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As Florida execution approaches, bishops urge governor to take pro-life path

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Florida Department of Corrections execution chamber 1 (Credit_Florida State Correctional Facility/CNA)

An imminent execution scheduled for this week is the wrong path, said Florida’s Catholic bishops, urging the governor of the state to intervene. “We hold that if non-lethal means are available to keep society safe from an aggressor, then authority must limit itself to such,” said Michael B. Sheedy, executive director of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops. He called life without parole “an alternative and severe sentence.”

Sheedy’s comments came in an Aug. 21 letter to Florida Gov. Rick Scott asking him to commute the sentence of Mark James Asay. Asay is scheduled to be executed Thursday, Aug. 24. He was convicted in 1988 and sentenced to death for the 1987 murders of Robert Lee Booker and Robert McDowell in Jacksonville, Florida. Florida Supreme Court justices lifted a stay on Asay’s execution in December, the Miami Herald reports.

Sheedy said the murders were “heinous” and “call out for justice and should be condemned.” However, the 18 months since Florida’s last execution have made more apparent the “inconsistent and arbitrary” application of the death penalty, he added. He pointed to the resentencing hearings given to defendants whose death sentences were finalized after June 2002 after the system was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in January 2016.

Asay, however, has been denied legal relief. Sheedy invoked the governor’s pro-life stand on abortion and other issues, saying the death penalty too deserves the application of pro-life principles.

“We applaud your leadership as a pro-life governor as it relates to protecting the unborn and promoting human dignity,” said his letter. “Each human life has a God-given dignity that is neither earned nor lost through our actions, even those that have caused great harm. We seek a state that is unequivocally and consistently pro-life, protecting human life in all stages and in all circumstances.”

The letter voiced prayers for the governor, for the condemned man, and for the crime victims and their loved ones. “We pray for all involved in this tragic situation: you, as the final authority in the state over Mr. Asay’s life or death; the condemned and his conversion guided by his spiritual advisors; and the victims and their loved ones,” Sheedy said.

Parishes across Florida scheduled Masses and prayer vigils for the victims and the aggressor, their families, for society, and for an end to the death penalty, the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops says. At least two Catholic radio stations will take part in the prayers, including a program on Radio Paz 830 AM in the Miami archdiocese.  

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