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Bishops urge stay of execution, note 'strong evidence' inmate is innocent


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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) -- The eight Catholic bishops of Florida have written to Gov. Ron DeSantis urging him to stay the Nov. 7 execution of James Dailey at the Florida State Prison in Starke.

"While we urge you to stop every execution and end the use of the death penalty in Florida, this case of a veteran with evidence of innocence is especially alarming," wrote the bishops.

Dailey was sentenced to death for the 1985 murder of 14-year-old Shelly Boggio, but another man, Jack Pearcy, has signed a sworn affidavit that "he, and he alone, was responsible for the tragic death of Boggio," the bishops said in their Oct. 21 letter to DeSantis.

"No physical evidence ties Mr. Dailey to the crime; however, the Florida Supreme Court refuses to allow him to present new evidence proving his factual innocence," they wrote. "The direct killing of the innocent is always wrong and an intrinsic evil."

The letter, released by the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops in Tallahassee, was signed by: Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami; Bishop Felipe J. Estevez of St. Augustine; Bishop Gerald M. Barbarito of Palm Beach; Bishop John G. Noonan of Orlando; Bishop Gregory L. Parkes of St. Petersburg; Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice; Bishop William A. Wack of Pensacola-Tallahassee; and Auxiliary Bishop Enrique E. Delgado of Miami.

"Florida leads the nation in death-row exonerations. Florida makes more mistakes than any other state in sentencing innocent people to death," the bishops said, adding that "there is strong evidence that James Dailey's death sentence was yet another failure of justice."

If carried out, his execution will be Florida's 100th since the reinstatement of the death penalty in the 1970s. This is the third death warrant signed by DeSantis, who is Catholic.

Florida is "a national outlier" in its high numbers of death sentences, death-row population and executions, the bishops said. "This use of the death penalty wounds our society by allowing a devaluation and coarseness of life in our community."

"As Pope Francis has stated, and as the catechism has been updated to reflect, the death penalty is 'inadmissible' due to modern penal systems," the bishops wrote.

"At certain times in history, the teachings of the church did not exclude recourse to the death penalty when it was the only means by which to protect society and guilt was properly determined," they continued. "Today, however, alternative sentences, such as life without parole, are severe punishments through which society can be kept safe."

Such alternatives "do not degrade us by ending yet another life -- perpetuating, rather than ending, a cycle of violence," they said.

In the days leading up to Dailey's execution, if it is not stayed, dozens of prayer vigils throughout the state are planned, the bishops noted.

"Floridians will gather in prayer for Ms. Boggio's family, for Mr. Dailey, for everyone affected by violent crime, for an end to the use of the death penalty and for you in your difficult position," the bishops told DeSantis.

"You have the support of the church and the majority of voters in Florida who support alternatives to the death penalty in ending this cruel and unnecessary practice immediately," they said.

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