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Panel Condemns Death Penalty

For The Heights

Published: Monday, December 3, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01


On Thursday, the Pro-Life Club hosted a panel called “Voices from Death Row.” The panel consisted of Lawyer Johnson, a man wrongly convicted of murder and later released after 10 years in prison, Dale Recinella, a lay Catholic chaplain serving Florida’s death row, and Joshua Marmol, a lawyer and member of the Community of Sant’Egidio, a lay Catholic organization based in Italy.

In 1972, Johnson, then 19 years old, was convicted of killing 30-year-old James Christian in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston. He was sentenced to death by electrocution and waited on Massachusetts’ death row for two years. Going through the appeals process, Johnson was eventually re-tried, convicted of second-degree murder, and taken off death row. In 1984, Johnson was released after new evidence emerged proving his innocence.

“Lawyer’s case is a sobering testimony,” David Sulewski, the panel moderator, said. “It reminds us that when there is capital punishment, innocent people do end up on death row. Lawyer speaks out [against the death penalty] because he doesn’t want this to happen to anyone else.”

Both Sulewski and Joshua Marmol write letters to inmates on death row around the world, through the Community of Sant’Egidio, to help them deal with their difficult ordeals.

Recinella is the Catholic chaplain to 407 men and two women on Florida’s death row. He is also responsible for the spiritual development of the approximately 2,500 men in long-term solitary confinement.

“Imagine going into the bathroom at your house at home, the one that has a shower or a tub,” Recinella said. “Because that is about the same size as a death row cell. Shut the door. Sit down on the toilet lid over the seat, and imagine being in that space for 10 years … 20 years … 30 years.”

Recinella said that the living conditions on death row are inhumane, mostly because of inadequate living arrangements. He said that the state budget allows only for disgusting, glow-in-the dark meals to be served to inmates. The meals cost a mere $0.23 per meal. This is only one of many problems Recinella had with the system, however, he also claimed that capital punishment emotionally destroys prison workers and their families, who are put into a position of killing healthy human beings.

“One of the things I’ve witnessed in 15 years of walking these corridors is what the death penalty does to us as a society,” Recinella said. “It’s generally acknowledged that if you or I … locked a dog in a confined space with no air conditioning in the heat of summer in rural north Florida, and kept that dog in the same space during the winter when it gets below freezing, with only enough heat to prevent frostbite—because when I make communion rounds in December and January, frequently the men are breaking the ice off the water in their toilet to do their hygiene before they receive Communion – we would be brought up on charges for cruelty to animals.”

Earlier in his life, Recinella actually supported the death penalty.

“I was a hotshot lawyer in a big law firm with lots of people working for me and calling me ‘Sir,’” Recinella said. “I assumed everything was done right, surgically precise, taken care of by the book, only the guilty, only the worst-of-the-worst. Now I know that is the Disneyland death penalty … There is no such death penalty. It doesn’t exist. What I was supporting was a myth, a fantasy like Tinker Bell and Peter Pan.”

Recinella told several horror stories involving failed executions and innocent prisoners.

“Watching the execution of an innocent man will really mess up your sleep,” Recinella said. “I was the spiritual advisor for Angel Diaz and I witnessed Florida’s botched lethal injection. I had always thought I was lucky. The priest who did this for 15 years before me had witnessed four electrocutions and for two of them the men caught fire in the chair. As he turned this over to me, he told me it never left his dreams. I thought, ‘Wow, I’m lucky. Florida’s not going to use the electric chair. We’re going to lethal injection.’ And then I watched a man for over half an hour writhe and arch in agony and be tortured to death as he got burned to death chemically from the inside out. That’ll mess with your dreams too.”

Recinella ended by stating that there is no such thing as a death penalty that doesn’t mistakenly kill innocent people. He said that capital punishment degrades our culture because it changes how we, as a society, perceive the intrinsic worth of human life.

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