I AM AGAINST the death penalty in principle. The deliberate killing of prisoners does not demonstrate our society's respect for life, which we are trying to teach—especially to those who violate it. We simply should not kill to show we are against killing. It's also easy to make a, yes, fatal mistake, as alarming DNA testing has demonstrated, revealing some death row inmates to be innocent. In addition, the death penalty is clearly biased against poorer people, who cannot afford adequate legal representation, and is outrageously disproportionate along racial lines. The facts are that few white-collar killers sit on death row, and fewer are ever executed. And there is no evidence that capital punishment deters murder; the data just doesn't show that.
At a retreat I attended a couple of years ago, conservative activist Richard Viguerie approached me and said, "Jim, let's do something together to really shake up politics." Viguerie had become a friend, so I asked him what that might be. "I am a Catholic," Viguerie said. "I am against the death penalty, and I think it's time for conservatives and liberals who agree on that to begin to work together." I was fascinated at the thought of unlikely partners helping to accomplish that together. So we have had several dinner meetings over the last two years with both conservative and liberal leaders—mostly people of faith—to discuss the issue.
Here are some basic facts. There have been 1,312 executions since 1976, when the death penalty was reinstated following a 10-year moratorium. There were 43 prisoners killed in 2011, and 35 so far in 2012. As of April 2012, there were 3,170 people on death row. Forty-two percent are black, 43 percent are white, and 12 percent are Latino. Thirty-three states have the death penalty; 17 have abolished it and several have abolition legislation pending. Since 1973, 141 people have been exonerated and set free from death sentences because of new evidence—people who shouldn't have even been prisoners and were almost killed by the state due to false or faulty evidence. Eighteen of them were released because of DNA evidence. Who knows how many people have been executed unjustly?