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Florida bishops urge halt to execution, say all life ‘a gift from God’

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) — Florida’s Catholic bishops urged Gov. Rick Scott to stay the Feb. 26 execution of Paul Howell, saying that “all human life has dignity and is sacred, created in God’s image — even those who have done great harm.”

The bishops in a Feb. 22 statement also said they were concerned the jury that recommended the death sentence for Howell “did not have the benefit of a full review of mental health issues and his family history.”

Howell, on death row at Florida State Prison in Starke, was convicted of the 1992 murder of Florida State Trooper James Fulford.

“Violence begets violence and coarsens the culture so that life is no longer valued as a gift from God,” the bishops said. “Today, we are able to protect society and also give criminals a chance to reform and repent as they are punished.”

With regard to questions on the handling of Howell’s trial, they said: “There are questions as to the adequacy of his defense, raised by missing a deadline that would have allowed federal review of his case. These points should weigh on anyone charged with the task of either carrying out or foregoing an execution.”

Several evening prayer vigils were to be held Feb. 25 at several churches in the around the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee, including the Co-Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Tallahassee and the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Pensacola.

The bishops prayed for Fulford and “for all those traumatized by his death, especially his family, friends and colleagues that they will know consolation and peace.”

They also prayed Scott would stay the execution.

“May all residents of our state — but especially those affected by the tragic circumstances of Trooper Fulford’s death — know deeper reconciliation and respect for all human life from conception to natural death,” the bishops said.

Signing the statement were: Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami and Bishops Gerald M. Barbarito of Palm Beach, Robert N. Lynch of St. Petersburg, Frank J. Dewane of Venice, John G. Noonan of Orlando, Felipe J. Estevez of St. Augustine and Gregory L. Parkes of Pensacola-Tallahassee.

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