The Catholic bishops of Florida are calling on the state’s governor to spare the life of Bobby Joe Long, a convicted serial killer who is scheduled to be executed on Thursday.
“Although [Long] caused much harm, society has been safe from his aggressive acts in the decades of his incarceration. Without taking his life, society can be protected while he endures the alternative sentence of life without the possibility of parole,” said Michael Sheedy, executive director of the Florida Catholic Conference, in a May 20 letter to Governor Ron DeSantis.
Long has been on death row since 1985 and is scheduled to die by lethal injection on May 23.
He pleaded guilty to killing eight women in and near Tampa Bay during an eight-month span in 1984. He also claimed to have raped dozens of women.
Long’s lawyer has argued that the 65 year old is mentally ill and suffers from epilepsy, which could lead to him having a seizure when the lethal injection drugs are administered. The lawyer said that Long is constitutionally ineligible for the death penalty.
The Florida Supreme Court recently denied Long’s appeal on procedural grounds.
On behalf of the state’s bishops, Sheedy asked the governor to consider commuting the sentence to life without parole.
“Floridians around the state are gathering in prayer for all who have been harmed by Mr. Long’s actions, for him, and for an end to the use of the death penalty. We also pray for you as you consider this request,” he said.
Sheedy acknowledged the heinous nature of Long’s crimes but said that capital punishment will not further public safety.
Since Long was sentenced, Sheedy said, modern medicine has gained a greater understanding of brain trauma and its effects on behavior. He highlighted the history of Long’s brain injuries.
“His attorneys have filed briefs that call attention to the multiple traumas he experienced throughout his life, including the motorcycle accident he suffered in 1974. That incident profoundly affected him and his behaviors. It contributed to his receiving a disability rating from the military, from which he was honorably discharged,” said Sheedy.
Even without these mitigating circumstances, the Florida Catholic Conference would still oppose the death penalty for Long, he said, pointing to a change in the Catechism of the Catholic Church last year to hold the death penalty as inadmissible.
“The death penalty is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person and denies the possibility of redemption,” Sheedy said.
“Please promote a consistent pro-life ethic in our state. The cycle of violence – to which Mr. Long’s acts have contributed – must end. His execution would only perpetuate it.”