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Revival of federal executions distresses opponents

Catholics called ‘strong leaders’ in the anti death penalty movement

Reginald Griffin was convicted in 1988 of the stabbing death of James Bausley at a correctional facility in Moberly, Missouri. Two inmates told authorities that Griffin, who was serving a 20-year sentence for armed assault, was the killer.

Reginald Griffin
Photo Credits: Charlie Riedel | Associated Press
In 2011, the Missouri Supreme Court ordered a new trial because the prosecution withheld evidence that the weapon was confiscated from another inmate shortly after the murder. One of the inmates who testified against him admitted he and another inmate committed the crime. In 2013, the prosecution dismissed the charges.

“A simple piece of paper (regarding the knife confiscation) saved my life,” Griffin said. “I had execution dates and came close to losing my life. You make a mistake with a human life and you can’t undo that.”

Griffin, who now is an advocate for the abolition of the death penalty, spoke Nov. 19 at a virtual rally to end executions held by Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, which receives a grant from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

After years of decreased executions on the state level, a ramped-up effort by the federal government to use the death penalty has motivated opponents.

On Nov. 19, Orlando Hall was executed after his conviction in 1994 for being part of a group that raped and murdered 16-year-old Lisa Rene in Texas in 1994. His death was the eighth federal execution since the Trump administration revived the federal process this year; it was used only three times in the past five decades.

Deacon Andy Daus of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque Parish has visited death-row inmates at the Potosi Correctional Center. Deacon Daus says efforts to end the death penalty are based in a concern for human rights. “It’s the state deciding whether a person is going to live or die. But we’re not in that business.”

The death-row inmates he’s known have waited for years while their appeals are heard. When Walter Barton was executed by Missouri in April, he’d been in prison for nearly 30 years. It shows that he and other death-row inmates can be incarcerated without being a threat to society, Deacon Daus said.

“Executing a man for something he did 30 years ago — to what end? Is that pound of flesh really going to make a difference? No,” Deacon Daus said.

A 2010 poll by Lake Research Partners found that a clear majority of voters (61%) would choose a punishment other than the death penalty for murder
A sentence of life in prison without parole is punishment enough, Deacon Daus said.

Sister Karen Pollard, a Sister of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary who is a former director of the Criminal Justice Ministry in St. Louis, said “the death penalty is not a solution for the violence in our country. I attended the virtual rally to add my voice to protest the government’s sudden decision to rush to execute men and women in our federal prisons.”

Sister Karen called on people to do everything possible to uphold life, not destroy it.

>> Catholic Church teaching

Auxiliary Bishop Mark Rivituso said that as a Church “we uphold the sacredness of every human life in every stage from conception to natural death. Therefore, every life should be reverenced and respected, not seen as disposable and devalued.”

Many people may write off those who have committed heinous crimes as deserving of the death penalty. Though not condoning such crimes or the tragedy of the victims of such crimes or the suffering and loss of victims’ families, those incarcerated “are still human beings and can come to repentance and conversion from their past sins,” Bishop Rivituso said. “Jesus came for the forgiveness of our sins and the sins of those incarcerated and for all to find their hope in Him as Savior.”

For those on death row facing execution, the Church advocates for their sentences to be commuted to life imprisonment so as not to diminished their human dignity by terminating the gift of life given them by God, he explained.

>> Missouri bishops’ stand

Late last year, the Missouri Catholic bishops issued a statement on the continued use of the death penalty.

The bishops reiterated Pope Francis’ call for a “global abolition of the death penalty” and highlighted the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which now states “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.” The bishops reaffirm their opposition to the death penalty and call on people to take a stand for life, justice, healing and mercy by opposing the continued use of the death penalty.

See the statement at bit.ly/3kWozvb.

>> ‘Catholic Conversation on the Death Penalty’

An online event to discuss the Church’s teachings on the death penalty, including Pope Francis’ latest encyclical “Fratelli Tutti” and why we must work for its abolition, will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 3. Speakers include Jesuit Father Matthew Baugh of the Catholic Studies Centre at Saint Louis University and Kay Parish, a death penalty defense attorney.

To join the event, see the Zoom link at bit.ly/2UWVDbQ using the ID 89515618057 and passcode 929379. For information call (314) 792-7062 or email [email protected].

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