Dear Governor DeSantis,
As Christian leaders, we are writing to ask you to stay the execution and reopen clemency for Donald Dillbeck. We believe everyone bears the Image of God. We appeal to you to consider the life of Donald Dillbeck, which is complex and in need of mercy.
Donald Dillbeck’s childhood and life has been marked by relentless trauma, terror, and sexual torture. Before he was born, Dilbeck suffered permanent and significant brain damage that would impact him for the rest of his life – a result of his mother’s extreme alcohol abuse during pregnancy. As a young child, he suffered horrific emotional, sexual, and physical abuse at the hands of his mother, who engaged in prostitution in front of her children.
No one intervened to protect Dillbeck from this horrific childhood abuse and neglect. Also, despite long-standing, persistent symptoms of serious mental illness, Donald Dillbeck was never provided with psychological treatment. Both the systems and people that should have protected him, failed him.
Mental illness is not a precursor to committing a violent crime as an overwhelming majority of people with serious mental illness are not violent and never commit violence. For those that do, as experts have explained, abuse, especially childhood sexual abuse, can exacerbate symptoms that can lead to tragic crimes. Mr. Dillbeck was diagnosed with Neurodevelopment Disorder Associated with Prenatal Alcohol Exposure (ND-PAE), which requires five significant impairment factors and other significant factors to be present. We see this clearly in Donald Dillbeck when he ran away from an officer and during a struggle he killed him at the age of 15. He was sentenced to life in prison even though the state was seeking a death penalty while he was a minor. Later, after 11 years in prison, enduring physical and sexual abuse, he ran away from a catering detail and killed a woman in attempted car jacking.
As pastors and Christian leaders, we do believe all life is sacred, the life of victims and their oppressors. We want justice for everyone, which is why we believe that Donald Dillback should spend the remainder of his days in prison. We also believe that his life should be spared. Florida must not apply a death penalty sentence to someone who is mentally ill. Furthermore, since Donald Dillback was sentenced, Florida has changed its law and now requires that a jury have a unanimous vote to recommend a death sentence. This case precedes this decision where 4 of the 12 jurors in his case voted for him to receive a life sentence and not death.
In the three decades since Dillbeck was sentenced to death, he has grown to become a sober, prayerful person, developing meaningful relationships and reflecting on a life of redemption. Donald Dillbeck’s life belongs to God.
While we cannot go back and undo the harm that Donald Dillbeck has caused, or undo the past harm that was done to him, we can move forward with redemption, embracing compassion and allowing him to live the remainder of his days in prison. When Florida enacts the death penalty in cases of mental illness, it undermines our value of respect for all life.
Governor, we acknowledge that decisions like these are difficult which is why we are praying for you. We ask that God will give you wisdom and that your leadership would be defined by supporting and upholding the value of all life, including a mentally ill person on death row. In the Old Testament we read, “Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live!” (Deuteronomy 30:19)
In the Love and Mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Bishop, Dr. Angel Marcial, President, FRACEEV (Florida Fellowship of Hispanic Councils & Evangelical Institutions), Church of God, Overseer Bishop for Latin America.
Bishop Derrick L. McRae, President, African American Council of Christian Churches.
Bishop Dr. Saturnino Gonzalez, Vice President, FRACEEV, (Florida Fellowship of Hispanic Councils & Evangelical Institutions) / Emeritus Pastor of Calvario Church, Assemblies of God, Orlando, Florida.
Bishop Frank Madison Reid III., AME Church, Eleventh District, Florida, Central, South, West Coast, East, Bahamas.
Bishop, Superintendent, Rev. Abner Adorno, Assemblies of God, Florida Multicultural District.
Bishop Ebli de la Rosa, Church of God of Prophecy, Southeast Region. Bishop Otoniel Collins, Bishop, Church of God Southeastern Hispanic Region.
Rev. Esteban Rodriguez, Secretary of FFRACEEV, (Florida Fellowship of Hispanic Councils & Evangelical Institutions) / Senior Pastor, Centro Cristiano, EL Pan de Vida.
Bishop Angel Luis Muñis, Asamblea de Iglesias Cristianas, Southeast.
Rev. Illean Caraballo, President, Association of Evangelical Ministers of Central Florida (AMEFC).
Rev. Irene Familia, President, Pastors Association of Volusia County, Florida.
Rev. Ivan García, President, Fellowship of Evangelical Ministers of Tampa, Florida. (FRAME).
Agustin Quiles, Government and Community Affairs, Florida Fellowship of Hispanic Councils and Evangelical Institutions.
Lisa Treviño Cummins, President of Urban Strategies.
Rev. Carlos Malavé, President, Latino Christian National Network.
Rev. Ruben Ortiz, Latino Field Ministry Coordinator, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Dr. Sergio Navarrete, Director of Hispanic Initiatives, Assemblies of God Theological Seminary.
Bishop Jesse Yañes, Church of God of Prophecy, Iwoa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska and Colorado.
Dr. Liz Rios, President, Passion to Plant.
Dr. Robert Chao Romero, Founder, Brown Church Intitute.
Rev. Dr. Joel C. Hunter, Pastor at Large, Central Florida.
Dr. Elizabeth Conde-Frazier, Executive Director, Association for Hispanic Theological Education.
Bishop Fidencio Burgueño, Church of God/ South. Central Hispanic Región (Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas and Louisiana).
Ramfis Moulier, National Bishop, Defenders of the Christian Faith Movement Inc. Rev. Gabriel Mejia, Senior Pastor of Calvario Church, Orlando, Florida.
Rev. David Rivera, Senior Pastor, Iglesia de Dios Pentecostal M.I., Tampa, Florida. Rev. Benjamin Perez, Senior Pastor, Purpose Church, Miami Florida .
Peter Rivera, Holy Movement Church, Orlando, Florida.
Michelle Ferrigno Warren, President Virago Strategies.
Jorge A. Texidor Quiles, El Redentor Presbyterian Church USA.
Sandra Ovalle, Director of Campaigns Mobilizing, Sojourners.
Bishop, Rev. Eddy Aleman, General Secretary, Reform Church in America. Rev. Jesse Rincones, Executive Director, Convención Bautista Hispana de Texas. Rev. Jaqueline Tavarez, President of Pastors Association, Raleigh, North Carolina.
Bishop Hector Bonano, President of Fellowship of Council Leaders, Northeast. ###