Catholic bishops call on Gov. Scott to halt scheduled execution
It has been 20 months since an inmate has been executed in Florida, and the state's Catholic bishops are calling on Gov. Rick Scott to halt Thursday's scheduled execution of Mark James Asay.
In a letter delivered to Scott Monday, Michael Sheedy, executive director of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote: "Indeed, Mr. Asay's violent acts call out for justice and should be condemned. However, life without parole is an alternative and severe sentence. We hold that if non-lethal means are available to keep society safe from an aggressor, then authority must limit itself to such means."
After a lengthy suspension of Florida's troubled death penalty system due to legal challenges and actions by the Legislature,, Asay, 53, is scheduled to die at 6 p.m. Thursday at Florida State Prison in Starke for the murders of two men, Robert Booker and Robert McDowell, in Jacksonville in 1987. Booker, who was African-American, was shot in the abdomen after he and Asay had a racially-charged confrontation outside a bar. In a summary of the case, the state Supreme Court quoted Asay as having used the N-word three times.
Asay has been on death row since 1988, and his lawyers have repeatedly tried without success to prevent his execution. The lawyers unsuccessfully petitioned the Florida Supreme Court for access to the bullets that killed Asay's two victims, and they sought a rehearing based on the court's acknowledgement that it incorrectly identified McDowell as black, when he was white or Hispanic.
Asay will be the first white inmate to be executed for the killing of an African-American in Florida history.
His sister, Gloria Dean, tells a Jacksonville TV station that her brother joined a white supremacist prison gang in Texas for his own protection, but that he is not a racist and that the killings were not racially motivated.
Bishops in Florida have consistently opposed the death penalty for decades, without success. Prior to Asay's execution, the bishops said, prayer vigils will be held at locations around the state, including Miami, Miami Shores, Pompano Beach, Inverness and on Tampa radio station WBVM 90.5.
Asay is one of 362 inmates on Florida's death row. Scott has signed more death warrants than any other governor since the state reinstituted the death penalty in the 1970s.