e-mail us
Indiana senate sustains death penalty

By NCR Staff

Indianapolis Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein joined other clergy who testified before an Indiana state senate committee in support of a bill that aimed to abolish capital punishment in the state.

Following more than three hours of intense debate, the committee struck down the bill, which was sponsored by State Sen. Morris Mills, R-Indianapolis. If passed, the measure would have moved 46 inmates off the state’s death row and given them life sentences without parole.

According to The Indianapolis Star and The Indianapolis News, Mills is a Quaker and says his religious beliefs hold that the death penalty is wrong. Many of those who spoke in defense of Mills’ proposal were clergy, including those from Episcopal, Baptist, Methodist, Evangelical Lutheran and Jewish congregations. Former Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard Givan also testified in favor of the bill.

In his testimony, Buechlein said the Catholic church calls on everyone “to recognize the sacredness of all human life and ... reject as anti-life any action that threatens, diminishes or extinguishes life.”

He said the church’s “opposition to abortion and euthanasia is well-known. Our opposition to death as a penalty for capital offenses is less known to the general public,” despite bishops’ statements against it.

“Surely all of us who are leaders in our state are concerned about the rise of violence in Indiana,” Buechlein told the committee. “Can we not work together to strengthen a culture of life to counter an ever-growing culture of death? Violence breeds violence, and we believe the death penalty has that effect. Would it not better serve our case to impose life imprisonment without the possibility of parole in capital offense cases?”

Buechlein echoed the concerns of the bill’s proponents, saying, “We see no evidence that the death penalty acts as a deterrent against violent crimes nor does it honor the victims or their families. Sadly, at the heart of it all, the death penalty seems to be more about revenge than justice.”

Proponents of the bill also argued that the death penalty is not applied fairly and has sent innocent people to death.

Marion County prosecutor Scott Newman testified against the bill and brought family members of three murder victims who gave emotional testimony about the loss of their family members.

“You should be here passing laws for victims and their families,” said John Green, whose brother, a police officer, was killed in 1993. “You should not be here passing laws to help convicted murderers.”

Christopher Beers Sr., whose 24-year-old son was shot to death in 1998, said, “The person who commits murder sentences himself to death.”

Newman disputed the assertion that the death penalty was more about revenge than justice. “This is no time in the war for justice to disable our howitzer, our biggest gun, and to say to a prosecutor, ‘Here’s a slingshot. Do the best you can,’ ” he said.

National Catholic Reporter, February 26, 1999