July 3, 2020

Supreme Court allows federal executions to move forward

By Natalie Hoefer

The United States Supreme Court justices voted 7-2 on June 29 to reject an appeal filed on behalf of four federal death row inmates, whose rescheduled executions were announced on June 15.

The executions of Daniel Lewis Lee, Wesley Ira Purkey and Dustin Lee Honken are set to take place on July 13, 15 and 17, respectively. The execution of Keith Dwayne Nelson is set for Aug. 28.

The executions will take place at the Federal Correctional Facility (FCC) in Terre Haute, which falls within the boundaries of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson’s reaction to news of the failed petition corresponds with the tone of a statement he issued on June 18. In the statement he quoted paragraph 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church regarding the death penalty.

“The death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,” the paragraph, revised by Pope Francis in 2018, states.

“The basis of this revision is consistent with the teachings of the last three popes,” Archbishop Thompson said in the statement. “The Church has consistently held up the dignity of the person and sacredness of life from the moment of conception to natural death.”

He noted that “the grave criminal acts for which those on ‘death row’ have been found guilty of committing can never be overlooked, diminished or forgotten.”

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

Five federal executions were originally slated to take place at the FCC in December 2019 and January 2020. One inmate received a stay of execution, while lawyers for the other four inmates challenged a new protocol for the executions. The appeal resulted in a preliminary injunction.

In April, an appeals court overruled the preliminary injunction, thus allowing for the rescheduling of the executions.

The inmates’ lawyers then filed a cert petition (petition of writ of certiorari) with the Supreme Court seeking to have the high court hear an appeal of the lower court ruling. It is this petition the justices denied on June 29.

According to an Associated Press report, lawyers representing the inmates are separately asking a federal judge in Washington to issue a new injunction on the executions based on other unresolved legal issues.

Earlene Peterson put out a personal plea to the president on June 25 to “grant clemency” to Lee, who will be executed for the murder of her daughter and granddaughter.

“I pray that [the president] will hear my message: the scheduled execution of Danny Lee … is not what I want and would bring my family more pain,” she wrote, stating his execution would “dishonor the memory” of her daughter and granddaughter.

Additionally, lawyers for Purkey requested a stay for his execution, declaring in a June 23 statement that his progressed Alzheimer’s disease prevents him from understanding why he is being executed.

Nevertheless, Providence Sister Barbara Battista, who serves as Justice Promoter for the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, said the likelihood of the executions occurring is “very likely, as I see it.”

Deacon Steven Gretencord, who ministers to inmates on death row at the FCC, agreed, saying, “The only thing that would stop [the executions] now would be President Trump.”

Deacon Gretencord admitted being “a little surprised,” at the Supreme Court’s decision. “I thought the courts would be rethinking the value—or lack of value—of execution in the criminal justice system. I’m surprised in a very sad way.”

The Terre Haute Death Penalty Resistance group, of which Sister Barbara is a member, plans on gathering “in solemn vigil” at or near the intersection of State Road 63 and Justice Drive in Terre Haute immediately prior to each execution.

The group is also planning a gathering in Terre Haute on July 12 (specific details were not available at the time The Criterion went to press on June 30).

“All concerned persons are invited to join us in standing up for justice and to say ‘no, not in our name,’ ”

Sister Barbara said. “We cannot let this heinous act go unnoticed.”

(For more information on the July 12 and other gatherings, as well as details on the solemn vigils before each execution, go to www.facebook.com/terrehautedpr or www.facebook.com/deathpenaltyaction. To sign a joint statement to U.S. Attorney General William Barr and President Donald J. Trump in opposition to the resumption of federal executions, go to bit.ly/3eJn0P1.)

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