The Abolitionist New  
Vol. 1, No. 10
October 2013
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The Episcopal Church
Capital Punishment


The Rev. Allison Sandlin Liles 


          Over the past sixty years, the Episcopal Church has publicly stood in opposition to capital punishment.  The General Conventions of 1948, 1969, 1979, 1991 and 2000 all reaffirmed this official position against state sanctioned killing.  Even though the present national church hierarchy has remained quiet on the issue, previous presiding bishops have written in great length about it.  

          In May of 1990 then Presiding Bishop Ed Browning wrote an open statement that spoke clearly and concisely: "The taking of a human life diminishes us as a people...using the death penalty against the one who has taken a life means we end up committing the very act we found so repugnant in the first place. And thus we are diminished, both in the sight of God and one another. The taking of a human life, for whatever reason, is an affront to God....The death penalty is an assault on God's purposes in creation." 

          Bishop Browning went on to align himself with individuals and groups working against the continued use of capital punishment, commending their efforts to "light a torch of conscience in our nation."  These advocates of whom Bishop Browning spoke have grown in number over the past 23 years.


          Death penalty abolition groups can be found in every state that still kills their inmates.  From the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement to Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty to Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty in Alabama, people across the country have mobilized to end state sponsored killing. 


          These groups are crucial in the abolition movement.  While the Episcopal Church has an official stance, change will only happen if it becomes more of a local issue. Both secular and religious abolition efforts have originated mostly at the local level and have made a tremendous impact.   


          During last year's push for the successful abolition legislation, a Connecticut network of Episcopal abolitionists organized conversations in churches around the death penalty.  They wrote letters to state representatives and senators and lobbied in person at the Connecticut legislative office building. Diocese of Connecticut's Bishop Suffragan Jim Curry invited clergy to renew their ordination vows during Holy Week while participating in a Stations of the Cross service that meditated on issues of justice in society, and particularly on abolishing the death penalty.  


          That same day the last senator needed to pass the abolition bill held a press conference saying she had changed her mind after opposing similar legislation last year. The Diocese of Connecticut's pubic witness made a difference in abolishing the death penalty. 


          Maryland abolished the death penalty this year, but the efforts began five years ago when Maryland Bishop Eugene Sutton proclaimed, "There is no room for state-sponsored killing and state-sponsored revenge. To kill and to revenge for the killing of another person contributes to a cycle of killing.... Love is doing what is right precisely when it is hard. Jesus taught his disciples to go beyond an 'eye for an eye' and 'a tooth for a tooth,' for that would inevitably lead to what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others would call an 'eyeless and a toothless society.' Instead, he taught us to love even the unlovely and stop the cycle of violence."  


          Yes, the Episcopal Church has an official position opposing capital punishment, but what I find more compelling are the actions and public statements taking place at the regional and diocesan level.  Capital punishment is still legal in 32 states, and there are 3,125 inmates awaiting their execution.  Connecticut and Maryland are brilliant examples of the impact the local church can achieve.  


          I invite all of you to join the EPF Death Penalty Action Group's efforts in lighting a torch of conscience in our nation's legislators. You can organize a letter writing campaign, befriend a person living on death row, hold a vigil each night a person is executed by your state, pray for the executed and their families, join a march or other public witness. No action is too small in this fight.


          The Episcopal Peace Fellowship wants to work with you, your parish and your diocese to eliminate capital punishment in this country. 

          Please call or email our national office to start your local work today. 


          God's Peace.

(Editor's Note: Rev. Liles is a long standing member of the EPF National Executive Council. She was selected as the Executive Director in 2013. You can contact her by e-mail at 

Executions Traceable To 2 Percent Of Counties
          In  a new report issued earlier this month, the Death Penalty Information Center found that only 2% of the counties in this country are responsible for the majority of cases leading to executions since 1976. 
          Moreover, only 2% of the counties in the country are responsible for the majority of today's death row population and recent death sentences.
          All of the 3,125 inmates on death row as of January 1, 2013, came from just 20% of the counties in the United States.     
          The top ten counties among the two percent of counties responsible for more than half of the nation's death row population are: Los Angeles County, CA; Harris County, TX; Philadelphia County, PA; Maricopa County, AZ; Riverside County, CA; Clark County, NV; Orange County, CA; Duval County, FL; Alameda County, CA; and San Diego County, CA.
          The top ten counties among the two percent of counties responsible for over half of the executions since 1976 are: Harris County, TX; Dallas County, TX; Oklahoma County, OK; Tarrant County, TX; Bexar County, TX; Montgomery County, TX; Tulsa County, OK; Jefferson County, TX; St. Louis County, MO; and Brazos County, TX. 
          The report concludes that the death penalty campaigns of relatively few counties impose lasting obligations on the entire state: "This peculiar exercise of discretion results in enormous expenses being passed on to taxpayers across the state", stated a spokesperson for the DPIC. 
          "Moreover, the correlation between the high use of the death penalty and a high rate of error means that courts in these states will be occupied for years with costly appeals and retrials. Some states have recently chosen to opt out of this process, at great savings to their taxpayers," stated the DPIC spokesperson.

          You can read the entire report on the Death Penalty Information Center's website.

Supreme Court Refuses Death Penalty Appeal


          A cursory examination of all the issues to be considered by the United States Supreme Court in the fall 2013 session reveals that only one case tangentially deals with a life and death issue. Yet, the court refused to hear the appeal of Warren Hill, a case that not only violates a prior ruling of the court regarding the death penalty, but the only case rejected that most likely will cost a man his life.
Warren Hill


          Warren Hill is a Georgia inmate convicted in 1986 of killing his girlfriend. He also killed a fellow inmate in 1990 by bludgeoning him with a nail-spiked board. There's no real dispute about the facts of his case. The dispute arises over Hill's mental capacity.


          Hill has an IQ of  70, just low enough to qualify as mildly mentally challenged, and he functions at about a 6th-grade level. The State of Georgia, however, maintains Hill's IQ was 77 when he first raised the issue as a defense. They cited his work record, military service, and the testimony of three experts who as proof that he was not mentally challenged.


         Georgia is the only state in the union that requires a defendant to prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that they are not mentally challenged. The state has rejected his claims, although the state's original three expert witnesses have changed their minds about Hill's mental capacity.


           In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that executing a mentally challenged person constituted "cruel and unusual" punishment prohibited by the 8th Amendment of the Constitution. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court effectively ruled in favor of the State of Georgia by refusing to hear Hill's appeal.


          Hill's lawyer stated that since the federal district court, federal appeals court, state habeas court, Georgia Supreme Court and Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles all denied his applications, the U.S. Supreme Court was Mr. Hill's last hope. "In this case, there is no 'fail safe' available to prevent a miscarriage of justice," Hill's lawyer said.

Ruling Eases Financial Burden On Inmates


           In a decade-old fight, the Federal Communications Commission has ruled in a 2-1 decision that there is a maximum rate that can be charged prisoners and their families when making interstate telephone calls.


          The FCC ruled that it was "just and reasonable" if prisons charged no more than 12 cents per minute and 14 cents per minute for a collect call. Companies can appeal these rates, but the FCC set an absolute maximum rate of 21 cents per minute for a call and 25 cents per minute for collect calls.


          FCC Chairman Mignon Clyburn stated that under the new rates the costs of a fifteen minute call would drop from $15 to $3.75.


          Jessica Rosenworcel, the other FCC Commissioner who voted for the new rates, stated that the it would immediately impact the 2.7 million children in the United States who have at least one parent in jail.


          Payments to states from the companies awarded exclusive contracts reveal a lucrative business. Last year alone, prisons in 42 states received $103.9 million in commissions from the phone firms, according to Prison Legal News.


          Tennessee is a small state, but last year state correction officials were paid about $2.5 million by the exclusive phone carrier. Moreover, Davidson County, home of the Tennessee Capitol, had a contract with the same company as the state and received $1.5 million in 2012. 


          The FCC ruling does not go into effect immediately. It must be published in the Federal Register for 90 days prior to implementation; however, the delay can be longer if the ruling is challenged in court by either the phone companies or prison officials.