Staying the course
Back in the days when England stood alone against the threat of Nazi Germany and Italy, when the skies over London and other British cities were dark with the planes and bombs of the Luftwaffe, Winston Churchill said something that many throughout the world have taken to heart ever since.
He said “Never give in — never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty. Never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense.”
The people of the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty surely live by that admonition from long ago. For years that organization and the Catholic Conference of Kentucky — led by its executive director, Father Patrick Delahanty — have fought against what at times had to seem to be daunting odds to repeal the death penalty in Kentucky.
And because they have “never, never” given in, the conference and the coalition are beginning to make real progress.
Last week the state of Connecticut’s senate voted to repeal their capital punishment statute and replace it with a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. The Connecticut House of Representatives is expected to pass that legislation this week, and governor Dannel P. Malloy has pledged to sign the bill once it reaches his desk.
It’s another sign of the changing nature of the capital punishment debate nationwide.
In a story last week about the Connecticut debate, the Hartford Courant newspaper carried a dramatic statement from Democratic State Senator Edith Prague.
“It’s no secret I have agonized over this issue,” said Prague, a former supporter of the death penalty. “I cannot stand the thought of being responsible for someone being falsely accused and facing the death penalty. For me, this is a moral issue.”
It is a moral issue for everyone. The Catholic Conference of Kentucky — the public policy arm of the state’s bishops — has been saying so for decades. The Kentucky Coalition has added its voice to the debate consistently over the years since its formation in 1988.
And after years of effort, those organizations and their leaders can see the tide turning against capital punishment in Kentucky.
“Every time this happens — every time a state takes the action that Connecticut is taking — we move closer nationally to total abolition of the death penalty,” Father Delahanty said in a telephone interview on Good Friday. “Every state that abolishes capital punishment brings us closer to having the arguments to make before the (U.S.) Supreme Court.”
Father Delahanty said the action in Connecticut could have an impact on other states considering similar measures — Maryland, Kansas and California, where the issue of replacing the death penalty with a sentence of life without parole will be on the ballot in November.
“We’re being heard now more than ever before,” he said, referring to death penalty opponents. “And the momentum is clearly swinging and moving in our favor.”
When the American Bar Association released its report on the death penalty in Kentucky last year — a report that noted the system has serious flaws — it included information about a poll taken in the Commonwealth. That poll noted that 62 percent of Kentuckians polled believe the death penalty system in the state is broken and that there should be a moratorium on executions until it can be examined.
That same poll said 67 percent of people in the state prefer a sentence of life without the possibility of parole over the death penalty.
“I don’t think it’s an accident that the (state) senate judiciary committee gave an hour long hearing to an abolition bill,” Father Delahanty said, “or that the House Judiciary Committee spent more than an hour taking testimony from people who’ve examined the death penalty in the state.
“Things are definitely headed in the right direction,” he concluded.
In good measure that’s because people such as the state’s bishops, Father Delahanty and others have “never, never, never” given up the fight.