As he was being executed by the state, the guilty thief turned to
Christ and said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” Those hopeful,
repentant words were repeated in the opening song of an execution vigil held at
historic St. Mary of Sorrows Church in Fairfax Jan. 18. Twelve people gathered in
the church to pray for convicted murderer Ricky Jovan Gray, for his victims and
for an end to the death penalty.
Miles away, Gray was preparing to die at the Greensville
Correctional Center in southern Virginia. After being administered a lethal
injection of midazolam, he died at 9:42 p.m. The drug, which has led to botched
executions in other states, is so controversial that Governor Terry McAuliffe added
an amendment to a death penalty bill that allowed companies that produce midazolam
to remain secret.
Through the Virginia Catholic Conference, Arlington Bishop
Michael F. Burbidge and Richmond Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo condemned the killing,
saying, “Knowing that the state can protect itself in ways other than through
the death penalty, we have repeatedly asked that the practice be abandoned. Our
broken world cries out for justice, not the additional violence or vengeance
the death penalty will exact.”
Gray’s death makes 112 executions in Virginia since 1976, tying
the commonwealth with Oklahoma for the second most executions in the country,
according to Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. Texas is first. Six
Virginia inmates remain on death row, though the commonwealth has not sentenced
anyone to death in the past five years.
Gray was convicted of the murders of Bryan and Kathryn Harvey
and their daughters, Stella and Ruby, during a home robbery in 2006. He also is
linked to several other murders. Gray’s lawyers say he was physically and
sexually abused as a child and started using drugs at a young age. They also
believe he was high on the powerful hallucinogenic drug PCP at the time he
committed the murders.
In the face of all this ugliness, Carol Mayfield, director of
parish social ministry at St. Mary of Sorrows, believes prayer is the only response.
“Here, we are dealing with it in the only way we can,” she said. “It’s very sad
but it is consoling and hopefully healing to all those for whom we pray.”
Death penalty opponents pray the Our Father
during the hour convicted
murderer Ricky Jovan Gray was injected with a lethal
dose of midazolam.
Zoey Maraist | Catholic Herald
For 17 years, parishioners have been praying on the night of
executions. Betsy Pugin, who has participated since the beginning, said they
have gathered 37 times for state and federal executions. Other religious and secular
vigils were held throughout the commonwealth Jan.18, including at St. John Neumann
Church in Reston.
Because of the often horrific nature of the crimes, opposing the
death penalty is difficult for many, even within the Catholic Church, acknowledged
Mayfield. Still, she believes the taking of any human life is wrong. Pugin
added, “Violence is the symptom, not the cure.”
Maura McFadden, a graduate student at Divine Mercy University in Arlington,
came to the vigil out of a respect for all life, innocent or guilty. “I think
it’s important to stretch your heart in terms of mercy, and events like this