Pope, Bishops Seek Clemency for Death Row Inmate

Urge Caution Due to Prisoner's Inadequate Trail

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FRANKFORT, Kentucky, SEPT. 10, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI has joined with several Catholic bishops to request clemency for Gregory Wilson, a prisoner scheduled for execution in a few days.



The Catholic Conference of Kentucky reported that Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville and Marian McClure Taylor, executive director of the Kentucky Council of Churches, met Thursday with the state governor, Steve Beshear, to appeal for a stay of execution and commutation of Wilson's death sentence.

In that meeting, Archbishop Kurtz presented to the governor a letter from Archbishop Pietro Sambi, apostolic nuncio to the United States, in which he requested, on behalf of the Pope, a commutation of the death sentence, which is scheduled for Sept. 16.

Wilson was convicted in 1988 for kidnapping, raping and murdering a woman named Deborah Pooley. He is currently appealing the court's decision to deny a stay on his execution, in order that investigations can be made regarding his claim of mental retardation and his request for DNA testing.

The archbishop of Louisville affirmed: "Whatever the merits of a particular case, we call for mercy, which protects the common good of society, honors justice and serves a higher purpose in putting aside the irreversible remedy of death. Ultimately mercy is the only way to healing and hope."

The prelate noted, "Our late Holy Father Pope John Paul II made a compelling argument that while states may have a right to use the death penalty as a way to safeguard society against an unjust aggressor, modern societies have the means to both protect society and allow for redemption."

Conversion

Bishop William Medley of Owensboro spoke about his personal experience working with this prisoner, who actually was baptized into the Catholic Church a few years ago.

The prelate recalled: "In April I celebrated Mass at Kentucky State Penitentiary for the inmates of Kentucky's death row. Gregory Wilson introduced himself to me and told me his story of conversion to the Catholic faith. It was evident that Gregory shared his faith with those around him.

"At that time he told me that his court appeals had largely been exhausted and that he could face execution soon.

"On Thursday, Sept. 2, I visited Gregory again. While still hoping that there may be a delay or a commutation of his sentence, he understands that his death may be near and speaks of this faith.

"I am saddened to think of Gregory's death at the hands of the state. Clearly he can cause no one harm now and has, in fact, accomplished much good with his present life and witness."

In a follow-up letter sent Thursday to the governor after the meeting, four Kentucky prelates reiterated, "On behalf of the 400,000 Catholics in Kentucky, we join with our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI in urging you to issue a stay of execution and the commutation of Mr. Wilson's death sentence."

The prelates underlined the "compelling legal issues surrounding this case, which call for caution and prudence in the use of the death penalty."

Inadequate trial

They explained: "The assertion by Mr. Wilson's defense counsel that he suffers from mental retardation should be an impediment in any civilized society.

"In addition, serious legal issues about his trail and the adequacy of his counsel have not been satisfactorily resolved."

A statement earlier this month from the conference noted that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that executing the mentally retarded is unconstitutional.

School records, it reported, show that "at the age of 14 while in the seventh grade, Mr. Wilson's IQ score was 62" (a person is considered mentally retarded if the IQ is below 70).

The conference also pointed out that in his 1988 trial, where Wilson was convicted, the man "was denied effective legal counsel."

Thursday's letter, which was signed by Bishop Roger Foys of Covington and Bishop Ronald Gainer of Lexington, along with Archbishop Kurtz and Bishop Medley, stressed the "cruel and unnecessary" aspect of the death penalty, and called for a "less violent and final remedy."

"God's justice is not blind but is imbued with mercy," the letter affirmed. It exhorted the governor, "We ask that you, as a man of faith and leader of our commonwealth, provide mercy to Gregory Wilson."

In the Sept. 2 statement, the conference referenced a 2008 pastoral letter written by the Kentucky bishops on "Reverence for Life: Conscience and Faithful Citizenship," in which they stated: "Our opposition to capital punishment is inspired by a Gospel value -- no human life, no matter how wretched or how miserable, no matter how sinful or lacking in love, is without worth; no one is beyond realizing and receiving Christ's redemptive grace of conversion at any moment during life."