In the chaos and hooliganism that erupted in the weeks preceding the inauguration, another monstrous and depressing story may have been overlooked.
For some unfathomable reason, in the waning days of the last administration, the United States government decided it was important to kill 13 federal prisoners on death row. Apparently they wanted the deeds accomplished before the last chief executive left office.
Only God knows why.
Consider this: Included in the death parade were a female prisoner and a man with an IQ of just 69. One of those killed was put to death while suffering from COVID-19. The killing spree began in July 2020 and ended shortly before Joseph Biden was scheduled to become the 46th President.
According to reports in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Catholic News Service and other news outlets, all 13 of those put to death were prisoners who had, in the words of the Times, “outstanding legal claims.”
“Some who faced the death penalty had future hearings scheduled before lower courts,” the Times reported. Those hearings were “wiped away by the Supreme Court” so the executions could proceed on schedule before the leadership of the government changed.
On the nation’s highest court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor voiced opposition to the federally-sanctioned deaths.
“This unprecedented rush of federal executions has predictably given rise to many difficult legal disputes,” she wrote in a dissent in the case of Dustin Higgs, a Black man sick with COVID-19 who was killed on Jan. 16.
“Against this backdrop of deep legal uncertainty, the Department of Justice did not tread carefully,” Justice Sotomayor added. In her dissent she detailed “the government’s efforts to fast-track the killings before courts had meaningful opportunities to determine if the executions were legal.”
In other words, at a time when the Supreme Court could have served as a buffer to the Justice Department’s new-found zeal for executions, the majority of justices simply took a pass.
The killing spree began in July 2020 and ended shortly before Joseph Biden was scheduled to become the 46th President. It had been two decades since the federal government executed a prisoner prior to last July. So why the sudden blood lust?
Two members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement Jan. 11 urging the government to halt the killings and, more than that, end the federal death penalty.
Archbishops Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City gave voice to their opposition in a joint statement.
The pair noted that the federal government was in the process of killing in a year “more people than all 50 states combined.”
The statement noted that it is “long past time to abolish the death penalty from our state and federal laws.” And during a forum on the death penalty held at Georgetown University on the dark day of Jan. 6, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas, joined the voices calling for the killing to end.
“We let people die or we kill people, in the death penalty’s case, to solve problems,” he said at the event, as reported in the Jan. 14 issue of The Record.
“And the church is simply saying: Enough blood. Stop.”
The fact is a majority of Americans want the death penalty abolished. According to a Gallup poll published in 2019, slightly more than 60 percent of those polled preferred a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole over state-sanctioned killing.
The bottom line here is simple: It is far past time to do away with a notion of justice that seems to say “if you don’t kill them, they’ll never learn.”
Study after study has indicated that the death penalty is not a deterrent to capital crimes. And our faith tells us that putting people to death is simply wrong.
It is a wrong against humanity; a wrong defined by the core of our faith; a wrong in the eyes of God.
Thus far 21 states have abolished capital punishment and four others are under governor-imposed moratoriums on executions.
In our own state, the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty has made substantial progress toward changing the hearts and minds of many citizens and lawmakers on this issue. It may be that a prohibition against this heinous application of the law is in our future.
Let’s help make it so.
Record Editor Emeritus