The pontiff, a staunch foe of capital punishment, had appealed to Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore last December through a Vatican envoy there, said papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls. ``Now, in the spirit of the Jubilee, John Paul has solicited again ... the adoption of an act of clemency for Mr. Bernabei,'' Navarro-Valls said in a written statement released by the Vatican. The Jubilee refers to the Vatican's Holy Year celebrations.
Bernabei, 33, might be executed in September. He was convicted in 1993 of raping and killing Sara Wisnosky, a 17-year-old college freshman from Lynchburg, Virginia. His lawyers pressed for DNA tests on blood found under her fingernails and other evidence. The state argued the tests weren't needed.
Earlier this month, Bernabei's mother, Jane Bernabei, came to Rome to meet Italian lawmakers who were championing the cause. During her visit, she also met with Vatican officials.
Italy, which has long campaigned against the death penalty, has been one of the leaders in Bernabei's cause. In 1998, more than 200 Italian legislators appealed to Virginia to grant Barnabei a new trial and in December the region of Tuscany offered dlrs 5,250 to help pay for DNA tests. Barnabei's grandfather emigrated from Tuscany.