Supporters of the death penalty in the United States do not even listen to the Pope, because they cannot accept this obvious logical principle: if you are pro life, you must always defend life, not just by opposing abortion and euthanasia. They do not digest it for purely political convenience, because their constituents want it to. So executions have been on the decline for years in the country, which is realizing how obsolete and unsustainable they are, except in states where stopping them means losing at the polls. This, moreover, was the reason why Trump had put the federal executioner back to work, hoping to recover some votes on Biden by presenting himself as president of law and order.
The latest case that confirms this truth comes from Missouri, where the African American Ernest Lee Johnson was executed last night, shortly after 1 am in Italy. On 27 September, the apostolic nuncio Christophe Pierre sent a letter to Governor Mike Parson, reported by Vatican News, with which he asked for pardon in the name of Francis. Parson, however, did not listen to him, on Monday he had already announced that “the state is prepared to do justice”.
Johnson was born 61 years ago to an alcoholic and drug addict mother who had exposed him to “fetal alcohol spectrum disorder”, a disability that had reduced his IQ between 67 and 77 in various tests. Then in 2008 he had undergone surgery for a tumor, in which the surgeon had removed 20% of his brain.
In February 1994, Ernest hammered to death three Columbia store clerks, 46-year-old Mary Bratcher, 57-year-old Mabel Scruggs, and 58-year-old Fred Jones, during a robbery to steal money with which to buy drugs. The following year he was sentenced to death, but in 2001 the Federal Supreme Court recalled that the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution prohibits cruel punishment, and therefore the execution of the mentally ill. So he overturned the sentence, ordering a new one. In 2003 Johnson had been convicted again, and this time it was the Missouri Supreme Court that canceled that order as well. In 2006, however, the third death sentence had arrived, with no more remedies. The latest insanity appeal was filed on Monday in the Washington Supreme Court, which rejected it yesterday afternoon.
In the request for pardon presented on behalf of the Pope, the nuncio wrote that “this request is not based on the facts and circumstances of his crimes: who could dispute that such serious crimes deserve serious punishment? Nor is it based solely on Mr. Johnson’s dubious mental abilities. Rather, His Holiness wishes to bring before you the simple fact of Johnson’s humanity and the sanctity of all human life. ” Pierre praised “Missouri’s courageous stand in upholding the dignity of life, even in its most vulnerable early stages.” For this, namely the opposition to abortion, the nuncio thanked Governor Parson, but then added: “Now, rejecting the application of the death penalty in Johnson’s case would be an equally courageous recognition of the inalienable dignity of all human life “.
The problem is all there. The Church recognized the contradiction of being against abortion and euthanasia, but in favor of the death penalty, completing the process when Francis himself canceled it from the Catechism. The grimest American conservatives no: they remained adamant. Even the theological arguments, used to underline that when the Bible speaks of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”, it is actually meant to urge the proportionality of the penalties with respect to the crimes in order not to exceed them, not to encourage the symmetrical killing of who kills.
In the United States, executions during 2020 have dropped to 17, and without Trump’s federal 10 they would have dropped to a minimum since 1983. In the southern states, however, Republicans lose elections if they do not execute the condemned. Therefore the executioner continues to work.