Nashville, Tenn., May 6, 2019 / 01:57 pm (CNA).- The bishops of Tennessee have requested that the new governor halt four executions planned for this year, reiterating the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of human life.
“It is within your power to establish your legacy as a governor of Tennessee who does not preside over an execution on your watch,” the bishops wrote April 23 to Governor Bill Lee.
The letter was published May 3, and was signed by Bishop Richard Stika of Knoxville, Bishop Mark Spalding of Nashville, and Bishop David Talley of Memphis.
The letter welcomed Lee's Republican administration and asked him to reconsider a recent plan from the state to fast-track death sentences.
The bishops said the death penalty is both unneccesary and faulty, stating that “nationally, we have seen many people released from death row after they have been found to have been innocent of the crime for which they were convicted. Based on a human system as it is, there is always the chance that the state executes an innocent person.”
The bishops added that “Even when guilt is certain, the execution is not necessary to protect society,”
“We clearly state our strong opposition to the state carrying out the death penalty,” they said. “We urge you to use your authority as governor to put an end to the fast-track executions.”
Lee’s administration has inherited a two year plan by former Governor Bill Haslam to fast-track the execution of nine men on death row, as the state's supply of lethal injection drugs is in flux.
The first scheduled execution is that of Donnie Johnson on May 16. He was sentenced to death for the murder of his wife, Connie, in 1984. The bishops noted that “even their daughter has spoken against his execution.”
Tennessee has also scheduled the executions of Stephen West Aug. 15, Charles Wright Oct. 10, and Lee Hall Dec. 5.
The bishops drew attention to St. John Paul II's role in commuting the death sentence of Darrell Mease in Missouri in 1999: “At that time, the pope called for the end to the death penalty as both cruel and unnecessary.”
St. John Paul II “said that it is simply not necessary as the only means to protect society while still providing a just punishment for those who break civil laws. Rather than serving as a path to justice, the death penalty contributes to the growing disrespect for human life and continues a cycle of violence in society,” they said.
The statement encouraged Lee to converse with the bishops and investigate the Church’s teaching on capital punishment. The bishops said they would happily provide further information on the subject and go over any questions the governor may have.