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The RoundTable


The Death Penalty

Spring 1989


Major Articles

  • From Fury to Forgiveness – Marietta Jaeger
  • We Know Better – Jackie Tobin, SSND
  • Pastoring on Death Row – Rev. Hugh Behan
  • Statistics on the Death Penalty – Mark Scheu

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Regular Features

  • Cover – Artwork by Larry Nolte
  • Why This Issue – Pat Coy
  • Centerfold – Blessed are the Merciful  Artwork by Larry Nolte
  • From Central America – Teka Childress
  • From Little House - Mary Ann McGivern, SL
  • From Karen House – Jim Plato
  • Book Review: A Revolution of the Heart by Pat Coy – Harry James Cargas
  • From our Mailbag
  • RoundTable Talk – Karin Tanquist

Why This Issue:

The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights bans torture as behavior unbefitting human beings. So does the gospel. So does common sense. What, I wonder, is the difference between the painful torture of imprisoned South Korean activists by applying electrodes to their bodies, and the application of 2,000 volts of electricity in a U.S. electric chair? In the latter case, the victim’s eyes have popped out of their sockets, smoke and steam rises from the "death mask" that shrouds their head, the putrid smell of singed and burning flesh is strong and unmistakable, and the body is so hot immediately following the execution that it would blister anyone who touched it. Otherwise there is little difference. The death penalty is merely torture carried to an extreme.


In the U.S. we are carrying the death penalty itself to an extreme. Beginning with Gary Gilmore in 1977, over 100 Americans have been executed, most in the last few years. 1986 brought the execution of two minors: Jay Pinkerton and James Roach. In 1985 Virginia executed Morris Mason. He was retarded, with an IQ of 66. Over 2,200 people are now on death row; we add about 250 more each year. Most have "lived" at this forbidding address for years. Many for over a decade. Such a life is itself a torturous existence. If the condemned all stood single file at

arms length, the line would stretch for over two miles. Up and over Golgotha and back again. To empty death row, we would first have to summon the nerve, and then we would need to kill two people a day---every single day---for two years. When finished with this barbarous task, we would have 50 new criminals to gas, hang, shock, shoot, or poison.

We know that the common good and justice demand that those guilty of violent crime cannot be allowed to go free. But we believe there are alternatives. In our lead article Marietta Jaeger, who lost a daughter to kidnapping and murder, offers a moving reflection on the Christian call for reconciliation and forgiveness. Jackie Tobin reflects on her experiences working with the imprisoned, as does Hugh Behan, chaplain on death row at Jefferson City.


The death penalty is not an equal opportunity killer, as the statistics Mark Scheu has-gathered reveal. And in our center spread Larry Nolte presents a chilling visual history of death penalty techniques. From the other end of the spectrum on life and death issues, Karin Tanquist reflects in the "Round Table Talk" on children's death and its denial in the world of high tech medicine. Harry James Cargas makes a welcome return to our pages with a book review, and our house articles update you on life at the St. Louis Catholic Worker.


Polls indicate that 70% of the U.S. citizenry support capital punishment, with Christians not differing significantly from other Americans in this regard. In his 1957 essay, "Reflections on the Guillotine," Albert Camus expressed dismay at this. "The unbeliever," he wrote, "cannot keep from thinking that people who have set at the center of their faith the staggering victim of a judicial error ought at least hesitate before committing legal murder."


I was graced to work on this issue during Holy Week. I am convinced that any prayerful pondering of the forgiveness and love that Jesus modeled during his passion and death should give rise in Christians to more than Camus' hesitation. As Missouri builds a new death row, and gears up for more executions with the other 36 states who sanction capital punishment, we hope you'll consider resistance, and not mere hesitation…


-Pat Coy



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