Execution prayer vigils held

James Barnes was executed by the State of Florida at 6 p.m., Aug. 3, 2023.  He was sentenced to death for the 1988 murder of a young woman named Patricia Miller in Melbourne, Florida. He has been on Florida’s death row since 2006.

To mark this solemn occasion, prayer vigils were held at San Pedro Parish in North Port, and at Sacred Heart Parish in Punta Gorda.

Barnes was convicted of the murders of two women: his wife, Linda Barnes, in 1997 (for which he received a life sentence); and in 2005, he confessed to the 1988 rape and murder of Patricia “Patsy” Miller, a 41- year-old nurse in Melbourne.

During these vigils, which joined Floridians around the state, the faithful gathered to pray for Ms. Barnes and Ms. Miller, for their families, for all who have been harmed by Mr. Barnes’ actions, for him, for those directly or indirectly involved in the execution, for everyone affected by violent crime, and for an end to the use of the death penalty.

On behalf of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishop’s, Michael Sheedy, executive director, sent a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis seeking a stay of the execution and commuting the sentence to life without parole. In the letter on behalf of the Florida Bishops, Sheedy acknowledged that Barnes’ violent crimes have brought immense grief and suffering to the families and friends of his victims.

Sheedy also noted the unique circumstances of the case. Barnes represented himself at the trial for Miller’s murder, where he pled guilty and waived mitigation as well as a jury for sentencing. He was convicted and sentenced to death in 2007. Since the signing of his death warrant, Barnes has moved to discharge counsel, waive any final appeals, and proceed with the execution.

“Mr. Barnes’ willing acceptance of death, the punishment put in place by the justice system, does not absolve the state from bringing it about,” wrote Sheedy. “Simply put, no one should be executed in our modern penal system, even if they willingly accept it. The alternative punishment of life in prison without parole is a severe penalty that still provides closure to victims and protects society.”

At San Pedro Parish in North Port, Deacon Richard Frohmiller led the prayer vigil and said they were there not to debate the guilt or innocence of Barnes, but to pray for his soul, and the souls of all who are put to death by the State on our behalf.

“We are taught to respect the dignity of every person and we pray that we are never silent about the deliberate taking of a life,” Deacon Frohmiller said.

The prayer service included hymns and a reading from the Gospel of Matthew 5:38-48, when Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.” Jesus teaches that we should step beyond our rights in love. While the Old Testament includes some passages about taking the life of one who kills, the Old Testament and the teaching of Christ in the New Testament call us to protect life, practice mercy, and reject vengeance.

The North Port group also prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary and offered intercessions seeking a change to the laws which allow capital punishment in Florida and elsewhere.  The prayer service poignantly paused at 6 p.m. (the time of the execution) to pray in silence.

In Punta Gorda, the prayer vigil took place outside, next to a Last Supper statue, which includes the image of Jesus.

Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in Florida in 1976, 104 have been put to death, including Barnes. This was the fifth execution this year in the State of Florida. Florida is also among the top four states for executions in the U.S., behind only, Texas, Oklahoma and Virginia.