Philadelphia, Pa., Oct 1, 2012 / 03:52 pm (CNA).- A Philadelphia judge stayed the execution of Terrance Williams last Friday, and his case will now go to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
The Pennsylvania bishops wrote to the Board of Pardons regarding Williams in September, saying that “the modern penal system provides alternatives to taking the lives of guilty persons, alternatives that break the cycle of violence in our society.”
On Sept. 28, Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina issued the stay after hearing testimony that the trial prosecutor misled the jury in Williams' case, withholding evidence that could have resulted in a sentence of life imprisonment, rather than the death penalty.
Williams was to have been executed Oct. 3. Now that the Philadelphia district attorney has appealed Judge Sarmina's decision, the case will go to the state's supreme court. If they reaffirm the execution, the governor will have to set a new execution date.
Pennsylvania has not executed anyone since 1999, and only three people since the death penalty was reinstated there in 1978. All three persons executed eventually gave up the appeals process before their execution.
Williams was convicted for the 1984 murder of Amos Norwood, which Williams committed when he was 18.
Two other men are on Pennsylvania's death row, and the next scheduled to be executed is Hubert Michael, on Nov. 8.
The bishops of Pennsylvania, writing to the board of pardons, said that they did not want Williams to go unpunished for the crimes for which he was convicted. At the same time, however, “punishment should reflect our belief in the inherent human dignity of each person,” the bishops stated.
The Catholic Church teaches that the death penalty may be used in the punishment of criminals, but only as a last resort. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that it can be used “if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.”
“If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person,” the catechism says.
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia commented on this in his Sept. 10 column, noting that even convicted murderers “retain their God-given dignity as human beings” and that “We don't need to kill people to protect society or punish the guilty.”
The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference wrote in 2001 that “modern societies can imprison and isolate offenders for long periods of time to promote the safety of their citizens,” thus rendering capital punishment unjustifiable in the state of Pennsylvania.
“When we take a murderer's life we only add to the violence in an already violent culture, and we demean our own dignity in the process,” Archbishop Chaput concluded in his Sept. 10 column.