The Holy Father along with four local bishops asked the state of Kentucky to reconsider the planned execution of an inmate, given evidence that the condemned man may be mentally disabled.
According to the Archdiocese of Louisville, Kentucky, Pope Benedict XVI and four Kentucky bishops asked Gov. Steve Beshear on Thursday to halt the death sentence of 53-year-old Gregory L. Wilson who is set to be executed Sept. 16.
Wilson was sentenced to death 22 years ago for kidnapping, raping and murdering 36-year-old Deborah Pooley in 1987. A co-defendant in the case, Brenda Humphrey, is serving life in prison.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville gave Gov. Beshear a letter on Sept. 9 written for the Pope by Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the papal nuncio to the United States.
“I renew the appeal I made most recently at Christmas for a consensus to end the death penalty,” the Pope said in the letter, “which is both cruel and unnecessary.”
The Kentucky Catholic Conference also issued a statement on Sept. 2 condemning the planned execution. The conference cited mental disabilities as one of the substantial reasons for requesting clemency for Wilson.
“These school records show that at the age of 14 while in the seventh grade, Mr. Wilson’s IQ score was 62,” the statement said. “This information is most critical because the pertinent controlling statute (KRS 532.130) specifically indicates that the required, relevant IQ evidence must have been measured in the individual’s formative stage of development, prior to age 18.”
The statement also noted that person’s IQ must be below 70 to be considered mentally disabled and that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that executing the mentally ill is unconstitutional.
Questions have also been raised as to whether or not Wilson has received proper representation in court. According to the archdiocese, Wilson's lawyer, a reported alcoholic, had his office located in an bar and had repeatedly failed to show up to court dates. Wilson was also denied effective legal counsel during the 1988 Kenton County trial.
Also of concern is Kentucky’s system of execution and the state's availability of lethal drugs. Kentucky currently uses three drugs during a lethal injection including one to put the patient to sleep, another to paralyze the muscles and a third to stop the heart.
The archdiocese reported that the state only has enough of the sleep drug to execute one person before it soon expires. Wilson has been on death row the longest.
The Louisville archdiocese also reported that the American Bar Association is continuing its review of the capital punishment system in Kentucky, and the Catholic conference, among others, have asked Gov. Beshear to declare a moratorium on executions until the review is finished.