So many injustices exist in our world that it challenges us to notice all of them. Some get overlooked or forgotten. Not so the dignity-of-life issue that has been raised by the State of Oklahoma and is getting national attention. Following a seven-year moratorium on the death penalty, the state, with the August 25 execution of James Coddintgon, has begun its intent to execute 25 of its 43 prisoners on death row between August 25, 2022 and December 24, 2024. Why? Because the state is “catching up” with executions delayed by the moratorium resulting from botched lethal injections administered in 2015.
As a society, we are called to hold people accountable for wrongdoing, but that can include seeking and offering forgiveness while pursuing accountability. A death penalty – which denies human dignity – is not necessary to achieve justice and to protect society.
Mercifully, these 24 remaining Oklahoma inmates will have two years or less to experience often subhuman conditions and daily attacks on their human dignity. (Some have been on death row for over 25 years.) Counterintuitively, having a specific execution date often calms an inmate. Each can better prepare himself for his death, make attempts at restorative justice with victims’ families, reconnect with his family and, hopefully, with his faith.
In a series of blog posts, we will look at each death -row inmate during the month of his scheduled execution. We will review these aspects of his story:
- his crime(s),
- his claim of innocence or admission of guilt,
- how effects of race, ethnicity, social status, education, mental capacity, and quality of legal representation influenced the sentence he received,
- the appeals process as his execution date approaches,
- or, examine the “why” of his exoneration. Often it is not until minutes before an execution that a governor commutes the sentence – either offering life without parole or declaring the prisoner innocent.
We will also have an opportunity to examine our own thoughts on the death penalty and how they square with the Catholic Church’s Social Teaching on the “dignity of life” for all persons, innocent or guilty. This subject and the overall issue of fairness in the criminal-justice system are explored in depth in Dignity and the Death Penalty, a resource for faith sharing in small groups.
“Not even a murderer loses his personal dignity.”
--Saint John Paul II, Evangelium vitae
Reflect: Does any of what you just read trouble you? If so, how?