National Catholic Reporter

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Pending executions in Kentucky, Florida eyed by execution opponents

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FRANKFORT, Ky. -- Kentucky's Catholic bishops have renewed their plea to Gov. Steve Beshear to grant clemency in a pending execution.

Marco Chapman, whose execution is set for Nov. 21, seeks "suicide by court," the bishops note, a sign of his mental instability resulting from an abusive childhood and a long history of drug and alcohol abuse.

Chapman pleaded guilty to the 2002 murders of two children, and to the attempted murder of another child and their mother. At his request, he was sentenced to death for the murders and received life sentences for the attempted murders and the rape of the children's mother.

Chapman has not challenged his own execution and is considered a "volunteer," opposing efforts to appeal on his behalf.

The bishops acknowledged that the "facts surrounding this grisly crime will engender little public sympathy." And they noted that Catholic social teaching allows, in principle, that governments may take the lives of those guilty of extremely serious crimes.

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"But this principle cannot overshadow the church's consistent belief in the dignity of every human life, even those whose actions and decisions have proved to be subhuman," said the letter from the Catholic Conference of Kentucky, which represents the state's bishops in public policy matters.

The principle that executions may be permitted also cannot "eclipse the hallowed conviction that God alone is the author of life and the arbiter of death," the bishops' statement said.

Kentucky has not executed anyone since 1999. Legal challenges to the state's lethal injection procedure reached the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year. In April the court ruled 7-2 that the state's system met constitutional standards.

In their statement the bishops said they hoped Chapman's case would serve as a catalyst for the state to take a closer look at the death penalty and its implications, such as whether it's necessary in the modern age, whether restorative justice is a better alternative, and whether Christians can "both embrace the Gospel and execute fellow humans while remaining true to the teachings of the Master."

In Florida, meanwhile, Pax Christi Florida is among the organizations encouraging Gov. Charlie Crist to stop signing death warrants, particularly in the case of Wayne Tompkins. Tompkins was granted a temporary stay of execution by the state Supreme Court, which subsequently denied his appeal.

The court acknowledged that a state witness admitted providing false testimony in Tompkins' original trial, but didn't allow his appeal to proceed. Tompkins has maintained his innocence in the 1983 murder of his girlfriend's daughter.

The temporary stay was to expire Nov. 18, after which Crist could sign another death warrant.

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