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Missouri bishops, others request clemency for Brian Dorsey, first inmate to be executed this year

The Church teaches the death penalty is inadmissable in all cases

As Missouri prepares to execute its first person in 2024, the bishops of Missouri are asking Gov. Mike Parson for clemency for Brian Dorsey.

Dorsey is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection April 9 at the Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Bonne Terre. Dorsey was convicted of first-degree murder for the 2006 shooting deaths of his cousin Sarah Bonnie and her husband, Ben Bonnie, in Boone County.

The letter to Gov. Parson from the bishops, other religious leaders and civic organizations asked Gov. Parson to commute Dorsey’s sentence to life in prison without parole.

“The deaths of Mr. and Mrs. Bonnie are a tragic waste of life, and our hearts and prayers are with their family at this difficult time. Sadly, no punishment will restore them to their loved ones,” the letter from the Missouri Catholic Conference said. “Some may argue society needs the death penalty to protect life; we strongly believe, however, that society can adequately protect human life without capital punishment.”

The Church teaches that capital punishment is inadmissible in all cases because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.

At a March 20 lunch for a religiously diverse group of faith leaders, Auxiliary Bishop Mark S. Rivituso, Rabbi Scott Shafrin of the Jewish Community Relations Council and Rev. Darryl Gray of Fairfax Missionary Baptist Church shared faith perspectives on the importance of abolishing the death penalty.

“Our basic premise, as Catholic Christians, is that everyone has the inherent dignity of human life, inherent dignity that is given to us from God,” Bishop Rivituso said. “We are called to see the sacredness of that dignity in every person … As we’re ministering to those on death row, those who are up for execution, we remember: These are human beings. And we honor that by reminding them that they have dignity, they have worth, they are loved, and we care about them.”

Rev. Gray recounted his experience as spiritual advisor for Kevin Johnson, who was executed by Missouri in November 2022. The Bible says: Recompense no one evil for evil, but recompense all things with good, he said.

“I believe in repentance. I believe in salvation. I believe in reconciliation. I believe that human life — all human life — is sacred,” he said. “And yes, we do some horrendous things. But is it up to me, as flawed as I am? Is it up to any of us, as flawed are we are? … It is really up to us to be that judge? I believe the only person who can do that is God. That’s why I sat with Kevin, and that’s why I’ve dedicated my life to the abolition of the death penalty.”

Dorsey’s attorneys Megan Crane and Kirk Henderson also spoke to the faith leaders about his case and their efforts for clemency. His attorneys argue that Dorsey was in a state of psychosis when the murders happened, induced by cocaine withdrawal and alcohol; he has no memory of the crime and therefore does not meet the criteria for first-degree murder because he was incapable of the deliberation required for that charge.

At the time of his conviction, Dorsey was represented by attorneys appointed on a low flat-fee contract, who failed to get a mental health examination or even interview Dorsey about the night of the crime before pleading guilty to first-degree murder, Crane said. The flat-fee system is no longer employed by the Missouri State Public Defenders Office because of the “unavoidable financial conflict of interest,” she added.

The clemency application submitted to Gov. Parson by Dorsey’s attorneys included a letter from retired Missouri Supreme Court Justice Michael Wolff, who was one of the judges who upheld Dorsey’s death sentence in 2009. This case is one of the “rare cases where those of us who sit in judgment of a man convicted of capital murder got it wrong,” Wolff said in the letter. “… At that time, none of us on the Court were aware of how compromised and ineffective his trial lawyers were.”

The clemency application also included a letter signed by more than 70 active and former corrections officers and staff from Potosi Correctional Center, describing Dorsey’s spotless prison record — no infractions over the course of 17 years — and his highly regarded role as prison barber for inmates and staff.

“We are part of the law enforcement community who believe in law and order. Generally, we believe in the use of capital punishment,” the letter said. “But we are in agreement that the death penalty is not the appropriate punishment for Brian Dorsey, and urge you to use your clemency power to commute his death sentence.”

An execution date has also been set for David Hosier on June 11. In 2023, Missouri executed four people; it was one of just five states to carry out the death penalty, alongside Alabama, Florida, Oklahoma and Texas.

Church teaching on the death penalty (updated 2018)

Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.

Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.

Consequently, the Church teaches, in light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and the dignity of the person,” and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2267

Prayer vigil for Brian Dorsey

All are invited to join the Archdiocese of St. Louis for an ecumenical prayer vigil outside the Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Bonne Terre during Brian Dorsey’s execution. A bus will leave the Cardinal Rigali Center at 4 p.m. Tuesday, April 9, to travel to the vigil. There is no cost, but RSVPs are requested. For more information, contact Jamie LaBelle at [email protected].

What can I do to help end the death penalty in Missouri?

1. Pray. Both personal and communal liturgical prayer are sources of spiritual strength for living out the pro-life commitment to which the Gospel calls us. Our prayer is often a source of strength for others as well, particularly as we pray for those to be executed, their families, the victims and the victims’ families.

2. Sign clemency petitions for those facing imminent execution. Clemency petitions can be found on the Missourians to Abolish the Death Penalty website: madpmo.org/clemencycampaigns

3. Contact your state senator and representative and ask them to abolish the death penalty in Missouri. Find information about senators and representatives here: house.mo.gov/legislatorlookup.aspx

4. Support Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and the Catholic Mobilizing Network, the national Catholic effort to end the death penalty: madpmo.org and catholicsmobilizing.org.

From the Archive Module

Missouri bishops others request clemency for Brian Dorsey first inmate to be executed this year 9478

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