“No government is ever innocent enough or just enough to lay claim to such absolute power of death.”
Sr. Helen Prejean
As we patiently await the birth of the Prince of Peace, the backdrop in the United States provides a violent contrast for those in federal prisons. Following the order of Attorney General William Barr, thirteen prisoners housed in federal prisons will be executed before January 20th. Before this decision, the federal government had not killed a person incarcerated on death row in 17 years. This unprecedented killing spree leaves many unanswered questions. One raised by many Catholics is why William Barr received the Christifideles Laici Award at the National Prayer Breakfast in September. This award goes to those who “exemplify selfless and steadfast service in the Lord’s vineyard.” Still waiting for an answer!
Brandon Bernard (40) was executed at 9:27 pm on December 11 for a murder committed with four other teenagers in 1999. In 2018 his legal team discovered that the trial prosecutor withheld evidence from the defense. This was the basis for Bernard’s appeal. This fact changed the minds of six of nine living jurors who sentenced him. Kristin Corella, Executive Director of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, states: “A case like Bernard’s shows how our criminal legal system chooses finality over fairness.”
Bernard was one of a disproportionate number of African Americans receiving the death penalty. According to the ACLU, “The color of a defendant and victim’s skin plays a critical and unacceptable role in deciding who receives the death penalty in the United States. People of color have accounted for 43% of total executions since 1976 and 55% of those awaiting executions.”
According to his lawyers, Bernard expressed his hope that his death might move the country to a future when one would not pointlessly and maliciously kill its own citizens.
In another unfathomable move, William Barr and President Trump have called for additional methods of execution, including firing squads, hanging, poison gas (inhaling nitrogen gas), in addition to the current methods of lethal injection and the electric chair. What is next, a coliseum with lions?
Unfortunately, our country has been focused on a horrific pandemic, an economy in shambles, and a deeply divided political scene. It is unlikely that those being executed in federal prisons will make the headlines.
Let us take a moment to remember in prayer: Alfred Bouglois, Brendan Bernard, Orlando Hall, Christopher Viola, William Lecroy, Keith Nelson, Leynord Mitchell, Dustin Lee Honken, Wesley Ira Purkey, Daniel Lee and Billy Joe Warkey.
May their executions lead us to a peaceful and just way of dealing with violent crimes in our country.