”

Demonstrators also pointed to a 2016 Harvard University study that found Pinellas County to be an outlier when it comes to how frequently they seek the death penalty, and that, they say doesn’t appear to be changing.

McCabe’s office is already scheduled to do so in 15 pending cases, and nine death penalty trials are already scheduled for this year.

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