Arizona executes sixth death row inmate in 2012

3

Fr. John Bonavitacola, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Tempe, joins around 40 others at a Dec. 4 vigil for victims, their families and for Richard Stokley, who was executed the next day for brutal 1991 murders. Stokley was the sixth person executed by the state of Arizona in 2012.

Randy Brazeal and Richard Stokley brutally raped and murdered two 13-year-old girls July 8, 1991 near Elfrida, Ariz.

Richard Stokley was executed Dec. 5 for the brutal 1991 murder of two 13-year-old girls. His co-defendant is a free man living in Arkansas. (Photograph from Arizona Department of Corrections)

Stokley became the sixth man executed by the state of Arizona in 2012 at 11 a.m. this morning in Florence. Brazeal lives with his family in Arkansas.

“We have to look at how we pursue justice,” said Fr. John Bonavitacola, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Tempe. He joined around 40 others who gathered Dec. 5 to pray for the victims, their families, for Stokley and for the end of the death penalty outside the Burton Barr Central Library.

“There’s another way that we can bring peace to society as a whole,” he said, warning against giving too much power to the state — like the power to execute. “The Gospel calls us to seek justice and mercy. We cannot let vengeance motivate us.”

Those who gathered at the vigil noted that Stokley waived his right to a clemency hearing, where he could have argued for a stay of execution or a commutation of his sentence. Stokley, 60, didn’t decline the hearing because he felt he deserved the death penalty.

“With all due respect, the fact is, it just does not appear that the state really cares about things like showing mercy,” Stokley wrote in a letter to the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency. As evidence, Stokley spoke of Robert H. Moormann, who he called “a child in an old man’s body.”

“He cried out for compassion, yet it was coldly denied,” Stokley wrote of Moorman, who was executed Feb. 29 of this year for the brutal killing of his mother in 1984.

In the summer of 1991, Stokley and Brazeal took Mary Snyder and Mandy Meyers to a remote area in southern Arizona and raped them. They decided to kill them so they wouldn’t face the consequences. They strangled and stomped on the girls before stabbing them and then throwing their bodies down a water-filled mineshaft.

Brazeal turned himself in later that day and police arrested Stokley in Benson.

Eyewitness accounts and forensic evidence indicate that Brazeal planned and instigated the rapes and murders of the two girls, Stokley’s attorneys explained in a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the execution.

Stokley had a documented history of traumatic frontal blows, including losing consciousness as a child, getting hit by a brick, an iron skillet, head trauma from a motorcycle accident, a carjack to the face, a rock climbing accident and a cast-iron frying pan. He also had a history of mental illness, suicide attempts and depression.

On the night of the murders, Stokley was looking for a ride to an outdoor water tank so he could bathe. Brazeal agreed to take him there. On the way, Brazeal stopped to pick up the girls, who he’d arranged to meet up with on the side of the road.

According to Stokley’s account, which is consistent with the forensic evidence, Stokley was dropped off at the water tank to bathe. Stokley searched for Brazeal’s car after his bath. He found Brazeal raping one of the girls in the back seat. Stokley raped one of the girls and then, with Brazeal, killed them both.

“I have made grave an irreversible errors, and, though I believe that life is worth saving, this board in its current mindset and philosophical leaning will never agree with me, or any death row prisoner,” Stokley wrote in his letter to the clemency board.

“I hate to think there are not at least some of us worth saving,” he added. “I have been sorry for the victims and the victims’ families. But no one wants to hear of my miserable sorrow. They just want me to get dead, which is vengeance.”

Brazeal’s trial was held before the results from the DNA testing had been finalized. Brazeal pled guilty and received 20 years in prison, despite evidence that he was more culpable of the murder.

The county prosecutor, who agreed to Brazeal’s plea deal, rejected Stokley’s offer to plead guilty and serve life in prison. “Following a sentencing hearing, the trial court imposed two sentences of death on Stokley, even though it found beyond a reasonable doubt that Brazeal had actually killed one of the victims,” Stokley’s attorneys wrote.

Stokley — like Daniel Cook, who was executed in August and Robert Towery, who was executed in March — died in prison while his co-defendant was free. Towery’s co-defendant, Randy Barker, received a 10-year sentence. Cook’s co-defendant, John Matzke, received a 20-year sentence.

Dennis Seavers, spokesperson for Death Penalty Alternatives for Arizona and a parishioner at St. Andrew in Chandler, said the last time Arizona executed six inmates was in 1999, when the state executed seven. Stokley is the 34th person to be executed in the state since 1992.

Seavers expects executions to increase next year.

“I guess not so much for me do I write this letter, because my time appears short,” Stokley wrote the clemency board. “But I think of all those to come. I sure hope you folks can find mercy in your hearts. I know it must be a tough job that you have. I just would really appreciate it if you would hear my words and consider them in making decisions.”

Some at the vigil expect Edward Harold Schad will be the next inmate to be scheduled for execution. Schad was found guilty of the 1978 murder of 74-year-old Lorimer Graves of Bisbee, Ariz.

RELATED: Forgive us as we forgive others: Ariz. bishops restate position on the death penalty in light of recent executions

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: 

EDITORIAL: Opposed to the death penalty

Tortured lives: Arizona executes fifth death row inmate this year

Arizona executes fourth death row inmate this year

Dozens protest death penalty on eve of execution

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted: The Catholic Church and the death penalty

J.D. Long-Garcia is the former editor of The Catholic Sun. He joined the staff in 2004. J.D., a lay Dominican, studied journalism and psychology at Arizona State University, philosophy at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, and theology at the Graduate Theological Union. He's taught classes at the Kino Institute, worked as an outreach intern at All Saints Catholic Newman Center, led a deanery confirmation program in Berkeley, Calif., and served as a catechist for children of various ages. He was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

3 COMMENTS

  1. One murders two 13-year-old girls. Two 13-YEAR OLD KIDS!!! When was the last time we heard a “Thou shalt not murder” homily at Mass? But I digress. If not putting a murderer to a peaceful death Mr. Garcia, what should society do? Happy Advent amigo………..JO

    • Mr. Oskar: Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. You often thoughtfully comment on our stories, and we truly appreciate it. We love feedback.

      As far the story goes, I wouldn’t presume to say how society should deal with murderers. Fortunately, Blessed John Paul II made the Church’s position quite clear in his encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, §56, which says, in part: “…the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.” He’s saying, as I understand it, that society would be protected just as well by life imprisonment. So, in this case, I believe the Church would suggest that Richard Stokley should be locked up for the rest of his life.

      I’m a father, and I can’t imagine what I’d do if someone did so heinous to my child. But I believe the Church calls us to curb our desire for vengeance and replace it with mercy. Our August editorial addresses this issue as well: “Opposed to the death penalty.”

      What I find particularly striking is the prevalence of mental illness in the six men who were executed by the state of Arizona this year. I’m also perplexed that the co-defendants in these capital cases are free men. The co-defendants, from what I gather from my research, could well be more dangerous than the men who were executed.

      I feel this is an inadequate response to your poignant question, Mr. Oskar. I hope others who know much more than I do about this issue will take the time to respond as well. I think it’s more complicated than we like to admit.

  2. “It is lawful to kill when fighting in a just war; when carrying out by order of the Supreme Authority a sentence of death in punishment of a crime; and, finally, in cases of necessary and lawful defense of one’s own life against an unjust aggressor.” (Catechism of Pope St. Pius X , 1905 A.D.) We can find hundreds of quotes from Church Fathers and saints confirming the death penalty going back to St. Paul. As far as we know Blessed John Paul II may have been referring to the Sudan in his statement. But what I find surprising is that you wouldn’t presume to say how society should deal with murderers? SHOCKING! IMHO JO

Leave a Reply