In the face of overwhelming statistics and facts indicating the ineffectiveness and arbitrary nature of capital punishment in our nation (Death Penalty Information Center, 2023), only 23 States have abolished the death penalty while 4 States currently have a governor-issued moratorium in place (including Arizona). Even though public opinion is over 60% against the death penalty, many States continue to participate in sanctioned murder. Why murder? Because the death certificates for the executed individuals indicate cause of death as “homicide.” Even the States admit it is murder.
God said, “Thou shalt not kill.” Have you ever wondered why? Maybe it’s because innocent people get hurt. Not only innocent victims of crimes have lost their lives, but in our rush to punish, innocent people have spent over half their lives on death row. Since 1973, at least 190 people have been exonerated from death row in the US and, according a study conducted by the Death Penalty Information Center, at least 4% of those sentenced to death are actually innocent.
Over 90% of capital punishment cases that have been overturned in the US were because the prosecution mishandled, suppressed, or misrepresented evidence in order to achieve a conviction (DPIC, 2022 Year End Report). The warnings in the Bible are right, we are not qualified to judge others objectively and dispassionately. Our courts judge, condemn, and approve State-sanctioned murder, yet totally ignore one of the most important lessons Jesus taught us, the power of forgiveness.
Per Death Penalty Alternatives for Arizona, in our State, 206 death sentences have been reversed during appeals since 1972 and 11 individuals have been exonerated (Barry Jones was set free in June after 29 years on death row). Eleven innocent individuals spent decades of their lives in solitary confinement facing death on a daily basis, that represents about 10% of the AZ death row population; a way higher percentage than the 4% nationally. If ever there was a good reason to abolish capital punishment, it is the very real possibility that the person about to be executed is actually innocent.
The mental and emotional cost borne by human beings affected by the capital punishment trials and an eventual execution is beyond comprehension for most of us. Through Death Penalty Action’s People vs the Death Penalty film series, we hear the stories of those directly impacted by capital punishment. Victim’s families are subjected to decades of appeals, often when they expressly did not wish to pursue the death penalty. The families of the convicted individual, likewise are torn apart by the constant battle to prove innocence or to reduce the sentence to life. Correctional officers and wardens struggle with PTSD associated with carrying out State-sanctioned murder. Communities are left grieving the loss of the victim/s as well as the loss of the executed. Innocent people get hurt. Isn’t it time we realized that the lust for revenge and retribution is just too high a cost to pay? God recognized that and flat out told us that vengeance is not our right.
If this article has stirred some passion within you to do something about capital punishment in our State and in our nation, please contact your state and local representatives, the Governor’s office and President Biden. There are numerous organizations that are doing great work such as Death Penalty Alternatives for Arizona, Death Penalty Action, and the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC). The Diocesan Prison Ministry team has started an Execution Prayer Ministry within our Diocese to help raise awareness about those who are about to be executed in our State and nationwide. Information is available on our Diocesan website: https://azdiocese.org/prison-ministry/programs/advocacy/. Handouts and a special liturgy for executions are available for download.
Jesus said that whoever is without sin should cast the first stone, and John tells us that if we say we are without sin, then we deceive ourselves and the Truth is not in us. It’s time we stopped casting stones and work toward restoring lives rather than destroying them.