Human Dignity vs Dehumanization: A Conversation

Posted by Alice Hugh Brown on Sep 13, 2022 12:02:00 PM

James Allen Coddington (March 22, 1972  - August 25, 2022)

“James Coddington is dead.”

“Oh, heart attack? Stroke?”

“No, execution. James Allen Coddington was the first of 25 death-row prisoners to be executed by the State of Oklahoma within the next two years.”

“Was he guilty of murder?”

“Yes. Under the influence of cocaine, he murdered a friend who had been helping him try to become ‘clean.’”

“Wow, how did he get to that point of violence?

“His mother deserted him not long after his birth; his alcoholic father physically abused him and laced his baby bottles with alcohol. This was to keep him quiet, but it led to an early alcohol addiction.”

“Well, a lot of people have lousy childhoods and don’t commit murder.”

“That is true. Some people are stronger, and some have support systems to help them overcome their past.”

“How about his education?”

He did attend high school and went to a private college but had trouble with schooling and holding down a job because of his cocaine and alcohol addiction. The jury in his first trial heard nothing about his mental status. At his later appeals, Coddington’s lawyers sought a life sentence for him because of his chronic mental disabilities.

“They must have been denied if he was executed.”

“Actually, through more than one hearing and many appeals while he was on death row, Coddington was denied a life sentence in place of the death penalty. At his last appeal, the parole board did consider Coddington's traumatic childhood and the fact that he had been an "exemplary" prisoner among the mitigating factors that prompted them to recommend commutation. Governor Stitt denied either a commutation of his sentence or a sentence of life.


So might a conversation about the death penalty begin. James Coddington’s early life experiences formed him. Without medical intervention, he was hampered from becoming a healthy adult. Did he deserve punishment? Yes, he took the life of another person and needed to pay his debt to society. Did he deserve execution? No. All life is sacred. Even a murderer deserves to die a natural death.


"There are other ways to administer just punishment for crimes without resorting to lethal measures that do not align with our state’s pro-life values and only serve to perpetuate the cycle of violence. Pray for an end to the death penalty."

Archbishop Paul Coakley, Oklahoma City


Reflect: How might you begin a conversation with someone about the death penalty?

Topics: justice, mercy, Catholic social teaching, dignity of each person, Dignity and the Death Penalty

Alice Hugh Brown

Written by Alice Hugh Brown

Alice Hugh Brown is the author of Dignity and the Death Penalty: Evolution of Catholic Teaching.

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