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US religious leaders call for halt to federal executions

By AFP - Jul 07,2020 - Last updated at Jul 07,2020

Guard towers look over the prison courtyard at Marion Correctional Institution on April 27, in Ohio (AFP file photo)

WASHINGTON — More than 1,000 US religious leaders urged President Donald Trump on Tuesday to abandon plans to resume federal executions after a hiatus of 17 years.

“As our country grapples with the COVID 19 pandemic, an economic crisis, and systemic racism in the criminal legal system, we should be focused on protecting and preserving life, not carrying out executions,” the leaders from various Christian faiths said in a statement. 

“Stop the scheduled federal executions,” they said. 

Last month, the Justice Department announced that federal executions would resume on July 13.

There have been just three federal execution since the death penalty was reinstated in 1988.

Among those signing the letter to Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr were leaders of the Catholic Church, which opposes capital punishment, but also Evangelicals, who are more divided over the question.

“As an Evangelical, I am heartbroken to see our country return to killing its citizens,” said Carlos Malave, executive director of Christian Churches Together.

“Restarting executions during a pandemic should be the farthest thing from our minds.”

Charles Thompson, archbishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis, which includes the Terre Haute penitentiary where the federal death row inmates are housed, also opposed resuming federal executions.

“The taking of life, no matter how ‘sanitary’ or ‘humane’, is always an act of violence,” Thompson said. “I make this plea against the death penalty out of ultimate concern for the eternal soul of humanity.”

The US Supreme Court refused to intervene last month in the decision to resume federal executions.

The top US court rebuffed a suit challenging the lethal injection to be used in the July 13 execution of Daniel Lewis Lee, a white supremacist.

Lee was sentenced to death in 1999 for the murder of a couple and their eight-year-old child in Arkansas.

The mother of one of the victims has implored Trump to grant clemency to the condemned man but the Republican president has so far not acted on the appeal.

Trump, who faces re-election in November, has called for stepped up use of capital punishment, especially for killers of police and drug traffickers.

Only a handful of US states, mainly in the conservative South, still actively carry out executions. In 2019, 22 people were put to death.

Most crimes are tried under state laws, but federal courts can judge some of the most serious crimes — terror attacks, hate crimes and the like — as well as those committed on military bases and Indian reservations.

Among the most notable recent federal executions was that of Timothy McVeigh, who was put to death by lethal injection in 2001 for the 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma that killed 168 people.

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