National News

Florida Bishops Ask Commutation for Death-Row Prisoner

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) — The Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops asked Florida Gov. Rick Scott to commute the death sentence of Mark Asay, a prisoner scheduled for execution Aug. 24.

In an Aug. 21 letter, the conference’s executive director, Michael B. Sheedy, asked Scott to commute the sentence to life without parole.

Asay was convicted in 1988 of the murders of Robert Lee Booker and Robert McDowell.

“Mr. Asay’s violent acts call out for justice and should be condemned. However, life without parole is an alternative and severe sentence,” Sheedy said. “We hold that if nonlethal means are available to keep society safe from an aggressor, then authority must limit itself to such means. This is the case in Florida, and it is within your authority to commute Mr. Asay’s sentence.”

Last October, the Florida Supreme Court struck down part of a new state law on capital offenses, finding that it was unconstitutional because it did not require unanimous jury recommendations for death sentences, according to WJXT-TV in Jacksonville, but two months later the court modified the unanimous ruling to only apply to convictions made before 2002. It also lifted the stay on Asay’s execution.

“Florida has not carried out the execution of an individual for 18 months. The inconsistent and arbitrary application of the death penalty has only become more apparent since Florida’s most recent execution in January 2016,” Sheedy said.

“Defendants whose death sentences were finalized after June 2002 have been considered eligible for resentencing hearings. Yet, those, like Mr. Asay, sentenced prior to that date — but under the same system ruled unconstitutional — have been denied relief.”

WJXT reported that Marty McClain, Asay’s lawyer who was court-appointed after Scott signed a death warrant last year, learned Asay had gone for nearly a decade without legal representation, and that many of the records related to his case provided by his previous attorney — who had resigned from a statewide registry that made her eligible to represent defendants in capital cases — were destroyed by insects or exposure to the elements.

Sheedy told Scott, “We applaud your leadership as a pro-life governor as it relates to protecting the unborn and promoting human dignity. 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 state’s seven Catholic dioceses have organized more than 30 prayer vigils — at least one in each diocese — on the date of the scheduled execution.