US bishops urge Trump, Barr to stop federal executions

(Photo: Wikipedia Public Domain)United States Penitentiary, Terre Haute, Indiana, the location of the federal death row for men and the federal execution chamber.

President Donald Trump's administration intends to execute three inmates on federal death row, the last scheduled executions by the Justice Department before the inauguration of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has signaled he will end federal use of capital punishment.

Since July, when it resumed carrying out the death penalty after a 17-year hiatus, the Trump administration has executed seven federal inmates, The New York Times reported.

The United States is heading to having 10 federal executions in 2020, more than double the previous record of four in 1938.

"In the last 60 years, before the Trump administration restarted federal executions, there were only four federal executions," two bishops wrote on the website of the U.S. Catholic Bishops' Conference.

"Since July, there have been five, which is already more federal executions than were carried out in any year in the last century. There are two more federal executions scheduled this week."

In response to the planned federal execution of Orlando Hall on Nov. 19, and two more federal executions scheduled to take place in December, two U.S. bishops' committee chairmen called on the government to end this practice, Catholic News Service reports.

"We ask President (Donald) Trump and Attorney General (William) Barr, as an act of witness to the dignity of all human life: stop these executions," said the Nov. 18 statement.

It came from Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

"Sadly, we must call on the administration yet again to stop an execution," the archbishops said, noting the country is "now on pace for 10 federal executions in 2020, more than double the previous record of four in 1938."

The archbishops' statement said the death penalty is "not necessary to protect society.

"It is not necessary to hold people accountable for grave crimes. The decision not to execute someone, even someone who has done something terrible, is not 'soft on crime'; rather, it is strong on the dignity of life."

They also quoted Fratelli tutti, the recent encyclical by Pope Francis.

It says: "The firm rejection of the death penalty shows to what extent it is possible to recognize the inalienable dignity of every human being and accept that he or she has a place in the universe."

On Sept. 22, the two archbishops issued a similar statement, urging Trump and Barr to stop an execution that day and one two days later.

Sister Helen Prejean, a Sister of St. Joseph of Medaille and long-time anti-death penalty activist, has spoken against Hall's execution on Twitter.

She described him as a Black man who was "convicted and sentenced to death by an all-white jury after prosecutors enlisted a lawyer with a known track record of excluding black citizens from juries."

Hall, who is 49, was convicted of kidnapping and killing a Texas teenager in 1994.

Sister Prejean tweeted Nov. 18 the Department of Justice is "trying to rush through as many federal executions as possible during the 'lame-duck' period between now and January 20, 2021."

She said that that lawyers with the Justice Department "have informed federal judges that more execution dates will be announced soon."


"This shameful killing spree must end," she added.

convicted of strangling a Missouri woman who was eight months pregnant and taking her unborn baby, who survived. Montgomery is the first woman to face the federal death penalty in decades. She has asked for a delay in her execution because her attorneys have Covid-19.

Sister Prejean has said the "system failed Lisa Montgomery. The ultimate failure would be to execute this woman who is severely mentally ill and suffered through decades of torture at the hands of those who were supposed to love and protect her."

Brandon Bernard, 40, is scheduled to be executed Dec. 10 for the 1999 kidnapping and killing of a husband and wife in Texas when he was 18. Sister Prejean has similarly spoken out for him, saying he is "unjustly on federal death row."

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