Bishop Richard F. Stika has joined Tennessee’s two other Catholic bishops in urging Gov. Bill Haslam to stop the upcoming scheduled executions of at least three men in the state prison system. In a letter to Gov. Haslam, Bishop Stika, Bishop Martin D. Holley of Memphis, and Bishop J. Mark Spalding of Nashville have urged the governor “to use your authority as governor to put an end to the fast-track executions planned for later this year.”
The letter also asks the governor to reflect on recent history and the impact of his decision. “It is within your power to establish your legacy as a governor of Tennessee who did not preside over an execution on your watch,” the bishops’ letter said.
The last execution in Tennessee took place in 2009, before Haslam took office.
There are currently 63 people on death row Tennessee. An execution scheduled for May 2018 was delayed through the legal system. The next execution is scheduled for August. Billy Ray Irick, 59, was convicted in Knox Co. in 1986 for the rape and murder of a 7-year-old girl.
In the letter, Bishop Stika drew on his personal experience with Saint John Paul II, and the former pope’s role in commuting to life in prison the sentence of a death row inmate in Missouri in 1999. “(St. John Paul II) said that (the death penalty) 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,” the letter to Gov. Haslam said.