Florida Bishops Asking to Close Down Death Row

In Appeal for Life of Executed Tampa Man

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By Karna Swanson

TALLAHASSEE, Florida, FEB. 11, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The bishops of Florida have asked Governor Charlie Crist to "set a new standard of decency" for the state by doing away with the death penalty.

In a letter sent last week by the state's episcopal conference, the bishops also appealed for the life of Wayne Tompkins, who was executed by lethal injection today in Tampa. Tompkins was found guilty of murdering 15-year-old Lisa DeCarr, who was his girlfriend's daughter.

"Set a new standard of decency for the State of Florida," the bishops appealed, "by abandoning executions and commuting death row sentences to life in prison without possibility of parole."

Sheila Hopkins, associate director for Social Concerns/Respect Life of the Florida episcopal conference, explained to ZENIT that the position of the bishops is not to say, "We should let people go free, but that they are being punished by being put in prison for the rest of their life."

Hopkins also noted that there have been several cases of death row inmates who have been found innocent. "We have to ask ourselves if we are killing an innocent person. That would be a terrible tragedy."

The letter of the bishops' conference, however, did not affirm Tompkin's innocence, but rather asked that Crist "replace the violence of death by execution with life long imprisonment in the penal system as a way to protect society and ensure punishment for offenders."

"We pray for healing for DeCarr’s family and friends who have suffered the pain of losing their loved one. No punishment, no matter how severe, can ever erase the grief caused by her wrongful death," the prelates added.
 
"You have the singular ability to change the course of action to be taken by the state in death penalty cases," the letter continued. "In pursuing justice for victims of violent crimes, the state must not be blinded by politics that diminish human dignity and the sacredness of all life, including that of convicted criminals.
 
"Florida should join the ranks of other states which have abandoned executions because they have not been a deterrent to crime and have raised serious concerns about fairness of sentencing in the justice system."