Catholic leaders denounce executions in Arizona

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By Carol Zimmermann, Catholic Press Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) – The Catholic bishops of Arizona and other Catholic opponents of the death penalty have spoken out against the June 8 execution of Frank Atwood, just as they did the June 11 execution. May of Clarence Dixon, another death row inmate from Arizona.

The two executions by lethal injection took place at the State Prison in Florence, Arizona, after an almost eight-year hiatus in executions in the state due to the difficulty of obtaining lethal injection drugs and criticism that a 2014 execution in the state was botched.

Atwood, 65, was facing the death penalty for his conviction in the 1984 murder of an 8-year-old girl. Dixon, 66, was sentenced to death for his conviction in the 1978 murder of a 21-year-old Arizona State University student.

The United States Supreme Court denied final appeals by attorneys for the two detainees, allowing their executions to move forward.

In late March, Arizona officials announced that the state would resume executions.

“Unfortunately, once these executions begin, it is likely that many more will follow relatively quickly, the Arizona Catholic Conference said in a May 2 statement.

The state’s bishops have said they remain steadfast in their “continued opposition to the death penalty, especially in the modern age,” a position they say is “united with Pope Francis, who has pleaded for a global end to capital punishment”.

The day before Dixon’s execution, the now-retired Bishop of Phoenix, Thomas J. Olmsted, led a prayer vigil at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral in Phoenix praying for an end to the death penalty .

“The church has the deepest compassion for the victims of brutal crimes as well as their families,” the bishop told the congregation at the vigil. “We must always pray for the healing of all those affected by these crimes (but) we believe that all human life, every human person, from conception to death, is sacred.”

“Even a murderer is not outside the infinite mercy of God. The possibility of true repentance and salvation remains for each person while they are still alive,” he added.

He ended his homily with prayers that Dixon “may die with a contrite and repentant heart.”

Witnesses to Dixon’s execution said there was no expression of repentance, no word of remorse.

Mike Phelan, director of the office of marriage and respect for life for the Diocese of Phoenix, told the Catholic Sun, the media outlet for the Diocese of Phoenix, that capital punishment is a difficult issue for some Catholics as well as those who are not. not believers.

“I think people struggle with this issue, especially if they have been affected in their family or know someone who has been affected in their family by a heinous crime,” he said, ” because we have this sense of justice, and how do you balance the scales of justice when there has been horrible, intentional harm (committed).

“I think there is some difficulty about that among Catholics because we don’t want to violate justice when we plead for mercy,” he said.

Arizona stopped carrying out death sentences in 2014, after the execution of Joseph Wood, who was put to death using a mixture of two drug injections that took more than two hours . In 2017, the state’s plan to improve the process was accepted by a federal judge, paving the way for executions to resume.

Critics said Dixon’s execution was also botched, as it took almost two hours due to the difficulty of inserting an IV into his veins.

In response to the executions of Dixon and Atwood, Catholic Mobilizing Network posted separate tweets saying they “mourn this needless loss of life. Death is not the answer to death and executions are not justice.

The group also paid tribute to the victims and their families and prayed for their recovery.

Sister Helen Prejean, a sister of Saint-Joseph de Médaille, who is a longtime opponent of capital punishment, had Twitter feeds about both executions.

She said that even though “Dixon’s history of mental illness was well known to the state, the judge in his death penalty case allowed him to fire his public defender’s appointment and represent himself in court. court case”.

Regarding Atwood, she said her sentence was “based on an incorrect interpretation of the law with no evidence to support that interpretation. If it weren’t for those mistakes, Frank wouldn’t be facing execution today.

“What does it say about our legal system when the courts refuse to consider a manifest error that resulted in an invalid death sentence? It is a system of technical rules and regulations that are almost always applied to the detriment of the vulnerable and deprived,” she tweeted.

Contributing to this report was Jeff Grant, The Catholic Sun

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