The battle continues on that grimmest of topics, the death penalty

by Mary Ann McGivern

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The death penalty is a grim topic. It's taking a forceful act of my will to set me to the task of writing about it. But a few events have converged, one involving me slightly, and I want to tell you.

The event that involves me: On July 5, I agreed to be a plaintiff in a suit against the Missouri Department of Corrections. Four of us petitioned Missouri to stop illegal procurement of the drugs being used to execute inmates sentenced to death. The execution of David Zink was scheduled for July 14, and we hoped to stop it. Our motion was dismissed by the circuit judge and is being appealed. David Zink was executed. The day before he was killed, Missouri set the date for a sixth execution of the year, that of Roderick Nunley.

In a separate suit filed a week later by news agencies, the court ruled that "the public has a right to know the source of the illegal drugs the state uses to kill people in the public's name," according to the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, Tony Rothert. However, we still don't know the source.

Meanwhile, a new study released by University of North Carolina professor Frank Baumgartner calls Missouri's application of the death penalty so arbitrary and so unfairly administered that it could be unconstitutional. Baumgartner said in an interview that it's proof that black lives don't matter: Between 1976 and 2014, there were more than 11,000 homicides and 80 executions, 2.1 percent when the victim is white and 0.3 percent when the victim is black.

David Zink seems to me to be an example of that arbitrary application. He had a disturbed childhood and dismissed his attorney to conduct his case himself. As a prisoner, he lived in an honor wing of the institution.

Meanwhile, Nebraska citizens are gathering signatures to hold a referendum on the death penalty following the state legislature's abolishing it.

In January 1999, Pope John Paul II visited St. Louis when an execution had been scheduled. In response to the pope's request, Gov. Mel Carnahan commuted the death sentence of a triple murderer, Darrell Mease. As I remember it, the men executed right before and after Mease both might have been actually innocent, and neither one has the same reputation of "worst of the worst" as Mease. That's ironic. The governor was heavily criticized for his act of clemency.

These executions hang heavy over our society. I certainly feel a cumulative weight of the deaths, though I try not to read too much about the cases. So I'm grateful I could join in a small legal action, an effort to halt the killing. And I hope that Pope Francis, along with his calls for climate action and rejection of abortion, remembers to speak for the men and women on death row.

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