All executions scheduled for this year are being requested to be called off by the three Catholic bishops in the state of Tennessee. They’re calling on Governor Bill Lee to spare these people and not end their lives.
The three bishops, Nashville’s Bishop J. Mark Spalding, Knoxville’s Bishop Richard F. Stika, and Memphis’ Bishop David P. Talley all came together to make a joint letter. The letter was given to the Governor on April 23rd, and the Nashville diocese published the letter a short time later.
“We urge you to use your authority as governor to put an end to the fast-track executions planned for later this year, and particularly the execution of Donnie Johnson scheduled for May 16. As you know, he was convicted of the brutal murder of his wife, but even their daughter has spoken against his execution,” the letter states.
Scheduled for execution on May 16th, Johnson has been on the Tennessee death row ever since he was first sentenced to death. His crime was in 1984 when he murdered his own wife, Connie Johnson. She died in Memphis.
Tennessee began to resume executions this past August, and since then Johnson is the fourth person to be scheduled for execution. Governor Bill Haslam was wrapping up his final term when Lee was elected into office. He did not intervene in any previous executions. Johnson’s request for clemency is the first that Lee will be deciding as governor.
Before the three executions that occurred in 2018, both Nashville’s and Knoxville’s bishops made similar requests to not execute people. Memphis’ bishop is new, he was brought in on April 2nd.
This year and last year aren’t the first time that this has happened though. The Catholic Church has spoken out against capital punishment in the past. In August, Pope Francis changed the principals of the church to state that the death penalty is inadmissible.
“We clearly state our strong opposition to the state carrying out the death penalty,” the letter from the bishops states.
“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. Even when guilt is certain, the execution is not necessary to protect society.”