Florida bishops ask governor to stay planned execution

Tallahassee, Fla., Oct 23, 2019 / 12:26 am (CNA).- The Catholic bishops of Florida have called on Governor Ron DeSantis to halt the scheduled execution of James Dailey, who is on death row for murder in a controversial case from nearly 35 years ago.

The bishops leading the seven dioceses of Florida signed a joint letter Oct. 21. While they noted their objections to any use of the death penalty in the state, they said Dailey’s case is “especially alarming” because of the evidence of innocence surrounding him.

“There is strong evidence that James Dailey’s death sentence was yet another failure of justice,” the bishops said. “Another man, Jack Pearcy, has signed a sworn affidavit that he, and he alone, was responsible for the tragic death of 14-year-old Shelly Boggio.”

Dailey, a 73-year-old veteran, is scheduled to be executed Nov. 7 for the 1985 murder of 14-year-old Shelly Boggio, whose body was found repeatedly stabbed and drowned near St. Petersburg.

There is no physical evidence or eyewitness testimony connecting Dailey to the murder, the Tampa Bay Times reports. Rather, Dailey’s housemate and co-defendant, Jack Pearcy, accused him of taking part in the crime. Pearcy is currently serving a life sentence for the murder.

Inmates at the prison where Dailey was being held were interviewed, initially yielding no results. A few days later, however, three inmates said they had heard Dailey make incriminating statements. The inmates received reduced charges in return for the information, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. One of the inmates was known as a prolific informant, giving testimony over the years that has sent four men to death row and being convicted himself of more than 20 crimes of deception.

Pearcy has acknowledged at least four times that Dailey was innocent of the crime, Dailey’s lawyers maintain, including in a 2017 affidavit, signed by Pearcy, which said, “James Dailey was not present when Shelly Boggio was killed. I alone am responsible for Shelly Boggio’s death.”

However, in January 2018, Pearcy took the witness stand and was questioned about the affidavit. He said some of the statements in it were untrue. When pressed further about which statements, he invoked the Fifth Amendment and refused to answer.

Earlier this month, the Florida Supreme Court rejected Dailey’s appeal, which argued that new evidence discrediting the jail informant testimony against Dailey should be permitted to be introduced. The court said Dailey should have raised this objection earlier. It ruled that all of his “newly discovered evidence claims were either correctly rejected as untimely or based on inadmissible evidence.”

The bishops of Florida voiced concern over the state’s high number of executions – and exonerations.

“Florida leads the nation in death row exonerations,” they noted. “Florida makes more mistakes than any other state in sentencing innocent people to death.”

Dailey would be the 100th execution in Florida since the state revived the death penalty in 1976.

“This use of the death penalty wounds our society by allowing a devaluation and coarseness of life in our community,” the bishops said.

Concerns over the scheduled execution have also been raised by three men who were sentenced to death but later exonerated due to poor evidence and prosecutorial misconduct.

The men, Juan Melendez, Herman Lindsey, and Derrick Jamison, have written a letter to Governor DeSantis asking him to reconsider Dailey’s case.

“The same types of evidence that led each of us to be exonerated are also present in James’ case,” they wrote. “The only difference allowing us to be spared from execution while James is set to be killed is whether or not a judge and jury has had the opportunity to review all the evidence.”

The bishops of Florida announced more than 30 prayer vigils throughout the state on Nov. 7, where Catholics and other community members will gather “to pray for the victim and aggressor, their families, for our society which continues to impose violence in return for violence, and for an end to the use of the death penalty.”

“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 said. “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 determine.”

“Today, however, alternative sentences, such as life without parole, are severe punishments through which society can be kept safe,” they continued, stressing that these alternatives “do not degrade us by ending yet another life – perpetuating, rather than ending, a cycle of violence.”

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