Two weeks ago, State Attorney Melissa Nelson brought an end to years of legal uncertainty for a Jacksonville family that had been struggling with the immense pain of losing a loved one to murder.
Like many murder victims’ families, Darlene Farah and her family found themselves caught in an unending legal process after prosecutors initially sought the death penalty for her daughter’s murder.
However, legal proceedings have concluded. The state attorney has taken death off the table and accepted a life without parole sentence. It was a decision that should be commended.
After the murder of a loved one, families face the difficult task of healing. Capital cases entail longer trials and appeals, which keep families trapped in the legal system for years and often decades.
Just this week, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed into law new legislation that mandates that juries will have to unanimously recommend death for the sentence to be imposed on defendants convicted of capital crimes.
I commend our political leaders for making this very important decision.
The Catholic Bishops of Florida support ending the use of the death penalty since the alternative sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole can keep society safe without taking an additional life.
However, for many years, we have supported legislation requiring unanimous jury votes as an incremental improvement in the law as long as the state of Florida maintains its use of the death penalty.
Additional changes are still needed as Florida applies the death penalty. And the Florida Legislature should give greater deliberation to several factors.
These factors include:
• The effects on victims’ families relative to a quicker life without parole resolution.
• The cost is much greater than life without parole.
• The disproportionate application of the death penalty in cases involving the poor and severely mentally ill.
• Various and broad aggravating factors that do not sufficiently narrow defendants eligible for the death penalty.
• The lack of deterrent effect.
As to the future of Florida’s death penalty, much will depend on the decisions of prosecutors, who have discretion in deciding whether to seek the death penalty in capital cases.
I am heartened by the recent decision in Jacksonville to take death off the table in a capital case.
And I hope that this approach will become more common throughout the state of Florida.
The Most Rev. Felipe J. Estévez,
Bishop of the Diocese of St. Augustine