Friday, 26 January 2007

Abolish death penalty, state Catholic conference says, supporting proposed legislation

Abolish death penalty, state Catholic conference says, supporting proposed legislation


Catholic Online (

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Catholic Online) – The death penalty in Maryland should be repealed as the only way to prevent “zealous prosecutors” from resorting to the taking of life to protect society, said the head of the state’s Catholic conference.

In a Jan. 25 statement, Richard J. Dowling, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, supported the introduction of legislation on that day abolishing capital punishment in the state.

Under the proposal by Sen. Lisa Gladden, vice chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, and House Del. Samuel Rosenberg, vice chair of the Judiciary Committee, the death penalty would be replaced with life without parole.

The repeal legislation follows just weeks after a Maryland Court of Appeals decision to halt the use of lethal injection in executions until acceptable procedures are developed with oversight by the state attorney general's office, the legislature and comment by the general public.

In addition to problems with the lethal injection protocol, a University of Maryland study released in 2003 found discrimination among those sent to death row with the murder of a white person being twice as likely to result in a death sentence as the murder of a black person.

Dowling noted that 20 years ago the statute allowing Maryland courts to imprison those convicted of murder to a life sentence without the possibility of parole was passed.

At that time, he said, “most state lawmakers viewed the sentence as an acceptable alternative to the death penalty,” noting that the Maryland Catholic Conference agreed and supported the legislation.

“But the sad fact is that we still have executions in Maryland, and, if zealous prosecutors have their way, we’ll continue to have them,” Dowling said in the statement. “It’s clear that only repeal can change that.”

Noting that almost two thirds of the state’s residents supported life without parole as an acceptable alternative to death by execution in a poll two years ago and recent discussion about “mistakes and biases that beset death-penalty processes and proceedings here and around the country,” the executive director said that “support for repeal cannot have diminished. If anything, it’s picked up steam.”

He pointed to Catholic Church leadership in the state, within the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Vatican promoting abolition of the death penalty.

“For when all the legalistic arguments are offered and addressed, the fundamental moral question remains: Are we permitted to take the life of another human being? The teachings of our faith tell us that when other punishment options are available, options like life-without-parole sentences that protect society by rendering offenders incapable of doing further harm, then we should not resort to killing,” he said.

“We should not resort to killing, not even in the case of one who takes the life of another,” he said.

"There is a growing groundswell of support around death penalty repeal, both in Maryland and nationally," said Jane Henderson, executive director of MD Citizens Against State Executions. "An overwhelming majority of Marylanders support replacing executions with life without parole and we now have a governor who personally agrees that capital punishment is a failure.”

"From persistent racial discrimination to faulty evidence to innocent convictions, the social, political and economic costs are too high to continue the use of capital punishment," Henderson added. "The time for repeal is now."

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