25 April 2022, The Tablet

Executions bring US death penalty debate centre stage

The bishops said: “As people of faith, we know the Easter story is about restoring right order and life triumphing over the evil of death.”

Executions bring US death penalty debate centre stage

Demonstrators against the death penalty outside the US Supreme Court.
Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

A series of controversial executions has put debate about the death penalty centre stage again in the United States. The executions have come at a time when polarisation among the states has alread landed the issue in the middle of the culture wars. 

In South Carolina, the state Supreme Court stayed the execution of Richard Bernard Moore, to allow him time to appeal his case to the US Supreme Court. Moore was scheduled to be executed on April 29 by firing squad, a method not used since 2010. He was found guilty and sentenced to death for murdering a convenience store clerk in 1999.

South Carolina officials said they do not possess the medications needed to execute a prisoner by lethal injection, and they offered Moore the choice of a firing squad or electrocution. Moore chose the firing squad but protested having to make such a choice. “I believe this election is forcing me to choose between two unconstitutional methods of execution, and I do not intend to waive any challenges to electrocution or firing squad by making an election,” Moore said in a statement. 

In Tennessee, authorities postponed the execution of a 72-year old man, citing an inability to prepare properly the drugs needed to kill him by lethal injection. 

Texas authorities executed a 78-year old prisoner, Carl Buntion, by lethal injection on April 21, despite protests from the Texas bishops. The bishops said Buntion “was an elderly, infirm man suffering from multiple chronic health conditions and fighting pneumonia. He was of no threat to anyone.” They called the execution “an act of vengeance and retribution”.

The bishops added: “As people of faith, we know the Easter story is about restoring right order and life triumphing over the evil of death. Killing our fellow human beings, no matter what they may have done, reduces our own humanity and capacity to love.”

Also in Texas, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville led a prayer vigil in the town of Harlingen, the hometown of Melissa Lucio who is scheduled to be executed on April 27. She was convicted in 2008 of killing her two-year old daughter, but her lawyers contend that new evidence proves her innocence. “I think there's a sense that this is kind of a moment for us as a community to say, we need to stop killing people to solve our problems,” Flores said.  

The Texas court of criminal appeals issued a stay of execution for Melissa Lucio, on Monday.

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