Bishop Houck To Meet With Governor About Execution

Catholic Bishop William Houck is trying to stop Mississippi's first execution in 13 years. Death row inmate Tracy Hansen is scheduled to die by lethal injection July 17. On Friday, Houck will ask Gov. Ronnie Musgrove to commute Hansen's sentence to life in prison.

Houck, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Jackson since 1984, said Wednesday he plans to "talk with him (Musgrove) about this execution and to share my thoughts with him about the death penalty.''

"Life in prison without parole is a clear alternative to the death penalty,'' Houck said. "Such punishment promotes justice rather than vengeance.''

Hansen was given the death sentence for the 1987 murder of Highway Patrolman Bruce Ladner, who was killed after he pulled over Hansen during a routine traffic stop.

Musgrove could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Earlier this week, he told The Associated Press that he supports the death penalty.

Merrida Coxwell of Jackson, one of Hansen's attorneys, said Wednesday that Hansen will ask the governor to commute his sentence. Coxwell would not discuss what arguments Hansen would make to Musgrove.

"We will present the best (arguments) that we can,'' Coxwell said.

Houck said prayer vigils are planned near the state penitentiary at Parchman, where the sentence is to be carried out, and outside the Governor's Mansion just before the execution. Houck joined about 200 people in prayer in 1989 when convicted murderer Leo Edwards was put to death.

"Our basic thing is we have a respect for the dignity of life,'' he said.

"We are praying for the victim, Bruce Ladner, and for his family, who are victims of a horrible crime. And we are praying for Tracy Hansen, who is hopefully at this time able to prepare for his execution.''

Houck said the Catholic church has opposed the death penalty in modern times because a life sentence punishes a criminal while protecting society.