TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops called on Gov. Ron DeSantis to commute the death sentence to life in prison for a man scheduled to be executed for a 1984 murder.
Robert Joseph “Bobby Joe” Long, 65, is scheduled to be executed at 6 p.m., May 23, 35 years after his conviction of the slaying of 22-year-old Michelle Simms. He also was convicted of killing at least seven other women in the Tampa Bay area in the 1980s but received life terms in those cases.
The bishops’ appeal for commutation came in a May 20 letter to DeSantis from Michael Sheedy, executive director of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“Although he caused much harm, society has been safe from his aggressive acts in the decades of his incarceration,” Sheedy wrote. “Without taking his life, society can be protected while he endures the alternative sentence of life without the possibility of parole.”
Sheedy also urged the governor to follow a consistent pro-life ethic in Florida.
“The cycle of violence — to which Mr. Long’s acts have contributed — must end. His execution would only perpetuate it,” the letter said.
Thirty churches in the seven Florida dioceses planned prayer vigils beginning May 21 to pray for Simms, Long and their families and for society, “which continues to impose violence in return for violence, and for an end to the use of the death penalty,” the conference announced.
Long’s execution was expected to be carried out after the Florida Supreme Court denied an appeal to block it unless attorneys representing him file an appeal through the federal court system. In a 22-page opinion released May 17, the court unanimously upheld a lower court judge’s denial of seven claims Long raised, including a challenge to the state’s lethal injection protocol.