The Abolitionist New  
Vol. 1, No. 4
April 2013
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Forgiveness: The Missing Element


            A medieval legend states that Jesus and the eleven Apostles were having a discussion in heaven prior to commemorating the Last Supper. A tomb-like silence engulfs the room after the door suddenly flies open and Judas enters the banquet hall. Christ, however, immediately arises, embraces Judas with a holy kiss and says, "We have waited for thee."           


           Forgiveness is one of the most difficult concepts of Christianity, both for personal and societal injustices. Retaliatory acts for perceived injustices are perpetrated daily, while blood feuds between families are legendary. Organized thugs on both the right and left of the political spectrum feed upon the fear, hate and prejudice of people who cannot forgive past wrongs.


            In fact, we don't have to go too far to see examples of intolerance towards men and women on death row-many of them go to church with us each week. There are far too many people within the Christian community who see no conflict between Christ's message of love and forgiveness and their support of the death penalty.


            This bifurcated thinking must be reconciled; yet, how do you reconcile Christ praying for forgiveness for the people crucifying him with one of his modern-day followers arguing that a person should euthanized for a crime they may not have committed?


           Prior to converting the general public to support the abolition of the death penalty, we need to have an open discussion with people in our church who support the death penalty.  Here are a few questions that might be used to begin a discussion of the death penalty with Christians who favor capital punishment:


            Is It Supported In Gospels?  What specific sections of the Gospels can you cite that leads you to believe that Jesus supports the death penalty?


            Are Innocent People Executed? What recourse is available to people who are executed, but later evidence determines their innocence. How do you restore life? Currently 142  people have been released from death row because evidence-including DNA-has surfaced that proved their innocence. As one survivor of the death penalty stated, 

"You can release an innocent man from prison, but you can't release him from the grave."


            Is Race And Poor Legal Representation A Factor? What can be done to insure that race is not a factor in seeking the death penalty and that competent legal representation is provided at the trial level. Being able to hire your own attorney-rather than being assigned a public defender-greatly influences how your case proceeds.


            Is All Life Is Sacred? If all life is sacred then should there be degrees of punishment for murders? Recently, a man in Nashville killed his landlord and then decapitated him with a shovel. He pleaded guilty and received 25 years in prison. However, prisons across the country have men and women awaiting execution for less heinous crimes. Who is wise enough to make the distinction on which crime deserves death and another a few years in jail? It's this type of inequity that fuels the needs for abolition of the death penalty.


              No one argues that punishment for a crime should be overlooked, but compounding the problem by committing state-sanctioned murder borders on the foolish. We must follow Jesus who stated that he had been sent "to proclaim freedom for the prisoners."


            In the last few months, discussions have commenced across the country on the propriety of retaining the death penalty. This discussion is needed, especially in a country that prides itself on being a world leader.

           Christians need to be at the forefront of this movement in each state. We need to suspend our judgments about retribution and focus on preventing the state from taking the life of another human being.


Ronald T. Clemmons


Death Penalty Abolition Action Group



"Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are." ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Gideon Logo 2
Lawyers' Fees Affect Representation 
            In the 1963 landmark case of Gideon v. Wainwright, the United States Supreme Court unanimously ruled that all defendants in state criminal proceedings must be provided an attorney. 

           However,  a new study conducted by the National Association of Defense Lawyers on the fiftieth anniversary of the ruling, finds that the legal representation of defendants with court appointed attorneys is being compromised by the low fees court-appointed lawyers are allowed to collect.

            Hourly rates vary in different jurisdictions, but  in states that have adopted a statewide rate, the average fee compensation is less than $65 per hour, with some states allowing only $40 per hour.

            "It is also important to recognize," states the report, " that the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that over 80 percent of felony defendants have publically assigned counsel."

            The correlation between the number of people on death row who had a court appointed attorney is strengthened by this report. The report states plainly, "It is undeniable that the rate of compensation is directly linked to the quantity of attorneys willing to accept court appointments and the quality of their representation.
            The report further states that the "attorney's right to fair compensation and the
defendant's rights are "inextricably linked" and "[t]he relationship between an attorney's compensation and the quality of his or her representation cannot be ignored."
            The entire report is online: Gideon at 50: A Three-Part Examination of Indigent Defense in America.

Death Penalty Information Center

 Worst Offenders Don't Always Get Death


            In cases with multiple defendants, the "worst" offender does not always receive the worst punishment. For example, in Arizona, Patrick Bearup was the only one among four co-defendants to receive the death penalty, even though he was not directly involved in killing the victim. The other three defendants, one of whom instigated the offense, another of whom beat the victim with a baseball bat, and a third who shot the victim, were able to secure plea bargains, avoiding trial. Two of them are likely to be released within 15 years.


            According to Dale Baich of the federal public defender's office in Arizona, of the six inmates executed there in 2012, four were equally or less culpable than their co-defendants, and 3 of those 4 co-defendants have already been released. A judge who reviewed Bearup's case, criticized the prosecutor for pursuing the death penalty against a man who "even under the state's theory, did not cause the physical death" of the victim. The judge nevertheless upheld the death sentence.


            In another Arizona county, the prosecutor announced the county could only afford one death penalty case at a time, thereby ending a capital prosecution in an egregious murder, while pursuing it in a comparable case. Christopher Dupont, a lawyer in Arizona said, "Do people who commit equally heinous crimes get the same results? The answer is unquestionably no. It's a total mystery who is going to face the death penalty and who is not."


            Information courtesy of the Death Penalty Information Center.

"Starvin' For Justice March" Slated For D.C.


            The twentieth annual "Starvin' For Justice" fast and vigil at the Supreme Court Building in Washington D.C. is scheduled for June 28--July 2, sponsored by Abolitionist Action Committee.

Starvin For Justice

            Using two Supreme Court decisions--Furman v. Georgia and  Gregg v. Georgia-- the event is a tool for educating the general public about the immorality of capital punishment.
            In 1972, the Supreme Court ruled in Furman v. Georgia, ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional because it violated the Fourth and Eighth Amendments of the Constitution because it was inequitably applied. Four years later, the death penalty was reinstituted when the Supreme Court ruled in Gregg v. Georgia that new rules for applying the death penalty met constitutional guidelines.
            Exonerated death row prisoners, murder victim family members, over 50 anti-death penalty activists from a dozen or more states and several countries, and leaders of state and national anti-death penalty organizations are expected to attend.
            For more information, go to "Starvin' For Justice".       


 A Living Homily Of Faith

Kapaun Photo
Fr. Kapaun




 "If we fail to forgive, we're rejecting our own faith."




          Army Chaplain Fr. Emil Joseph Kapaun 

Awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor

April 11, 2013, by President Barack Obama

For Service Above and Beyond The Call of Duty

Action Citation on Which the Medal Was Awarded