COLUMBUS, Ohio (CNA)—Catholic leaders in Ohio stressed the need to replace the death penalty with mercy and spiritual conversion, following the execution of convicted child murderer Ronald Phillips.
“The Catholic Church believes that the death penalty is an unnecessary and systemically flawed form of punishment,” the Ohio Catholic Conference said in a statement.
“The Catholic bishops of Ohio sought mercy for Mr. Phillips because of the belief that spiritual conversion is possible and that all life – even that of the worst offender – has value and dignity.”
“May his soul, through the mercy of God, rest in peace,” the conference said.
The July 26 execution was the first in Ohio since a botched 2014 execution. Phillips, 43, was executed by lethal injection at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio, the Associated Press reports. He was convicted for the 1993 rape and killing of three-year-old Sheila Marie Evans, his girlfriend's daughter.
He gave his final statement ten minutes before his death.
“Sheila Marie didn't deserve what I did to her,” Phillips said, telling the girl’s family “I’m sorry you had to live so long with my actions.”
Phillips had spent much of the morning praying, kneeling and reading the Bible. Ohio Gov. John Kasich had rejected clemency in 2016, citing “the extremely brutal nature of the offense committed against an innocent 3-year-old child.”
The Ohio Catholic Conference previously cited Pope Francis' address to Congress in which he had called for an end to the death penalty.
Karen Clifton, executive director of Catholic Mobilizing Network, said her organization was “deeply saddened” by the resumption of the executions.
“Our prayers are with the victim, her family and all those who were asked to participate in Ronald Phillips’ execution,” she said.
“Ronald Phillips committed a horrific crime, but through the grace of God's transformational love became a person who asked for forgiveness and journeyed with others from anger and hate to repentance,” Clifton continued. “Today’s execution highlights the need for mercy and reconciliation in our justice system.”
She called on Ohio to reconsider the 26 other scheduled executions.
Other opponents include the group Ohioans to Stop Executions, which had delivered over 27,500 signatures to Gov. Kasich asking him to postpone the state’s executions, including that of Phillips. The group sought better safeguards to prevent sentencing innocent people to death and endorsed 56 recommendations the Ohio Supreme Court’s death penalty task force made to the state legislature, Cleveland.com reports.
European pharmaceutical companies have barred the sale of their drugs for the purpose of executions, causing difficulties for Ohio state officials in charge of executions. Officials say they have enough of the drugs to carry out three executions.
Executions had been halted following the January 2014 execution of Dennis McGuire, in which he was seen clenching his fists, trying to sit up, gasping for breath and choking as the drugs took a record 26 minutes to kill him.
The execution used an untested drug cocktail that included the sedative midazolam and the morphine derivative hydromorphone. In a letter to Gov. Kasich, 17 former corrections officials and administrators had warned of possible errors in the use of midazolam, warning that a disturbing execution could traumatize corrections officials.
McGuire was condemned for the 1989 murder of a woman and her unborn child. In the months before his execution, he had returned to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and was an attendee at the prison’s weekly Masses for inmates. At the Mass before his execution, he was a recipient of the anointing of the sick and dying, and received spiritual direction.
Since capital punishment resumed in Ohio in 1999, 54 people have been executed.