Jews who protest execution will head to San Quentin

Local Jews against capital punishment will be among those protesting the Tuesday execution of convicted killer and longtime death row inmate Robert Lee Massie.

A delegation from San Francisco Conservative Congregation Beth Sholom, including Rabbi Alan Lew, in addition to Marin-based Rabbi Bernie Robinson and San Francisco Jewish community professional Kate O'Brien Goldstein, plans to take part in events that include a 25-mile Walk for Life and a vigil outside the east gate of San Quentin State Prison.

Robinson, a member of the Marin chapter of California People of Faith, said the protest is not to condone Massie's crimes but to condemn his unjust sentence.

"We're trying to say that the penalty inflicted on him is an inappropriate one according to our faith beliefs," said Robinson, referring to his group, which includes Jews, Catholics, Native Americans and Buddhists. "His life, no more than that of anyone else, should not be taken by a state institution."

The Walk for Life will start at 7 a.m. Monday at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, 34th Avenue and Clement Street in San Francisco, and will culminate at the vigil site. The vigil itself will begin at 8 p.m. and continue through Massie's execution, scheduled for 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.

Both events have been organized jointly by several local anti-death penalty groups including Death Penalty Focus and California People of Faith Working Against the Death Penalty.

Massie was convicted of killing Mildred Weiss in 1965 outside her San Gabriel home while robbing her and her husband. Massie's death sentence was commuted to life in 1972, and he was paroled for good behavior in 1978.

While out on parole, Massie fatally shot San Francisco liquor store owner Boris Naumoff during another robbery. After his conviction, he received a second death sentence.

Lew, who is scheduled to speak at the vigil, has spoken at every anti-death-penalty vigil at San Quentin since the 1992 execution of Robert Alton Harris.

After Manuel Babbit's execution in 1999, Lew told the Jewish Bulletin that capital punishment is "toevah — an abomination — not an act that should ever be committed in a world of God."

As in the past, Robinson does not expect the vigil participants to be alone. He said there also would be death penalty advocates cheering Massie's execution from the sidelines.

Recognizing that there are people on both sides, Robinson said Jewish law itself reflects some ambivalence.

"The Torah does endorse the death penalty, but the scholars, like Rabbi Akiba, encapsulated the possibilities of its application with so many safeguards that its application became next to impossible."

In the long run, said Robinson, "Judaism speaks out for the sanctity of human life, and rabbinical interpretations apply that sanctity to the administration of justice"

Goldstein, a member of Death Penalty Focus who also serves as marketing communications manager at the S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children's Services, agreed. She called it an act that "brutalizes" everyone involved, including "the victim's families and the people who have to carry it out."

The rabbis, she added, set impossible conditions on its application because they understood "the value of life and the possibility for change and good in every human being."

Massie, 59, known as the "Dean of Death Row," has been on the row for 35 years, longer than any other male California inmate, according to California People of Faith Working Against the Death Penalty.

If the execution takes place on Tuesday as planned, Massie will be the ninth inmate put to death by the state of California since 1976, and the first in 2001.