Thursday, 24 May 2007

Church leaders speak on death penalty – Alabama

By Karen Williamson The Cullman Times

Local church leaders weighed in on the death penalty versus life in prison while jurors were deliberating the fate of convicted murderer Richard Anthony Martin.

Martin was convicted Monday in the September 2005 death of 26-year-old Joseph Scott Laney. Laney had been shot three times in his head with a small caliber pistol. Martin was a chronic drug user. According to testimony during the trial, Martin injected a near-lethal dose of crystal methamphetamine the night of the murder.

During sentencing proceedings on Tuesday, jurors heard from Martin’s mother, Angela Feltman, who asked the jury not to give her son the death penalty. Feltman told the court that she had tried several times to help her son get off of drugs.

She said she checked her son into multiple treatment centers, had him arrested once and even call the governor’s office, all to no avail.Pastor Bob Kurtz of St. John’s Evangelical Protestant Church said that everyone knows in their heart and in their conscience what is right and what is wrong.

“Even the most hardened criminal knows what’s right and what’s wrong,” he said. They tend to choose the wrong way, he said.Kurtz said methamphetamine and drugs color everything.

“Martin lost his choice when he started methamphetamine,” said Kurtz. Because Martin chose the meth, he’s not a normally functioning human being any longer, said Kurtz. “In that case, I would have trouble with the death penalty,” he said.The Catholic Church teaches that in very rare cases the death penalty is permissible.

But those cases are almost nonexistent, according to Father Miguel, a member of the Franciscans Missionaries of the Eternal Word.“It’s something that is permitted if there is no way of keeping the person from harming the community,” he said.

Prisons are capable of keeping people incarcerated with no chance of escape, so “today the death penalty just doesn’t make any sense,” said Father Miguel. Deputy Anthony Dotson said Martin is being held at the Cullman County Detention Center.

“He will be here pending an opening to be transported to a state facility once he’s sentenced,” said Dotson.The Detention Center holds city, county state and federal prisoners.Dewey Sims and Roger Hestla have been providing prison ministry to men held at the facility for the past two years. Sims said he is against the death penalty but realizes Martin’s case is a “serious situation.”

Sims said he and Hestla teach bible classes every Monday night from 7 to 9 p.m.Father Miguel said, there are stories where people serving life sentences have conversions. “The Church is always seeking the salvation of souls including those that have murdered because God always seeks the conversion of a sinner not the death of the sinner,” said Father Miguel.

Jurors recommended to Circuit Judge H. Frank Brunner that Martin be given a sentence of life in prison without parole. Brunner can accept that recommendation or change it.

Sentencing will be in late June.

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