Two images of James Dailey, including one during his time in the Air Force and his mug shot from the Florida Department of Corrections. (COURTESY DAILEY FAMILY AND FDOC)

Religious groups ask governor to grant clemency hearing

James Dailey’s temporary stay of execution expires Dec. 30

ORLANDO  |  Opponents of the death penalty cheered when the U.S. District Court for the Middle District granted a stay of execution for Florida death row inmate James Dailey.

But that 90-day stay — granted Oct. 23 — was temporary, and ends Dec. 30. Now organizations, including Florida’s Catholic bishops and the Catholic Mobilizing Network, is pleading for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to hold a clemency hearing. Dailey, who has been on Florida’s death row for more than three decades, has maintained his innocence, and attorneys and organizations that have reviewed his case say his execution would mark the murder of an innocent man.

Dailey was scheduled for execution Nov. 8. He is a U.S. Air Force veteran who honorably served in combat in Vietnam. Another man, Jack Pearcy, has confessed at least four times that he alone committed the murder and Dailey is innocent.

The Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops sent a letter to the governor asking him to hear more evidence that could lead to Dailey’s exoneration.

“We were relieved when the U.S. District Court granted him a stay of execution until Dec. 30,” the letter stated. “We were also thankful that you did not appeal that decision. There is significant evidence of innocence that the courts have not yet considered, primarily due to procedural bars. We implore you to allow a potentially innocent man to present his claims and evidence for thoughtful investigation and review.”

Signed by both Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami and Bishop Felipe Estevez of St. Augustine, the letter stated how the bishops hoped DeSantis would offer the same sympathy as he had when he posthumously pardoned the Groveland Four.

Another organization, the Catholic Mobilizing Network, sent a similar letter, focusing on the lack of evidence it took to convict Dailey. “No physical, forensic, or eyewitness evidence connects Mr. Dailey, who has always maintained his innocence, to the murder of Shelly Boggio,” wrote the national group, which works closely with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The organization brought up Florida’s past executions of inmates who were later proven innocent. “Florida has a well-documented history of wrongful death sentences, leading the nation in death row exonerations with 29 since 1973.” Making the same mistake with Dailey is a probability Catholic Mobilizing Network hopes Florida will not make again, especially when Dailey already has seen a show of good faith from the governor. “This clemency hearing would allow for all facts to be reviewed and considered, including evidence not yet considered by the courts, with the intent to ensure an innocent person is not executed,” the letter stated. “This respect for life is upheld for all, regardless of the harm they might have suffered or caused. … As Pope John Paul II said, ‘the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil.’ The gift of life is from God alone; we do not have the power to create or destroy it.”

In his letter to the governor, Kirk Bloodsworth, a past death row inmate who was exonerated back in 1993, urged DeSantis to think twice before going ahead with Dailey’s execution. “The 29 death row exonerees in Florida are living proof that our court system does make mistakes,” he said. Once released from prison, Bloodsworth now serves as the executive director of Witness to Innocence, a group of men and women whose convictions were overturned while on death row. “If innocent people can make it onto death row, what would prevent an innocent person from being executed? A clemency hearing at this stage should serve exactly that purpose.”

“You have stated that the rule of law is society’s sacred bond,” Bloodsworth wrote. “The exercising of your executive authority, in a matter of life or death, would seem to me to be one of the most sacred bonds within our society.”

The Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty also wrote to DeSantis. The letter, penned by Hannah Cox, national manager of the organization, stated, “We … hold firm in our belief that justice is not served by the conviction — and certainly not the execution — of someone who is innocent, and there is considerable new evidence pointing to Mr. Dailey’s innocence.” n