Monday, February 17, 2014

Priest lauds temporary halt of Washington death penalty

The lethal injection room at San Quentin State Prison, completed in 2010. Credit: CACorrections (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) via Wikimedia.Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington state has issued a moratorium or temporary prohibition on executions, drawing praise from a priest who has written against the death penalty.
“This is a step in the right direction,” Monsignor Stuart Swetland told CNA Feb. 12. “The bishops of the United States...have said that there are no conditions under which the death penalty should be used.”

“We hope for the banning of the death penalty in every state,” said Msgr. Swetland, a professor of Christian ethics at Mount St. Mary's University in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

Gov. Inslee announced the moratorium in a Feb. 15 press conference. He said the suspension will last as long as he is governor and he will issue a reprieve on any death penalty case that comes to his desk.

“There are too many flaws in the system. And when the ultimate decision is death there is too much at stake to accept an imperfect system,” he said.

Washington state has executed five prisoners since 1976. The Democratic governor outlined the reasons for his action, saying capital punishment is “unequally applied.”

Though he said there are “many good protections” in the state's death penalty law, he noted that 60 percent of death penalty sentences in Washington state have been overturned. One man was set free and 18 other convicts' sentences were converted to life in prison.

The governor said death penalty convicts are rarely executed. He noted that it costs more to prosecute a capital case than to imprison someone for life without parole. He said there is “no credible evidence” that the death penalty is a deterrent to murder. He added that the death penalty is not always applied to “the most heinous offenders.”

The decision drew criticism from some family members of crime victims.

“I think if it was his family he would perhaps feel a lot differently,” Pam Mantle, whose daughter, son-in-law and two young grandchildren were fatally shot on Christmas Day 2007, told the Seattle Times.

The governor did not commute the sentences of the nine men presently on death row.

Msgr. Swetland said that the Catechism of the Catholic Church is “quite clear” about conditions when prisoners can be incarcerated in a way that they will not threaten innocent life. “

“Not only does it state that the death penalty should not be used, but that it must not be used in those cases,” he said.

“I’d like to see this state-by-state, moving in the right direction,” said the monsignor, who is a contributor to the 2013 book “Where Mercy and Justice Meet.”

Washington state legislators do not plan to work on the death penalty during the legislature’s 2014 session, the Seattle Times reports, though some plan to advance a death penalty ban in 2015.

There are 32 U.S. states that allow capital punishment. Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber declared a moratorium similar to Washington’s in 2011.