NEW YORK – Ahead of the scheduled execution of a Florida man convicted of two murders in 1984, the state’s Catholic bishops are appealing to Governor Ron DeSantis, now a Republican presidential candidate, to reverse course, grant a stay and commute the sentence to life without parole.
Duane Owen, 62, was sentenced to death both in 1985 and 1986, after he brutally murdered two women on separate occasions in 1984. The execution is scheduled for June 15.
Owen was first found guilty of stabbing and killing Karen Slattery, a 14-year-old Delray Beach babysitter. And a year later, handed the second death sentence for breaking into Georgianna Worden’s Boca Raton home and beating her to death with a hammer.
The bishops acknowledge the “immeasurable grief and suffering” Owen caused with his actions. However, they say no good will come out of ending his life.
“Taking Mr. Owen’s life will not restore the lives of the victims. Intentionally ending his life will do nothing but perpetuate violence in a society steeped in it,” Michael Sheedy, executive director of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote in a letter to DeSantis.
“Justice does not demand state-sanctioned killing that disrespects the dignity and sacredness of human life,” he wrote.
“Rather, justice is best served by the alternative punishment of life-long incarceration,” Sheedy continued. “Society must be kept safe from Mr. Owen and those like him, but that can be done effectively without resorting to more violence.”
DeSantis issued an executive order to temporarily stay the execution a few weeks ago while psychiatrists determined Owen’s mental capacity. However, last week DeSantis said the psychiatrists concluded that Owen “has the mental capacity to understand the death penalty and the reasons why it is to be imposed upon him,” and subsequently lifted the stay.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, Florida has executed 102 people since 1976, including three already this year. Its current death row population is 318, second only to California with 686. However, California hasn’t executed someone since 2006.
Florida has also freed 30 people from death row, and has granted six clemencies.
In the letter to DeSantis, Sheedy made the case that there are “mitigating circumstances” presented in Owen’s case, including the fact that he was raised by alcoholic parents who both died when he was a child, he lived in an abusive orphanage, endured physical and sexual abuse, and suffered from organic brain damage.
“Such traumatic experiences and injuries have been shown to profoundly affect a child’s development and subsequent behavior,” Sheedy said.
Sheedy said that Floridians from across the state will soon gather to pray for Slattery, Worden, and all who have been harmed by Owen’s actions, for Owen, for everyone affected by violent crime in general, and for an end to the death penalty.
“We also pray for you as you consider this request,” Sheedy wrote to DeSantis.
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