Ahead of imminent Florida execution, Catholic bishops call on governor to stop it on 'pro-life' grounds

ReutersCatholic bishops have written to the Florida governor Rick Scott, asking him to commute the sentence of Mark James Asay who is scheduled to be executed tomorrow.

Catholic bishops in Florida have urged the state's governor to intervene before the execution scheduled for tomorrow of a man convicted of murder, invoking pro-life principles.

While condemning the 'heinous' murders, the bishops called for a life sentence without parole instead of the death penalty.

'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, who called life without parole 'an alternative and severe sentence'.

The comments came in a letter Sheedy wrote to the Florida governor Rick Scott on Monday, asking him to commute the sentence of Mark James Asay, according to the Catholic News Agency (CNA).

Asay was convicted in 1988 and sentenced to death for the murders in 1987 of Robert Lee Booker and Robert McDowell in Jacksonville, Florida.

Florida Supreme Court justices lifted a stay on Asay's execution in December, according to the Miami Herald.

Sheedy said the murders 'call out for justice and should be condemned' but added that the 18 months since Florida's last execution have made more apparent the 'inconsistent and arbitrary' application of the death penalty.

He highlighted the re-sentencing hearings given to defendants whose death sentences were finalised after June 2002 after the system was ruled unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court in January 2016, CNA reported.

In Asay's case however, legal relief was denied.

Sheedy invoked the governor's pro-life stance on abortion and other issues, arguing that pro-life principles should apply, too, to the death penalty.

'We applaud your leadership as a pro-life governor as it relates to protecting the unborn and promoting human dignity,' said the 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 victims of the crime 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,' it said.

The Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops said that 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.