September 2, 2005

Governor commutes death sentence
of mentally ill man to life without parole

By Mary Ann Wyand

Gov. Mitch Daniels spared the life of Indiana Death Row inmate Arthur Baird II on Aug. 29 just two days before the 59- year-old former Darlington, Ind., resident was scheduled to be executed by chemical injection at the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City, Ind.

Baird was sentenced to death by a Montgomery County jury in 1987 for the September 1985 murders of his parents, Arthur and Kathryn Baird, and his pregnant wife, Nadine, at their homes in Darlington. He also was charged with the feticide of his unborn child.

Baird’s lawyers had asked the Indiana Parole Board to commute his capital sentence to life in prison without parole because his mental illness led him to stab his parents and strangle his wife.

During the hearing at the prison, Baird told the parole board that he is seeking clemency so he can do the good work that God wants him to do while incarcerated at the penitentiary.

Last week, after a second hearing at the Indiana Government Center in Indianapolis, the Indiana Parole Board voted three-to-one to recommend that the state proceed with the execution.

In his executive order, Daniels said he had considered “the unique circumstances of this case” and granted clemency based on all the facts.

“The case of Arthur Baird would justify the death penalty based upon the nature of his crimes, the unchallenged certainty that he committed them, and the care and completeness of the legal process in imposing that sentence and in consistently upholding it over the years since those crimes occurred. Nonetheless, given certain unusual, probably unique circumstances in this case, a different outcome seems more just.”

Daniels noted that “life without parole was not an option in Indiana when Mr. Baird was sentenced” and that “such a sentence has since become an option and would be available to the jury today.”

The governor also considered the fact that “the unanimous sentiment expressed by family members at the time of the trial and years later demonstrates that they believed life without parole was the most appropriate penalty for Mr. Baird. All members of the jury whose views are known also indicate that, had life without parole been an alternative available to them, they would have imposed it instead of the death penalty.”

The state offered Baird the equivalent of life without parole in a plea agreement before the trial, Daniels noted, but Baird rejected it apparently due to his delusional state.

Daniels also noted that Indiana Supreme Court Justice Ted Boehm recently wrote that Baird is “insane.”

Msgr. Joseph F. Schaedel, vicar general, responded to the governor’s executive order on Aug. 29 by thanking him on behalf of Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein, who is participating in a retreat this week.

“I was pleased to learn today that Gov. Mitch Daniels granted clemency and commuted Arthur Baird’s sentence to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole,” Msgr. Schaedel said. “Gov. Daniels’ decision is a courageous one that respects the sacredness of human life, and we applaud him for his careful consideration on this issue.”

Catholics oppose the death penalty because the circumstances of our day do not warrant it, the vicar general said. “We believe society can be protected without taking the life of an individual, thereby giving individuals every chance to repent and seek reconciliation with God. God is merciful and seeks out those who are lost.

“We believe the state should not exercise its right to impose the death penalty if the evil effects outweigh the good,” he said. “In recent times, the death penalty has done more harm than good. There is no demonstrable proof that capital punishment deters violence.”

Msgr. Schaedel also offered his continued prayers for victims of violence, including family members of the late Arthur, Kathryn and Nadine Baird.

“We recognize the importance of justly punishing people who commit crimes, but we believe the appropriate punishment for Mr. Baird is life imprisonment without the possibility of parole,” the vicar general said. “We deeply appreciate the fact that in this case, Gov. Daniels agrees.”

Glenn Tebbe, executive director of the Indiana Catholic Conference, the public policymaking group for all five Indiana Catholic dioceses, said he is “pleased that Gov. Daniels has granted clemency and commuted Arthur Baird’s death sentence to life imprisonment.”

Tebbe noted that the Catholic Church “teaches that capital punishment undermines the sacredness of human life, …. fails to combat crime effectively and doesn’t contribute to building a society that is free from crime. Furthermore, it neither helps the victims who survive nor does it mitigate the loss of the victims who do not.”

Tebbe praised Daniels’ decision to grant clemency for Baird as “prudent and virtuous,” and said “justice and the common good have been well served by the governor’s action.”

Servants of the Gospel of Life Sister Diane Carollo, director of the archdiocesan Office of Pro-Life Activities, said the governor “commuted the death sentence of a criminally insane man” and “mercy was the appropriate response in this situation.”

Sister Diane said society “readily accepts the destruction of innocent human life as routine and calls it the right to choose. Therefore, it is not at all surprising that the death penalty has grown in popularity in recent years. The same mentality that fuels abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, stem-cell research and reproductive cloning can be detected in many who promote the death penalty.” †


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