South Carolina Catholics pray against death penalty as 37 await execution
Before the state of South Carolina puts another person to death, Catholics will
hold a vigil outside the governor's mansion in Columbia, pleading for mercy for
a convicted killer.
By the time the execution begins at 6 p.m. - it always happens at 6 p.m. - the
protesters will gather outside the Broad River Correctional Institution and
fall silent in prayer or reflection.
The activists won't all be Catholic, but many will. Catholics have joined or
led protests at each of the state's 43 executions since 1985.
As part of a continuing shift in doctrine in the Catholic Church, Pope Francis
announced Aug. 2 that the death penalty is inadmissible in all cases, saying
the practice is "an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person."
Previously, the church taught that the death penalty was inadmissible in all
but the most extreme cases.
Father Jeff Kirby, pastor at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in the Charlotte
suburb of Indian Land, said his parishioners were hardly surprised by the
pope's pronouncement this month. It was a subtle, almost academic shift, and
many lay members believed the church already stood in full opposition to
"In our tradition as Catholics being pro-life, we see it as being consistent
with our opposition to abortion, our opposition to war. We see this as a single
message," Kirby said.
South Carolina's estimated population of 200,000 Catholics has been on the rise
in the past decade, fueled by migration from Northeastern states. Historically,
the church's leaders in the state have taken consistent, sometimes lonely
stands against execution.
Great migration from northeastern U.S. fuels Catholic growth in South Carolina
Ron Kaz, chairman of South Carolinians Abolishing the Death Penalty, is not a
religious man but has stood side-by-side with Catholics at each of the protests
outside the Broad River facility where the state stops men's hearts. While
nothing has changed in the law and powerful South Carolinians still call for
blood after high-profile murders, he said the protests are not in vain and will
resume if the state decides to kill again.
"We used to be harassed at vigils - pickup trucks full of college kids driving
by screaming, 'Fry the bastards.' There's been a dramatic drop in the intensity
of people's support for the death penalty," Kaz said.
Maria Cordova Salinas, a Mount Pleasant resident and member of Charleston's
Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, attended some of the earliest protests with
Kaz in the 1980s and '90s.
She said she regularly meets South Carolinians who oppose abortion and support
the death penalty at the same time, and she can't make sense of it. "Nobody has
the right to terminate anybody's life."
Now she falls silent at home every time the state executes a criminal.
"It's an intense moment. As a Christian, you pray," she said. "Somebody's life
is being taken away."
A long plea for mercy
Today, South Carolina has 37 people on death row and hasn't carried out an
execution since 2011. The only thing preventing further executions is the
refusal of pharmaceutical companies to sell U.S. governments the drugs used in
lethal injections. The state's supply of pentobarbital expired in 2013,
stalling any further executions.
Proponents of the death penalty have offered a few remedies. Some have promoted
a so-called "shield law' that would keep the sellers of lethal injection
ingredients a secret, but similar laws have been blamed for botched executions
in other states, introducing the possibility of cruel and unusual punishment.
Others have suggested that the state bring back the electric chair (it's still
an option, should inmates choose it) or the firing squad.
In the meantime, state leaders still beat the drum for death from time to time.
When Dylann Roof was convicted of the June 2015 mass murder at Emanuel AME
Church, Gov. Nikki Haley called for the ultimate punishment. Bishop Robert
Guglielmone of the Diocese of Charleston disagreed, siding with some of the
victims' own family members in opposing the death penalty.
"The Church believes the right to life is paramount to every other right as it
affords the opportunity for conversion, even of the hardened sinner,"
Guglielmone wrote in a public statement on Jan. 10, 2017. The next day, U.S.
District Judge Richard Gergel sentenced Roof to death by lethal injection.
Guglielmone's stance was consistent with that of his forebears.
Monsignor Charles Roland, 79, remembers the previous generation of Catholic
leaders who stood in the brink against capital punishment. During 16 years
stationed at a parish in Columbia, he visited death row several times to
deliver Bibles and pray with men condemned to death.
He was also close with Monsignor Thomas Duffy - "Tommy," to friends - who
publicly protested the death penalty and visited even the most hardened killers
in their final hours. He recalls debriefing with his friend after Duffy had
visited the infamous serial killer Donald "Pee Wee" Gaskins on death row in
"He used the term 'evil,' but I would never use that term," Roland said. "Tommy
would always believe that there's the last split-second for redemption."
Now serving the parish of Holy Spirit Catholic Church on Johns Island, Roland
said he knows the church's teaching against execution can be a hard pill to
swallow, particularly for parishioners whose loved ones have been murdered.
But he emphasizes that the church's teaching on the subject is nothing new.
'Love the enemy'
During a national moratorium on capital punishment that began in 1962, Bishop
Ernest Unterkoefler of the Diocese of Charleston took a public stand against
bringing the practice back. He spoke to a Congressional subcommittee in July
1978 opposing a bill that would have effectively reinstated the death penalty
at the national level.
He was in the minority. A 1974 survey conducted by The State newspaper had
found that 64 % of South Carolinians favored reinstating the death penalty,
while 25 % opposed it and 11 % had no opinion.
Executions resumed in South Carolina in 1985 following state and national legal
battles and a reinstatement of the death penalty by the state legislature.
The 1st man South Carolina executed under the new regime was Joseph C. Shaw,
who happened to be Catholic and a former altar boy. He and 2 accomplices had
been convicted of murdering and raping 3 victims in Columbia, including a
14-year-old girl whose corpse Shaw later had sex with.
On the day of the execution, Jan. 11, 1985, a crowd of 300 anti-death penalty
protesters marched on the prison, the state Supreme Court and the Statehouse in
freezing rain. Inside the prison walls, Monsignor Duffy of Charleston conducted
mass for Shaw and his family after a final meal of pizza and salad.
Shaw made peace with God, according to his public testimony in the newspaper.
He said in one of his final public statements, "Killing was wrong when I did
it, and it is wrong when you do it."
The state killed Shaw in an electric chair over protests from Unterkoefler and
the Rev. Joseph Clelland of Christ Sanctified Holy Church in Columbia, who had
both pleaded with then-Gov. Richard Riley to spare Shaw's life.
South Carolina may not have drugs needed for December execution
A year later, the state took the life of James Terry Roach, convicted of rape
and murder at age 17. This time the Catholic Mother Teresa and the Baptist
former President Jimmy Carter joined an international plea for mercy. Riley
again refused to grant clemency.
In January 1987, according to a Post and Courier report, Monsignor Duffy
squared off with Charleston Police Chief Reuben Greenberg in a public debate
about the death penalty at Charleston's Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. The
city's top cop favored the death penalty, telling the audience, "Logically and
morally it follows that a killer should share his victim's fate."
Duffy was by then known as a vocal opponent of war, abortion and the death
penalty. He spoke directly to one woman in the audience who said she supported
the death penalty after being robbed at gunpoint three times while running a
store on Meeting Street.
"Love the enemy," Duffy pleaded. "Love will heal me and love will heal my
The electric sofa
Not all Catholics agreed with the monsignor. In fact, prominent Palmetto State
Catholics have come down vehemently on either side of the issue.
Ninth Circuit Solicitor Charlie Condon rose to national prominence for
aggressively pursuing capital punishment in Charleston-area cases starting in
the 1980s. He sought the death penalty for four teenagers in a 1991 murder
case, including one 14-year-old.
In another 1991 case, Condon successfully secured a death penalty for
35-year-old Bud Von Dohlen in the shotgun slaying of 21-year-old Margaret Smith
McLean in a Goose Creek dry cleaning shop. Appealing to the jury in the case,
he reportedly had tears in his eyes as he showed a black-and-white photo of
McLean's naked, bloody body on the floor of the dry cleaner.
"Show him the mercy he showed Margaret McLean," he told the jury according to a
May 29, 1991, report in The Post and Courier. In 2004, the State Supreme Court
upheld Von Dohlen's conviction but overturned his death penalty.
Later, as the state's 1st Roman Catholic attorney general, Condon cheekily
proposed constructing an "electric sofa" to speed up executions.
Another Catholic working in the Ninth Circuit, public defender Ashley
Pennington, has fought the death penalty in numerous cases, including Roof's
But Pennington says his opposition to the death penalty is based on legal and
practical considerations, not religious ones. Capital punishment is often more
expensive than housing a convict for life, and execution has been shown to be
an ineffective deterrent to crime.
"Because it's so expensive and consuming of resources, it only gets used when
people are the angriest. It often gets used when you have victims who are
white, and it reflects the bias of the community to look after the victims who
are the most favored," Pennington said.
In all, South Carolina has executed 282 people since 1912: 208 black and 74
white. Prior to Aug. 6, 1912, individual counties carried out executions by
(source: The Post and Courier)
FLORIDA----stay of impending execution
Justices block execution in Miami-Dade murder
The Florida Supreme Court has indefinitely put on hold Tuesday's scheduled
execution of death row inmate Jose Antonio Jimenez, convicted of killing a
63-year-old woman nearly 26 years ago in Miami-Dade County.
A unanimous order by the court, issued Friday evening, did not give a reason
for granting the stay of execution requested by Jimenez's lawyer, Marty
Gov. Rick Scott in July ordered Jimenez, now 54, to be put to death by lethal
injection and scheduled the execution for Tuesday. The convicted murderer's
execution would have been the 1st since the February lethal injection of Eric
Branch, who reportedly screamed after being injected with the anesthetic
etomidate, the 1st of the state's triple-drug lethal injection protocol.
In a motion for a stay of execution filed this week, McClain raised several
issues, including the fact that he discovered 80 pages of records related to
the investigation into the Oct. 2, 1992, death of Phyllis Minas that the North
Miami Police Department had not previously provided to Jimenez's lawyers.
McClain was first given access to all of the records - more than 1,000 pages -
on July 30, just 2 weeks before his client, who maintains his innocence, was
scheduled to be executed.
The newly discovered records include pages of handwritten notes made by
investigators identified as detectives Ojeda and Diecidue, who interviewed
Jimenez following his arrest t3 days after Minas was murdered, according to
court documents filed this week. The records contradict the detectives'
testimony in Jimenez's case, according to McClain.
"Mr. Jimenez has found, to his mind, surprising and downright shocking
information contained in the previously unseen notes," McClain wrote in a
5-page motion filed in Miami-Dade County circuit court Friday. "It appears that
the notes of Detective Ojeda, the lead investigator, and Detective Diecidue if
not lied, endeavored to deceive when they were deposed by Mr. Jimenez's trial
McClain wrote that he made the discovery within the past 10 days.
"And counsel is frnatical (sic) trying to piece these notes together and
understand what occurred while the clock ticks down on Mr. Jimenez's life,"
The notes "show that Ojeda and Diecidue were willing (to) give false and/or
misleading deposition testimony in order to facilitate Mr. Jimenez's
conviction," McClain wrote in an 8-page amendment to a motion seeking to vacate
his client's judgment and sentence filed with the Supreme Court this week.
"The new documents show dishonest cops, and the conviction is premised on Ojeda
telling the truth," McClain told The News Service of Florida in a telephone
interview Friday evening.
In the motion seeking a stay, McClain also raised the issue of a pending U.S.
Supreme Court case, known as Bucklew v. Precythe, which could have an impact on
arguments about whether Florida's lethal-injection protocol is
The Missouri case deals with a previous U.S. Supreme Court decision, in a case
known as Glossip v. Gross, that focused on lethal injection protocols.
That ruling requires prisoners challenging lethal injection procedures to
establish that "any risk of harm was substantial when compared to a known and
viable alternative method of execution."
"... (I)t is clear that the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to revisit and clarify
the analysis to be used in a challenge to a method of execution. For that
reason, a stay of execution would be more than appropriate in this case just as
it was in Correll," McClain wrote, referring to Jerry Correll, who was put to
death by lethal injection in 2015 in the first execution after the Supreme
Court signed off on the use of the drug midazolam, which has now been replaced
by etomidate in Florida.
The Florida Supreme Court's order Friday halting Jimenez's execution set a
schedule for briefs to be filed by McClain and the state, ending with an Aug.
28 deadline for reply brief to be filed. "Oral argument, if necessary, will be
scheduled at a later date," the order said.
McClain said he did not know the basis of court's indefinite stay.
"But the fact that it's until further order of the court, and it was unanimous,
there's something up, but I don't know what it is," he said.
McClain said that an expert in a separate lethal-injection case had testified
that the use of the drug etomidate could result in screams about 25 % of the
time. The state has used the drug 4 times as part of a new lethal injection
protocol, and Branch was the only inmate who screamed, lending credence to the
expert's testimony, according to McClain.
"Is it OK to have your condemned people scream 25 % of the time? Are we
comfortable with that? And what about the torture to those who are next, who
know that 25 % of the time people are in pain and screaming? Are they going to
be the one? And even if they're not, is it going to be torture for them to be
aware of that?" he said.
Grand jury indicts Wisner Desmerat on 1st degree murder charges for Officer
A grand jury indicted Wisner Desmerat with 1st degree murder for the death of
Fort Myers Police Officer Adam Jobbers-Miller. The charge means Desmerat faces
the death penalty.
He also faces 7 other charges, including resisting an officer with violence,
robbery and attempted 1st degree murder for another officer.
Desmerat's 1st court appearance is scheduled for Saturday morning. He will
appear in court again on August 20th.
Desmerat is in the Lee County Jail, held with no bond.
(source: Fox News)
Hattiesburg man sentenced to death for 2004 murders is resentenced to life
A man sentenced to death for killing his cousin and his cousin's girlfriend in
2004, will no longer sit on death row.
Roger Gillett, 44, and his then-girlfriend Lisa Jo Chamberlin were convicted of
2 counts each of capital murder for the deaths of Vernon Hulett, 34, and Linda
Heintzelman, 37, at Hulett's Hattiesburg home, then putting their dismembered
bodies in a freezer and taking them to an abandoned farm in Kansas.
Each was sentenced to death.
Gillett appealed his 2007 conviction. The Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed
his convictions in 2014 but overturned his death sentence because Gillett's
jury was allowed to consider inadmissible evidence that it otherwise would not
That "inadmissable" evidence was Gillett's attempted escape from the Kansas
jail where he was held after his arrest. It was deemed irrelevant since it did
not relate to the actual killings.
A jury must consider a number of factors when deciding whether to sentence
someone to death, including the severity of the crime, for instance if it was
particularly heinous or committed during another felony such as robbery or
rape. Escape or attempted escape may be considered if the capital crime was
committed to help the perpetrator escape, but not in Gillett's case.
In the Supreme Court's 6-3 decision, justices said not every escape is
considered a crime of violence under Kansas law. Former Justice Ann Lamar, who
wrote the majority opinion, said the Kansas crime cannot be used to support a
death sentence in Mississippi.
On Sept. 18, 2014, the court denied the state's motion for a rehearing, sending
the case back to Forrest County Circuit Court.
Four years later, Gillett was resentenced to life in prison without the
possibility of parole.
Before Gillett was resentenced, court documents show the victims' families were
consulted by the district attorney, who "has carefully considered all matters
pertinent to this case and that she will not seek the death penalty."
Forrest County District Attorney Patricia Burchell said she could not comment
on the case at this time.
Chamberlin's convictions were vacated in March 2017 by a 3-judge panel in the
5th Circuit Court of Appeals only to be reviewed 6 months later by the full
court, which decided in March the convictions would stand.
Chamberlin, convicted in 2006, is listed as an inmate at Central Mississippi
Correctional Facility in Rankin County. She is the only female inmate on
Mississippi's death row.
(source: Hattiesburg American)
Bishops, faith leaders condemn Tennessee's 1st execution in 9 years
2 Tennessee Catholic bishops called the execution of Billy Ray Irick Aug. 9
"Tonight's execution of Billy Ray Irick was unnecessary. It served no useful
purpose," Bishop J. Mark Spalding of Nashville and Bishop Richard F. Stika of
Knoxville said in a statement after Irick was executed at Riverbend Maximum
Security Institute in Nashville.
"In this time of sadness, that began many years ago with the tragic and brutal
death of Paula Dyer and continues with another death tonight, we believe that
only Jesus Christ can bring consolation and peace," the bishops said. "We
continue to pray for Paula and for her family. And we also pray for Billy Ray
Irick, that his final human thoughts were of remorse and sorrow for we believe
that only Christ can serve justice."
They also said they prayed that the people of Tennessee "may all come to
cherish the dignity that his love instills in every person - at every stage of
Irick, 59, died at 7:48 p.m. CDT after Tennessee prison officials administered
a lethal combination of chemicals. According to press reports, before he died
Irick was coughing, choking and gasping for air and his face turned dark purple
as the lethal drugs took effect.
He was the 1st person executed in Tennessee since 2009 and the 1st person
executed in the United States since Pope Francis announced Aug. 2 that he had
ordered a change in the Catechism of the Catholic Church declaring that the
death penalty is inadmissible in all cases.
Irick was convicted in 1986 for the murder and rape of 7-year-old Paula Dyer of
Knoxville and had been on death row ever since.
Attorneys for Irick had filed a last-minute appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court
seeking a stay of his execution until their lawsuit challenging the
constitutionality of Tennessee???s lethal injection protocol could be heard by
the state Court of Appeals.
5 hours before the execution, the Supreme Court rejected the appeal, with a
dissent filed by Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
"In refusing to grant Irick a stay, the court today turns a blind eye to a
proven likelihood that the state of Tennessee is on the verge of inflicting
several minutes of torturous pain on an inmate in its custody, while shrouding
his suffering behind a veneer of paralysis," Sotomayor wrote in her dissent.
On a humid night at sunset, spiritual leaders led prayers and read Scripture to
the group. Others who knew Irick from visiting him on death row shared memories
"Being in that physical proximity, knowing that behind all the concrete walls
and barbed wire a killing is going on is a very sobering thing," said Deacon
James Booth, director of prison ministry for the Diocese of Nashville, who
stood outside the prison with a group of about 20 fellow anti-death penalty
activists as Irick was executed.
Before the execution, Booth was planning how he would minister to death-row
inmates in the coming days. "I will let them speak," he said, to say whatever
they want in order to process the emotions and the grief they might feel, akin
to losing a family member.
While the men on death row are guilty of horrific crimes including rape and
murder, Booth believes, and the Catholic Church teaches, that they still retain
their human dignity and capacity for forgiveness and redemption.
Tennessee's bishops, in the weeks before the execution, issued two statements
calling for the end of the death penalty and condemning Irick's execution.
Spalding, Stika and Bishop Martin D. Holley of Memphis also wrote a letter to
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam in July, urging him to halt Irick's execution and
the 3 other executions scheduled before the end of the year.
Irick's execution had been stayed twice before, in 2010 and 2014, as attorneys
argued the state's lethal injection protocol constituted "cruel and unusual
punishment" and that Irick's history of severe mental illness was not taken
into adequate consideration during his sentencing or throughout the lengthy
The timing of the execution, just 1 week after Francis announced that he was
officially changing the Catechism to oppose capital punishment in all
instances, is disheartening to Booth.
"When the head of the largest Christian denomination in the world speaks out
forcefully against the death penalty ... that should be kind of a force that
should stay the hand of revenge, and it's hard to see this as anything but
revenge," Booth said of Irick's execution.
Research: After decades of decline, support for death penalty increases
Tennessee executed its 1st death row inmate since 2009 on Thursday.
The state put Billy Ray Irick to death for the 1985 rape and murder of
7-year-old Paula Dyer. He was on death row for more than 30 years.
If you believe in the death penalty, you are not alone.
Research shows after decades of decline, support is increasing -- no matter
According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, more than half of Americans
support the death penalty. That's up from just under half 2 years ago, when
support was at its lowest in 40 years.
According to the research, more than 70 % of white Evangelical Protestants
support the death penalty, as do more than 1/2 of Catholics.
This is in contrast with Pope Francis's clarification of the Church's stance on
capital punishment, in which he said it was "inadmissible."
"For some Catholics this was really difficult, particularly for some American
Catholics it was hard to hear because many support the death penalty
particularly in the most egregious cases," said Dr. Tricia Bruce, a professor
of sociology at Maryville College.
Christianity and other religions have a variety of takes on the death penalty.
For instance, a 2009 Pew Research forum reports Judaism does not support it,
but some Muslim-majority countries live by Shariah law, where punishment by
death is accepted.
In the U.S., Bruce says research shows support for the death penalty tends to
increase among certain groups.
"Republicans as opposed to Democrats, it's more true of men than it is of
women, it's more true of white Evangelicals than it is of those who are
unaffiliated," Bruce said. "And given that we have a growth in the religiously
unaffiliated, that actually may portend some lower levels of support for the
death penalty at large."
Death penalty vs. life in prison: The costs----An analysis by the office of the
Tennessee comptroller found that the average cost of death penalty trials cost
almost 50 percent more than both trials with life without parole and life with
the possibility of parole.
While ethical and legal objections are the most common reasons critics oppose
the death penalty, the cost of capital punishment is growing as a reason some
are citing to oppose the method of punishment.
While some people argue that the death penalty saves tax payers money compared
to having a convict serve a life sentence, research shows a different narrative
according to former Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Penny White, Director of
the Center for Advocacy and Dispute Resolution at the UT College of Law.
"It's a fallacy that executions are cheaper," she said. "People think, 'Well,
we're done with them once we eliminate them through execution, we no longer
have to pay the cost of incarceration,' but that is an over-simplistic view
that doesn't take into account all other costs."
The last study of the cost of the death penalty was released by the state
comptroller's office in 2004.
The analysis found that the average cost of capital trial cost almost 50 % more
than both trials with life without parole and life with the possibility of
The comptroller's report cited the greater expense on the increased complexity
of the case, the increased number of agencies in people involved in the case,
more time spent by both the prosecution and defense for preparation and more
steps in the appellate process.
The study says the appeals process has 13 steps, beginning with the
prosecution's decision to seek the death penalty.
"The truth is they can be used in any case that raises a constitutional issue,
it's just that people are more likely to go through the processes when we're
talking about killing someone," White said.
When the comptroller's report was published in 2004, only 1 person had been
executed in the previous 44 years. Robert Glen Coe's execution in 2000 was the
only data used to determine the incarceration cost differences in his execution
versus serving life without parole. He was 44-years-old when executed.
Compared to a life expectancy of 77 years, Coe's execution at 19 years on death
row saved the state $773,736. The study authors noted that since only one
inmate had been executed since the death penalty was reinstated, the estimated
incarceration costs should be reviewed with caution.
More recent national studies show that the cost of capital punishment is even
greater than Tennessee 2004 study indicated.
A 2016 study at Susquehanna University found that on average death row inmates
cost $1.12 million more than general population inmates.
"I think when we talk about costs we have to talk about benefits," White said.
"States that have repealed the death penalty have actually seen a decrease in
their homicide rates and there is absolutely no information to suggest that the
death penalty in any way deters violent crime."
While Texas has drawn the most attention for its high number of executions,
White says the interest in Billy Irick's case has brought the conversation into
the discussion in Tennessee.
"Now that we are about to witness an execution in our state I do hope that it's
rekindled interest and hopefully rekindled the debate about what we're doing,
particularly in cases like those whoa re facing execution in the next few weeks
here, the mental health issue, the other issues in those case that really
suggest that executing is not the correct punishment for those individuals,"
(source for both: WBIR news)
A service courtesy of Washburn University School of Law www.washburnlaw.edu
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