Anne Lastman 

I usually don’t get involved in “death issues” other than abortion and sexual abuse because there are others whose charism might be in the area they are called to just as I believe that I am working in the area that I am guided to by the Lord.

However, at this moment I would like to make comment on an issue which should disturb all of us and yet very little has been written or heard about it.  The recent Popes have all spoken about it but still it continues, usually in silence, except for a small paragraph on pager 17 of a daily newspaper or as an afterthought on daily e-news bulletins.  The issue in question is the death penalty. In our supposed civilised western society, the leader of the western world, United States of America, still has states which have execution as a final punishment. I have often been accused of being one eyed with comments “you don’t care about other life matters” which is untrue, but I have focused mostly on abortion and latterly sexual abuse, death of innocence, because I can’t spread myself thinly and I cannot possibly speak about or fix all the world’s ills.  However, this latest incidence In the State of Alabama (USA) has moved me so much that I have been forced to speak. 

First of all, I have to say that I am rabidly pro-life and that means all life.  I cannot defend the life of a pinhead, peanut sized, infant and then agree that the death penalty is acceptable.  That surely is a hypocrisy.  I simply try and stay out of other issues including the above mentioned and euthanasia because I know that there are others dealing with these issues and doing them well and I am not so learned in the area.  

But in the instance of this latest attack on life, that is, the intentional killing on 25/1/2024) of a long term convicted murderer Kenneth Smith, prisoner in Alabama state prison USA, I really feel compelled to say something.  He was successfully asphyxiated with nitrogen gas. A new method of carrying out the gruesome death penalty. This prisoner had been convicted in 1988 and had survived other attempts at execution, most recent failed attempt in 2022, when officers “aborted” the attempt to carry this out by lethal injection, after struggling to insert needle in his arm.

This state of Alabama has now developed a new method of execution and called it a “more humane” method known to man (almost a boast and oh so proud of the new achievement). This new method is supposed to work much quicker, although the observers at this latest execution said it did take longer than it was suggested, and it is a much simpler method so that unlike the injection and difficulty in finding the vein this would be done by strapping down the prisoner and placing a mask on his face and head and the inflow the nitrogen would do its work.  Simple to kill a human whose right to life which belongs to God was taken from him as he had taken the life of the woman, he had killed at the behest of her husband thirty years earlier. Society, law, and hierarchy no different than the one being executed.  It appears that the new method was the achievement and the surety that this would be successful without struggle from the prisoner and possible trauma to witnesses to the fact.  

As I read the cold detailed description of the new questionable method, we read and hear that it took many minutes for him to completely stop breathing and be declared dead.

The gruesomeness of this “new humane method” which came after Mr Smith’s incarceration of over 30 years waiting daily to be executed and the attempts which failed, and prolonged fear, and the fact that the husband of the victim paid him (Smith) to kill his wife, makes one to wince in horror. We are not speaking about a very primitive nation, primitive society, we are talking about the so called most advanced and most fair, most just nation in the world. America.

And to read of the struggle that the victim put up and I imagine the fear that would have overcome him and this after over 30 years imprisonment?  How can this be possible? How can media and witnesses be called to observe such gruesomeness and then be able to sleep at night?  How can the family of the first victim stand there? Did it bring back the lost one?  Was thirty years with total loss of freedom not enough punishment? The many failed attempts at execution not enough?

It seems Alabama still has the Lex Talionis law of an eye for an eye (Ex 21:23-27. Reciprocal justice) but I am under the impression that Jesus came to reverse that law. Even with the victim’s husband being a preacher, the family (children/relatives) stood and watched, and I am sure that these people after the execution turned up at some church and pretended to pray, justifying the final outcome. 

I’ve had many difficulties with this and all which went on. Perhaps this is because of the intentional death and its effects on someone who has caused another to die, similar to a woman who has taken her infant to die.  I hear about the grief and terror which results from this, and it takes much effort to have a person believe that they can be forgiven.  In thirty years of imprisonment was it not possible that the “hit man” had time to think and regret his action?  That it was for $1000.00 which was paid by the victims own preacher husband he signed his own death warrant? Loss of his freedom, pain for his own family?

What we see in this is that rehabilitation of a criminal is not the end desire in certain American states but legalised murder the end result.  Like abortion (legalised murder) Death penalty (legalised murder). To date it seems that euthanasia is only legal in some states (Oregon, Washington D.C, Hawaii, Washington, Maine, Colorado, New Jersey. California and Vermont) for remainder of states it is considered still illegal, but I have no doubt that other states, in due course, will also follow suit. All these three types of murder have the intent factor attached to them and under the umbrella of justice, law, rights.

What great lunacy we are seeing when the death penalty is used as a method of justice when clearly it is nothing of the sort.  Murder, assaults, abortion in millions, euthanasia, assisted suicide, and other crimes continue to be committed and flourish in all nations and threat of the death penalty changes nothing.  The death penalty has not acted as a deterrent because those involved are already trapped in some hell or another. What a better way it would have been if a model could be developed and used to rehabilitate those involved in criminal activities and lifestyles in order that they go from criminals and become witnesses to a redeemed life which could be a model for change of the culture of death to a culture of life, and criminals into honourable people. From great sinners to great saints.

What I found so disturbing in the whole sorry saga was the lack of respect and mercy shown by the executioners, representatives of the law, representatives of state and witnesses of the family of the victim. And even respect for the prisoner’s own family and their pain.   Prison commissioner, corrections staff, and reporters watching from a viewing room a man strapped on a gurney fighting, struggling against death.  Also, what I found strange is the fact that for 30 years he had been in prison and yet this was not enough punishment.  The last indignity had to be accomplished (reciprocal justice) and the final indignity. Death. 

Like abortion, death is still death of the child whether by chemical means or dismemberment, it’s still intentional death.  Legal death like the death penalty is still intentional death.

It has been argued with me that the child in the womb is innocent and doesn’t deserve to die…agreed.  No argument from me there, and drug couriers are drug couriers who in most cases are also addicts and therefore all manner of suffering found in them, and murders are still murderers but in a society which is supposed to have developed to a stage of civility, generosity, capacity, compassion, then the death penalty shows not any of these advancements. We can land man on moon but have not found a way that eliminates the Cain streak in society. 

I am reminded of the words of the Late Holy Father St John Paul II “not even a murderer loses his personal dignity and God makes Himself its guarantor. As St Ambrose teaches, God did not want to punish Cain for the murder, as He wants the repentance of the sinner” (EV 9).

Our present Holy Father, Pope Francis, recently spoke some beautiful words on this topic “when the death penalty is applied, persons are killed not for present aggressions, but for harm caused in the past. Moreover, it is applied to persons whose capacity to harm is not present but has already been neutralised and who find themselves deprived of their freedom.”  (Zenit News 22/3/2015). 

Thirty years without any freedom, membership within his family community, and still the death penalty?  And this in America the land of the free and the brave? The land of the “God bless America” mantra, with its human butchery of all kinds. We’re asking God to bless, the 5 million abortions, pa, death penalty laws, euthanasia, assisted suicide, innumerable murders, and the chant is “God bless America?” 

The words of Pope Francis speak directly to those who were and are facing execution in the present and to all the other prisoners who have been, are, or to be so treated in the future.  

In the 21st century cannot there be a way found which is humane in order to rehabilitate those who have failed? Is the only way in a modern society still via means of legally imposed gruesome death?  Is this any different than the legally imposed death of in utero infants?  Babies killed by legalised executioners and witnesses to the event (doctors, nurses, parents, friends?)

This goes also for other nations who still impose the death penalty.  It hasn’t stopped what it was meant to stop but continues to dehumanize all of humanity and cheapens life further. 

It’s no wonder that we have such disrespect for life at all levels when laws decree that life can be disposed of because its cheap and in our very advanced society, we cannot find other ways to resolve social problems. 

It was said by journalists attending the execution that the man (prisoner Smith) gave love looks to each member of his family. “I’m sorry” There is a grace in that.  He had a minister who anointed him. That is a grace, and he struggled and gasped, and then there was silence.

I wonder if the sons of the woman murdered at the request of her own husband and their father felt better after the death of Mr Smith?  Were they able to sleep better that night? Were they vindicated?   My suspicion is that they weren’t.  My suspicion is that they went home empty just as the family of the prisoner who was executed.  

Much can be written about those who were present.  How they felt. The families of victim and family of the prisoner, and the Commissioner of the Prison system, who said that justice had been finally done. But had it?  Maybe the human kind of justice but not God’s kind of justice.

It took 30 years to reach the moment when justice was supposed to have been done. Thirty years of loss of freedom, constant attempts at execution, lack of even a skerrick of compassion for someone who was destined to die, moments of hope when attempts were being made to save him.  Was justice done on 25/1/2024?  No, it wasn’t. This is simply another way which the culture of death manifests and feeds on itself. Justice, another word used for intentional, legal death.