Florida Bishops Urge Rethinking of Death Penalty

Ask Governor to Halt Execution of Child Murderer

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TALLAHASSEE, Florida, JUNE 26, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Nine bishops of Florida sent a letter to Governor Charlie Crist urging him to stop executions in Florida, beginning with the scheduled execution of Mark Dean Schwab next week.



"We can never fully comprehend the pain the victim’s family feels after losing their loved one and we extend our sincere sympathy to the family of Junny Rios-Martinez, the victim in this crime," the bishops acknowledged in the note sent Wednesday.

Schwab was convicted in 1992 of raping and killing 11-year-old Junny Rios-Martinez. He is scheduled to die by lethal injection Tuesday evening.

"But killing someone because they killed only perpetuates violence and coarsens the public’s attitude about the sanctity of life, including the lives of those who have committed grave offenses," they added.

The bishops' letter acknowledged the right of the state to impose the death penalty, but urged the governor "to join the growing number of states who are re-examining the death penalty as a means of punishing those convicted of capital offenses."

The prelates explained: "In 1991, a Florida Supreme Court study commission found 'the application of the death penalty in Florida is not colorblind.' Almost 10 years later, the Governor’s Task Force on Capital Cases recommended reforms, many of which have not been implemented.

"As recently as 2006, the Florida Death Penalty Assessment Team, working with the American Bar Association, released their report citing serious problems in Florida’s death penalty system. The recurring question of innocence, the exorbitant cost, the inconsistency in sentencing, and the capriciousness of who is executed, each calls for re-examination."

New standard

"You can set a new standard of respect for life in Florida, turning away from execution and imposing a life sentence without possibility of parole for Mark Dean Schwab," the bishops told Goverenor Crist. "Incarceration allows the wrongdoer the possibility of conversion and the ability to make public restitution for crimes through life imprisonment."

"As we pray for Junny Rios-Martinez and his family," the note said, "we pray also for you, as well as for those on death row, that we all will acknowledge God as the Lord of Life, and that we all may learn, not only to obey the commandment not to kill human life, but also to revere it."

The letter was signed by Archbishop John Favalora of Miami, Bishop Victor Galeone of St. Augustine, Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Bishop Thomas Wenski of Orlando, Bishop John Ricard of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Bishop Gerald Barbarito of Palm Beach, Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, and auxiliary bishops Felipe Estevez and John Noonan, both of the Archdiocese of Miami.