Bishop Malooly joins interfaith leaders calling for House debate on bill ending capital punishment
DOVER — Bishop Wayne P. Wright of the Episcopal Diocese of Delaware called the April 22 press conference of Delaware religious leaders a “really unprecedented ecumenical, interfaith gathering to speak about the death penalty.”
The bishops, minister and rabbi specifically spoke about their opposition to the death penalty, which has already been ended in Maryland, and their support for SB40, currently being considered in the Delaware House, a bill that would end capital punishment and replace it with life in prison without parole sentences.
Bishop Malooly spoke as the leader of Delaware’s Catholics; Rev. David K. Popham represented the United Church of Christ Central Atlantic Conference; Rabbi Yair Robinson, of Congregation Beth Emeth in Wilmington and president of the Delaware Association of Rabbis and Cantors, represented the Jewish Clergy of Delaware; and Bishop Wright spoke for Episcopalians.
The religious leaders called for SB40, already passed by the state senate, to be sent by committee to the full House for debate.
“I would really like my representative, Deborah Heffernan, to be able to have a discussion with other house leaders … to see what they think about an issue that seems to be getting a lot of support, to repeal the death penalty,” Bishop Malooly said.
“There are other means, other ways, through imprisonment” for taking care of those who are criminals, he added.
Rev. Popham asked if emotionally formed responses favoring capital punishment “bring about true justice” and whether “it is a true act of justice to take a life again.”
Bishop Wright noted that a recent poll reports “64 percent of our citizens believe the death penalty should be abolished when there’s an alternative, which certainly exists.”
Rabbi Robinson, whose Congregation Beth Emeth is a reformed synagogue, said the Jewish reformed movement “has long had a strong position against the death penalty.”
While some capital punishment supporters cite the scriptural passage “an eye for an eye” punishment, Rabbi Robinson noted there are records of Jewish debate and law going back 2,000 years reflecting ambivalence to the death penalty.
“One of the rabbis of the Talmud says a court that executes one person in 70 years should be considered bloodthirsty,” the rabbi said.
“The clear message to Christians from Jesus is that every life is valuable,” Bishop Malooly said.
He also told how his uncle, FBI Special Agent Brady Murphy, was mortally wounded by a criminal in 1953. Before emergency surgery the lawman wouldn’t survive, Murphy prayed for the soul of his murderer. (See story below.)
While there are those who strongly feel the death penalty may be a deterrent, “I don’t feel that way,” Bishop Malooly said. “I think that life in prison without parole is certainly a better way to go.”
All four religious leaders encouraged debate in the House on the bill. All four acknowledge the vital role of police and public safety officers in the state.
“As pastors, we see this on all sides and we serve all the citizens of our state. But I do not believe from data, from what we have read and learned that the death penalty makes our state a safer place,” Bishop Wright said.
Bishop Malooly said the four men at the press conference don’t assume they will change people’s minds on the death penalty, “especially if they’ve seen that tragedy.”
But he repeated his hope for debate on SB40 in the House.
“We don’t know which way it would go,” Bishop Malooly said. “Just to have the discussion is what’s important to us now. Obviously, we would like our view to be dominant but that’s why we elect officials.”
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Last words of an FBI agent killed in the line of duty
During the press conference April 22 in Dover, Bishop Malooly discussed his family’s tragic connection to a murder victim. His story of loss and forgiveness follows:
“My uncle was an FBI agent who was murdered in 1953 — Brady Murphy in Baltimore.
“Since that time, I’ve always been anti-death penalty, simply because of what he said.
“He and another agent were tracking down one of the top 10 noted criminals of that time who had come in from L.A. Someone had given the word away, when they went up inside the Town Theater, Johnson opened fire and my uncle was gravely injured and killed.
“When he was at the hospital a couple of hours later before surgery which he would not come out of, he asked, ‘What about Johnson?’
“The other agents said, ‘he was killed.’
“His (Murphy’s) last words before surgery were, ‘May god have mercy on his soul.’
“This is one who is being killed.
“It had a great impact on our family. We had no trial, none of those long drawn-out trials about death penalty or not, so we didn’t have to go through all those difficult times that many do.
“Every year I celebrate with the (Delaware) State Police in Smyrna. We remember all their fallen heroes. I do it with our interfaith and ecumenical leaders. They include my Uncle Brady, among their group, when we pray for those who have been killed in action.
“But having said that, there are certainly some who feel very strongly that it (the death penalty) might be a deterrent. I don’t feel that way. I think that life in prison without parole is certainly a better way to go.”