A childhood of unimaginable horror
I have to be honest, every time I write to you that there is another execution scheduled, it breaks my soul a little more. It has been a brutal year of state-sponsored killing, and Michael Zack is slated to be Florida’s next premeditated murder. His execution is set for October 3rd.
I have been doing death penalty work for nearly two decades, and by this point, I know that the men and women on our death row almost always come from unimaginable beginnings filled with abuse and trauma – often before they even take their first breath on this planet. Their origins are remarkably similar, and I always fear that I will be desensitized by their stories.
But after reading about Michael’s childhood, and as I sit here through tears writing this email to you, I know my fear is unfounded.
Michael’s story is nothing short of horrific. I am sorry to have to share these details with you. And yet: We must continue to tell the truth about who we are executing.
We are executing infant Michael, who grew in his alcoholic mother’s womb and was born prematurely after her car accident. His military father left shortly after his birth, and his mother’s next husband was sadistically abusive toward Michael and his sisters.
We are executing three-year-old Michael, who had to be hospitalized after he drank a bottle of vodka and overdosed on the drugs his stepfather fed him. His stepfather threw him against walls, kicked him with spurred boots, and tried to drown him.
We are executing pre-teen Michael, who was so traumatized from the abuse that he wet his bed nightly through middle school. This only singled him out for more punishment – his stepfather forced him to wear his urine-soaked sheet around his neck, heated a spoon until it was red hot, and held it against Michael’s genitals.
The trauma in the Zack family didn’t end there. When Michael was 11, his mother was murdered with an axe. Both Michael and his sister were then sent to a psychiatric hospital in Louisiana, and Michael was later sent to foster care, where he was further abused.
Michael suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic depression, fetal alcohol syndrome, and organic brain damage. Mental health experts opined that he had the mental and emotional age of a 10 or 11-year-old child.
Michael is remorseful, has been peaceful on death row, and with his limited intellectual functioning, has learned to read and write. He has tried to make sense of how his traumatic upbringing impacted the choices he made as an adult. He can and should remain in prison for the remainder of his natural life.
I understand that Michael was convicted for the murders of two women, Ravonne Smith and Laura Rosillo, and those losses are irreparable. We can grieve for his victims; however, you cannot separate the tortured and traumatized child from the man who killed them.
As always, we will be organizing and supporting vigils across the state, and we urge you to sign and share the petition to stay Michael’s execution.
I will continue to tell the truth about the person we are executing. And I will not shy away from sharing the brutal details of what he endured and how he ended up on death row. I am asking you to do the same.