Florida executes convicted double-murderer despite pleas from Catholic bishops

Federal death penalty felipe caparros/Shutterstock

The state of Florida executed a convicted murderer on Tuesday evening after pleas from Catholic bishops and other anti-death-penalty advocates fell on deaf ears. 

Michael Zack III, 54, was executed by lethal injection at 6:14 p.m. on Oct. 3, the Florida Department of Corrections said in a news release. It is the state’s most recent execution since August, the fifth carried out by the state this year, and the 10th since 2018.

Zack had been convicted of two 1996 murders: He stabbed Ravonne Smith to death and later beat to death Laura Rosillo. 

The execution was carried out despite repeated pleas from anti-death-penalty activists, including the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, which had urged Gov. Ron DeSantis to commute Zack’s sentence. 

Zack’s “heinous and horrific crimes against these women have caused untold suffering to their families, friends, and communities,” the bishops wrote DeSantis in a letter in September.

Yet “in taking the life of Mr. Zack, the state will do nothing to restore the victims’ lives,” the bishops argued. “Rather, state-sanctioned killing will only further fuel the growing societal disrespect for the dignity of human life.” 

“Intentionally ending Mr. Zack’s life is unnecessary,” they wrote further. “The alternative punishment of lifelong incarceration without parole is a severe and more humane penalty by which society can remain safe and victims’ families can be given closure.” 

“In our modern penal system, no one should be executed,” they added. 

The bishops said that as a child Zack had suffered “an extremely abusive home environment, undergoing severe physical and sexual abuse at the hands of his stepfather,” with such abuse likely contributing to his homicidal behavior later in life. 

The bishops noted that several prayer vigils had been scheduled ahead of Zack’s execution. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, reflecting an update promulgated by Pope Francis in 2018, describes the death penalty as “inadmissible” and an “attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person” (No. 2267). 

The change reflects a development in Catholic doctrine in recent years. St. John Paul II, calling the death penalty “cruel and unnecessary,” encouraged Christians to be “unconditionally pro-life” and said that “the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil.”

Following the execution, the group Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (FADP) released Zack’s final statement in which the convict said that following the 1996 murders he had “woken up every single day since then filled with remorse and a wish to make my time here on earth mean something more than the worst thing I ever did.”

“I make no excuses. I lay no blame,” Zack wrote. “But how I wish that I could have a second chance, to live out my days in prison and continue to do all I can to make a difference in this world.”

Zack concluded the message by addressing “Gov. DeSantis and the clemency board,” writing to them: “I love you. I forgive you. I pray for you.”

In their statement after his death, FADP said Zack and his sisters endured “an unimaginable childhood of horrors” from his stepfather, including being “force-fed … alcohol and drugs” and being “kicked, beaten, and thrown against walls.”

“Michael’s life began with violence and now, at the hands of the state of Florida, has ended in violence,” the group wrote.

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