The US nuncio has pleaded with Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson not to carry out the first death sentences in the state for more than a decade, the first of which are scheduled for next week.
In his letter Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano told the governor that “capital punishment is unacceptable, however serious the crimes of the condemned may have been”.
"I earnestly request that you commute the sentences of those men who have been scheduled to be executed in the state of Arkansas," he pleaded.
Arkansas has not executed anyone for more than a decade - the longest gap for any US southern state - because of trouble obtaining the drugs needed to kill someone by lethal injection. Most pharmaceutical companies refuse to sell the drugs because of ethical reasons.
All eight men who are scheduled to be executed by Arkansas in the coming weeks have been granted a stay of execution to appeal the use of lethal injection. Their affidavits claim that Arkansas must reveal from where it is purchasing its drugs. A new law allows the state to shield the supplier's name.
The state had obtained the required drugs in 2011 from the UK, but were forced to hand them over to drug enforcement agents because of a ban in exporting lethal drugs in Britain. The drugs had, apparently, been purchased from a small driving school in west London. Governor Hutchinson announced in June this year that the state had purchased the required drugs legitimately and was ready to begin executing prisoners.
"As part of the church's ancient teaching on the dignity of the human person," Archbishop Vigano wrote, "the Holy Father has advocated for 'the establishment of the universal moratorium on executions throughout the world, in order to abolish capital punishment'.
"While never wishing to minimise the pain suffered by victims and their families," Archbishop Vigano said, Pope Francis "nonetheless, recognises [that] 'today capital punishment is unacceptable, however serious the crimes of the condemned may have been".
Prisoners on death row have filed an appeal claiming death by lethal injection is unconstitutional because it is a cruel punishment (PA)
"It is an offense to the inviolability of life and to the dignity of the human person which contradicts God's plan for man and for society and the merciful justice, and it fails to conform to any just purpose of punishment," he continued, quoting the pope. "It does not render justice to the victim, but rather foments revenge."
The first two prisoners slated for execution are Bruce Earl Ward and Don William Davis, who are due to be injected next Wednesday (21 October) from 9pm local time.
Lawyers for Ward, who has been on death row for 26 years, are asking for his execution to be stayed due to mental illness. Ward, his lawyers came, does not have the mental capacity to understand that he is going to be executed by the state. Ward was sentenced to death in 1990 for strangling an 18-year-old convenience store clerk.
Davis was sentenced to death for shooting a 62-year-old woman in her own home with a gun stolen from a neighbour’s house in an earlier robbery. At his trial he claims he was denied access to a second psychiatric consultation, after the state said he was fit to stand trial.
The eight men due for lethal injection are: Ward, Davis, Terrick Terrell Nooner, Stacey Eugene Johnson, Marcel Wayne Williams, Jack Harold Jones Jr., Jason McGehee and Kenneth Williams.
Archbishop Vigano said he wrote the letter to the governor "in solidarity" with the US bishops and a statement by Little Rock Bishop Anthony B. Taylor in which he urged the Arkansas legislature to repeal the death penalty.
The bishop also asked Mr Hutchinson to commute the death sentences for all on death row and, in the interim, schedule no executions. Bishop Taylor's letter followed Attorney General Leslie Rutledge's request that Mr Hutchinson set executions for the eight men.
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