[Deathpenalty]death penalty news --- U.S., ILL.
j_sommer at gmx.net
Fri Jul 9 13:20:40 CDT 2004
death penalty news
July 9, 2004
Religious ethics and the death penalty
Most major religions oppose the death penalty.
However, most Americans overwhelmingly support it. Nearly two-thirds of
Americans support the execution of convicted murderers.
Most Americans also believe the death penalty doesn't prevent other killings.
But most Americans still support it.
The number of countries which ban the death penalty has doubled in the past
20 years. But the United States remains one of the countries with the most
executions. In 2003, only China and Iran had more executions than the
United States did.
In recent years, some ethicists and clergy are examining why so many
Americans support the death penalty.
And one reason may be something that doesn't show up in polls.
It's the emotions someone imagines feeling when they think about someone
close to them being murdered. That could be called everything from a desire
for justice to a thirst for revenge.
"It's normal to have those feelings," says Rabbi Mordechai Torczyner of
Congregation Sons of Israel in Allentown.
At an upcoming Jewish bioethics seminar, Torczyner will examine the death
penalty from an ethical and religious perspective. While emotions run high
with the death penalty, the spiritual and ethical solution to overcoming
feelings of revenge is something that's not easy to do, he says.
"It's the struggle of a lifetime," he says.
The seminars which began this week at the Allentown Jewish Community Center
also examine animal experimentation, gender transformation and terminal
illness. The death penalty session will be held July 15.
Those issues aren't easy either, Torczyner says. But that's the point.
Ethical issues are an ongoing dialogue, he says.
"Judaism has a tradition of examining practical issues that come up in
people's lives, and right now people are really thinking about modern
bioethics," he says.
Discussion at the seminars will lead to looking at similar issues in both
the Bible and the Talmud, which are commentaries on the Hebrew code of laws.
The death penalty continues to arouse emotions Torczyner says. That's
partly because of the desire for justice people would feel if someone close
to them was murdered.
But there's another reason one local pastor said also may fuel support of
the death penalty.
"For some people an easy solution to the crime problem is if we just get
rid of them by killing them," says the Rev. Richard Blackwell of Baptistown
Baptist Church in Baptistown.
A recent Gallup poll indicates nearly 20 percent of support for the death
penalty is connected to concern killers will be released from prison.
When people are polled if they support life in prison with no possibility
of parole, support of the death penalty drops more than 20 points from 71
to 50 percent.
But many clergy are concerned about the ethical and spiritual implications
of the death penalty.
In the Bible, the death penalty is mandated for many offenses. They include
murder, kidnapping, cursing parents and women who engage in pre-marital sex.
The forms of execution are sometimes specific. The Bible calls for
prostitutes to be burned. For adultery and not obeying parents the penalty
is death by stoning.
But Christians will notice the death penalty isn't just mentioned in the
Jesus prevents the stoning of an adulteress in the Gospel of John with his
famous statement: "let any one among you who is without sin to be the first
to throw a stone at her."
The death penalty for blasphemy was still enforced in the New Testament
era. The Book of Acts tells of the Christian martyr Stephen being executed
by stoning for committing blasphemy.
However, some death penalty supporters -- including U.S. Supreme Court
Justice Anthony Scalia -- mention a passage from Romans which they say
supports the death penalty. It includes the line, "it is the servant of God
to execute wrath on the wrongdoer."
One local pastor who supports the death penalty says he believes the
foundation for approval of the death penalty comes from the Book of
Genesis, just after the flood. God tells Noah and his sons, "whoever sheds
the blood of a human by a human shall that person's blood be shed, for in
his own image God made humankind."
"God instituted corporal punishment because the life of man is so
precious," says the Rev. William Seiple of Fellowship Church in Lopatcong
Township. "We believe in cases of murder that corporal punishment should be
The American public's support for the death penalty is because it's part of
human nature, Seiple says.
"For 4000 years it's been part of man's thinking and you just don't wipe it
out," he says. "That's why people are holding onto it because it's been
part of man's thinking through the ages up until this point."
However, many religions have come out in opposition to the death penalty.
In 1995, Pope John Paul II approved of the death penalty "only in cases of
absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise
to defend society," he wrote.
"The pope believes society has progressed to the point where we're able to
protect society from criminals without having to kill them," says the Rev.
David Fulton of Our Lady of Victories Roman Catholic Church in Kingwood.
"We also may be able to bring the criminal to have insight into his own
moral behavior. But even if we can't do that, we can still protect society
For Jews, the Talmud offers strict requirements for the death penalty. They
include witnesses and warnings to the murderer.
"It's a very high standard to meet," Torczyner says.
For one local anti-death penalty advocate, clergy often don't talk about
their disapproval of the death penalty.
"When was the last time someone preached a sermon about the death penalty?"
says David Rose, a member of the Lehigh Valley Committee Against State
Killing and a member of the Lehigh Valley Religious Society of Friends.
"It's usually a statement adopted by the church that isn't mentioned in the
However, some local pastors say they have it given it some thought and
believe that, despite polls, capital punishment is inconsistent with the
message of the Gospels.
"What Jesus Christ requires us to do is a love that seeks the best for
others, which is a healing kind of love," Blackwell says. "We should try
not to destroy others, even the worst among us."
( The Jewish bioethics series will be held Thursday mornings at 11 a.m.,
through July 29, at the Jewish Community Center. Information: 610-435-3571,
State debates death penalty in Batavia case
A grand jury ruled there is enough evidence to try Joseph Foreman for the
murder and kidnapping of his mother in-law and attempted murder of his wife.
Now Kane County State's Attorney Meg Gorecki is debating whether to seek
the death penalty. If she does, it will be the fifth time in her tenure as
the county's top prosecutor.
To give the state time to debate whether Foreman, 38, will face the
ultimate punishment, a judge Thursday delayed taking Foreman's official
plea of guilty or not guilty to the new nine-count charges.
The grand jury basically confirmed the charges the Batavia man faced after
the April 9, 2003, attack in the Lorlyn Circle apartment he shared with his
ex-wife, Lisa Payne, and her visiting mother, Linda Duchaine. He faces
charges of attempted murder and aggravated kidnapping as well as aggravated
domestic battery after his ex-wife received a head wound that left her in
chronic pain with reduced movement and vision.
First Assistant State's Attorney Bob Berlin said Gorecki wants to consult
with the defense in the next week but plans to have a decision by the next
court hearing, July 22.
She will make her decision based on a recommendation from a committee that
reviews things such as Foreman's criminal history, education, family
history and any discipline problems he's had while staying in the Kane
County jail on $5 million bond. The committee also will consult with the
victims' families and police for their stance on the death penalty.
The moratorium former Gov. George Ryan put on executions in 2000 remains,
but individuals can still be sent to death row if the moratorium is lifted.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich enacted death penalty reforms and has said he is
waiting to see how those play out before considering lifting the moratorium.
The halt was initiated because Ryan said the system was flawed after 13 men
were exonerated from death row, one more than the number of people executed
since the death penalty was declared constitutional in Illinois in 1977.
None of those exonerated were sentenced in the Kane County judicial system.
After the moratorium, Ryan commuted the sentences of 163 death row inmates
and pardoned the remaining four.
Though Kane County prosecutors have invoked the death penalty five times
since 2000, only one man has made it to death row so far.
In 2001, Luther Casteel, 43, of Elgin was sentenced to death for shooting
15 people and killing two in a rampage at JB's Pub in Elgin.
In 2003, Gorecki announced she would seek the death penalty if Vivian
Mitchell, a 38-year-old homeless woman from Elgin, is convicted of stabbing
Lynn Weis, a 32-year-old West Dundee resident more than 90 times and
setting her house on fire. The case is ongoing.
In 2000, the death penalty was considered for two of the eight men involved
in 1999 triple gang murder at the Burnham Schoolhouse Apartments in Elgin.
Gorecki reconsidered and affirmed that decision when she took office.
Kewhan Fields, 22, testified against his co-defendants, earning a lower
sentence of 20 years. Willie Buckhana, 43, is serving life in prison.
(source: Chicago Daily Herald)
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